‘Confident’ England threaten to raise expectations again

Posted on September 8, 2010


The press today are full of platitudes for Fabio Capello’s England side, who last night comfortably saw off Switzerland in their second qualifier for the 2012 European Championships. Paul Hayward saw plenty to admire in England’s attacking play, while Phil McNulty called for Capello to think long and hard before recalling the likes of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry in the wake of the victories in the first two qualifiers.

The danger, as ever, is that the press overestimate England’s capabilities based on two albeit convincing, victories against far inferior opposition. Under Capello, England have rarely struggled to see off sides such as Bulgaria and Switzerland. The 4-o win over the Bulgarians last Friday has been put into some perspective by the resignation of their coach today, amid turmoil caused in part by Dimitar Berbatov’s decision to quit international football. For large parts of last night’s match the Swiss barely competed at all. Even the most zealous England supporter must admit that in the last five days England have overcome sides that can at best be described as mediocre. Similar opposition were similarly dispatched en route to the World Cup in South Africa. England’s problem under Capello has been an inability to compete against the larger footballing nations, exhibited in friendlies against Spain and France and most painfully in the 4-1 drubbing by the Germans in South Africa. Accomplished performances by Phil Jagielka and Jermaine Defoe in the last few days should not be taken as evidence that these players can help England raise their game against better sides.

Certainly, however, there are positives. The side have reacted positively to the summer’s humiliation. Wayne Rooney showed he is more grown-up than people think with a mature display last night in the wake of press revelations about his private life. Adam Johnson continued his progress with a second goal in two matches. But we should be wary of building up England too soon. We will certainly qualify from what is a far weaker group than the one easily won on the way to the World Cup, but it does not mean the side is ready to compete with the very best. For all the talk of Jagielka and co, the likes of Ferdinand, Terry and Lampard will inevitably return when fit. The ‘new’ England is not as new as everybody thinks, it is in fact an injury-hit England shorn of fringe players like Emile Heskey, Wes Brown and Jamie Carragher. In the wake of such over-optimism, it is pleasing to hear stand-in captain Steven Gerrard, who must surely rate his chances of keeping the armband even when Ferdinand does return to fitness, appealing for calm and saying “England still have a lot to prove”. They certainly do.

Posted in: Sport