Belarus 1 England 3
4 games, 14 goals, 12 points. Job done.
England's 3-1 win in Minsk last night filled old Bigus with confidence. Not just another 3 points, but the reassurance that Fabio Capello knows what he is doing.
And just what is it that England's super Italian is doing? Keeping it simple!
Sven favored a defensive approach and that arse clown McClaren scratched his bonce routinely, searching for an idea, but Fabio Capello has plenty of those and they have led to winning ways.
For starters, Capello has found a line-up he likes and has given them time to gel. While Sven was successful in qualifying, he tinkered with the line-up and found it hard to find a front two he bellieved in. McClaren was so inept in his selection, he would change formations from one game to the next, whereas Capello has been the complete opposite: stoic and determined in his ways. It's a breath of fresh air. No Owen? How dare he! Crouch on the bench? Tough. "I am Capello and I like Heskey!"
Whilst Fabio still struggles to accomodate Gerrard and Lampard, he has found security in the rest of his improving 4-4-2. Rooney and Heskey understand each other up front and the back four have been consistent. The back line has become inter-changeable and deep under Capello. No Terry? No Cole? NO PROBLEM. Upson and Bridge were the latest pieces to the party and both looked comfortable in Minsk.
Where Capello's simplicity has paid off has been in Englands substitutions. He does not tinker with the shape of the team during a game. Walcott off? Shaun Wright Phillips on. Heskey off? Crouch on. Like-for-like changes that have helped England stay consistent in their endeavours and top of their qualification group, a group that looked fairly trecherous when it was drawn. Ukraine and Croatia are no pushovers!
The midfield conundrum is an entirely different matter for Capello. Who would not want to partner the best two central midfielders in the country? It's a poser that will continue to haunt this current England squad all the way to the World Cup. Gerrard was excellent last night but it's clear that he and Lampard find it extremelly difficult to connect with one another.
But as Fabio wrangles with his midfield, he can find comfort in the rest of his side. Heskey and Rooney look comfortable together as do their back-ups, Crouch and Defoe, and the back four look set with plenty of positional depth on the bench.
Belarus's only goal last night came from a defensive lapse as Brown was caught napping at the back post, but such a lapse can be tolerated when your side looks comfortable every time they move forward. And England did, especially in the second half. Even with the odd couple sharing space in the midfield, England looked comfortable. Walcott struggled at times but the youngster's treble in Zagreb has given him a HUGE reputation to live up to, and England fans MUST be patient.
The opening goal of last night's match came early after the exceptional Rooney turned his marker and moved into space only to spot Gerrard rushing to the ball. He backed off and the resulting shot from 30 yards was unstoppable, finding its way into the bottom-right corner of the net.
20 minutes later England fell asleep briefly and paid the price as Belarus found a way into the box and a cheeky Igor Stasevich cross found Pavel Sitko unmarked as Wes Brown watched on.
After that, it was all England. Heskey worked the ball wide on 50 minutes and crossed low for Rooney to finish to make it 2-1 and England continued to press.
Rooney capped an outstanding outing with a brilliant solo effort with 15 or so minutes remaining, taking on two players before wrong-footing the keeper and sticking the ball in at the near post.
Rooney has 5 goals in the last 3 games and has been nothing short of a revelation for England of late. He is still 22! Hard to believe, eh? He seems to have been around forever! He has found a true partner in Emile Heskey and he is making the most of it.
England should have scored a fourth towards the end of last night's game but Gerrard refused to acknowledge his left foot as he was put through to an empty goal. The outside of his right boot found the post. A simple left-footed swipe would have found the net with ease.
Overall Capello has to be pleased. He doesn't have an obvious answer to the great midfield question that graces every breakfast table debate in England, but at this point, who cares?
Croatia away? Done. Belarus away? Done. Kazakhstan? Done. As my mate Garry 'Hoops' would say, "job's a good 'un!"
England sit at the top of the heap today, 5 points clear of Croatia with a confidence they have been lacking in recent times.
I for one have been impressed with Capello's attitude and team selection. The players seem happy and the goals are flowing. There is finally a consitency to the line up and bench.
The simple truth is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. It's that simple. It's Capello simple.