Fabio Capello hailed England's 4-1 demolition of Croatia as the performance of a real team but warned it represented only a first step towards the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ and the restoration of his squad's reputation. England's Italian coach said he had not been surprised by the quality of the display from his players.
"The result, yes (was surprising) but the performance of the players, no. I said yesterday I had a lot of confidence in the players and we worked very hard during the ten days we stayed together - during training and every moment. We played like a team, very compact and this is very important."
Capello's faith in Theo Walcott was fully vindicated as the Arsenal teenager claimed a hat-trick that was sandwiched around Wayne Rooney's first international goal in almost a year.
"I decided to put Theo in the first eleven because of what I saw against Andorra and also during training," Capello said. "Psychologically and physically he is in fantastic shape at this moment and he is very dangerous for defenders of the other team."
The scale of the defeat inflicted on a country that had not lost a competitive international at home since becoming independent in the early 90s has handed England the psychological initiative in group six. However, Capello, who had to watch his side make hard work of beating group minnows Andorra just 2-0 on Saturday, was quick to advise caution.
"We just start. ."
Capello also pleaded for Walcott's performance to be placed in context. "I said after Andorra that he can play fantastic but he will play not the same level all the games. He is very interesting, very young but we have to help him. This evening is fantastic but when he plays not so good we have to support him - this is very important for the young players."
Croatia boss Slaven Bilic admitted his side had been blown away as England finally put together a collective display to match the combined talents of the individuals at their disposal. "From their first 11, they had seven players who have played in the European Cup final. We were always saying if they play on the level they do for their clubs they are simply a great team and one of the best in Europe.
"They have done it tonight. The game was very open, from my point of view, until the second goal. We had a few chances at the beginning but then we conceded the first goal from a bad clearance from our player.
"We said at half-time we would have enough chances and we had to keep the spirit, to keep the pressure on them. But then we lost a player [when Robert Kovac was sent off] and they scored their second minutes later. That was game over for us and it could have been five in the end."
Capello revealed that Joe Cole had required ten stitches in his forehead after Robert Kovac's challenge from behind, but Bilic insisted the collision had been accidental. "I've seen it now three or four times and it really does not look like elbowing," Bilic said. "I think the referee gave it (the red card) because of the blood. You could see on tv it was not deliberate."