Football: STAND AND DELIVER; ISRAEL V ENGLAND UEFA EURO 2008 Austria-Switzerland GROUP E QUALIFIER, TODAY, 6.30PM on Our Knees after Croatia, We Must Rise to Challenge

The Mirror (London, England), March 24, 2007 | Go to article overview

Football: STAND AND DELIVER; ISRAEL V ENGLAND UEFA EURO 2008 Austria-Switzerland GROUP E QUALIFIER, TODAY, 6.30PM on Our Knees after Croatia, We Must Rise to Challenge


Byline: OLIVER HOLT CHIEF SPORTS WRITER REPORTS FROM TEL AVIV

THERE'S a sign at the top of the stairs leading to the basement in the England team hotel. "This way to the shelter," it says.

It's a jolting reminder of the reality of everyday life in Israel and of the lurking fear of impending attack that is such a big part of the country's psyche.

If England lose to Israel in the Ramat Gan Stadium tonight, Steve McClaren and the lads might be tempted to take advantage of it themselves for a few hours.

But the reality is that an England side that plays to anything like its potential should win comfortably here and shake off the siege mentality that has been dogging it since October's loss to Croatia in Zagreb.

Certainly, McClaren's attitude yesterday and the reports emerging last night of his forthright address to senior players earlier in the week spoke of a man who has had enough of under-achievement.

His message at his press conference might have been rather repetitive but there was a reassuring touch of ruthlessness and steel about it that hasn't been there before.

Others go for education, education, education or location, location, location. McClaren talked about delivery, delivery, delivery.

We have to deliver. It's time to deliver. Now it's about delivery. And so on, and so on. Six times in all. It might have been a bit tedious but we all got the message.

He's right, too. It is time for England to start winning again before it's too late and McClaren runs out of games and points.

We've already turned an easy group into rather a forbidding obstacle course and made Goliaths out of ordinary opponents.

But everything about the build-up to tonight suggests it will be the game when England begin to restore the confidence that has drained from them in the last year or so.

For a start, Israel aren't exactly Brazil. They've built up a solid home record over the past few years but they have not been as convincing under new coach Dror Kashtan.

They are missing two of their best players, Robert Colautti and Idan Tal, and captain Yossi Benayoun is still far from fully fit. This time, England have fewer injury problems. The loss of Gary Neville at right-back is a blow but even without him, England should be far too strong for their hosts here in the Middle East.

McClaren, don't forget, was without both Owen Hargreaves and Steven Gerrard when England crumbled to their confused and abject defeat in Zagreb.

They are both back tonight, Wayne Rooney is fully fit and in fine form, Aaron Lennon's pace should cause the Israel defence plenty of discomfort and Andrew Johnson will relish a chance to play in a conventional forward role for his country.

We have become so used to our players under-achieving and being far less than the sum of their parts, that we have grown too defeatist about our chances. But if McClaren can finally begin to get his players to play for England as they do for their clubs, there is no reason why we should not only qualify for Euro 2008 but be one of the favourites to win it. …

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