Issues mounting for Capello
It was 90 minutes when Fabio Capello lost some of his lustre. England's draw with the United States was not the unmitigated disaster that some seem convinced it was, but it was an occasion when Capello's Midas touch deserted him.
Decisions, whether picking Robert Green in goal, gambling on the fitness of Ledley King or opting for James Milner on the left wing, backfired. A lead was lost, an opportunity squandered. What, some asked, is he paid £6 million a year for?
A track record of identifying and solving problems provides the answer. It is something Capello must display again on his 64th birthday. Algeria may be the weakest team in possibly the poorest pool of all and if victory cannot be taken for granted in Cape Town, it should be achieved. But both the manner and the size of it are issues. In a group that could be decided by goal difference, an emphatic win would help. So would a classy one.
Franz Beckenbauer's "kick and rush" taunt may have been a more accurate description of past England teams but none of the sport's resident clichéd descriptions of panache - total football, joga bonito, tiki-taka - can be applied to Capello's side so far. They might not be now, either: the Italian has always prized substance over style.
Yet he has invariably displayed conviction, and that is required now. It is needed from whichever of the three goalkeepers has to repel soft shots from 25 yards; from Jamie Carragher in displaying that his legs have not gone; from Gareth Barry on his return to the midfield; from whoever partners Wayne Rooney in attack.
Emile Heskey did the job asked of him against the Americans in everything but the goal; considering Jermain Defoe, however, shows that a specialist scorer has an appeal to the manager. The popular vote may go to a partnership of Rooney and Steven Gerrard, thus permitting Joe Cole to play on the left, but Capello is an instinctive authoritarian. This is not a democracy.
Rooney has gone six games and nine months without a goal for his country. It is not cause for panic just yet, but like the majority of the supposed superstars of this World Cup, he did not start it spectacularly. Gerrard was better on Saturday and his reward is a move from the middle to the left. The hope is that it liberates him, allowing him to interchange positions with Rooney as well as making the sort of run that brought England's goal against the USA.
Barry's comeback is welcome. His absence has illustrated that the list of roles where England lack world-class options includes the midfield anchorman as well as goalkeeper and, Rooney excepted, strikers. The merits of footballers who can knit play together have become increasingly apparent. While England had 57% of possession against the Americans, a higher share than they had enjoyed in the warm-up games, they still lost it too carelessly and too frequently. It is a reason to believe 4-2-3-1 would be an improvement on 4-4-2.
It means, too, that on his first appearance for over six weeks, Barry's is a heavy responsibility. Owen Hargreaves, the designated defensive midfielder then, was England's outstanding performer in the 2006 World Cup; if anything, the importance of such players has grown since then. That Barry has been a virtual ever-present for Capello when fit shows that the manager is convinced of his qualities.
He seems certain of Carragher's, too, luring the Liverpudlian out of international retirement. An alliance of Carragher and Terry, besides seeming short of speed, would have been a more enticing prospect in 2006 than 2010. But Capello has a preference for the battle-hardened and Carragher has a habit of coping.
Whether poor Robert Green has the same opportunity remains to be seen. It would be improbable if a goalkeeper who was not an established first choice were retained after a blunder of such magnitude. The choice of either David James or Joe Hart would attract scrutiny, but Green would get still more if he were fielded again.
Capello's first two years at the helm were notable for his sure handling of awkward issues. The majority of his major decisions were justified. One game into the World Cup, they are multiplying. The quest for points and popularity, momentum and mastery has greater stakes, but each stumble, each fumble will generate further criticism. There is no such thing as a happy medium where England are concerned.