Capello looks for fringe benefits

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The Independent Football

It is no use dressing it up. The interest in England's friendly against Germany in Berlin tomorrow has been falling faster than the value of the pound around the world.

With Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Ashley Cole all missing because of injury, the match has been robbed of its capacity to tell us where Fabio Capello's England currently stand on the grand scale of footballing powers.

Robbed, too, of the opportunity to cement the playing style which had brought four consecutive World Cup qualifying victories.

Former England manager Graham Taylor has questioned the commitment of absentees. Former England captain Bryan Robson believes November friendlies are a waste of time.

Both have a point and that's the real shame, because there is something about England against Germany which goes to the core of competitive sport.

From Geoff Hurst's World Cup final hat-trick in 1966 to the worst decision of Sir Alf Ramsey's career in 1970 when he substituted Bobby Charlton at 2-0 up, allowed Franz Beckenbauer to get forward and saw his side lose 3-2.

From Paul Gascoigne's World Cup tears and the penalty shoot-out misery in Italy 1990 to the signature victory of Sven-Goran Eriksson's reign, the 5-1 win in Munich when Michael Owen, Gerrard, David Beckham and yes, Emile Heskey, gave birth to the myth of England's golden generation.

From Gareth Southgate's missed penalty in the semi-finals of Euro 96 to perhaps the single most humiliating moment in the history of the fixture when in 1938 England players, in the same Olympic stadium as tomorrow, gave the Heil Hitler salute before going on to win 6-3.

The point is England v Germany, whether in tournament play or so-called friendlies, has always bristled with edge.

There is no reason why tomorrow should not be the same even if Capello's side will be little more than a 'B' team.

It could even turn out to be a match of some significance if the players demonstrate the passion of Darren Bent.

Listening to Bent this week amid heated debate about club v country was a throwback to the reason fans used to look forward to England friendlies with genuine relish.

"Not being a regular you always feel you have something to prove," said the Tottenham striker. "I'm up for the challenge.

"You can see why managers don't like it because there are a lot of games, but as players you always want to play for your country.

"There's nothing better than playing for your country. The more games the better."

That is the attitude the fans want from players who wear the shirt with three Lions. They do not want mass substitutions which render matches little more than training exercises. They do not want the captain's armband tossed around willy-nilly as it was in the days of Eriksson. Nor do they respect players who pull out with injuries they might well have battled through if it was a key Premier League fixture.

The fans want what Capello appears to want. That is, friendly matches which are meticulously planned and which deliver concrete conclusions as well as genuine entertainment.

What can Capello learn from the game in Berlin?

Not much from a team perspective, perhaps, but he will learn about individuals.

What better opportunity for Manchester City's Micah Richards to jog Capello's memory about his maturing talents?

What better time for young guns such as Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young to bring dynamic Premier League form to the international stage?

The same could be said of Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and, of course, Bent.

A World Cup campaign depends on strength in depth. It relies on a strong substitutes' bench and intense competition for places.

Delivering that has become Capello's mission in Berlin.

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