Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fabio Capello First Match For England

The Swiss Roll for Fabio's First Outing

As debuts go, Fabio Capello's as England manager was reassuring but ultimately meaningless.

After the misery of the Croatia defeat at the same venue in November, Wembley's sell-out crowd was happy to witness a victory instead, but the contest will pass quickly into memory.

As if it needs repeating, Steve McClaren and Graham Taylor both won their first games in charge but ended their reigns in humiliation, while Alf Ramsey lost his but ended up winning the World Cup.

England's 2-1 win on Wednesday was unremarkable. Capello's men dominated the first half hour territorially, although Switzerland looked the more incisive in the final third.

Jermaine Jenas finished off a smart passing move five minutes before half time to give his Italian boss the first goal of his reign, and when Capello replaced the goalscorer and Joe Cole on 57 minutes, it seemed the game would wind down for the remainder into the slumber England friendlies often serve up.

Plaudits, therefore, to Switzerland's Eren Derdiyok for making a match of the occasion when he lashed a snapshot past David James a minute later - the goal of the evening.

England responded confidently and were ahead again in the 62nd when Steven Gerrard, the Man of the Match, powered through the Swiss backline before laying the ball off to Shaun Wright-Phillips for an easy tap-in.

Wayne Rooney and Joe Cole underlined why they should be next on the teamsheet after Gerrard; Rooney with some deft flicks and impromptu shooting and Cole with some dogged foraging down the left wing, including the incursion which lead to Jenas' goal.

If David Bentley is David Beckham's natural replacement on the right, he must improve his crossing to finally dislodge Goldenballs from the running. After one especially overhit centre, the fans in the adjacent corner serenaded the Blackburn midfielder with 'there's only one David Beckham'.

Capello's England has only just begun the metamorphosis from also-rans to contenders, but there were still some interesting hints of things to come. England might have kicked off with some misplaced passes and nervy indecision in defence, but did not resort to aimless long balls like they did against the Croats and showed some rare understanding of the phases of the game as it went on.

Instead of just attacking stubbornly for 90 minutes, for a spell in the first half the Three Lions played keep-ball Latin-style, although their failure to advance out of their own half soon had the crowd jeering, perhaps provoking them to respond with a goal.

For much of the opening 45, Capello's men showed the importance of playing in the opponents' half and when leading in the second, they did well by taking the game to the Swiss instead of sitting on their advantage and counting down the clock.

While England never looked like losing to Switzerland - the Euro 2008 joint-hosts lost at home to the USA in October and are ranked 44th in the world (England are 12th), they also did nothing to dazzle the spectators or stake a claim to be up there with Europe's best.

Still, I think we would settle for humdrum 2-1 wins all the way to the World Cup final in 2010.

If there was anything revolutionary in the air, it was the disciplined regime initiated by the much-travelled Italian, which may have had a knock-on effect on the fans, too.

No one can reasonably complain if he opts to call his captain 'Gerrard' instead of 'Stevie G', orders the players to keep to rigid meal times like friars in a monastery, and, at long last, has sent the WAGs, agents and assorted hangers-on packing from the team hotel.

The much-trumpeted minute's silence to commemorate the 1958 Munich air disaster was barely 30 seconds, and was interrupted by two or three morons, but only two or three, which amid 86,857 at Wembley is not a bad ratio.

For the first time in my Wembley memory, I heard nobody in my section boo the visitors' national anthem. I also failed to spot any flags emblazoned with the names of banned Ulster terror groups, and heard no bone-headed renditions of 'No Surrender to the IRA'.

Looking around the gleaming new arena with its magnificent architecture, I wondered if at long last the boorishness that has dogged England’s fanbase for years was finally withering away in the face of a new era.

What surprised me most, though, was glancing to my left and finding my eyes fixed upon the familiar form of one of the world's greatest coaches, looking unfamiliar in an England tracksuit, but brooding over his troops with his reknowned intensity.

Sterner tests will come, beginning with the trip to Zagreb to face Croatia on the 10th of September for a World Cup qualifier.

So far, so good: Capello has a 100% record. And for a non-English speaker picking up a team strangled by player egoes, and a nation demoralized by their failure to perform, he has showed an encouraging desire to do things his own way.

Assessments will change when the meaningful games arrive in the autumn, but for now, Fabio's road looks the right one for England.

Scoring –
ENG – Jenas 40'
SWI – Derdiyok – 58'
ENG – Wright-Phillips 62'

Line-ups -

England: James, Brown, Ferdinand, Upson, Ashley Cole (Bridge 73'), Bentley, Jenas (Wright-Phillips 57'), Gerrard, Barry (Hargreaves 73'), Joe Cole (Crouch 57'), Rooney (Young 87').

Switzerland: Benaglio, Lichtsteiner (Behrami 46'), Senderos (Grichting 55'), Eggiman, Spycher, Inler, Gelson (Huggel 84'), Barnetta, Yakin (Margairaz 63'), Gygax (Vonlanthen 46'), Nkufo (Derdiyok 46').

Att: 86,857.

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