2006 was meant to be the year England ended their forty year World Cup drought. Cries of the golden generation finally fulfilling their potential were to be heard all around the globe. However, the team underperformed throughout and were eventually put out of their misery in the quarter finals against Portugal. With, England then failing to qualify for Euro 2008 altogether, a change was needed.
Fabio Capello was the man to take the England hotseat. One of the most cherished yet pressurised positions in world football. He saw no need for an immediate squad upheavel or to eliminate any person from the national scene. Instead, he simply went about restoring the confidence in an England side that had been battered by supporters and the media.
The team were drawn into a potentially tricky group involving recent nemesis Croatia and Ukraine. Belarus, Andorra and Kazakhstan were expected to provide no problems to the three bigger nations in the group.
A solid performance away to Andorra saw Joe Cole grab both goals as England comfortably beat Andorra 2-0. The result was expected although it hardly set pulses racing ahead of a daunting trip to Zagreb to play Croatia. With expectations at a low, English supporters would have taken a valuable point against the team that knocked them out of Euro 2008. However, England produced one of their best performances for a number of years with a fantastic 4-1 victory that saw Theo Walcott score a hat-trick.
Automatically, expectations were raised and the team managed to match them with a 5-1 victory over Kazakhstan and a 3-1 away victory against potential tricky opponents in Belarus. The 5th match in the group was a home game against Ukraine. An early goal from Peter Crouch looked to have set England on their way but a poor second half performance was punished with a goal from Andriy Shevchenko in the 74th minute. However, captain John Terry pounced to score the winner from a corner with five minutes to go.
The result ensured England had one foot on the plane to South Africa as their 100% record remained intact. Further comfortable victories against Andorra and Kazakhstan gave England 21 points from a possible 21. It was still possible for England to finish in second place but it looked extremely unlikely. A win at home against Croatia would guarantee qualification. At the scene of their lowest moment two years prior, Capello’s men thrashed Croatia 5-1 and firmly signalled the dawn of a new era.
A 1-0 defeat away to Ukraine where England played the majority of the match with 10 men was the only blip as the team finished with a 3-0 home victory over Belarus. In fact, the defeat to Ukraine cost Croatia qualification to South Africa 2010. All in all, England haven’t had a more comfortable qualification campaign for quite some time. They will hope to finally live up to their billing at South Africa in 2010.
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