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Capello shows the Midas touch

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Phil McNulty | 23:17 GMT, Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Fabio Capello is the man with the Midas touch - and his gold reserves delivered a resounding message to England's established order with an outstanding win in Germany.

If Capello spent the build-up to this friendly wrestling with selection problems caused by untimely withdrawals of first-choice stars, he left Berlin contemplating a dilemma of a different kind as England's second string recorded a deserved victory.

Capello dismissed the absence of a previous "Golden Generation" to insist he could still learn much from a friendly against a nation England will always be measured against.

And, to his undoubted delight, he discovered England's resources have a strength in depth that will only add to the growing optimism surrounding Capello's reign.

It is almost a year to the day since defeat at home to Croatia killed off England's bid to reach Euro 2008 and Steve McClaren's reign as coach.

The mood under Capello could not be in sharper contrast to that rain-soaked night at Wembley, a wretched experience that capped an era of under-achievement under McClaren and his predecessor Sven-Goran Eriksson.

This victory, which marked Germany's first defeat in Berlin since 1973, must be placed in its proper context. The home side missed influential stars of their own in Michael Ballack, Philipp Lahm and Torsten Frings.

But to downplay the nature and style of England's win would be churlish on a night that delivered a virtually unbroken string of positives for Capello.

If this was a supposedly meaningless friendly, no-one told the players who performed so impressively in Berlin's Olympic Stadium.

Capello has had a satisfying week on and off the pitch.

He exerted his authority on the Premier League's elite by making it clear he will have the final word on any pull-outs from his selections - then his shadow squad helped him turn up the pressure a notch on any players lingering in England's comfort zone.

Capello marshalled his depleted resources to send out an England side that was perfectly balanced, well-organised and had the all-important threat of pace in attacking areas that troubled Germany all night.

England players celebrate win

And they played with the fearless confidence Capello has been demanding from his charges from the first whistle.

It was a night for enhancing reputations while England's big names were away, and very few missed their chance.

In the absence of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard - and consequently the debate about whether they can play together - Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick were outstanding in central midfield.

They controlled affairs at the heart of the game and Carrick, in particular, was economy itself as he rarely wasted a pass and was a reassuring presence throughout.

Matthew Upson not only scored England's opener, but performed with a composure he has rarely displayed on international duty.

And Capello's decision to compensate for Theo Walcott's unfortunate late absence by using Gabriel Agbonlahor was inspired. Aston Villa's in-form youngster was tireless and carried a genuine hint of menace.

Shaun Wright-Phillips looked rejuvenated on the right flank, but the biggest revelation of all may just have been the much-maligned Stewart Downing.

Previous sightings of Downing on England duty have shown a player shorn of self-confidence and a target for the taunts of fans. He has looked like a man unconvinced of his own worth on the international stage.

This was a different Downing, as if fuelled by a neat injection of self-confidence from Capello. He was direct, dangerous and only too willing to test the German keepers Rene Adler and Tim Wiese.

There was only one downside to England's display, coming just after the hour and leaving goalkeeper Scott Carson and striker Darren Bent with uneasy feelings about their own England ambitions.

Bent wasted a glorious chance after rounding Wiese, then Carson was involved in a horrible mix-up with captain John Terry that gifted Germany a leveller they barely deserved.

Terry should have dealt with an aimless long ball and took full responsibility later, but Carson was indecisive and failed to command the situation, allowing Patrick Helmes to score.

England's captain made amends by heading the late winner and justice was done.

Capello reflected on the renewed claims made by players on England's periphery and said: "I am very happy to have these problems."

You bet he is.

No-one would be foolish enough to suggest Capello will usher England's big names towards the exit on the basis of a victory in a friendly, but make no mistake he will use this performance to his advantage.

Those England players who were not in Berlin will already by grimly aware that Capello represents a sentiment-free zone. Performance is everything, no matter who you are.

And players like Lampard and Gerrard will know there are players pressing them for their places - while Michael Owen and David Beckham will also have food for thought about their long-term futures because of the emergence of Agbonlahor, Ashley Young and the rejuvenation of Wright-Phillips.

The traditional message from Capello and all surrounding the England camp is to keep feet on the ground at all times and refuse to get carried away.

But this is now an impressive sequence of five successive wins that is worthy of the growing confidence surrounding England.

Capello can reflect on a job well done - on and off the pitch.


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