Proof at last Capello & Co have class to beat the best

England manager Fabio Capello on the touchline against Spain.
England manager Fabio Capello on the touchline against Spain.
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Fabio Capello at last looked like a coach worth his inflated salary as England found exactly the right tactics to thwart world and European champions Spain.

For his next trick, he has to formulate a far more expansive, attacking plan to defeat the usually-decent Swedes at Wembley tonight.

Regular readers will know I believe the smug Italian should have been fired five minutes after our lamentable World Cup exit last year.

Little he had done since changed that view – until Saturday evening.

Here, at long, long last, was evidence of a carefully-devised strategy, well executed – something we never saw once at the World Cup in South Africa.

Those raining on England’s parade argue that Saturday’s win was a one-off result in a meaningless friendly.

But Spain put out virtually their first XI and, believe me, they were shocked and gutted to lose.

Yes, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa & Co dominated possession and had 20 shots to England’s three.

But, until late in the game, they created next to nothing and rarely looked like scoring.

That was because Capello had a plan – namely to condense the space using a tight, compact formation with the full-backs tucked in.

Correctly identifying that the Spaniards have no flying wingers, England set up a wall of white shirts across the width of the penalty area.

The result was that almost every slick Spanish passing move ended in a cul de sac and, unlike Barcelona, Spain do not have a Lionel Messi to carve the opposition apart.

Vicente del Bosque, the coach, might be worrying that other teams will use this as a template of how to stop his glittering stars.

Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott and, in particular, defensive midfield man Scott Parker, were exceptional.

The speed and movement of Manchester United youngster Danny Welbeck when he came on should earn him a start tonight.

That England were able to score and win in a rare foray forward from a set-piece was a bonus.

Does this one result mean England are genuine contenders for the European Championships?

Of course not.

But it will boost confidence and does show that the previously-disappointing Capello has the nous – and personnel – to pull off a result against superior opposition.

Contrast Saturday’s tactically-clever display with the chaotic, listless and haphazard England defending in their 4-1 humiliation by the Germans in Cape Town last year.

Now this team have to prove they have the flexibility to be equally as impressive on the front foot, starting against Sweden.

For the first time in a long time, it is possible to feel at least a shred of optimism about our national football team and a little warmth for Capello.