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England should think back to Munich before getting too excited
A clinical hat-trick in Zagreb on Wednesday and suddenly Theo Walcott is the answer to all England’s ills and Fabio Capello is worth every penny of the millions the FA pay him for his services as national coach.
At least that’s the line trotted out in most of the daily newspapers as talk of new era and new wonder kid dominated the back pages.
The 19-year-old Walcott certainly took his chances brilliantly against Croatia’s lumbering defence and Capello should be praised for opting to start the Arsenal player instead of David Beckham.
But amid all the euphoria there needs to be some caution. Croatia were rubbish, a mere shadow of the team that beat England twice in qualifying for Euro 2008. The hype appeared to have gone to their heads.
And England, castigated for a lame performance against the massed ranks of Andorra’s defence last Saturday, are far from the finished article with question marks over central midfield and goalkeeping still unanswered. They are also desperately short of quality cover for central defensive duo John Terry and Rio Ferdinand.
One great performance doesn’t make a great team. In 2001 Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England team thrashed Germany 5-1 in Munich. Yet they only scrambled in to the 2002 World Cup finals thanks to a last-minute equaliser by David Beckham against Greece at Wembley a few weeks later.
Real proof of an England renaissance will come in the matches against Kazakhstan and Belarus. Thumping victories over teams who will be set up to defend are by no means guaranteed and yet that is what the fans will be calling for.
Walcott, who ludicrously made the 2006 World Cup squad despite never having played a Premier league match, has pretty much pencilled his name on the next few starting line-ups, banishing David Beckham to the sidelines.
The pressure now, however, will be to maintain the level of performance in the months ahead and prove he is no flash in the pan. As he will learn, there is no middle ground as England player. One minute a hero, the next an overpaid flop.