Capello says England performance was best ever

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The Independent Online

Ten weeks after the blow-out in Bloemfontein, Fabio Capello declared England last night produced the best first-half performance of his entire time as manager.

Capello has told anyone who is prepared to listen that England are a different team in the autumn than they are in the spring.

Amid the fallout from South Africa, those words have largely been glossed over.

But the facts back up Capello's claim.

Not since the visit to Belfast in 2005 have England lost a September fixture. They beat Germany 5-1 in Munich in that month and a run of 10 successive wins includes 4-1 and 5-1 wins over Croatia, plus last night's eye-catching 3-1 triumph over Switzerland in Basle.

If only FIFA could be persuaded to change the international calendar, England might well become world champions again.

"It is the best first half since I have been England manager," said Capello.

"We have to know the value of the opponents.

"To play here against Switzerland is not easy. The fans and the stadium and the pitch made it really difficult for us to play.

"We played very well, with confidence. The players are fresh. They play quickly. They run fast. For this moment we are a good team."

Capello must be reasonably confident of his players being able to maintain their form next month, when Montenegro visit Wembley.

Now detached from Serbia, the Eastern Europeans have made a surprising start to Group G, beating Wales on home soil before last night's notable defeat of Bulgaria in Sofia which means, apart from England, they are the only side to have collected any points so far.

A third straight win for Capello's side would leave them in a fabulous position to reach the finals in Poland and Ukraine despite not even being halfway through the qualification campaign.

Not that he will be taking anything for granted.

Information has already been collected from fellow countryman Giovanni Trapattoni, whose Republic of Ireland side could only manage two goalless draws against them in World Cup qualifying.

Nevertheless, after 10 consecutive home wins, the Three Lions have every reason to be optimistic.

"I spoke with Marco Tardelli and Giovanni Trapattoni before Bulgaria played against Montenegro," said Capello.

"He told me we have to respect Montenegro because they are a really good team."

There were times last night when it was difficult to understand just went wrong in South Africa.

Equally, though, when Shaun Wright-Phillips was making a complete mess of presenting Darren Bent with a tap-in not long before the Sunderland striker finally registered his first international goal, it was equally hard to fathom how Capello ended up picking that particular Manchester City winger ahead of Adam Johnson.

Introduced as an early replacement for Theo Walcott, who happily is not as severely injured as first feared, Johnson's trickery kept Switzerland on the back foot and in scoring his second goal in four days, has taken just four games to amass one third of the tally Wright-Phillips has managed in 35.

"I hope Adam Johnson always scores," said Capello.

"He is a big talent. He is fast. Technically he is really good and is very dangerous player when he gets near the box because he shoots so well.

"When you play in the national team, you have to play like a senior.

"Sometimes he still plays like a young player but he is still a really good player."

Capello does have a few issues to resolve.

For a start, James Milner's booking means he will be suspended next month, so a replacement must be found.

In theory, Steven Gerrard could simply shift out to the left wing again to allow Frank Lampard an instant return.

But, after scoring seven times in two games with Gerrard operating alongside Gareth Barry in the middle is that really the right way forward?

Should Walcott be available, surely Johnson should get first crack at starting.

The same is true at the back where skipper Rio Ferdinand and John Terry are expected to be fit.

There may be doubts over Joleon Lescott but having described Phil Jagielka as his defensive "driver" and seen England concede just once to Xherdan Shaqiri's wonder goal, it would send out completely the wrong message if Capello were to send this 'new' England straight back to the past.

So much football is to be played before then, circumstance could easily intervene.

But for now Capello has a few big decisions to make, and thankfully, after a painful period, they do not involve his future or the private lives of his players.

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