Sport Soccer

Saturday 16 December 2017

Mama mia as Capello gets ready to take Barry gamble

England 2 Japan 1

Sam Wallace

IT will be in his childhood home in the north-eastern Italian town of Pieris this morning that Fabio Capello sits down to finalise the seven names that will not be on the flight to South Africa on Wednesday morning -- with a little help, perhaps, from his elderly mamma Evelina.

It has been another rocky two days in the life of the England manager whose brinkmanship over the Internazionale job has forced the English FA to reorganise themselves in the space of one Sunday to appease him.

And last night, before he is pitched headlong into the most manic six weeks of his England reign, Capello did what all good Italian boys do -- he went to visit his mother.

Amid all the uncertainty over the games Capello was playing with the FA and Inter, there was the small matter of an embarrassing defeat being avoided yesterday in Austria.

It was thanks only to what the Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen would surely have called "Kamikaze defending", that Japan's rearguard scored two own goals to get England out of a hole.

Capello said afterwards that nothing he had seen yesterday had changed his mind on the seven out of the 30-man squad whom he will not be taking with him to South Africa.

Working on the basis that this was not England's best afternoon's work, one can only surmise that those borderline players who figured prominently yesterday will not be going to the World Cup finals.

That surely means Darren Bent, who did nothing of note in the first half, apart from head wide a chance created to him by a mistake from one of Japan's centre-backs.


Michael Dawson, Stephen Warnock and Scott Parker have not played a minute over the two warm-up games which must make them non-starters for the squad. That leaves three more to be thrown overboard.

Shaun Wright-Phillips had a better game than Theo Walcott, who he replaced at half-time.

But, working on the basis of Capello's assertion that no-one had changed his mind, it will surely be Wright-Phillips who stays behind.

Adam Johnson had six minutes against Mexico in which he looked sharp, but Capello was so lukewarm about him in his pre-match press conference on Saturday, it is difficult to see him making it

The biggest choice, assuming that Gareth Barry will be fit enough to be worth taking to South Africa, will be between Tom Huddlestone and Michael Carrick.

In the second half he played against Mexico at Wembley, and yesterday's first half, Huddlestone looked the better of the two. But, again, Capello defended Carrick before the game and it seems that he too will get the nod.

Dawson, Warnock, Parker, Bent, Wright-Phillips, Adam Johnson and Huddlestone -- judging by the often hard-to-decipher pronouncements of the England manager and his even more unpredictable team selection, those are the seven who looks the favourites not to make the cut.

But, as Capello kept cheerfully reminding his inquisitors yesterday, we will all just have to wait until tomorrow to find out.

Capello began the game with a 4-4-2 system, with Huddlestone partnering Frank Lampard in central midfield. That changed to 4-2-3-1 in the second half, which is the Italian's formation of favour, although with one major adaptation.

Steven Gerrard was not playing in the role usually occupied by Wayne Rooney -- that honour went to Joe Cole. Instead Gerrard was back as one of the two holding midfielders.

That was not the exceptional aspect of Gerrard's position; what made it interesting was the fact that he was playing alongside Lampard. It was the first time that the odd couple have been paired together in central midfield since England beat Estonia in June 2007 and represented a step backwards to try to solve one of the great intractable problems of modern times.

Ever more it seems the case that, if Barry is not fit to play against the United States on June 12, as expected, then the old dysfunctional double-act of Gerrard and Lampard will be pressed into service in the centre of midfield.

With Capello likely to leave behind at least two holding midfielders -- Huddlestone/Carrick and Parker -- there are not many who can do the task and few he actually trusts.

In the first half, England had been fairly wretched with Rooney and Bent completely out-of-sorts in attack and Walcott running into all kinds of problems on the right wing.

The Arsenal man is a favourite of Capello's and there is no question that he will get the nod to go to South Africa, but it is a long time since he has put in the kind of performance for England that deserves such certainty from his manager.

The task was not made easier when Japan scored after seven minutes, their centre-back Marcus Tanaka crisply striking a corner hit to the edge of the area by Yasuhito Endo.

That meant that Japan's 4-1-4-1 formation became, as Capello tartly noted, more like 9-1 as they tried to hang on grimly to their lead.

They were helped by a strong performance by Eiji Kawashima in goal, who was sharp enough to save a Lampard penalty on 54 minutes after Keisuke Honda had handled a free-kick struck straight at him.

It was Lampard's second successive penalty miss after that one against Portsmouth in the FA Cup final but Capello insisted he would not be taking the privilege away from the Chelsea player.

Joe Hart coped well with what was thrown at him in the second half and, after two confident performances, must now be a contender to start games.

England's breakthrough came with 18 minutes left on the first occasion that they stretched Japan and got in behind them. Joe Cole's cross was headed into his own goal by Tanaka.

Heskey came on with 14 minutes left, which meant that England went back to their favoured system in qualifying, with the quiet man from Aston Villa leading the line.

Unfortunately for Heskey, the simple header he missed from Gerrard's cross on 89 minutes was business as usual for the man who has just seven goals to show for his 58 caps.

By then England had got their winner. Ashley Cole's cross from the left wing was deflected past Kawashima by a badly-judged lunge from the defender Yuji Nakazawa.

England had squeaked past the team ranked 46th in the world.

At least you could say that Capello had made his mind up. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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