The ogre Capello rings changes to tackle Bale

LONDON – Grumpy, old Capello led out England yesterday for a closed training session at Wembley, as England take on Wales today, eyeing to close in on qualification for EURO2012 in Poland and Ukraine. He intends to change his winning formation in a bid to stop the threat posed by the explosive Gareth Bale.

An encounter between England and Wales often conjures up images of mythical creatures, which once led an observer to suggest that an abject Welsh performance explained why dragons became extinct.

But on a more serious note, Fabio Capello was not in a very upbeat or talkative mood ahead of what may well be his last competitive match at Wembley. The England manager exploded in anger during the training session when his instructions about not throwing-in the ball down the line were not properly followed by his players.

Capello explained: ‘The game against Bulgaria was good, but yesterday I showed the highlights of the mistakes we made against them and my players made the same mistakes today.’ John Terry confirmed that Capello’s eye for detail is very impressive. He is determined to refine and develop his players to bestow them with the ability to play in different circumstances at the highest level – to tackle the daunting task of playing against the cream of Europe next year in Poland and Ukraine.

Capello’s rage with his players portrays him as a tyrant and a dictator. It is an image that has accompanied the Italian throughout his England tenure. During the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa last summer, the England players were holed up at basecamp, but the rigid regime of Capello backfired when Germany tore England apart in a humbling second-round defeat. A galvanized Germany with Mesut Ozil simply brushed aside a woeful England side, prompting wide-spread calls for Capello to be sacked.

Yet Capello says the situation has changed now. According to him the players are now more relaxed around him: ‘I haven’t changed my style but the players understand me better now.’ Introducing a fictional monster, Capello, seeing the funny side of things, dismissed his reputation of being stiff and inflexible: ‘I am not an ogre.’

The relationship between Capello and his players thus seems to be at an all-time high and therefore the England team knows exactly what the coach expects tonight at Wembley. England will look to get rid of their poor, post-World Cup home record, which has seen them draw on three occasions and lose against France. The idea of ‘fortress Wembley’ may be distant, but England know that a simple victory against Wales will suffice to virtually ensure qualification for the EURO2012 finals.

After the clinical performance against Bulgaria, one may feel Capello would be inclined to adhere to the saying ‘never change a winning team’. Yet Capello feels that the circumstances demand a different approach and has indicated that he will change the shape and the style of the side. ‘We are playing at home and that means it is different game. Visiting teams came here and sit back. It is difficult for us to break the opposing defense down and score goals.’

Aside from the way the visitors respond to being away from home, Capello acknowledges that Gareth Bale is Wales’ biggest threat and much of his planning for tonight’s game centers on countering Wales’ number 11.  The Tottenham winger has 29 caps under his belt for Wales, but didn’t play in Cardiff back in March due to injury. His devastating pace is a worry for Capello: ‘Bale is a fantastic player. It is difficult to stop him. He receives the ball fast, attacks the space and is very fast. He makes a difference and we need to be careful whenever he receives the ball.’

The more defensive minded James Milner will replace Theo Walcott on the right side of the field to provide extra cover for the inexperienced Chris Smalling from Manchester United. There is no doubt that Bale and Wales will try to exploit this potential weakness in England’s rearguard. However with Craig Bellamy missing, Bale may take up a more withdrawn role, which won’t enable him to run at the England defense with his turbo-charges at will.

The inclusion of Milner, lining up next to Barry and Parker, is an indication that Capello will field a 4-3-3 formation, which proved highly effective in Cardiff. In the final third of the field Ashley Young, blossoming as a player under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, will act in a supporting role for England’s main striker Wayne Rooney. If the Manchester United pair can reproduce their antics from last Friday, they are bound to give the Welsh defense serious trouble and may swing the game England’s way.

The banana skin for England, who are the favorites, in trying to dismantle the Wales defense is a lack of patience quickly turning into frustration and nerviness, which in turn endangers England’s composure. A repeat of England’s World Cup qualifier against Greece back in 2001 springs to mind. The stage is set for an intriguing battle between Capello and Gary Speed, between England and Wales, or in some minds, Ogre v Shrek.