England have to play to their strengths in South Africa next year, and that means having the nerve to take the game to the opposition. The two best players available to Fabio Capello are Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, both of whom have the sublime capacity to win matches on their own. They typify the English game at its best – tenacious, aggressive, but also sprinkled liberally with footballing gold dust.
Both Gerrard and Rooney were missing from Wednesday night's routine 3-0 victory over Belarus, and the side looked laboured. All the more reason, then, for Capello to release his two best players and give them the licence to cause as much damage as possible.
The opportunity is there for Capello to take the relentless pace of the Premier League to South Africa, where it will be winter next June. Away from the oppressive heat that counted against England in the last two tournaments in Germany and Japan, the high-tempo game that has worked so well in the Champions League in recent years could be replicated on the world stage.
This England side do not give the appearance of a team that will win the World Cup by grinding out a succession of narrow, low-scoring victories. They still concede possession too cheaply in midfield, and the defenders – not just Rio Ferdinand – remain prone to making sloppy mistakes. This is unlikely to be a problem Capello can solve in the eight months before the World Cup finals, even armed with his now infamous laser pointer.
No one would advocate going to South Africa with a gung-ho approach. That would be suicidal, to play into the hands of some of the leading sides in the world who are adept at the art of counter-attack. But there is also no mileage to be gained in England becoming too defensive and tentative.
The template for Capello to use next summer must be the energetic, confident approach demonstrated with such destructive brilliance in the 5-1 victory over Croatia little more than a month ago. Rooney, Gerrard and Frank Lampard were England's goalscorers that night, three players who must attain peak performance in the summer if they are to have any chance of succeeding where so many other teams have failed in the past 43 years.
Every indication so far is that Capello has shrugged off the caution of his first few games in charge and has decided to play the hand dealt him. As a manager brought up in Italy he knows the importance of a tight defence and tactical discipline. But he also recognises the need for pragmatism and so has given England a more attacking aspect – in Europe's nine qualifying groups with they were the highest scorers, with 34 goals from 10 games.
Of course, another quarter-final exit could beckon. But, hopefully, this time round they will at least have gone out trying to win the thing.
The number of goals England have scored in Fabio Capello's 20 games in charge.Reuse content