They may have already qualified for
next summer's World Cup finals in South Africa,
but England must still go
out and give their all in the final two World Cup qualifiers against Ukraine and Belarus.
So far England have done fantastically
well to put together an impressive string of results, but they cannot think
that their job is over, even though qualification has already been assured.
With the tournament fast approaching,
to sit back and relax with a 'job done' attitude would be disastrous and serve
only to undo all the good work put in up to this point.
England need to go on and win as many points from the qualification campaign as possible
if they are to keep their momentum going.
Maximum points should be the aim. By
refusing to let their intensity drop and achieving that goal a standard will be
set, a standard that will stand the team in good stead for the finals.
The last thing England want is
to finish the group poorly and for certain players to lose their edge and that
bit of belief.
Fortunately Fabio Capello is in
charge and there is no danger of the Italian letting that happen.
He is an astute manager and knows
that at this stage momentum is key. Two more wins and England will head into the finals
with an exemplary qualifying record and full of confidence.
But it is not just Capello who wants
to keep things going and the players are just as keen. The absence of swathes
of withdrawals for the upcoming 'meaningless games' is testament to that. Just look
at Scotland for a prime example
of the exact opposite - no chance of qualifying, a total of 17 players unable
to make the trip to Japan.
When things are going well, either
at club level or on the international stage, players want to be part of it.
A cynic might say that the players
are making sure they are there for these two games because of a fear of losing
their place in Capello's plans with the World Cup on the horizon.
But either way, it works and England can
reap the benefits.
Capello will have a strong squad to
choose from in Ukraine and then
back at Wembley, and I firmly believe that he should stick to his strongest
side for these two matches - and in every game until they head to South Africa.
Continuity is just as important as
In the time between now and next
summer, Capello's top 11 players should be given the chance to play alongside
each other so they can get to know one another as best as possible.
Now is not the time to be giving
away caps cheaply or bringing fringe players through, as has been happening for
the past five or six years. Capello pretty much knows what his strongest
line-up is so he should stick to it. Even in 'meaningless' games.
And that means for 90 minutes. The wholesale
half-time change-arounds that were so popular under Sven-Goran Eriksson serve no
purpose at this stage.
That might upset a few people, but
we've got to the point now when we have to put an end to that practice. To play
well for your country you need time on the pitch.
And with that continuity on the
pitch, momentum can be maintained, helping the team take a real belief that they
can win games of football with them to South Africa.
- Fabio Capello