England boss Fabio Capello is within reach of his 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ dream and has thanked Slaven Bilic for providing the team-talk ahead of the qualifier that could get the Italian over the finishing line.
Victory over Croatia will get England to South Africa 2010 and help forget help forget memories of two years ago when the same opponents denied them a place at UEFA Euro 2008 - and further motivation is proving Bilic wrong after he stirred up the mind-games this week.
The Croatia coach has suggested England have lost their "Englishness" under Capello, which the Italian feels has motivated his squad. "Thank you Mr Bilic," Capello said. "It is the best. I have no need to motivate my players after this. It's fantastic assistance. He prepared the game. He tried to provoke a reaction. For me, thank you. That's fantastic assistance."
Thank you Mr Bilic. It is the best. I have no need to motivate my players after this,
Instead of a moving speech to rally his players towards eight wins from eight Group 6 qualifiers, Capello's message will be simple. "You have to remember what Bilic said," will be Capello's instructions. "I like the English spirit. I saw this spirit in a lot of games that we've played.
"It's impossible to win without spirit. We suffered sometimes during first halves and played better second halves, and it would have been impossible to do that without spirit."
Defeating Croatia could be a symbolic moment of Capello's reign, especially as Steve McClaren was dismissed after Bilic's side won on that rainy night at Wembley when the England coach reached for the brolly. "I think the weather will be dry this time," Capello joked.
Capello was working on Italian television that evening and heard about England's failure, with suggestions he would be willing to take charge already starting to build momentum. When he accepted the Football Association's offer, the first aim was to get to South Africa.
South Africa 2010 dream
"It was always my dream to be here. I always said that," Capello said. "I think it's the dream of every manager (to reach the final of the FIFA World Cup). Now, my dream is first to go to South Africa. This is the dream. After, there'll be another dream.
"The goal when I took over England was to get to the finals. When I came here, people said that - with Croatia - it would be a very difficult group psychologically, so I wanted to give the players belief."
The 4-1 victory in Zagreb last season has helped with belief and confidence, although the hero of that evening, Theo Walcott, is missing this time around with a side strain. Aaron Lennon is considered the favourite ahead of Shaun Wright-Phillips and David Beckham to start on the right flank against Croatia.
In attack, Jermain Defoe has scored five goals in three substitute appearances but Emile Heskey's physical presence could give him the edge in the fight to partner Wayne Rooney. And should Croatia provoke Rooney and attempt to ignite his hot temper, Capello is confident the Manchester United forward can restrain himself.
"I think if I remember correctly, with me Rooney only once did a bad tackle," Capello said. "Only once. Afterwards, he played always well. Provocation means nothing for Rooney."
Capello has warned Bilic that his team have improved since their Zagreb victory and would not read too much into the performance at the weekend when they defeated Slovenia 2-1. "There's an edge now," Capello said. "People are afraid to play with injuries in friendlies. Not now.
The players are training very well, no-one is injured, all the players are fit. I have big confidence in my team,
"The players are training very well, no-one is injured, all the players are fit. I have big confidence in my team. I know that it's always the same when you play friendly games - that concentration is not good, motivation is not good. It's one of the worst moments. It's not the same after.
"In Croatia we played very well and won 4-1. It's history for me. We played a lot of good games for qualification and won seven games, improving every game."
Capello, however, has not reviewed the footage of that evening when McClaren failed to get England to Austria and Switzerland. He added: "That is for history. For the archives. Not for me."