Fabio Capello has told his England players he wants answers when they take on Czech Republic in next Wednesday's friendly. After four games looking at his available talent, the Italian coach has decided on his first-choice XI and, injuries permitting, will use the meeting with the Czechs at Wembley to put the final touches to his preparations for the road to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
"It is an important game because I hope to get the answers from the players that I hope to achieve," Capello said. "I hope to get what I expect."
In less than a month, England face South Africa 2010 qualifiers in Andorra and Croatia, a repeat of the two darkest nights of Steve McClaren's reign. England were outclassed in Zagreb two years ago, before being booed en route to an unconvincing 3-0 reverse of the Andorrans in Barcelona in 2007.
Capello admitted it took time for players to warm to his methods, but insists they are ready to start their campaign and continue their efforts to rid themselves of the losing mentality that has been associated with wearing the Three Lions shirt. "I have to check on the form before the qualifiers but experimenting is finished," he declared.
"I know the players very well now. When I started working with the players they were a bit scared and afraid. After, a lot of players played better. It's not fear about me but it was soon after not qualifying and for the players it was like an examination or test. It is not so.
". The first and second games were different teams and it was hard enough. I think they know better because at the end of the season we had ten days together."
I think they know me, what I ask of them, about my style, the movement around the pitch - they know and it's better now
Capello has highlighted the challenge of taking players with a winning mentality in the UEFA Champions League and transferring that to the international stage. "When playing with their clubs there is no losing mentality. I think if you can train with them every day it is easy to change the mentality with every moment of training with the different work," he explained.
"I try to transfer the mentality into the national team because you have to play the same spirit that you see in the clubs. I saw the games for the European qualifiers, the matches at the start of the season like against Russia, and they played very well and with spirit.
"You have to play with that spirit and that mentality. I think it is impossible to lose that just because we did not qualify for the European Championships. In the last four friendlies we have played I have seen one step forward every time towards recovering the mentality."
Capello believes the progress of Spain at UEFA EURO 2008 indicates what can be achieved. "I think three months ago people never spoke about Spain. Now they are the best team in the world - it's a miracle," he said. "Spain is a very good team, they played well. But we are different and ."
I think we can win against Spain. Why not? I'm very confident in my team
Even though the 62-year-old has his best team mapped out, it is unclear at the moment whether Wayne Rooney will feature as a supporting forward or out-and-out striker. "I think Rooney can be both, it's possible to play like a second forward and score goals," Capello said. "He played very well in two games - he didn't score but I was very happy with the performance."
Despite a lack of genuine world-class attackers to support Rooney, Capello is happy with his firepower from elsewhere in his squad. He left Portsmouth striker Peter Crouch out of his squad for the Czech Republic match yesterday, instead bringing in Wigan Athletic's Emile Heskey. Jermain Defoe, Crouch's strike partner at Portsmouth, was also included.
"You have to play in a different style - the other players they have to score more goals," Capello said. "You have to come in front of the goal with a lot of players.
"It's a problem everywhere - Italy so-so (in attack), Germany so-so. Only Torres is a big striker in this moment in the world. Portugal, no. Also the French, you didn't see anything (at EURO 2008). It's a big problem now because the teams defend very well."