Fabio Capello looked ahead to FIFA World Cup™ D-day declaring: "I am not crazy. We can reach the Final."
Capello's pre-tournament assertion that England were capable of competing for the biggest prize in the game at Soccer City on July 11 has looked a little hollow over the past fortnight. After starting with a mixed performance against the United States, England's Group C campaign took a total wrong turning against Algeria in Cape Town last Friday. A virtually unanimous assessment of that tepid goalless draw was that it was one of the worst England performances in living memory.
The result sends the Three Lions into their final encounter with Slovenia with their backs firmly pressed against the wall, knowing anything other than victory, against determined opponents who only require a draw, will almost certainly consign them to an early flight home and public ridicule.
Yet Capello, who was anxious to put a turbulent few days behind him, retains faith in his players. While he accepts their performances in South Africa have been nowhere near the level that got them to the tournament in a highly impressive qualifying campaign, the Italian is keeping the faith.
"I am not crazy," he said. "When I said my target is the Final of the World Cup it was because we showed this is a really good squad. I think if - no, not if, when we win tomorrow, then all the teams have to fight against us."
When I said my target is the Final of the World Cup it was because we showed this is a really good squad.
The rallying cry may have been delivered in faltering English but the resonance was the same as John Terry managed with his own, ultimately ill-advised, passionate speech on Sunday. Capello will only truly find out Wednesday afternoon whether his own assertion of authority over the man he once called captain has any lingering effect.
There was no fuel being poured on the fire Tuesday night. Capello is a clear thinker if nothing else. Monday night, action needed to be taken. Now it has to be forgotten. "He is one of the most important players and no, I did not think about dropping him," said Capello. "This is a really important game for us, everything else has gone out of the minds of the players. Speak about the game, not John Terry."
Capello went on to insist that his team would return to top form. "We did really well in qualification but now we are not in a good moment," he admitted. "Sometimes we improve, but sometimes we aren't at the high level that I want. At this moment, we are down from the level that I know, that they know, that we all know. But tomorrow we will be fit to fight. Definitely.
"My reputation is not important. We are a team, a group. This is a play-off, like a final of the Champions League. That is the spirit we have to find, from the first moment, because we have to win."