Fabio Capello knows from bitter personal experience nothing should be taken for granted as England begin their preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.

The euphoria that accompanied qualification and the manner of Wednesday's staggering 5-1 triumph over Croatia has brought a wave of optimism so familiar to previous FIFA World Cup campaigns. Since 1966, though, all England has been left with is a feeling of disappointment Capello knows only too well.

As a player, he was around the Italy scene in 1974 and 1978. On both occasions, his own contribution ended in misery. In 1974, Italy went to Germany as one of the favourites - having put together a lengthy, unbeaten run and qualified in comfort just as England have done this time. They went home after three games.

Four years later, Capello was part of the provisional squad for Argentina - only to be axed by coach Enzo Bearzot when the time came to announce his official party. "I played the qualification for the Argentina World Cup but I didn't go to Argentina," he recalled.

"I wasn't injured. I just wasn't good enough and I heard on TV that I was not in the squad. In 1974 we arrived as one of the favourites. Out of the previous 12 games, we won eight and drew four against some of the best teams in the world. But at the World Cup we played Poland, Argentina and Haiti - and then went home.

It is possible all the players I selected for the last squad will be with us in South Africa. But the door is open for everyone,

England manager Fabio Capello.

"It just shows we have to wait. It is possible all the players I selected for the last squad will be with us in South Africa. But the door is open for everyone, and I have to decide at the time which players are in the best form."

Capello's soothing words should at least offer the likes of Michael Owen, Joe Cole and Owen Hargreaves some hope they will make the final cut - even if they would all miss out if the decision had to be made now. Hargreaves' long-standing knee problems mean he has never actually played a game under Capello.

Yet his presence as a holding midfield player could prove vital, although Gareth Barry has done a fine job as his understudy over the past 18 months. Hargreaves would certainly seem to have more chance of making the trip than Ledley King - whose name is repeatedly mentioned when England squads are named but whose last chance almost certainly disappeared when he was called up then, within 24 hours, was released by Capello for last season's match against Ukraine.

"I spoke with the Manchester United doctor about Hargreaves - and he will be back in two months, although then he has to play," said Capello. "The problem with King is the knee. He has to spend four days with physio after training. We have to choose the best players. But they also need to be fit, really fit."

Schedule planning
The memory of Wednesday night's thrashing of Croatia will sustain England over the next eight months, as Capello slowly puts plans in place. Changes can be anticipated for the remaining two matches in Group 6, away to the Ukraine and against Belarus at Wembley next month - with four further friendlies to follow, plus a training camp in Austria.

The first of that quartet of matches will be against Brazil in Qatar on 14 November. While the finer points of a meeting with the four-time world champions have not yet been agreed, Capello is certain enough of it taking place to highlight why it is so crucial.

"It is important to play Brazil because we need to understand what we have to do if we play against a team like them at the World Cup," he said. "We have already played against the best teams in the world, only missing Italy. I understood a lot from those matches. It lets me understand the level we have reached."

It also allows Capello to check on one of the sides he feels will be challenging for that little gold trophy at Ellis Park on 11 July next year. The usual suspects are all listed - including, somewhat grudgingly, Italy. But from a continent yet to win the most prized trophy in the game and which will host the tournament for the first time, there is one other.

"The dangerous teams are always the same - Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany are always among the first group," said Capello. "Sure, we are looking at Italy as well - but also there will be one African team. The Ivory Coast's team is very good - and the tournament is in Africa, where the spirit is different."