England coach Fabio Capello's reputation for discipline, organization and preparation is well known in European soccer. On Saturday night, he applied his skills to the World Cup for the first time with mixed results.
Capello was stoic before the game - but that soon changed
For all the glittering prizes accrued over a career spent as the head coach of clubs such as Real Madrid, AC Milan and Juventus, this was Capello's first taste of the World Cup as coach.
As a no-nonsense midfielder, the Italian played at the 1974 tournament, but the clash against the United States in the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg on Saturday night was the highly decorated coach's international baptism of fire.
Despite this, one would have been hard-pressed to find evidence of the combined pressure of this new experience plus the almost insurmountable expectation of a nation renowned for its lack of perspective at moments like these. Capello surveyed the scene before kick-off with his usual measured stare, his expression immovable on a granite face framed by severe spectacles.
The Italian's stern manner is legendary
Once the action was underway, Capello showed the other side of his nature. He may be a tactical perfectionist and disciplinarian but he is a football man at heart. Passion and emotion are as much part of his approach to the game as cool-headed logic and preparation. As such, it didn't take long for the craggy features to become animated once the match was underway.
When Steven Gerrard opened the scoring on five minutes, Capello was suddenly out of his seat, yelling and throwing his arms about – not in celebration but in anger at Aaron Lennon who had strayed out of his midfield corridor during the build-up to the goal. As the England bench pumped the air, the Italian was cursing the lack of discipline.
However, when England managed to ride out a period of US pressure and mop up a dangerous situation, the pragmatic Capello was quick to applaud his players, presumably because they had carried out his defensive requirements to the letter. He was less pleased ten minutes later when Onyewu put a clear header just wide with Glen Johnson and Ledley King static.
Deployment of Milner, Green and King backfires
Fabio Capello's selection of Green as England's No.1 will be questioned after the keeper's howler
Capello's deployment of the more defensive-minded James Milner ahead of the attacking Joe Cole in left midfield had seemed wise at first despite the Aston Villa winger missing training over the past few days with a fever. The idea being that Milner would assist Ashley Cole in stopping the threat of Landon Donovan.
He wasn't up to it. Skinned down the touchline time and again by US and Hanover 96 fullback Steve Cherundolo, Milner picked up an early yellow card and looked somehow sickly. He made way for Shaun Wright-Phillips after half an hour. Capello had taken a risk and it had backfired.
Wayne Rooney was also playing in too deep a role, despite the inclusion of Emile Heskey, the man who was supposed to be the provider for the smaller England striker. A stickler for players following instructions, Rooney's midfield meandering prompted no outburst from the Italian, suggesting he had sanctioned such movement. Again, a strange decision.
Another might have been the inclusion of Robert Green in goal. The keeper's horrendous mistake for the equalizer prompted a death-stare from his coach which probably singed the eyebrows of the hapless Green. Substitute keepers Joe Hart and David James may not have been alone in silently questioning Capello's choice for No.1.
Half-time grilling and reorganization reawakens England
Capello was far from happy with his side going into the break. A number of times his face was overtaken by a look of horror as his intricate plans fell to pieces at the feet of his charges. England were not passing well or creating any chances as the Americans grew in confidence after their goal. At some point Capello put his hands over his eyes like a five-year old in front of scary TV show.
Since taking over the England job, the Italian has been exposed as a half-time ranter and it is likely that the paint on the dressing room walls was peeling during the break. While Robert Green may have been the obvious target, no one was safe after a poor half.
Capello did ring the changes but Jamie Carragher replaced Ledley King because of the latter's problematic knees, not his performance. And yet this could be read as another admittance of miscalculation on the coach's part. It was certainly a risk to play King in the first place. The Tottenham defender has famously been unable to train before games for the past two years and cannot play more than one match a week – something Capello was well aware of when bringing him to South Africa.
Wayne Rooney played far too deep to start with and was isolated when he finally led the attack
The coach rectified his somewhat bafflingly deep deployment of Rooney once the game restarted with the England striker once more leading the line. But with the rest of the team spending too much time building attacks from deep, Rooney was often left to chase long, hopeful balls with no support.
Thinking on his feet, Capello searches for breakthrough
As the game wore on and England's frustration became clearer, Capello tried to reorganize and reiterate his instructions calmly; keeping his head while all around him his players were losing theirs. The effect was a positive one as England regained a modicum of composure as their coach prowled the technical area directing the white shirts in their search for a winner. Capello was back to showing his strengths, pushing the team further up the pitch and getting them to play a pressing game.
However, as the clock ticked down and Heskey made way for the towering Peter Crouch, the old England was suddenly back with high balls hit towards a target man. Such tactics smacked of desperation - something alien to Capello's way.
In the end, even the great Italian organizer couldn't get a result out of his England side. More than anyone he will want to do better in the next match - and he will demand a whole lot more from his players.
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Nicole Goebel