Fabio Capello's England Illusion, Part One: The Pledge
If I were to start this story of England’s current plight properly, I would have to go back to 1990 and arguably the last strong showing from England at a World Cup . Having to go all the way back there, however, would take far too long and far more than three parts. So I will have to set the scene shortly.
The date is November 22, 2007, and Steve McClaren has just been sacked from his post as England manager. Leaving the position and having been given the nickname "wally with a brolly" damaged Steve McClaren’s reputation, but no doubt also damaged England’s reputation. The failure to qualify for Euro 2008 was seen as a huge disappointment, and so the Football Association set in motion events that would lead up to the current position of the England national team, or more precisely the end of the so-called "Golden Generation".
Jump forward about 10 months to September 6, 2008, and the England national team, now being managed by Fabio Capello, are playing against Andorra in the first qualifier for the 2010 World Cup. After having had general success in the friendlies leading up to qualification, hopes were reasonably high, and despite challenges from both Ukraine and Croatia, England was expected to once again qualify with relative ease. The game went according to plan and England ran out winners with a routine 2-0 victory. England’s qualifying campaign was off to a good start.
Four days later, however, a far bigger challenge lay in wait: a game against Croatia, who had stopped England qualifying for Euro 2008, at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb. Croatia had never lost a competitive game at home, and England did not have the best record against them going into the game.
The lineups were announced and the young Theo Walcott had been given the nod to start on the right side of midfield ahead of David Beckham. Although this surprised many English fans, it soon became a pleasant surprise, with Walcott grabbing a hat trick on the way to a 4-1 victory. Like it had been so many times before, England were cruising through the qualifiers.
A month later and England had another two games to play. The games against Kazakhstan and Belarus didn’t prove too much of a challenge for England, with comfortable 5-1 and 3-1 victories respectively.
The qualifiers were all going well for England and hopes for the World Cup were continuing to grow. Fabio Capello had turned England from a unorganised and sloppy side into a team that looked strong in every area, and more importantly, played together well.
The England fans had rarely been happier, and each game that was played just increased expectations for the World Cup.
England went on to play Ukraine on the April 1, 2009, and won 2-1 to put them in an even stronger position at the top of the group. Another Kazakhstan game came and went with another big victory, this time 4-0. The goal count was growing with England’s every game but it still didn’t appear to be enough for the squad. The next game was against Andorra and the game ended at a huge 6-0 winning margin for England.
The team were sitting comfortably at the top of the group, and although there hadn’t been much in the way of big opposition, both Croatia and Ukraine had originally been touted as sides that could knock England out.
The next game England faced was Croatia at Wembley. Confidence was obviously high going into the game: England had beaten them in the away game and now comfortably topped the group. The only difference in this game is that a win would see England through.
The players took inspiration in the thought of qualifying for the World Cup with games to spare and ended up winning the match by another remarkable 5-1 margin. The game saw England through to the finals with two games to spare and the fans were delighted.
The next two games came along against Ukraine and Belarus. With perhaps a lack of motivation, England fell to a 1-0 defeat to Ukraine and in doing so lost their 100 percent qualifying record. Nonetheless, they stepped up again in the final game and beat Belarus 3-0.
The score led to England being the highest-scoring team during qualifying for the World Cup, with a final tally of 34 goals. Nine of them came from star striker Wayne Rooney, with some of the others coming from Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe. In fact, even much-derided striker Emile Heskey earned himself a goal during the games.
Fabio Capello had led England to the 2010 FIFA World Cup with hardly any problems. The usual side containing players from the so called "golden generation" had won back their respect and earned their place at the final tournament. Things were looking good for England going into 2010, and Capello had earned the respect of the English faithful. He had pulled the previously shambolic England back up to the level expected of them in qualifying with ease.
(Original Story by James Willis on www.sportshaze.com)
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