As an Englishman and a soccer fan, Wednesday night left me with a fairly permanent grin on my face that was hard to move. England comprehensively beat Croatia, a team consistently ranked in FIFA’s top 10, 5-1 at Wembley Stadium to seal qualification to the World Cup Finals in South Africa in 2010. This followed up beating the same top-ten ranked team in their own back yard 4-1 earlier in the qualification campaign.
If one wanted a great example of the effect a good coach can have, one needs to look back as far as England’s previous qualification campaign, that for the 2008 European Championships. In that campaign, they also faced Croatia, but lost limply 2-0 in Croatia, and farcically 3-2 at home, to fail to qualify for the Euros for the first time in English soccer history.
Of course, that limp failure was under the stewardship of Steve McClaren, or Mike Bassett, as he should probably be known. McClaren took over an England side fresh from reaching its second consecutive World Cup Quarter Final, and took them to depths not previously pummelled. Rightly, after the failure to qualify, he was sacked.
In came Fabio Cappello, and the transformation has been remarkable. The players are essentially the same (since of course national coaches can’t sign players), but the results could hardly have been more different. For once, I’m looking forward to a World Cup where England actually has a genuine chance of doing something.