Capello sticks to his guns as England face moment of truth

Manager insists he has made right choices ahead of crucial game against Algerians

Sam Wallace
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:32

Not much is left of the old Green Point Stadium that was demolished to make way for the modern palace of steel and fibreglass that now stands on the site. Just a corner of the old curving stand remains and part of the athletes' changing rooms. Above the exit, painted by hand on the peeling white-washed wall is the warning: "Go strong or go home".

Goodness knows, sport at all levels is full of hyperbole but rarely has a game deserved such a bold statement as England's second World Cup group game against Algeria. They could conceivably still qualify if they lose this match but whether they would recover from the ignominy of the result is another matter. So tonight the macho motto of the old Green Point, built in the years of the Boer War, rings true.

Steven Gerrard, a man accustomed to walking out for every Liverpool home game past a sign that reminds him of his responsibilities as a footballer, nodded in approval when the sentiment was put to him. "That's the message. We're pleased with the majority of the first performance. It's always difficult, the first game, a lot of tension and pressure, but preparations for this game have gone well."

Since their draw with the United States on Saturday, the tension has eased as England have watched the teams rated by the bookmakers in this competition struggle to make the impact that was expected of them. Spain have lost, Brazil beat North Korea by a margin of one goal and Germany? Well, Fabio Capello can give you plenty of reasons why they got the rub of the green when they scored four goals against Australia on Sunday.

He knows that in tonight's game in Cape Town he will be judged on the result above all, even invoking his own experience as a pundit on Italian television to emphasise the point. "Everything you write – because I know, I was a journalist on television – the score is the most important thing," Capello said. "Everything else is only words. OK?"

But, this being Capello, there were mitigating factors. "We are talking about Argentina," he said. "I remember, when the score was 2-1 [against South Korea yesterday], Korea had a big chance to equalise. At 2-2, we wouldn't be speaking about Argentina in the same way. But this is football. You have to score the goals in the best moments of play. We are playing very well. The midfield are getting chances at every moment."

With the benefit of five days of cagey, defensive-minded games since England played, Capello was more confident than the frazzled, less cogent figure he cut in the aftermath of the US game. He has been encouraged by the struggles of the so-called favourites for this World Cup and you get the impression that, with every day that has passed, especially after the defeat of the Spain team he admires so much on Wednesday, his confidence has grown.

He even cut off the traditional, final, light-hearted question from La Gazzetta dello Sport's veteran London correspondent last night – one that referred to his record of winning games on his birthday – with a curt "bye-bye".

Today Capello is 64, usually the time when a man's thoughts turn to digging weeds and mending fuses, but he is confident. Confident that he has made, it would seem, the right choice in sticking with Robert Green tonight despite the goalkeeper's gaffe against the US in Rustenberg. Capello has given every indication that Green is reprieved, even to the extent that he is now virtually blaming the ball for Saturday's calamity.

The England manager contradicted what he had said in a BBC interview this week when he suggested that he would talk to Green the day before the game regardless of whether he was selecting him or not. Now Capello is back to the original plan that no player will learn one way or the other about his fate until two hours before tonight's game.

The England manager launched another defence of his last-minute decisions on the team, citing the example of his early days at Milan when he tried to "talk with the players after dinner the night before games" but found the strategy unsatisfactory. He abandoned it after one season and did not go back to it. He did not explain why.

This is Capello's England after two and a half years of him in the job. It is difficult to discuss anything in any detail with him because his level of English is so bad and his patience so short. He tries to say exactly what he means but sometimes, one fears, he says what he does not mean. He shoos away his interpreter – the secondary role of Christian Lattanzio, the sports psychologist – when it would not be a bad idea at times to give the chap a more central role.

Capello deserves the benefit of the doubt with that record of nine wins out of 10 in qualifying, but there is precious little insight into his thought processes over Green and the other pertinent issues around the team. The throwaway remarks that Jermain Defoe could start instead of Emile Heskey alongside Wayne Rooney seem to have been dismissed.

These recent days have made England's manager more convinced than ever before that, with Gareth Barry back in the team, he is on the brink of unlocking the potential of this side.

Asked whether he had made mistakes in the first game, Capello answered that "all managers can make mistakes" before adding, that in his own case, "I don't think so".

He said: "When I decide the first XI, I decided it after a long time. Those were the best players that could play. But, if the performance of some players is not so good, sometimes the pressure of this game is too much for some players. I think I can make mistakes, but when I chose the first XI it's not because I like one player or another. I choose the players that I think are the best."

In other words, tonight it is the players' fault if they do not perform. As it says it in the old script in the locker room, they have no choice but to go strong and their manager believes he has given them the best possible chance to do so.

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