Kevin McCarra

August 20, The Guardian

Sluggish ticket sales can be a sign of impatience. England fans are no longer so cheerful as they await a competitive fixture for Fabio Capello's team. At the beginning of this week only 62,000 had stumped up for tonight's friendly with the Czech Republic at Wembley. The ambivalence had been marked, too, when 71,233 gathered for the previous international there, against the United States in May. In themselves these figures will definitely not provoke panic at the FA.

Selling two-thirds of the seats by Monday would have made England the envy of most countries in the world and the total will have climbed subsequently. It was inevitable, too, that the desire to visit the new stadium would fade. More than a year has passed since it was opened with the masochistically scheduled match against Germany. Over the period that has followed, the novelty value has naturally tapered off.

All that is left now is for the England team to become an irresistible attraction. Capello himself would be disdainful of the idea that he is responsible for entertainment and seems to regard it as an outmoded aspiration. He is inclined to mention a worldwide decline in the number of top-class forwards. Nonetheless, an incisive England team is no luxury and dullness may meet with severe punishment in the World Cup qualifiers.

Only the winners of the nine groups in the European zone advance automatically to the 2010 finals in South Africa. The best eight runners-up go into play-off matches for the four remaining spots. England, if they are to avoid the terrors of a repechage, will most notably have to outdo Steve McClaren's nemesis Croatia, whom they face in Zagreb next month.

It is impossible for Capello to have so settled a line-up as Slaven Bilic but his period of experimentation is coming to an end.

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