Richard Sutcliffe: Birthday encounter presents dilemma for Capello

'WILL you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm Sixty-Four?' goes the chorus of the Beatles classic.

Well, on his 64th birthday, Fabio Capello tonight has the chance to prove English football really does need him as the Three Lions take on Algeria in Cape Town.

After a honeymoon period lasting more than two years, suddenly the pressure is on the Italian to deliver by getting the big decisions right – or risk another World Cup ending in a familiar sense of disappointment.

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Should Robert Green start in goal? Who will replace Ledley King in defence? And is Emile Heskey really the best foil for Wayne Rooney?

So many questions for the birthday boy to answer, leaving the country only able to cross its fingers that all will come right on the night for the 64-year-old and his team.

Encouragingly, a CV that boasts five Serie A titles, two

La Liga crowns and a Champions League triumph suggests Capello is a manager who, more often than not, does get those big decisions right.

What history also shows us is that any England manager wanting to make an impact at a World Cup must also be flexible and able to cope with whatever setbacks come his squad's way.

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An untimely injury here or a re-jig in formation there can be what makes all the difference between a barn-storming run to the later stages or an early exit.

The most famous example of this came in 1966 with Geoff Hurst's hat-trick in the final against West Germany. Not only did the West Ham man start the tournament as Jimmy Greaves's understudy only for injury to offer him a way into the side, but had Alan Peacock, the prolific Middlesbrough-born striker not suffered a serious injury earlier in the season with Leeds United then Hurst might not have been in Sir Alf Ramsey's squad at all.

A glance at when England have come closest to emulating the Boys of '66 also shows plenty of examples where players considered to be second choice in early June have come through to play a starring role.

In 1986, a glance at the starting XI knocked out at the quarter-final stage by Argentina shows four changes from the team that suffered a defeat in the opening group game against Portugal.

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Injury and suspension accounted for Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins respectively, allowing Steve Hodge and Peter Reid to come into midfield and transform England's fortunes. The others to force their way into Bobby Robson's plans were Trevor Steven and, perhaps most important of all, Peter Beardsley, with Chris Waddle and Mark Hateley being the pair to make way.

Four years later, Robson's first-choice personnel again evolved with David Platt, Mark Wright and Paul Parker being the trio to force their way in after starting on the sidelines. This time, however, it was a change of formation that made the biggest impact with England switching from 4-4-2 to a sweeper system following another injury to Bryan Robson.

More recently, Sven Goran Eriksson's reign saw the Three Lions twice knocked out in the last eight with the usually-conservative Swede also making positive changes as each tournament progressed.

In 2002, Darius Vassell and Owen Hargreaves were jettisoned to great effect in favour of Trevor Sinclair and Nicky Butt.

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Both went on to perform impressively after not making the initial cut for the draw against Sweden, Butt even being picked out by Pele after Brazil had ended English hopes in the quarter-finals as one of the stars of the Japan and South Korea World Cup.

In Germany four years later, Eriksson's hand was forced by a serious injury to Michael Owen that triggered a switch from

4-4-2 against Paraguay in the opening group game to a half-fit Wayne Rooney starting as a lone frontman against Portugal. The only other change between the two games was Peter Crouch being dropped to the bench and Hargreaves coming into the side.

The 2006 World Cup may have been a hugely disappointing affair for England with the team's displays in the sweltering German sun being well below par.

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But the promotion of Hargreaves, whose displays turned him from villain to hero in the eyes of the travelling army of fans from this country, shows the tradition of unsung heroes making a huge impact for England on the biggest stage of all was alive and well.

The challenge for Capello now is to pick out those capable of doing the same in South Africa.

There certainly is the potential in someone like Joe Hart, who if Robert Green is dropped for his blunder against the USA must surely be a safer bet in goal than David James.

Likewise, Matthew Upson has the potential to come in from the cold and form a strong partnership with John Terry, while Jermain Defoe must be hoping the midweek rumours he is a strong contender to replace Heskey do not prove to be wide of the mark.

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The task, therefore, facing Capello on his birthday is to uncover someone with the potential to follow in the footsteps of Hurst, Platt, Beardsley and Butt.

If the Italian manages it, he will be hailed a hero. But if he doesn't, then the honeymoon really will be over to leave the nation's football fans questioning whether England really do still need Capello now he is 64.

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