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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Feb 6, 2008

Capello off to a winning start at Wembley

ENGLAND 2-1 SWITZERLAND

It was around 7pm on this chilled North London evening that a bombshell crashed into Her Majesty's hungry press pack.

Even before Fabio Capello's first England side had taken to the field, there were serious rumblings of discontent among the media present who were left stunned by a team selection that set their blood boiling.

You see, the slightly obese and deluded gentlemen who frequent the press room on auspicious occasions such as this like to be confident in their belief that the England team neatly laid out in formation on the pages of their newspaper on the morning of the game will take to the field a few hours later.

They usually rely on leaks from England players, their family and friends or the odd agent to ensure they get their line-ups spot on. But with Capello only telling his squad who will play on the afternoon of the match and mobile phones now banned in the English team hotel, getting out covert messages will prove to be more than a little complicated in this new era for the national team.

So when the team sheets came hot off the presses, you could sense a mood of panic grip the room. Where was Owen Hargreaves' name? What about Ashley Young? Both were named as starters in all papers on Wednesday morning, yet Capello had not followed the script and had the cheek to name Jermaine Jenas and Gareth Barry instead.

This was not the start of a relationship that has already had many moaning publicly and privately. While the media pack were quick to turn to Steve McClaren and Sven Goran-Eriksson, they liked the reality that the players they have befriended would help them out when it came to naming the all important starting eleven.

The fact that Jenas has been one of the most impressive midfielders in the Premier League since Capello started watching English football at the start of January and Barry has barely put a foot wrong for Aston Villa this season, mattered little to those whose personal and professional pride had been hurt. How dare this Italian make a fool of us, they wanted to cry. In their eyes, this was tantamount to an act of treacherous betrayal.

Only these learned writers can explain why they should know the team before everyone else. The fact that most of them believe they are the stars of English football and not the players or the new national team manager will explain why some have an ego bigger than the Wembley arch, but it was amusing to see them squirm as the call went into their editor to reveal they had given their readers some false information this morning.

'Nothing surprises me with this manager,' moaned one hack, clearly smarting from his failure to second guess Capello, but many England fans will be pleased that the revolution being orchestrated by the veteran Italian coach is so far reaching. The supporters who pay vast sums of money to watch this team play are desperate for some success after all too long waiting and many will enjoy the fact that the media had been given a rare bruising.

Capello indulged in a PR stunt before kick-off when he positioned England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce alongside him as he took his place on the Wembley touchline for the first time. Most believe his Italian backroom staff will have more of a say in events, but this wily old coach knows he needs to show a willingness to embrace an English hero. English physio Gary Lewin was also given a prime spot next to the new boss.

The Italian's presence on the touchline made this match a fascinating proposition, with his 4-1-4-1 formation a departure from the failed line-ups of the past, and even though the first half could only be described as desperately boring, England did get a goal they barely deserved to take a lead. It was Switzerland who created the first serious chance of the same as a dangerous cross was flicked narrowly wide by Mario Eggiman, with England's attacking flair notably absent without established stars like Michael Owen and David Beckham.

As the half-time whistle beckoned and the action showed no sign of setting pulses racing, the first whistles of discontent could be heard around Wembley, but Joe Cole soon broke the gloom with a couple of pieces of flair that opened up a resolute Swiss backline.

The Chelsea midfielder went close with a shot six minutes before the break and it was Cole's trickery on the left flank seconds later that presented Jenas with a chance he could barely miss. The press boys wriggled again as one of the men they did not name in their England team had opened the scoring and the Capello era was underway in earnest.

The muted response of the sell-out crowd did little to suggest they were being enthused by the 'entertainment' on show, yet friendly internationals are rarely thrilling and you are generally left to focus on the performances of the odd individual who snatches his chance to shine.

David Bentley's selection on a right flank that could have been occupied by Beckham was among the most intriguing and on a night when the Blackburn man had a real chance to lay down a marker, he failed to make an impact. Some sections of the Wembley crowd were shouting Beckham's name mid-way through the first half and if this is the best his replacement could muster, that much talked of 100th international cap should still be claimed by the world's most famous player.

The threat of a Switzerland equaliser had not crossed too many minds, but they managed to stun Wembley as FC Basel sharp-shooter Erin Derdiyok blasted a brilliant leveller past David James a matter of seconds after Capello had pulled off England's star man Joe Cole.

There was still a half and hour to go and England quickly re-established a lead as skipper Steve Gerrard burst into the box and fed substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips, who scored another international goal as he tapped into an open net from close range.

Even though he wasn't asked to do too much, David James often looked like an accident waiting to happen as he returned to the England goal, while Matthew Upson was occasionally caught out of position on a rare start. Despite those flaws, Capello seemed content after a successful first day in his new office.

'Winning is always good and it's important to the morale of the team, but we will have to analyse every game and try to learn some lessons,' he said, with his words being translated for the press conference via headphones for everyone in attendance. 'Wembley always generates pressure on the players and they couldn't play as they wished at first.

'Then we started to create chances and even though Switzerland had a very good keeper, we have finished up with a victory. We made some mistakes on the goal conceded, but that was the only mistake we made defensively all evening.

'In order to play for England, you need to be a great player and you need to perform at your best as well. Players playing for their country need to be fit and at their best form at the time of the game and I need to get to know players quickly. I need to learn the character of the players as well as their level of performance. Players are all on the same level for me, no matter their reputation and I will select them on form.'

It's a little early to suggest the knives are being sharpened for England's latest manager, but with the press hounds already beginning to bark, he wants to hope England keep winning games. As Fabio Capello will doubtless find out in the next couple of years, upsetting the media in his adopted country is not recommended.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Joe Cole
The little Chelsea man was England's brightest spark and Capello obviously saw enough to confirm he will be one of the first names on his team sheet as he threw Shaun Wright-Phillips on in place of Cole for the last 35 minutes.

DISGRACE TO THEIR NATION: The four or five demented morons who decided to ruin the minute's silence in memories of the victims of the Munich air crash 50 years ago are national traitors. They doubtless haven't got the intelligence to be ashamed of themselves.

FLUID TACTICS: England have been accused of being one-dimensional in the past, but after starting with a 4-1-4-1, they reverted to a 4-3-3 line-up in the closing stages. Capello clearly intends to be flexible.

BECKHAM REMEMBERED: It took just 33 minutes for the Wembley crowd to start chanting the name of the absent former skipper who was training with LA Galaxy while this match ambled along. Gone for now, he is not forgotten by his adoring public. 'The crowd chanting Beckham's name will have no impact on my selections,' was Capello's response.

ENGLAND VERDICT: It's hard to read too much into a game against opponents who are not among Europe's finest and Capello will have done little more than confirm what he already knew about most of his new players. There will still be space for a fully fit Beckham and Owen in this team, while he needs to work on a defence that has a tendency to loose concentration at crucial moments.

ENGLAND RATINGS: James 6, Brown 7, Ferdinand 7, Upson 6, A Cole 6, Barry 7, J Cole 8, Gerrard 7, Jenas 7, Bentley 7, Rooney 8. Subs: Wright-Phillips 7, Crouch, 7, Hargreaves 6, Bridge 6, Young 5


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