So, four games into the qualification campaign for World Cup 2010 and England sit clear at the top of their group with twelve points.
An unimpressive win over Andorra was followed by a scintillating performance in Croatia. Then, last Saturday they stumbled to a victory over Kazakhstan that was less convincing than the 5-1 scoreline sounded.
Last night Fabio Capello took his men to Minsk to take on the potentially dangerous Belarus side. They did so without half of their regular back four with John Terry and Ashley Cole absent through injury and with a midfield of Lampard and Barry, with Gerrard playing, well, I’m not sure where he was playing, we’ll come to that.
With the afore mentioned Stevie G fighting for his place in the side, what he needed was to gloriously strike the ball home from thirty yards after about ten minutes to put England ahead. Guess what? Yep, he did exactly that. You couldn’t write it, could you?
After that England didn’t quite function as Capello would have liked and Belarus put together a wonderful twenty-three pass move before Sitko headed home on twenty-eight minutes to even things up. He was left unmarked by Theo Walcott, so exciting going forward but prone to fall asleep when defending.
At half-time Capello tinkered a little with the formation and England came out looking like they meant business. Just four minutes into the second period a great run by the tireless work horse Emile Heskey was finished off by Wayne Rooney who gleefully continued his rich vein of goal scoring form.
Belarus were hardly getting a kick and it was no surprise when England increased their lead after seventy-four minutes when Gerrard and Rooney combined in a world class fashion for the Manchester United man to add his second and England’s third.
In truth it could have been more. England looked very good indeed going forward. In Theo Walcott, Wayne Rooney and Steve Gerrard there is a real threat. Add to that the indomitable Emile Heskey and you have a pretty decent strikeforce.
Judgement or luck?
The question is, has Fabio Capello come up with a master plan about how to get the best out of Frank Lampard and Steve Gerrard, or is it simply a case that he is still playing with the system in order to try to accomodate them both. In other words, is the great result a case of judgement or luck?
Where did Gerrard play against Belarus? Nominally, he appeared to be playing on the left hand side of midfield. In reality he popped up all over the place which made him a major threat. On the down side, against a better team, defending in an unbalanced way such as this, could lead to major problems.
Not a night for negatives
Let us not dwell on that aspect however, because tonight is not a night for negatives. England played bloody well and the rest of Europe and indeed the World, will have taken note of the progress Don Fabio is making with this under achieving team.
It is the first time England have ever won their first four World Cup qualifying games and let’s not forget they’ve scored fifteen goals in the process.
So what’s next for England? There is a long break to the next competitive match which takes place at Wembley on April 1st next year when England take on Ukraine. This will be another potentially difficult game with Ukraine only two points behind England if they win their game in hand.
After that game there is another break until June when the seemingly easier games away to Kazakhstan and at home to Andorra take place on the 6th and 10th respectively.
Where are England now?
On top of group six. That’s where they actually physically stand. The table looks like this:
1 England 4 4 0 0 14 3 12
2 Croatia 4 2 1 1 8 4 7
3 Ukraine 3 2 1 0 4 1 7
4 Belarus 3 1 0 2 4 5 3
5 Kazakhstan 4 1 0 3 5 11 3
6 Andorra 4 0 0 4 1 12 0
Where do they stand in terms of their progress as a team? At the back, Rio Ferdinand is imperious and although Matthew Upson did well as a stand-in for skipper John Terry, they will look even stronger when JT returns.
In midfield, Barry and Lampard are disciplined and efficient. Theo Walcott is frightening for defenders and dare I say it, Capello may be the man that is able to get Gerrard to reproduce that elusive club form on the international stage.
Up front, they have an Emile Heskey looking like a twenty year-old rather a thirty year-old and Wayne Rooney looking like the World class star that we all thought he was going to be.
I’m in grave danger of making that oh so English mistake of building us up prior to yet another disappointment, but for the first time in many years, I am genuinely excited about what England might be about to produce.