England flew out to South Africa with Fabio Capello committing himself for the long haul. And with a first-class manager on board, could it be that England's 44-year wait for a major trophy will soon be over? There are certainly grounds for optimism. In Wayne Rooney, England have a one-man wrecking ball and potential star of the tournament. Like Rooney, Frank Lampard has enjoyed the best goalscoring form of his career this year, while Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard can be considered world class.
England won nine out of their 10 games in qualifying, but the early optimism generated by that form has since been tempered by injury to captain Rio Ferdinand and unconvincing performances in friendlies. Nonetheless, Capello had an incredible knack of winning trophies at club level, and he has instilled a discipline lacking four years ago. With luck, it could yet be a tale of WAGs to riches for England.
Aim: Having fallen short at the quarter-finals of the last two World Cups under Sven Goran-Eriksson, success will only be spoken of if Capello can take them a stage further. Given he is so well paid and the players can call upon almost unlimited resources, a semi-final is really the minimum.
THREE KEY PLAYERS
ASHLEY COLE The marauding left-back has put aside serious injury and the separation from his pop star wife Cheryl Cole to again show world-class form. He suffered a fractured left ankle at Everton in February but returned ahead of schedule for the final four games of the season as his club side Chelsea won the league and FA Cup double. It was Cole's third league title, after two with Arsenal, and his record sixth FA Cup winners' medal.
FRANK LAMPARD Chelsea's evergreen attacking midfielder has just won a Premier League and FA Cup double on the back of the best goalscoring season in his career. His 27 goals in all competitions and a healthy contribution in qualifying will need to be replicated if England are to succeed in South Africa. Goals are his currency.
WAYNE ROONEY Hailed in the same class as Argentina's Lionel Messi and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, the Manchester United striker has enjoyed his best season yet at club level with 34 goals. Capello has been key in ensuring Rooney is further forward on the pitch and the Liverpudlian will be keen to make a more positive impression than in Germany four years ago when he was sent off during the quarter-final defeat by Portugal.
FABIO CAPELLO The Italian's £6m-a-year salary makes him comfortably the highest paid coach at the World Cup, but his success is also unrivalled. He won nine league titles in 16 seasons as a club coach but says managing a team at the World Cup will be his biggest test yet. The twin pillars of Capello's approach are discipline and pragmatism. He has banned the use of mobile phones at dinner, and insists that no-one speaks in the dressing room for the first three minutes at half-time, in order to relax.
ADOPT THEM BECAUSE...
You will be in good numbers. England usually generate the largest following based on past World Cups and with travel prices set to be high for fans in South Africa, the sound of 'Roon-ey, Roon-ey' might be the loudest noise around. Apart from the Vuvuzelas of course.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
England's World Cup qualifying highlights
W 2-0 Andorra (A) W 4-1 Croatia (A) W 5-1 Kazakhstan (H) W 3-1 Belarus (A) W 2-1 Ukraine (H) W 4-0 Kazakhstan (A) W 6-0 Andorra (H) W 5-1 Croatia (H) L 1-0 Ukraine (A) W 3-0 Belarus (H) Qualified top of group
WORLD CUP BEST
1966: The hosts overcame West Germany 4-2 after extra-time in the final. Geoff Hurst, who wasn't part of the first XI when the tournament began, is still the only player to have scored a hat-trick in the final (although his second goal, which bounced off the bar, down and out again, is still disputed by some).
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