The last thing I ever want to do is sound like Rafa Benitez, but let’s look at the facts.
England made it to the finals comfortably and impressively enough from a group containing an awkward closet skeleton in Croatia, but how many times did we play well enough for Fabio to now cite qualification form as a standard for doing well at this tournament?
A. Andorra (w) 2-0: Truly dreadful first-half display rescued by a half-time substitute named Joe Cole.
A. Croatia (w) 4-1: Memorable night garnished by Theo’s searing pace – the night this team took shape not least because Heskey also had his best night – BUT the night Cole got injured, creating the gap to usher the injured Gerrard back into the team (fatally) on the left.
H. Kazakhstan (w) 5-1: Flattering scoreline, poor display against a team of rookies. Booed off at half-time. 0-0 after 52 mins, 2-1 after 68 thanks to a bog-standard header from a corner and an own goal - Ashley getting dog’s abuse – 2 goals in last 4 mins.
A. Belarus (w) 3-1: Really good win, but earned after Gerrard switched from left at half-time to an advanced midfield role to occupy the Belarus playmaker Kulchy – remember his 1-2 with Rooney for his 2nd goal from a central role? Heskey’s last good game (Oct ’08!)
H. Ukraine (w) 2-1: The night Steve Bruce made Beckham man of the match for lifting a faltering display in the last half-hour (replacing a predictable Lennon). 1-1 with 5 minutes to go after James had saved one with his shoulder. JT’s late goal squeezed us home.
A. Kazakhstan (w) 4-0: Kaz could have been 2 up before we got started. We got two goals in the last 5m of first-half (the 1st of those from an amusing goalkeeping error) eased us clear of modest opponents.
H Andorra (w) 6-0: Crouch preferred to Heskey, Theo’s last contribution to qualification, Gerrard and Rooney rested in the second-half. Mismatch.
H. Croatia (w) 5-1: Qualification confirmed with the performance that became the justification for keeping faith with the team and shape Fabio brought to South Africa. Our last good first-half! Terrific display, but did Capello make best use of the 9 months between that night and Rustenburg to explore alternatives?
Perhaps, you need one approach to getting to the finals, and a different one towards winning the thing.