James Lawton: Jones and Rodwell make a powerful case for a revival of home hopes


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The Independent Online

The new young England had some real pressure here last night and in one way at least it ran a little more deeply than the need to send packing the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez and all that vulgar silverware.

All right, Sweden are not Spain – and never would be in a thousand years – but it is one thing to go out and enact the tight and unswerving tactics laid down by Fabio Capello against the team of teams who might just be a notch off their clinical best. It is another tricky challenge to stand up and announce, yes, there is something about you that might just live at the highest level and that it is something stretching beyond the ability to work off the blueprint of one of the game's top strategists.

Both Phil Jones, aged 19. and Jack Rodwell, 20, who shared a split shift in what may yet prove the most valuable night of their professional lives against the world champions on Saturday, certainly seemed to have a powerful sense that against the Swedes, last beaten by England 43 years ago, they were obliged to make statements of some professional significance.

It said everything about their understanding of their challenging times that they came within inches of turning the stadium into a launching pad for still another round of hopes. You know the ones, that England may one day find something of the strength and the competitive personality to challenge once again for some of the great prizes of the world game.

They may have turned into another batch of national fantasies soon enough, of course, but both players showed flashes of that authority for which a coach like Capello, desperate to make some kind of statement of his old powers before the end of what has to still stand as his English misadventure, most yearns.

Jones seized on midfield sloppiness by the Swedes and ran at goal with a thrilling conviction. He drew goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson with a veteran's timing but his shot went an inch wide of the far post. His regret filled a large swathe of North London yet there was something in the moment that spoke of high and attainable ambition. Capello plainly sees him as a young man of a formidable destiny and, despite the disappointing end to a fine eruption, there was little disillusionment in the air. Jones ran with growing assurance. He looked like something comfortable enough to feel at home.

It was the same with Rodwell. A few minutes later he hit with a fine header the same post that Jones missed. It was a strike which would have nicely emphasised the impression of a young player who looked hell-bent on laying down some serious claims for an international future.

For Capello it meant a night when his frustrations at failures to satisfy all of his demands on technique and tactics were surely leavened by this evidence of considerable force and commitment.

Gareth Barry has acquired almost venerable status in this young squad, which is perhaps not the way you would described captain John Terry's current standing, but both of these senior figures were effective in the way of influence and calm, Barry setting the tone of confidence when he forced in the goal off defender Daniel Majstorovic.

That was more than sufficient momentum to send England in pursuit of a victory that had been so elusive for long – and was denied England even on that unforgettable occasion in Stockholm when Terrry Butcher played covered with so much blood he might just have come off the set of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

His grateful manager, the late Sir Bobby Robson, was slightly carried away, declaring that VCs had been awarded for less. But you knew what it meant, Butcher had produced, in all the circumstances, a seriously committed performance.

Such certainly must have been the conclusion of Capello last night.

He had seen a team reaching out for a new level of performance and if wasn't always achieved, if there were moments in the second half when the Swedes threatened to re-activate their tradition of denying England, Capello did have some reasons for considerable satisfaction.

In Jones and Rodwell he has plainly identified two young players with the capacity to grow at the desired rate. He also has in Kyle Walker one of those players who come hurtling from out of the shadows with both arresting talent and the strongest conviction. He has arrived with impressive certainty at right back, a statement which was opened with a flourish when he sent Theo Walcott away with a beautiful pass in the early going.

That was an announcement that indeed there were some stirrings in this new, unformed but not entirely unpromising England.