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England holds its breath as fate decides

England holds its breath as fate decides


THE flag of St George will stop flapping from every car in the country, Brian Blessed will cease urging us once more into the breech, the sound of Jerusalem will no longer echo in the wind. For almost two hours today the clocks will stop.

Perched on the edge of their seats, the whole nation will pray that by the time the final whistle blows, England will still be in the World Cup.

With so much at stake, the atmosphere seems relaxed. The nation is preparing for Judgement Day with a traditional English gallows sense of humour. Even Frank Lampard managed a laugh at his press conference.

We’ve been here before of course. In 1986 it needed a Gary Lineker hat trick against Poland in Monterrey for England to progress to the knockout round, and four years later only a Mark Wright header prevented an early exit at the hands of the Egyptians.

Maybe there is a mutual sense of relief that this time Slovenia might prevent us from the agony of trial by penalty shootout. Then we can kick back and start revelling in the skills of the likes of Spain, Brazil, Portugal and Argentina.

Just “relax and enjoy it” is the clear message. That’s what Sir Alex Fergusson told his boy Rooney. Coach Fabio Capello agrees the players are failing to express themselves due to the pressure imposed on them.

Outside the England camp, opinion seems united on the changes that need to be made. Former players, TV pundits, even the man who broke into the England changing room believe that Wayne Rooney should play upfront on his own with Steven Gerrard having a license to roam and Joe Cole starting on the left.

But Il Duce refuses to budge. Quashing John Terry’s Rustenberg putsch with the ruthlessness of his favoured Berlusconi, Capello has shown everyone precisely who is boss.

With Chelsea teammate Frank Lampard, playing Good Cop to Terry’s Bad Cop, the former England captain was forced to eat humble pie, apologising if his honesty had gone too far.

Maybe a change is all that is needed. Not in personnel but in broadcaster. While ITV screened the first two England games, the Slovenia game will go out live on the BBC, with the hero of Monterrey anchoring the show. This will come as good news to viewers. ITV’s inept coverage even managed to miss England’s only score of the tournament thus far. Just as Gerrard was swooping in on the USA goal, the broadcaster flipped to the commercials on its HD channel.

Capello might have avoided Terry’s long knives, but should England fail against Slovenia, his neck is sure to feel the full force of the English Football Association’s axe. And sitting next to Lineker in the BBC studio will be Roy Hodgson, the current Fulham manager who is widely rumoured to be next in line for England’s poisoned chalice should Capello’s team fail.
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