Crouch 56, 80 Wright-Phillips 75
After beating Stephen Warnock to the right to replace Ashley Cole as England’s left-back, Leighton Baines entered a solid performance on a night Fabio Capello’s side veered wildly from a drab first-half to a much-improved second.
Baines was one of few fringe players to further his claim to a seat on the journey to South Africa, putting in a consistent display and never looking overawed on his international debut. The Everton defender showed impressive confidence and was entrusted with a number of set-pieces despite the presence of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard for much of the game. His delivery was a little inconsistent, with a wasteful free-kick following a couple of dangerous corners, but there is more to Baines’ game than dead-ball situations and he justified his inclusion comfortably, playing the full match and settling into the international arena nicely.
The opening 45 minutes saw most of Egypt’s attacks come down England’s left, where Baines was often isolated by the lack of a genuine left-sided midfielder to support him. Steven Gerrard started nominally in that position but used his licence to drift central to full effect, leaving his fellow Scouser often outnumbered but Baines coped dutifully with the exception of a poor touch that led to a corner that had to be cleared off the line. A rampaging attacking full-back for Everton, Baines also showed his versatility in the opening period by holding back on his forward surges to preserve England’s structure on his side, allowing Baines to give a less-spectacular but equally-effective initial performance.
For the second-half Baines, and England as a whole, showed greater attacking intent and the former Wigan Athletic man was often found supporting the forward players. Baines also contributed to the goal that put the Three Lions in front, when his cross eventually led to Shaun Wright-Phillips’ game-changing strike, although his delivery was poor and blocked by the Egypt defender which in turn created the original shooting opportunity for James Milner. As England’s tempo increased, so did the frequency with which Baines made overlapping runs and his second stanza display was more like the Everton appearances that earned him his England chance. The presence of Milner, who often took up residence on the left flank, helped Baines considerably.
Wayne Bridge’s recusal and Cole’s injury mean at least one of and quite possibly both Baines and Warnock will travel to the World Cup and Baines’ selection against Egypt is a positive sign for his hopes of wearing the No 3 shirt. By being given the full 90 minutes when many felt the two full-backs would split the game between them, Baines was provided with the perfect stage to solidify his name in Capello’s thoughts and his performance certainly did that. Warnock has been in previous international squads however, and together with the preponderance of English players at Aston Villa, the Italian may feel he has seen enough of the former Liverpool defender. In the aftermath of this fine display, Capello and England’s loyal fans may be seeing more of Baines in future.
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