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England 3-0 Belarus

Capello builds from the back

October 14, 2009
By Harry Harris
(Archive)

England's first clean sheet this season, and only their sixth in 20 games is testimony to the fact that it was indeed premature to write off Rio Ferdinand.

Rio Ferdinand
GettyImagesFerdinand: Capello has remained faithful to his centre-back.

• Brewin: Reserves rally without Rooney
• England 3-0 Belarus

Manchester United's £30 million centre-half has taken a battering from the media for mistakes in his last two internationals, while his form for his club has also been erratic this season.

Fabio Capello has been anxious to instil an Italian-style philosophy that a winning mentality is built upon sound defence. That used to be the cornerstone of England teams of past generations, but has not always been the biggest asset of the national side in recent times.

The fact David Beckham, winning his 115th cap, made such an impact when he came on that he was chosen as Man of the Match, while Peter Crouch scored twice, shows that there was little focus on England's defence - and that's just how the manager and his under pressure defender would have liked it.

Defenders need to do their jobs effectively, leaving the glory to the goalscorers and those who assist like Beckham.

The attention has switched to the debate about who can best lead the England forward line with Wayne Rooney in support to provide the pace and ability to get behind defences on the flanks. The recent headlines about lapses in concentration of key defenders such as Ferdinand seem, for the moment at least, to have been forgotten

To be fair, it also needed a superb reflex save from Ben Foster to ensure that precious clean sheet. The young goalkeeper, another Old Trafford player under pressure, came good to ensure that precious clean sheet for Capello's side. It might have been only a semi-competitive game, but for Foster and Ferdinand it was vital to make a few points, as it was for so many others.

So many are on trial for their places on the plane let alone the team, including those who have not featured for a while including Joe Cole, a fully fit Owen Hargreaves, and Michael Owen, who seems to have more to prove than most.

While the usual guessing game will occupy the months in the build up to the finals in South Africa, there is one major reality check. Nine wins out of ten were achieved and little was asked of the team... but that is fantasy football.

The reality is that England are ranked seventh in FIFA's listings, behind Guus Hiddink's Russia and all the usual high powered suspects with Brazil at the summit. That ranks England as World Cup quarter-finalists, a stage upon which Sven Goran Eriksson seemed to be perpetually stuck.

Not so for Capello, mind you. Once he has instilled the Italian mentality that you start with a clean sheet; once all the wrinkles (due mainly to rustiness) are ironed out of Ferdinand's game in time for the summer tournament; then perhaps England will be ready to make a real impact.

The English-style weather of South Africa's winter will be in their favour and Capello will insist they play to an English tempo with an Italian defensive mentality. With games coming thick and fast during a World Cup tournament, you feel Capello will place more emphasis on the role of the whole squad than ever before.

Capello knows it will take hard work and total concentration, and he has gathered the players around him who he believes will be committed to the cause, rather than worry about the WAGS. This time there can be no injured passengers, no catering to egos. Not even for Beckham. And you can see why the former England captain is putting in the effort, as without it he won't make the cut.

If the manager continues to successfully instil the hard-working attitude he has vehemently promoted since the first day he became England boss, the nation will have its best chance for a long while.