Time for Capello to deliver
England need a big performance and all eyes turn to Fabio
There is some footage of Fabio Capello during the Slovenia game doing the rounds on YouTube. It is the side of Capello you rarely see.
The raging, swearing manager who bullies his staff and shouts at his players. "Did I f***ing tell you to stand up?" he roars at Stuart Pearce at one point. Pearce duly sits down. "Now get up!" Capello shouts at him and pushes Pearce out of the dugout.
The manager of the England team is not a job for the fragile but it reminded me of Sven Goran Eriksson's last address before England played Portugal in Gelsenkirchen four years ago. The beleaguered, albeit unfailingly courteous, Swede was asked whether he planned, to paraphrase a famous comment from Gareth Southgate, to be more Winston Churchill than Iain Duncan Smith in his pre-match address to the players. Eriksson replied by saying that he did not know the difference between the two.
Even those of us who did not need a reference to the Second World War, rolled our eyes. Eriksson was the sort of person who reacted to adversity by blinking a couple of times and folding his arms. Capello is very different. Four years on from defeat to Portugal, as England face their next make-or-break moment in a World Cup, the mood has changed. Capello's command of English might be worse than Eriksson's but he has that big-match personality.
He will need it. Cold, sobering fact: England have never won a World Cup finals knockout game against top-level opposition away from Wembley. With apologies to Belgium, Cameroon, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador and the rest, it is just not the same as beating the likes of Brazil, Portugal or Germany. If Capello's team wins tomorrow in Bloemfontein against Germany, then he will have already broken new ground.
If there is a different mood in the squad now from four years ago -- and five of those who started in Gelsenkirchen will start tomorrow -- then it was summed up by David James yesterday. He is the man who, if it goes to penalties, will have to face the Germans.
"I'm genuinely confident that won't be an issue," he said. "Why? Because I think we're a better team than Germany. We played them in Berlin and beat them 2-1 in a game that we should have won more comfortably.
"I'm delighted that we've got an opportunity to play Germany. When the build-up was there, this was a possibility. Now it's a reality. If we get carried away as individuals, though, that we're playing Germany with the historic interest, we could take our eyes off the ball of our own preparations." The history, as James preferred to remember it, was more recent.
While everyone goes back to those defeats in 1970, 1990 and 1996, James said that the game that was mentioned more than any among the England players on Wednesday night was November 2008 in Berlin. That 2-1 victory was arguably Capello's best friendly result, although the circumstances of the game were different from the one that awaits tomorrow.
For a start, the England team that night was missing Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole and Joe Cole among others.
Germany had injury problems of their own and their goalkeeper Rene Adler miscued a punch to allow Matthew Upson to score the first goal.
As a measure of the two teams it would be harsh on the players who played to say that it was more like a B international but the level was not quite what it will be in Bloemfontein.
There have been major changes in the Germany team since then, especially with the graduation of Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Manuel Neuer and Marko Marin from the U-21 team that won last year's European championships. This is the last World Cup for players like Lampard, Gerrard, Gareth Barry and Ashley Cole but it is the first one for Germany's young players.
Like the Italy team of 2006, if the England team cannot hit their vintage now then they probably never will.
Youth v experience: but it is likely that the team which plays without fear and trepidation will be successful. The English have a habit of thinking it is only them who experience agony in international football but Germany, despite their three victories in World Cup finals, also believe they are overdue a success. They last won the World Cup 20 years ago and the fervour at their team's progress in 2006 was born of an impatience to win the big prize again.
And then to penalties. James will be a crucial figure in that event and, even two months from his 40th birthday no-one could quite predict how he might react. Yesterday he was in a light-hearted mood, describing how he had missed Franz Beckenbauer's latest broadside at the England team because he was too engrossed in the day-time TV beamed from London to their training base.
In Euro 2004, when James had to face Zinedine Zidane's penalty in the last few minutes of the first group game against France, he was unprepared for which side the Frenchman would shoot because there was, in his words: "no video evidence of Zidane taking a penalty for the last two years".
Since then it has changed dramatically. The FA has two full-time video technicians. In goal for Manchester United at the Carling Cup final, Ben Foster famously checked up on the Spurs penalty takers by watching footage on an iPod on the pitch before the shoot-out.
"Now, by virtue of YouTube and scouting databases you can access a lot of players's penalties," James said.
"In the last three games we have video footage of just about every aspect of the oppositions' attacking threats. You do your homework. You get to know what the guy is going to do. And then at some point in the game you just hope you get the chance to prove that you are right."
It will not just be James who is hoping to be proven right. If England are to beat Germany tomorrow they will have to breakthrough a barrier that has stood for ever. Only then will we able to say that the man in charge has really differentiated himself from all his predecessors. (© Independent News Service)