When England were eliminated in such dismal terms from the World Cup last summer, the challenge put to Fabio Capello was whether he could tear up his old team and launch a new version of England in time for the European Championship next year. When he announced that his plan to do so included Owen Hargreaves and Bobby Zamora, there was some disquiet as to whether he had fully understood the question.
Yet come Saturday evening only four of the 14 players who featured on that painful afternoon against Germany in Bloemfontein on 27 June last year played for an England team that beat Spain, the winners of last summer's World Cup and – lest we forget – the conquerors of Germany in the semi- finals in Durban.
As far as his first task goes, Capello can claim to have demolished the England team of 2010. David James, Matthew Upson, Joe Cole, Emile Heskey and Shaun Wright-Phillips are ancient history. Jermain Defoe must be beginning to feel that way. The door remains open to the likes of Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry but they too will have to fight to get back in.
As for others who were in the 2010 World Cup squad but did not feature against Germany, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Dawson, Michael Carrick and Aaron Lennon, it would seem that times have moved on. Peter Crouch remains the invisible man as far as Capello is concerned. Times have certainly changed but major questions remain as to exactly what the future looks like.
Capello has two games – tomorrow's match against Sweden and the March friendly against Holland – before he has to name his squad for Euro 2012. Rarely in recent times has there been such an open field for places so close to a tournament for England. Saturday's win over Spain only seemed to throw more names into the reckoning.
In the immediate aftermath of the game, with the bloom to mark his son's marriage still fresh in his lapel, Capello enthused about what he regarded as more breakthroughs, including praise for Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck, Jack Rodwell and Kyle Walker. "The really, really young ones, like Rodwell, played with big confidence, without problems," Capello said.
Tomorrow he will launch Daniel Sturridge in international football. Zamora, whose name was grasped from the air in pure desperation by Capello last year, will probably be granted his first start in an England shirt. No one could accuse Capello of not working every angle made available to him but the shape of his squad for 2012 is by no means clear.
Let us raise a hypothetical question. If England were to begin Euro 2012 tomorrow, without the injuries they currently have to Jack Wilshere and Gerrard, but with Rooney's suspension in place, whose position in the team could you be certain of?
Top of that list from Saturday's game are Joe Hart, Ashley Cole and, in all likelihood, Scott Parker. John Terry, despite the excellent performances of Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott, would probably come back in. You have to assume that a fit Gerrard and Wilshere would both play although it is notable that those two have never played a single minute together on the pitch for England.
At right-back? Capello has four possibilities, ranging from Glen Johnson to Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Kyle Walker, before you even raise the possibility that Capello might change his mind about Micah Richards before May. At centre-back Gary Cahill had established himself as Terry's partner before Lescott and Jagielka distinguished themselves on Saturday.
In central midfield there are a mass of options, from sticking with the tried and marginally well-trusted Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry to risking the youngsters Tom Cleverley and Rodwell. Then perm Ashley Young, Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott, Stewart Downing, James Milner and Lennon into four for the wide positions.
Never has it looked more wide open than among the strikers. If Rooney is a certainty to be selected for England's Euro 2012 squad, then who else? Darren Bent has probably done enough in Capello's eyes to earn a place. Then there are two from Welbeck, Sturridge, Zamora, Andy Carroll and Gabriel Agbonlahor. Whatever offence Crouch has committed, he seems unlikely to be forgiven by Capello and we can safely disregard Jay Bothroyd. Still, the choice of four strikers is hardly clear cut.
This is not to argue that Capello has a surfeit of talented players at his disposal. Many of the decisions he will be forced to make will be between players who have let him down at tournaments in the past and others whom he suspects may well let him down at some point in the future. In contrast to Spain, the choice for Capello will be – in some departments – between two relatively mediocre players.
As ever, the deep-seated problems in the squad remain intractable. The goalkeeper situation, for instance, will become a terrible problem if Hart is injured. Neither Scott Carson – currently playing for Bursaspor, 12th of 18 teams in Turkey's Super Lig – nor David Stockdale – on loan from Fulham at Ipswich Town, currently 15th in the Championship – is a satisfactory replacement.
Yet for a brief period on Saturday night, Capello must have felt a great deal of satisfaction at a victory over the world champions that was built principally on his own good defensive organisation and tactical principles. Do not under-estimate what this victory will have meant to Capello, who maintains close ties to the country where he has managed Real Madrid with considerable success on two occasions.
England's goal from a set-piece won and delivered by Milner, headed against the post by Bent and forced over the line by Lampard was a case of Capello's team taking one of the few chances presented to them. They rode their luck at times when David Villa hit the post and Cesc Fabregas put a good chance wide of the goal late on but in the end England had demonstrated that international football's most formidable team is not unbeatable.
As for the England squad itself, it is undeniably in a state of flux. Capello has thrown the cards in the air in a manner one could never have imagined before last summer's World Cup finals. He has a lot of options on the table but that is not the same as saying he has an obvious path through them to a squad that is balanced and competitive. Picking that list of 23 names is not simple and, although Euro 2012 seems a long way away, Capello has less time than you may think.Reuse content