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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Mar 27, 2008

Capello to continue experimenting with players

Fabio Capello will carry on experimenting to find the right blend in his England team in time for the World Cup qualifying campaign.

That was evident from England's 1-0 defeat against France in Paris, a setback which must have made Capello realise the size of the task he has taken on.

That and the fact the Italian is no more immune from the pressures exerted by the Premier League than Steve McClaren and Sven-Goran Eriksson were before him.

The 61-year-old admitted he made four substitutions at half-time against France as much to rest Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Joe Cole and Wayne Rooney ahead of the Champions League quarter-final matches next week as to study other players.

The wrath of Sir Alex Ferguson clearly stretches into the minds of even the steeliest of coaches.

Capello explained: 'My interest is trying things with the team in order to be ready for the qualifying campaign. The four subs at half-time were made because I wanted to see other players play against a good team like France.

'And because we have players who play many games and they have to play in the Champions League as well.'

So they were not substituted because of poor performances?

'Absolutely not,' said Capello.

The point is they easily could have been. Terry's lack of pace was exposed by the alacrity of his Chelsea team-mate Nicolas Anelka. Joe Cole squandered possession too cheaply, Gerrard was largely ineffective in his role of strike support and Rooney looked a shadow of the player who is so potent for Manchester United.

Quite how Capello could conclude he was 'happy' with such a sterile performance was a mystery, solved only by the assumption that yet another coach was steering the good ship England down a river of delusion.

Yet let us not judge Capello too harshly too soon. The fact is he has enjoyed no more than four full-out training sessions with his England players before the 2-1 win against Switzerland and this defeat combined, barely time to put names to faces.

Enough time, however, to suggest England supporters will not be witnessing too much beautiful football under his reign.

They had better get used to the sight of two holding midfielders in Owen Hargreaves and Gareth Barry, especially when even then the defence struggled to hold firm.

Capello, however, was adamant: 'I saw players play with better confidence compared to the Switzerland game. We were playing away against a top-level team and we played right to the end.

'And I know I saw what I can get out of players. It is in these type of games that you see the worth of players and the team.'

It's true, many teams could and will lose at the Stade de France, even to a French side shorn of top stars such as Thierry Henry and Karim Benzema.

France, with Bayern Munich star Franck Ribery a revelation in midfield, will be a force at the European Championships in the summer.

But it was the football on show from England which was so depressing, unimaginative football which suggested the teams were separated by more than the Channel tunnel, more like separate solar systems.

They lack a creative string-puller in midfield and while David Beckham produced the one raking pass of pure quality, as well as a couple of his trademark crosses, no longer at almost 33 is he the dynamic force around which England can build their future.

Much better that he is an impact substitute, which no doubt is how Capello would have used him if it were not for the fact that he was winning his 100th cap.

Capello insisted he substituted Beckham for David Bentley after 63 minutes because he wanted to view the Blackburn wide man against top opposition.

His only disappointment, however, appeared to be with his side's lack of fire power.

He said: 'We did create chances from the wings but we didn't go in centrally and this is one of the things I told the players. We didn't shoot on goal from the centre.

'We carried on playing even after conceding the goal. We created chances, a good chance with Stewart Downing.'

The fact, however, was that it was a night French goalkeeper Gregory Coupet would have got more exercise walking his dog while David James was called on to make several athletic saves, even if he was exposed by the pace of Anelka for France's goal.

'We should not have let the through-ball reach Anelka,' was Capello's verdict on Ribery's pass which saw James bring down the Chelsea striker for Ribery to score from the penalty spot.

As Capello is beginning to discover, such calamities do seem to beset the shirt with Three Lions.

Carry on experimenting is the message. But, at £6million a year, it had better be right come September.