England put in one of their best peformances in years last night by demolishing Croatia and qualifying for the 2010 South Africa World Cup with two games still to go in qualifying.

Prior to yesterday, England had played 7 and won 7 in their group. Only Spain and Holland also had 100% records in the European section of World Cup qualifying.

England sat prettily atop their group, needing just a draw against Croatia last night to seal a place at South Africa 2010 - unless Ukraine drew or lost against Belarus, in which case England would only need a draw.

Belarus did the business, drawing 0-0 against Ukraine. England knew they only needed a draw Craotia to qualify.

But Croatia are the team who beat England 3-2 on a rainy night in November 2007 to deny England's qualification to Euro 2008. England wanted revenge on Croatia who, over the last couple of years, have been England's greatest rivals.

And revenge is what England got, with two goals from Lampard and two from Gerrard, plus one from Rooney, demolishing Croatia. It is the first time since 2004 in which Gerrard and Lampard have scored in the same match. Capello has blown apart the theory that the two can't play in the same team as each other.

This was arguably England's greatest performance since they demolished Germany 5-1 in Munich on 1st September 2001.

England have now scored 31 goals in qualifying, more than any other team in Europe, and they still have two (now meaningless) games to play, against Ukraine and Belarus. The next highest scorers in Europe are Germany, with 24.

England are now third favourites to win the 2010 World Cup, after Brazil and Spain.

And England are boosted by the fact that teams such as Portugal, Argentina and France, who are all struggling, may not even be at the World Cup - and the fact that June is winter in South Africa, and there will be the type of weather which will suit England.

England's joy was made complete by Scotland, who are little better than a pub team, failing to qualify, after defeat to Holland. Scotland have now failed to qualify for any major tournament since the 1998 World Cup in France.

England fans are snapping up World Cup tickets like gold dust - only South Africans (whose nation is hosting the event) and Americans have bought more tickets than the English.

Croatia have one more game remaining, which they may need to win to reach the play-offs (only the top team in each group qualifies automatically). That game may be the last for their Anglophile coach Slaven Bilic, who wants a managerial career in England.

Bok of the net: Three Lions go to South Africa

By Henry Winter at Wembley
09 Sep 2009
The Telegraph

Nelson Mandela, Dirk Coatzee, Jacob Zuma, Mark Boucher, Ernie Els, wildebeest, giraffes, Springbok rugby players, Zola Budd, Jacques Kallis, that girl who looks like a bloke...... England are on their way over

Almost 90,000 were at Wembley for the big match, with some England fans, before the match, urging people to back England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

Inspiration: Frank Lampard celebrates scoring the penalty that put England ahead, as Wayne Rooney follows Photo: PA

2010 World Cup Qualifier (Wembley. Att: 87,319)

England 5-1 Croatia
Lampard 8 (pen), 59..........Eduardo 73
Gerrard 18, 66
Rooney 77

Group Six standings

................P....W....D....L....F....A....Poin ts
England......8.....8.....0....0...31....5.....24 (Q)

From brolly to Bolly: what a difference a good manager makes. As Fabio Capello masterminded the destruction of Croatia, as the champagne corks popped and a jubilant Wembley let loose its delight at reaching the World Cup, the memory of Steve McClaren clutching his umbrella as Slaven Bilic’s side won here two years ago was consigned to history.

The future looks promising indeed under Capello, who has invigorated a group of players that grew demoralised under McClaren’s lacklustre leadership.

How Wembley loved it, as Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard both scored twice, Wayne Rooney added another and the outstanding Aaron Lennon led Croatia’s defenders a merry dance.

Consolation: Arsenal striked Eduardo claimed a late goal for the visitors but it was to no avail

How the England football family revelled in it, former captains like Bryan Robson and Alan Shearer standing to salute the latest generation charged with ending 44 years of hurt. How the Football Association money men clapped their hands in glee; qualification for a tournament is usually estimated to be worth £100  million to English football. Even the Government will benefit from an additional £1 billion of revenue gushing into the dried-up river of the economy. TV show-rooms and off-licences can expect a bumper summer.

