For everything a reason

  • By: Dave Tickner
  • Last Updated: June 20 2010, 21:35 BST

Dave Tickner reckons Fabio Capello's England are a team currently gripped by the fear of failure: time to forget everything and remember the swagger of qualification.

Capello - you got the fear.

Despite their protestations to the contrary, England certainly look like they've got the fear in South Africa.

From the moment Rob Green joined the ever-lengthening list of England World Cup villains in Rustenberg, the team appear gripped by a collective terror of making even the most minor mistake lest they join Green on the tabloid hate list. For everything a reason.

And fear can sweep through a football team quicker than VD through a rock band.

The evidence is clear. Aaron Lennon, who has spent the last couple of seasons scorching the White Hart Lane touchlines and terrorising full-backs with his direct running has been reduced to a peripheral figure in the England team, whose first throught on the few occasions he does get the ball is always to cut inside and play a nice safe 10-yard pass to Frank Lampard. Won't get slaughtered for that.

At Spurs, his first thought is to tear down the touchline and get a cross in. Sometimes he loses the ball; but when he doesn't, a goalscoring chance is on the cards.

England have become so obsessed with the perceived importance of keeping the ball in international football they've entirely forgotten the importance of occasionally actually doing something with it.

Ashley Cole, perhaps the finest attacking left-back in the world, has hardly crossed the halfway line against two sides with the collective aggressive intent of a sloth on mogadon. Lampard, a marauding, all-action, goalscoring force of nature for Chelsea, is reduced to ambling around midfield and occasionally shooting over the bar from 25 yards. Emile Heskey looks a broken man whose continued inclusion must come close to breaching the Human Rights Act, and Wayne Rooney has regressed from potato-faced destroyer of defences to potato-faced runner-arounder, howling at himself, officialdom, supporters and the cruel pointlessness of existence itself.

The fear even seems to have spread to the previously unflappable coach himself, with Fabio Capello's reluctance to use Joe Cole at any stage in either of England's insipid displays thus far mystifying to all looking on from afar.

These are not new problems. The frustration of talented club players suddenly gripped by the paralysing fear of tabloid-upsetting calamity in the national team's cause has been a problem for generations.

But what's so frustrating is that these are the very problems Capello had, apparently instantly and effortlessly, solved during a swaggering qualification campaign in which the goals and plaudits flowed like cheap supermarket lager.

All is not lost: victory over what remains a deeply mediocre Slovenia side secures qualification and quite possibly top spot in Group C.

And it could be worse: since England's apparent disaster against Algeria the Italians have drawn with New Zealand, a fine result for the Azzurri in the rugby World Cup but not so much here, while the French have reacted to adversity/reinforced lazy national stereotyping by parking their metaphorical lorries on the allegorical motorway of their World Cup campaign.

But England must do something.

Forget everything and remember: wipe the last two games from the mind, and recall the freedom and verve that saw Croatia - a better side than any of England's group-stage opponents in South Africa - dispatched by an aggregate score of 9-2 in South Africa.

England qualified with attacking football that leads to stirring victories: in South Africa they've reverted to solid but uninspired defensive football that leads to defeat on penalties.

There is still time. Still time to face everybody and rule.

But unless they shake off the fear before Wednesday, Fabio's England are ruined.