Crouch 56, 80 Wright-Phillips 75
Peter Crouch and Shaun Wright-Phillips were the heroes of the hour coming off the bench to score the vital goals as England defeated Egypt 3-1. It was not the most enthralling match, but non-competitive internationals rarely are. This was a match destined to be a match of two halves with plenty of substitutes being made throughout the second period. For many fringe players this was a chance to try to prove their worth and get on the plane to South Africa.
A majority of the starting line-up will be confident that they will be in the final squad but there are still places in the side that are not definitive. Nobody has made the right-wing their own since David Beckham’s decline from the starting XI. Theo Walcott started the night in that position and although he made some useful contributions with a good cut back to Frank Lampard, he did not set the English fans alight with mesmerising trickery. His replacement Shaun Wright-Phillips gave a performance that will be remembered in the back of Capello’s head leading up to June. As an experienced international he will be keen to cement the No 7 jersey as his own again and this performance will have done him no harm, with a goal and an assist quite possibly putting Wright-Phillips in pole position for right midfield. His well-timed cross into Crouch will have filled him with confidence after only a flurry of games in an England shirt recently. He may not be first choice to start matches in South Africa but he should make the final squad.
Michael Carrick replaced Frank Lampard at half time and made a good impact on the game. Carrick has a different style to Lampard and chose to stay back and provide the through passes rather than get forward. It was his initial pass that led to the first goal after quick play between himself and Steven Gerrard led to Crouch scoring. He has not been a first choice central midfielder for England but his approach to the game was calm and collected, short sharp passes across the pitch helped to keep the match flowing and allowed England to dominate the second half. Lampard wasted several opportunities in the first half but he was there in the box trying to score, which is what England will need if they opt to play Emile Heskey as the second striker, who will create chances and space for others but remain unlikely to score many himself. Carrick would be an ideal back up for Lampard and should make the squad on June 1.
James Milner was only on the pitch for 20 minutes but made an immediate impact. His fearsome shot was well saved by the Egyptian keeper who was unable to keep out the rebound from Wright-Phillips. Milner replaced Gerrard and did not look out of place in midfield, nor just an understudy to the vice-captain. He was prepared to come inside and tackle back where necessary and linked up well with Leighton Baines on the left-hand side. At only 24 he is still incredibly young but has so much experience at club level, his performances for Villa have been impressive and merit an England appearance. With the central midfield pairing of Lampard and Gareth Barry it seems impossible for him to make the starting line-up but he is such a versatile player and should Ashley Cole not be fit for the World Cup he could even perform at left-back admirably. Milner has never been to a big tournament with England before but he deserves his chance this summer. Hopefully he will not be burnt out after a busy and hectic season with the Villans.
Peter Crouch’s goal-scoring record at international level speaks for itself. It is prolific (20 from 37 appearances, a goal every 103 minutes in an England shirt). Out of favour at Spurs this did not stop the lofty player from making an impact after coming off the bench at half time to replace club teammate Jermain Defoe. Two well-taken goals in the second half saw Crouch stake his claim as the striker to play alongside Wayne Rooney at the World Cup. At 6ft 7in, Crouch’s footwork is deft and subtle, he is able to hold the ball up or release it quickly and seems to know when to make the right pass. With Heskey struggling to score goals (seven from 57 for England) this may put Crouch in the leading role as second striker should 4-4-2 be the preferred formation. But if he fails to regain his place in Harry Redknapp’s side then a place in the squad seems the best he could wish for.
Carlton Cole was not on the pitch long enough to have any real impact and unless he can keep scoring for West Ham in their relegation battle, a trip to South Africa in the summer would be unlikely.
There are two months of the Premier League season still to go and no doubt injuries and form will strike through English players who currently are untouched by both. Those in the squad now have the best chance of maintaining their place in the squad and it would be unlikely for Capello to introduce any new players at the last minute a la Sven-Goran Eriksson and Walcott. There is however, enough time in the season for players to make an impact for better or worse. There are still positions to be won across the pitch, from goalkeeper to goal-scorer. A 23-man squad will be picked by June 1 and there are still several places up for grabs. It is up to the players themselves to prove their mettle and resilience when it comes to the gritty end of the season and whether they warrant a trip to South Africa.
England 3-1 Egypt reaction
England Analysis – Crouch and Wright-Phillips stake World Cup claim
First-class England showing pushes Everton’s Baines closer to South Africa
Crouch’s England double bad news for Carlton Cole
England’s substitutes prove their World Cup credentials
England’s makeshift (first-choice) back-line under examination