Capello’s impact is phenomenal. The Italian has got England footballers believing again, has sent fans racing to assorted websites snapping up tickets for South Africa. Before kick-off, 45,000 World Cup tickets had been sold to residents of the UK, mainly English, and that number could now double after England qualified in such style.

Inevitably, the country will jettison all sense of perspective, ignoring the quality of Spain, Brazil, Germany and Holland as punters rush to bookmakers to place substantial wedges on England returning from Johannesburg with the trophy that most fixates the nation.

Exposed: Steven Gerrard claimed England's fourth goal with a looping header after 66 minutes

Fortunately, as all around him people were losing their head, Capello kept his. He has been to a World Cup before, the 1974 affair in Germany, and knows the difficulties. He has seen the flaws in his improving England side that still need eradicating, the defensive slips by Glen Johnson and Robert Green that allowed Croatia their late consolation through Eduardo.

The prince of pragmatism, Capello will not get carried away. An instructive cameo was staged after the final whistle: John Terry marched across to celebrate with Capello, stuck out a hand and then moved to give his manager an English-style bear-hug. The Italian was having none of it. Capello is Terry’s manager, not his mate.

And that is why he has such an effect on them. McClaren tried to be chummy.

Capello keeps his distance, proving utterly ruthless with those who fail to take their opportunity like Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joleon Lescott and Carlton Cole, all disappointing against Slovenia on Saturday, all failing to make even the bench last night.

The determination of Capello’s chosen ones was inescapable, starting in the tunnel where they stared ahead, utterly focused, aware that the eyes of the nation were upon them. Even Capello, lining up behind them, instinctively stretched his leg muscles before stepping out in a stadium where he once scored for Italy.

Bilic proffered the hand of peace, following their disagreement in the build-up, which Capello took coldly and briefly, cutting short Bilic’s attempt at conversation.

England’s manager wanted his players’ football to do the talking.

They did not let him down. Fast out of the traps, pressing hard and high up the field, Lennon, Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney and Emile Heskey tore into Bilic’s men.

The tempo was good, the 4-2-3-1 tactics spot-on. Croatia were forced on the back-foot, pummelled by the combinations put together by hungry hosts brimming with quick footwork and fluid movement.

Croatia have choked on English vapour trails before in this qualifying campaign, on the chaos caused by the dashing raider Theo Walcott in Zagreb. Here it was Lennon, startling Croatia’s defence with a turn of pace that the watching Usain Bolt must have admired.

The Tottenham attacker got the party started early, speeding past Nikola Pokrivac and gliding past Josip Simunic, who inexplicably tripped him. Penalty. No question.

No need for Uefa intervention. And no chance of Vedran Runje saving, Lampard placing the ball expertly into the net.

England were rampant. Gareth Barry, embodying England’s ebullience, let fly from 25 yards, denied only by Runje. Wembley roared its approval, thrilling to the adventure of the men in white, admiring the intelligent way Capello’s players kept the team shape. Bewitched by England’s football, the fans even forgot to boo Eduardo. Briefly.

One became two after 18 minutes via a direct goal that showed England have not lost their “Englishness’’ under Capello whatever Bilic might believe. Two Merseysiders, Rooney and Gerrard, linked up effortlessly in midfield, men from the same city on the same wavelength, the Liverpool captain soon sweeping the ball wide to Lennon.

This time, the winger varied his approach, taking two touches before lifting in a cross which Gerrard headed firmly home. As Wembley celebrated, there continued to be so much to admire in Lennon’s contribution, notably the way he darted back to help out Johnson, dispossessing Daniel Pranjic, frustrating Croatia.

The scoreboard could have carried a tennis score by the break. Runje, the excellent Lens keeper, saved Lampard’s fizzing 30-yard free-kick, parried shots from Lennon and Heskey before diving at Heskey’s feet. No matter.

England went through the gears again after the break. Johnson ran on to Gerrard’s firm pass, eluded Pranjic and cut the ball back for Lampard to score with a measured header. England were heading to South Africa in every sense, Gerrard nodding in Rooney’s hoisted cut-back.

Although Eduardo exploited hesitancy in England’s defence, a horrendous
mis-kick from Runje gifted Rooney a chance he drilled home. Finally Capello’s granite features broke into a smile. First mission accomplished. He will demand much more.

