Is it now or never for England?
Team Limey was basking in an unfamiliar relaxed state leading up to this week's final round of World Cup qualifiers, as its beloved England team safely qualified at the beginning of September with two games to spare.
That marked a drastic change from some of the nail-biting, angst-ridden, stress-inducing recent qualification (or lack of) experiences. Two of many that spring to mind are the "Wally with the Brolly" on the touch line as we failed miserably against Croatia in qualification for Euro 2008, and
It has been all change in the England set-up in the 18 months since
As soon as he walked through the door, Capello made his intentions clear with how he wanted things done. Gone was the use of cell phones, video games and the presence of WAGs while on international duty. In was the militarized wearing of team suits or track suits during meal times, and a wholesale change in the relationship between manager and players.
Contrast the manner in which former boss
Despite defeating Belarus 3-0 on Wednesday, Capello was still critical in the performance and demanded improvement. After the game, the Italian veteran remarked that Beckham's being awarded Man of the Match for his 30-minute (admittedly highly effective) cameo was "like
So the players know who the boss is, but does the boss know the players who will be joining him on the plane to South Africa next June? With only five friendly matches between now and the World Cup in which to directly work with his squad, Capello will have to rely heavily on players' form in the Premier League this season. The Italian refuses to tip his hand.
"I have to check next April what the situation is," he told reporters. "Sometimes at the start of the season, the players are good. At the end of the season, they are tired. It is impossible to speak now about 23 players who will be with us in South Africa."
Despite the impressive qualifying campaign, with 56 different players used in his squads and with mistakes and potential weaknesses creeping into the last couple of qualifying matches, Capello has plenty of food for thought ahead of next summer.
Goalkeeper is possibly one of the most up-for-grabs positions. It's safe to say
At the beginning of the season, Foster was hailed by Manchester United boss
The first-choice back four picks itself. Despite high-profile errors in recent games,
At left back, following a period of stuttering form,
Midfield is probably England's strongest area, giving Capello potentially his biggest headache as he attempts to whittle a list of about 15 players to probably eight or nine places in the squad. Lampard, Gerrard and
In attack, the main question is who will partner with Rooney. Capello has made it clear with his selections that he likes to pair the United bulldog with a big target man.
In defense of Heskey, his game is about more than goals. Capello feels the enhancement in Rooney's game as a result of Heskey's strength and holdup play is worth more than the individual goal records of Heskey's rivals.
If England is to win a major tournament, this will be arguably its biggest chance for a long time. The phrase "Golden Generation," coined by a former Football Association chief executive to describe a crop of players including Terry, Gerrard, Beckham, Ferdinand and Lampard, has been overused in the last few years. This week, Lampard told an England press conference that the phrase has become something of a weight around their neck: "The whole 'Golden Generation' thing is quite frustrating for us players. They are very talented individuals, but we have not made the most of it."
This crop of players -- with the exception of Beckham -- are undoubted starters in England's first XI and either will have ended or will be approaching the end of their international careers by the time of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. These will be big holes to fill, and at the moment, there isn't a plethora of pegs coming through that look capable of filling them.
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