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Aug 20, 2008

One step forward, two steps back

An evening that should have marked the real birth of Fabio Capello's England reign ended with an all too familiar type of inquest, as 70,000 fans once again left Wembley with more questions than answers.

Joe Cole's injury time equaliser may have salvaged Fabio Capello's embattled side a dash of pride but it won't afford them a convenient escape route from criticism.

A disjointed and unbalanced display will give England's mass of critics a too-good-to-miss opportunity to pour scorn on the Italian, his decision-making and ability to squeeze the best from players who looked sodden and utterly dejected at the final whistle as a smattering of boos rained down.

Compounding the nation's misery was an untimely leak, nothing to do with the near torrential conditions at Wembley, but news midway through the first half that Brian Barwick, the FA's chief executive was to leave his high-profile post at the end of the year.

With a team faltering on the pitch and news of departures filtering through the stands before any official announcement was made Wembley had the feel of White Hart Lane back in October last year when 40,000 Spurs fans found out about Martin Jol's sacking 40 minutes before he did.

The reasons for Barwick's resignation, or sacking, will become clear but the chatter in corridors at Soho Square is that he and Lord Triesman, the first independent chair of the FA were at loggerheads from day one.

Is he that much of a loss? After all, he was the 'brains' behind Steve McClaren's appointment.

Whatever the reasons, once again the FA have made themselves look amateurish. Barwick was even supposed to be part of the pre-game presentation party but was withdrawn one hour before kick-off. It all smacks of a hastily made, botched decision.

On the field it wasn't much better. Compared to the assured Czechs, England looked awful.

Steven Gerrard was England's best player but was employed in a wide left role and removed after an hour.

David Beckham's delivery - which, let's face it, is his one redeeming feature these days - was terrible. Frank Lampard went wandering, Gareth Barry clattered into his marker with all the grace of a rhino and even Rio Ferdinand looked shaky.

Ask any football fan on the street or any manager in the Premier League to pick an England starting XI and all the same faces would be there.

But why is it no-one can seem to unlock the qualities that make England's some of the most talented players in the world?

Capello needs to rethink his strategy and fast. Yes England will beat Andorra on September 6th but four days later they visit Croatia, a team who have heaped more misery on the nation than most in recent years.

Slaven Bilic's side play in a fluid manner like the Czech Republic. They are hard to break down and lightning fast on the counter-attack, so often a combination that is England's undoing.

The coach now needs to settle on a formation, select players that are comfortable in those positions and find a way to unearth the class we know many of them possess.

After the game Capello called it 'another step forward'. Most will see it as two steps back.

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