Fabio Capello believes England are tantalisingly close to ridding themselves of the fear factor which has continually dragged them down.
Capello heads off to South Africa for a scouting mission at the FIFA Confederations Cup content in the knowledge his Three Lions should be roaring when they return for a tilt at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Just one more win from their remaining three games next autumn will be enough to confirm England's place among the last 32 following a six-goal hammering of Andorra at Wembley.
And now, the Italian can see no reason why they should fail to fulfil their immense potential. "The fear is going. It has not gone yet but it is going," said Capello, who cites the second-half showing of Ashley Young last night as a prime example of his work.
The fear is going. It has not gone yet but it is going,
Overawed and subdued on his last appearance in Germany seven months ago, last night Young produced moments of genuine class following his introduction as a half-time replacement for Steven Gerrard. True, the opposition were hardly top-notch. But with his raw pace and mazy dribbling ability, Young's talent can unlock the tightest defence providing he is brave enough to try.
"I was really happy for Ashley," said Capello. "He has played four games with me now and this time he played with confidence, like he does for Aston Villa. The other times he played with fear. He was not the same. I told him he had to play like he does with his team."
The missing ingredient, for Young and others, has been confidence. So hard to win, yet so easy to lose, it can make a world of difference to any individual, particularly at the highest level, where self-doubt can take a nagging hold. And, as Capello looks back on his first full season in charge, increasing confidence has been the biggest challenge.
"Confidence is the biggest thing that has changed," he reflected. "I can't change the level of the players. Their club managers can work with these players every day. They can improve everything. When you play with the national team confidence is very important. Now we have confidence. That is the big difference because it is so important."
The steely professionalism with which Capello views all his work ensures he will spend no time wishing the clock could quickly wind on 12 months, when all his plans and schemes must work. Neither is he prepared to claim qualification is certain, even though England require just one win from their final two matches, or two draws if they come in the next two games against Croatia and the Ukraine.
What he is prepared to cross his fingers for is a squad of players as fit and fresh as they are just now, with the fitness of Wayne Rooney particularly important. Shunted into a wide role for the latter part of the season with Manchester United, Rooney may benefit most from the impending departure of Cristiano Ronaldo as it offers Sir Alex Ferguson the chance to free him from defensive shackles and give him the job he enjoys so much with England.
Another brace last night means Rooney has scored eight of England's 26 goals in their seven qualification outings, while his overall total of ten equalled Gary Lineker's long-standing record. And Capello is confident there is still more to come. "Wayne is young and he can improve," said Capello.
"I accept it is more a case of going upwards a little bit from 90 per cent rather than 70 per cent but he can improve 3 per cent or 4 per cent and that is very important. I have been very happy with Wayne. This season he has done very well. He is in a fantastic moment right now and I hope he is the same next year."
Between them Rooney and Steven Gerrard will carry the hopes of a nation on their shoulders next summer and it was in recognition of those efforts that Capello opted to take the pair off at half-time last night. Given replacement Jermain Defoe scored twice and fellow striker Peter Crouch profited from some abysmal Andorran defending, the move almost certainly cost Rooney his first international hat-trick.
However, while he may be notoriously reluctant to take a break, Rooney has been urged to see the bigger picture. "Wayne didn't say anything when I took him off," countered Capello when it was suggested the Merseysider might not have been too impressed.
"You have to respect the people who play but you also have to respect those who were on the bench. There are no big egos in this group. That is the spirit we have."