Fabio Capello points to Wayne Rooney and England's lack of fear when he explains the differences between now and the last time Croatia played at Wembley. Rooney suffered a freak training-ground injury to miss the previous encounter with Slaven Bilic's men in London, which was the final act of Steve McClaren's reign and the sign that change was required.

Nearly two years later and Capello has turned England around, with seven wins from as many 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers and the chance to book their place at the finals by beating Croatia a week on Wednesday. It would be a symbolic victory after the shambolic end to McClaren's tenure, where defeat to Bilic's side meant failure to reach UEFA Euro 2008.

Capello, comparing those dark times to the current situation, said: "We improved a lot in confidence because now we play like a team and we can play against every country and we can beat them. Every team. I'm sure of this. They have a belief now.

"I'm excited. Sure. If we go to South Africa it will be important for me and the team. First you have to win to get to South Africa, then you have to play. Getting to South Africa is the first step, then it is step by step," he said. "For me, success will be qualification."

We improved a lot in confidence because now we play like a team and we can play against every country and we can beat them.

England coach Fabio Capello

Capello is cautious about talking up the chances of victory. At the Football Association's offices at Wembley, he touched wood when reminded about the defeat to Croatia in 2007, but was given a taste of what success means to the country following Ashes glory for England's cricketers.

"I'm happy for them," he said. "I don't know about the future, but I hope. I know how important it is to win and beat the best team in the world. It is like this in every country and in this country because we won the title [FIFA World Cup] a long time ago."

Slovenia Saturday
Since Mladen Petric's winner 22 months ago, Capello has taken his side to Zagreb and won 4-1 courtesy of a hat-trick by Theo Walcott, who misses this match with a back problem. Rooney shone on that occasion and is approaching this qualifier - and before that, the friendly against Slovenia on Saturday - with ten goals from his last eight international games.

"Rooney is a really important player, he's incredible and young. He can improve a lot with more experience and confidence in himself," Capello said.

"That will be really important - to score more goals. He is already scoring, but he can improve in everything. When he trains with me he stays a long time on the pitch; this is really, really important to improve.

"He has the potential to be one of the best players in the world, but it is not always the best player who plays the best World Cup," he said. "It depends on the moment when we arrive, if they are in good form or not."

Capello will make six substitutions against Slovenia, who were chosen to play at Wembley because they have a similar style to Croatia. Tottenham Hotspur winger Aaron Lennon is in the frame for a recall, while Michael Owen is in the preliminary shortlist, but may not make the final cut.

"His movement in the box is really good. He is fast and understands when you have to go to the goal," Capello said of Owen.

"We have to wait. He has not played a lot of games and has to understand the style of United and integrate with the other players and understand the movement and the passes and everything."