Capello still eyes World Cup goal
World Cup 2010: Port Elizabeth
England's World Cup has blown so far off course that Fabio Capello felt forced to deliver official confirmation of his sanity before insisting they could still hit their target.
South Africa was parading its pride at Bafana Bafana's gallant failure to reach the last 16 as Capello spoke in a sideroom backstage at Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Capello is under no illusions that a similar outcome to England's campaign would not be a source of national rejoicing. Think embarrassment. Think humiliation. At least.
So it was no surprise Capello was in fighting mood - at times literally - as he braced himself for the biggest day of his reign, going in search of the result against Slovenia that will drag England out the group phase.
England, in football terms, would be shamed if they failed to clear the obstacle presented by the smallest nation at the World Cup, with a population of a little more than two million - but on recent grim evidence you would not put it past them.
The brutal reality was not lost on Capello as he stepped out into an array of flashbulbs and the noise of countless cameras, a mark of the increased curiosity caused by England's faltering start to the World Cup and talk of off the field turmoil.
Capello, in a quieter corner later sitting on a table away from the gaze of the world's media, stretched out the palms of his hands in a pleading gesture as he announced: "I am not crazy when I said my target is the final of the World Cup. This is a really good squad."
A couple of firm right-handers aimed in captain Steven Gerrard's direction were used as emphasis for Capello's belief.
The Italian is convinced England still have the players to banish unhappy memories of two draws - one a fair-to-middling effort against the United States and the other a genuine "stank the place out" affair against Algeria.
Capello might have wanted to inflict physical force on John Terry judging by his reaction to the former captain's now notorious media briefing, but on this occasion he was merely using Gerrard as a handy prop to demonstrate England still have the players to bring their World Cup alive.
Gerrard wisely decided against using Capello as a punchbag to make his point, but he was not holding back on the emotive language either. He knows his career would carry a permanent scar if he was the captain when England failed to make it out of the group stage for the first time since 1958.
"It would be an absolute disaster for this group of players to go home after the group stage," admitted Gerrard.
After talk of mutiny and 48 hours of an agenda led by Terry's frankness - all justified in my opinion apart from an unwise attempt to select Capello's team for him by advocating the selection of Joe Cole - Gerrard and the coach were anxious to move forward.
It looks like Terry's campaign for the recall of his former Chelsea team-mate will fall on deaf ears, with Jermain Defoe likely to replace Emile Heskey with orders to give England extra pace alongside Wayne Rooney in attack and James Milner getting his chance on the right in place of Aaron Lennon.
Capello's apparent reluctance to play Cole and use Gerrard in tandem with Rooney may represent another signal of his natural conservatism - but he stressed again on Tuesday that the result is all against Slovenia. Nothing else matters.
Terry's apology for what Capello regarded as "a very big mistake" was what England hope will be a line drawn under a traumatic two days as talk of unrest in the camp and a fractured squad followed the dreadful draw against Algeria.
If England fail to deliver against Slovenia, the country's so-called "Golden Generation" - a generous tag given the conspicuous absence of any tangible success - will be ushered towards the door with only a nation's dissatisfaction to accompany them.
Gerrard would be among a group of players, including Frank Lampard and Terry, who would effectively be playing their last 90 minutes at a World Cup should England go out. If nothing else, this knowledge will drive them on in Port Elizabeth.
And it is almost impossible to see Capello riding out what would be an inevitable storm if England failed to negotiate a group they would have gratefully hand-picked before the draw was made in South Africa.
The flip-side is that for all the flaws on show during England's time in South Africa, they still have the opportunity to rescue respectability if they can navigate their way into the last 16.
The positives have been hard to detect out here, almost from the moment Rio Ferdinand's World Cup was snuffed out before the end of their first training session, but this unpredictable tournament offers hope to any country able to take their place in the last 16.
This was Capello's mantra as he said: "We have got good players but they are not playing at the level you know, I know and they know. We have got good players but they are not playing at the level they played in qualification - but they are still good players.
"If we can win against Slovenia then all the teams will have to fight against us."
It was just the sort of positive message England needed after the days of negativity - and emphasised Capello still has his eyes on his original target, even if some may regard such forecasts as optimism gone mad. Or indeed crazy to use Capello's own word.
Capello has made it his business to speak with Rooney about the striker's form that went from indifferent against the United States to wretched against Algeria.
He has detected signs that England's most important player may finally be ready to shine in South Africa, but Capello has been fooled by performances in training before, as he readily admitted in Cape Town on Friday.
And he dismissed the notion that Terry might pay for his verbal indiscretions with his place. He is too important a figure to suffer that fate - even moreso with Ferdinand and Ledley King injured and Jamie Carragher suspended.
Capello's point has been forcibly made and he was at pains to point out that normal service must be resumed in preparation for this pivotal moment in his own tenure and in the England careers of so many of his players.
It is a night when England must play without the fear that has gripped them, particularly against Algeria - a failing accepted by both Gerrard and Capello.
The good game has been talked by England. Now the good game must be played. The blizzard of optimistic messages will count for nothing if they are on a flight out of South Africa on Thursday.