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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.
South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup is supposed to be a watershed for the world game and the African continent, an opportunity to emphasise the international flavour of the game and at the same time give an under privileged continent a chance to prove its potential and bask in the world spotlight.
To that end South Africa is a flurry of construction as new stadiums go up along with hotels, rail and road projects and a myriad of other infrastructure improvements.
England play Croatia on Wednesday and you know what? It won’t be a surprise, or a disgrace, if they lose.
Why? Because Croatia are a technically gifted, cleverly organised, highly motivated international team, who beat England twice to reach Euro 2008 and outplayed Germany when they got there.
Take a look at the standings in the South American World Cup qualifying group and it seems that Argentina are making steady progress towards South Africa. After seven of the 18 games, Alfio Basile’s team are third with 12 points, two points behind the leaders, and only four goals conceded.
On paper, Argentina and their elegant playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme are a purist’s dream, weaving neat patterns around the field with their passing and refusing to resort to the long ball or the physical approach.
The United States face Cuba in Havana on Saturday; the first time in over 60 years that they have played on the Caribbean island and given the political tensions between the two countries it is a fixture that has caught the imagination of the media — unusually for two countries where soccer is far from the national obsession.
The problem, for reporters, with stories like this is that the politics is the only really interesting aspect to the game but no-one involved will ever say anything remotely spicy on the topic.
Fabio Capello’s less than spectacular start to life as England coach has been forgotten of late, as the back pages have been dominated by the petrodollars at Manchester City, the mysterious goings on at Newcastle, where Kevin Keegan has not been seen for three days, and Alan Curbishley’s sudden resignation as West Ham manager.
With World Cup qualifiers coming up against Andorra and Croatia Capello will soon have everyone’s attention again … and he is about to discover the size of the task that awaits him.
Amid all the Euro 2008 fuss, it has nearly been forgotten that one of the world’s great fixtures will be played on Wednesday when Brazil meet Argentina in a World Cup qualifier in Belo Horizonte.
Incredibly, Argentina have lost the last three meetings by three-goals margins — 4-1 at the Confederations Cup in 2005, 3-0 in a friendly in 2006 and 3-0 again in last year’s Copa America final.
Four of the leading contenders in Africa’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers remain rudderless less than a month away from the start of the road to 2010.
The Ivory Coast, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia are all among the favourites for a place in the finals in South Africa in two years’ time but find themselves scampering for a coach with their opening group qualifiers four weekends away.