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Heading to South Africa in style

I’m not the most optimistic of English fans. I refuse to get caught up in the hysteria of international tournaments and prepare myself for defeat in the quarter-finals when we get there, I regularly bemoan the teams “lack of spirit” and instead busy myself with watching Spurs lose and I slam the F.A when the appoint a foreign manager, but then moan relentlessly when we appoint one of the feeble English ones.

In short, I’m not predicting an English cup win anytime soon.

But after watching a game so brimming with passion, pride and skill- I’m excited. The 5-1 drubbing over Croatia was simply fantastic; our defence looked reasonably solid, our midfield was brilliant (Lennon superb) and our attack was dangerous. Before the game I was sitting on my chair gripping the arms nervously but by the end I was relaxing with my feet up- for England had qualified for the 2010 World Cup.

England v Croatia: action photos
Going to an England match can be a stressful experience but the fans were treated last night with a superb English display

The nerves I felt before the match quickly evaporated anyway- 7 minutes in we were one nil up thanks to an electrifying Aaron Lennon run and a superbly taken penalty by Frank Lampard. Lennon then helped give England their second not long after, bursting down the right hand side and turning his marker easily. His brilliant, perfectly weighted cross was as good as any David Beckham ball and met the head of Steven Gerrard, who powered a header into the net. The game was still only 18 minutes old but England had terrorised Croatia, thanks to their desire and pace. Croatia looked lethargic and nothing like the team that denied England a place in Austria/Switzerland a few years ago and showed precious little attacking threat in the first half.

Fabio Capello though, will have been infatuated with Englands attack in the first 45 minutes. Both Rooney and Heskey played well and the latter probably just about justified the managers decision for playing him and ignoring Jermain Defoe, but the real star was Tottenham’s Aaron Lennon. He might be the size of an eight year old, but Lennon staked a serious claim for the English number 7 shirt last night.

The second half played out in a similar fashion to the first, Frank Lampard scored first, netting with a header from a Glen Johnson cross, shortly before Steven Gerrard found the net. The latters header was particularly impressive. Wayne Rooney did well to keep the ball in play and flicked up a short, high cross which hung in the air, dropping only when Steven Gerrard found himself in the area. The Liverpool captain made no mistake with his header, knocking the ball past Croatia goalkeeper Vedran Runje.

Runje won’t remember the game with fondness, but the ‘keeper made a few good saves. These good saves were overshadowed by Englands fifth goal though, an awful mis-kick from the goalie landing straight in the path of Wayne Rooney, who dutifully rolled the ball into the unguarded net. The goal added to Croatia’s misery, ironically coming after their mood had been briefly lifted- Eduardo had scored a consolation goal with a rebound after a pair of very good saves from Robert Green.

England v Croatia: action photos - Eduardo
Eduardo struck with a goal to make the game 4-1 but Rooney scored not long after.

The game ended 5-1 and England celebrations started. This qualification campaign could yet become England’s most successful and there is no doubt that Fabio Capello will be pleased with his sides progress. There is still a while to go before England can be considered definite contenders for a World Cup but Capello is taking the team in the right direction and, after the disastrous reign of Steve McClaren, that’s all most England fans wanted.

Manager Reactions:

Fabio Capello:

I’m very happy. We’ve achieved our target early.I think this was the best performance under me. We played fast, pressed the ball and our movement was fantastic. In the first 20 minutes tonight we were fantastic. I don’t think we’ve ever been so strong and compact as we were at the start of this game.

But don’t forget, it’s taken a year or so for us to get this good and we’ve still got a way to go to get to where we ultimately want to be. But we’re on the right track.

Slaven Bilic:

We didn’t expect this, even in our worst nightmares. They were fantastic and looked sharper and more agressive.

We were very happy at half-time that it was only 2-0. It could have been five. Our goalkeeper was fantastic but when we conceded a third goal we could not come back. I would like to congratulate England though for a fantastic performance.

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