It has not taken long for Fabio Capello to be hailed as everything from the man with the Midas touch to a soccer genius destined to lead England to World Cup glory.
Few teams in world sports attract such public hype as the England national team, with a success-starved public regularly driven into a frenzy by the salivating U.K. media.
WORLD CUP SWEET 16
Yahoo! Sports World Cup rankings take a look at who would be among the favorites if the tournament were to start tomorrow. Brazil remains No. 1, while Argentina slips down the list after two straight losses.
1. Brazil. In form and packed with superb talent.
2. Spain. Perfect in qualifying and a big shot at overall glory.
3. England. Fabio Capello continues to work wonders.
4. Holland. Keen to atone for Euro disappointment.
5. Germany. Wants to avoid difficult playoff.
6. Italy. Qualifying easily after poor Confederations Cup.
7. Ivory Coast. Best chance of all the African teams.
8. Denmark. Need to produce when it really counts.
9. France. Awful in qualifying but will still be a threat.
10. Argentina. In serious danger of missing out.
11. Ghana. Smooth, organized team can make a big impact.
12. Paraguay. Strong, smart and already through.
13. United States. Plenty of potential but consistency still a problem.
14. Cameroon. Dramatic return to form this week.
15. Australia. Hitting form but will it travel well?
16. South Africa. Will have home support and an easy draw.
Wednesday night's 5-1 destruction of Croatia at Wembley Stadium booked Capello's men a place at the 2010 World Cup and sent the publicity machine into the expected state of overdrive. The same thing happened before the 2002 tournament, when David Beckham's last-gasp free kick against Greece clinched qualification, and before France '98, when a courageous 0-0 draw in Italy earned a World Cup spot.
However, there does seem to be a different look about Capello's England that suggests the frenzy might this time be based on more than blind faith.
The Italian thrust himself into the picture for the England coaching job as soon as Steve McClaren failed to qualify England for the 2008 European Championships. Capello impressed the F.A. hierarchy with his vision for success, and despite having a less-talented pool of players to choose from than Sven-Goran Eriksson (who managed only three quarterfinal places in major tournaments), he is doing more with the Three Lions.
Unlike Eriksson, Capello's big strength is his adaptability, his capacity to change the game plan if things are not working. Most importantly, his players believe in him – and why wouldn't they after eight consecutive wins in qualifying?
It has been 43 years since England won its only major trophy at the 1966 World Cup, and the hype and headlines will continue all the way from now until next summer. Except that this time there looks to be some real foundation behind them.
Here's the latest qualifying picture for the 2010 World Cup. An asterisk denotes a team that has already qualified.
North and Central America, Caribbean
The logjam at the top of the CONCACAF hexagonal group loosened up thanks to the USA's pair of victories and Costa Rica's costly defeat in El Salvador. Once at the top of the group, the Costa Ricans are now in danger of finishing fourth and being stuck in a tricky playoff against a South American opponent. Mexico looks to have dug itself out of danger and is now a heavy favorite to qualify, while Honduras is beginning to sense a trip to the World Cup.
Predicted qualifiers: Mexico, USA, Honduras.
Things just get worse and worse for Argentina, which is now down in fifth place after suffering its fifth and sixth defeats of the campaign. Paraguay joins Brazil in South Africa, with Chile also on the verge of reaching the tournament. Only three points separate Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela and Colombia with two rounds remaining.
Predicted qualifiers: Brazil*, Paraguay*, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina (via playoff).
Ghana is the only team to have clinched a spot, but the Ivory Coast is almost there after winning four straight. Cameroon dug itself out of a hole with two wins in four days, while Nigeria and Egypt are running out of chances.
Predicted qualifiers: Ghana*, Cameroon, Tunisia, Algeria, Ivory Coast.
All eyes are on Group 1, where Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal remain in deep trouble despite a desperately needed win against Hungary. Other big teams are finding it tough as well, with the Czech Republic in fourth place in Group 3 and France apparently condemned to a playoff by the excellent form of Serbia. England, Spain and Holland have all won eight straight to qualify with ease, while Italy should be just one game away from securing a place.
Predicted qualifiers: Spain*, England*, Holland*, Denmark, Switzerland, Slovakia, Germany, Serbia, Italy. France, Greece, Croatia, Russia (all via playoff).
Bahrain missed out on the 2006 World Cup when it lost a playoff to Trinidad and Tobago. There is a perfect chance for redemption this time around, though. A triumph over Saudi Arabia in the Asian playoff would set up a showdown with New Zealand for a spot in South Africa.
Predicted qualifiers: Australia*, Japan*, South Korea*, North Korea*, Bahrain (via playoff).
New Zealand comfortably won the weakest of all regions and is relishing the chance to reach the World Cup if it can win its playoff against Bahrain.