A road well travelled: Croatia's visiting fans show off their voices during the national anthems

Singalong: England fans raise the temperature at Wembley ahead of the game with Croatia

Timber: Aaron Lennon's burst into the box after just seven minutes caused trouble for Croatia with Josip Simunic eventually bringing him down

No mistakes: Frank Lampard needed no second invitation as he converted the subsequent penalty and brought England a step closer to South Africa

Rising high: not long after England were two goals up as Steven Gerrard met Aaron Lennon's cross at the far post

Is the game up? the Croatian fans show their fears as Gerrard celebrates

Two sides to the story: at half-time Fabio Capello (left) would have been happier than his Croatian counterpart Slaven Bilic

Let the party begin: Heskey was replaced by Jermain Defoe just after he saw Lampard score his second, heading home Glen Johnson's cross

Exposed: Steven Gerrard claimed England's fourth with a looping header after 66 minutes...

...the Liverpool captain benefited from a clever cross by Wayne Rooney from the right-hand side to catch Runje out

Disaster: Bilic shows his disappointment as England take advantage of another error by his team

Consolation: Arsenal striked Eduardo claimed a late goal for the visitors but it was to no avail

Predator: Wayne Rooney took advantage of a miskick by Runje to claim England's fifth and yet another one for him in this prodigious qualification campaign

Job done: Capello congratulates his centre-forward after Rooney's strike had iced the cake of World Cup qualification

World Cup 2010: five reasons why 2010 can be England's year

Expectations that 2010 will be the year England finally end their wait to win the World Cup will go into overdrive now Fabio Capello's men have booked their place at next year's finals. Why do they have reason to be optimist this time?

By Jason Burt
09 Sep 2009
The Telegraph

Talking tough: Slaven Bilic's barbs spurred Fabio Capello into some verbal pyrotechnics of his own Photo: GETTY IMAGES

1. Fabio Capello
The Italian is the best manager England have had for decades. He may not have the best players or play the best football, or even be the best coach or tactician, but he wants to win and will try and ensure that happens at all costs. He is also not afraid of anyone or anything and will change his team, his tactics or drop any player if he has to. He claims to be immune to outside pressure – be they from the opposition, the fans, the Football Association or the media. If England can’t win with Capello then who can they win with? It will be Capello’s way.

2. Squad mentality:
More than anything Capello and his coaches have worked on strengthening the belief among England’s players that they can win. Capello calls this a “winning mentality” and often stresses the importance of “the spirit of the group”. He knows that the best players, the best team doesn’t always win the World Cup. But the one with the strongest mentality and togetherness often do. And England are getting that now as they showed in qualifying.

3. Two special players:
It is very dangerous to depend on any one (or two) players. After all, what happens if they get injured? But if they stay fit those players can make all the difference when they are part of a strong, well-organised team. And England have in Wayne Rooney, in particular, and Steven Gerrard two players who are two match-winners and who have the ability to frighten any team. The danger is they may burn out as their clubs are equally dependent on them. But Capello is aware of their importance, especially Rooney, which is why he has worked hard to fit a team around him and will do all he can to ensure he is in the right shape and is provided with the right support for South Africa.

4. The weather:
It will be winter in South Africa so, for once, England won’t have to deal with stifling humidity and soaring temperatures. It means they can play a pressing game if needs be although Capello is keen to make sure that they continue to build possession rather than constantly have to steal it. It expends less energy. But, nevertheless, the weather could be key for European nations. Days will be mild, evenings cold. Bit like a UK autumn so, in other words, perfect.

5. The weakness of England’s traditional nemeses:
Argentina, Portugal and Germany are all struggling at the moment and England have suffered at the hands of all those nations in recent competitions. It may help remove a mental block. Who knows England may even win a penalty shoot-out? Furthermore the exertions of Spain and Brazil in this year’s Confederations Cup – no rest for the likes of Fernando Torres – may come back to affect them. But that may be asking for too much. However there is a sense that beyond those two nations, and remember, traditionally, the best team rarely wins the World Cup, it may be a more open field than usual. And England will become strong contenders and, vitally, believe it rather than just say it.

Last edited by Blackleaf; Sep 10th, 2009 at 01:02 PM..