Capello can plot World Cup glory
Fabio Capello makes managing England look easy - and he stepped just as comfortably into the hazardous minefield of managing England's World Cup expectations.
Capello swept swiftly into Wembley's media theatre only minutes after England booked a place in South Africa next summer with a performance he ranked as the best of his reign by beating Croatia 5-1.
There was no bad news for Capello after an England display that bore all the hallmarks of a team that could make a serious impact in South Africa - except that it was of such high quality that hopes, dreams and hype could now grow out of all proportion. Again.
The question inevitably, and correctly, came and Capello's handling of it was as sure as all the moves he has made in rebuilding a broken England and piecing together a squad that can take genuine optimism with it on the plane to South Africa.
Are England contenders to win the World Cup?
Capello said the victory over Croatia was his best since he took charge
The trademark Italian shrug, the response deadpan but delivered with conviction: "Yes, why not?"
And you believed him. In the same way as England's players believe in the methods of Capello, a coach who commands nothing except total respect from every member of his squad, with just a little fear thrown in for good measure.
He is comfortable with what is coming, the demand that England end the flatlining years of falling in the last eight at major tournaments, saying: "The expectation is really hard. We have to play to win because we are England. We are one of the best teams in the world. We can play against all the best teams."
So there you have it. Not building a nation's hopes up but not exactly knocking them down either. Not getting carried away but not underplaying the hand he has in front of him.
Playing it to perfection in fact.
Croatia coach Slaven Bilic, wearing the sort of stunned, glassy-eyed expression worn by old cartoon characters seconds after their head has made meaningful contact with a frying pan, was unequivocal when I asked him if England could win the World Cup based on the mauling his side had just received.
"Based on this match, definitely. It is not easy to play against every team like they did here, but I was on the touchline and they didn't miss a ball in the first half hour. The balls were always dangerous - just perfect."
Of course England can win the World Cup - whether they will is another matter entirely because they have been here before at recent major tournaments. False dawns a speciality.
But they have not been here before under Capello and the coach's reputation alone will make England's rivals wary in South Africa.
Capello accepts that qualification is only the first staging post on the journey the Football Association asked him to embark upon as he navigated his way through the wreckage of the Steve McClaren era.
The image of McClaren covering his embarrassment with an umbrella as England's Euro 2008 hopes, and indeed his job, slipped away against these same opponents in November 2007 seemed an age away as Wembley basked in a glorious night.
The bonus of early qualification allows Capello valuable extra time to pore over his blueprint for success in South Africa - and he had plenty to go at after England took Croatia to the cleaners in the most comprehensive fashion.
Capello was given food for thought, with Aaron Lennon providing the most palatable after a performance that suggested he has now made the leap from infuriating under-achiever to finished article.
He was Capello's only change from the England side that laboured to victory against Slovenia. And what a change it was.
If Arsenal's Theo Walcott was the catalyst for England's 4-1 win in Zagreb with a hat-trick that suggested Capello might be on to a good thing, then the Tottenham winger took top billing here and in doing so opened up some intriguing selection possibilities.
Lennon was electrifying in the game's crucial opening phases, winning a penalty for Frank Lampard to score and showing genuine end product, a major criticism in the past, to set up Steven Gerrard's first header.
It appeared his instructions from Capello were simple - run straight at Croatia with pace and terrify them - and he carried them out to the letter. And Capello likes it when players follow his instructions.
Lennon's display was not great news for the discarded Shaun Wright-Phillips, and with Walcott on course to return for Arsenal, where does this leave David Beckham?
Beckham was afforded his usual rapturous reception at Wembley, but if the wily combination of Capello and Harry Redknapp at Spurs have pressed the right buttons with Lennon and Walcott hits form at Arsenal, the old timer may have a fight on his hands to make the plane.
Capello has also got England's midfield in good working order, a trick that escaped Sven-Goran Eriksson and McClaren. Two goals each for Lampard and Gerrard provided compelling evidence.
The Gerrard-Lampard conundrum appears to have been solved by Capello
Gerrard still has to win over some England supporters, but the very notion of a Capello side without the Liverpool captain is laughable.
He is now flourishing in a role which is seen as left-sided, but which in reality gives him free rein to push up alongside or just behind Wayne Rooney when England are in possession. Gerrard will be feared by England's World Cup opponents - no mistake.
It throws extra responsibility on Ashley Cole, but as the Chelsea defender is back at his best the format worked like a charm against Croatia. It may be tested by more accomplished opposition, but Capello now has time to experiment further, with Joe Cole ready to press his claims later in the season.
Capello, as expected, retained faith with Emile Heskey and the big man provided ammunition for both his admirers and detractors, working hard and keeping Croatia occupied but bungling two easy opportunities that came his way. All Heskey life was there.
The enthusiastic greeting Capello gave Heskey when he came off renders all arguments about his place in England's plans redundant. He will be in them.
Heskey is a striker, however, and it is only right that he should actually be expected to strike just occasionally, something he shows little sign of doing.
What if the one chance of a tightly contested quarter-final falls to the less-than-clinical Heskey? This is the major risk Capello is taking with his continued selection, but he is not for turning and, barring injury or catastrophic loss of form, Heskey will be in South Africa.
Capello can now go into overdrive on getting England's goalkeeping position straight - and for all the questions about Glen Johnson, he will be the right-back. He improved defensively against an admittedly poor Croatia, and showed his progressive nature by setting up a goal for Lampard.
And he will be aware of the threats from outside England. Spain currently look the most complete side in world football and gave Capello's side a lesson in their last meeting, while the hugely-gifted and powerful Ghana have been touted to lead a serious African challenge.
But if England fans are attempting to detect the greatest hope that they might actually be in at the sharp end in South Africa, it comes in the shape of their coach.
This is no Eriksson, who was horribly inert when it mattered in quarter-finals in Shizuoka, Japan, Lisbon and appeared to conduct the 2006 World Cup campaign in Germany on a wing and a prayer.
England's adversaries know they are being overseen by a coach to be reckoned with, someone with the expertise, experience and confidence to plan a campaign meticulously.
Capello will keep a lid on the hype and hope for luck with injuries - especially to the mercurial Wayne Rooney.
But a flawless qualifying campaign containing eight straight wins suggests just a little hope is justified that England might be ready to give the football world a run for its money in South Africa.
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