King 17, Crouch 34, Johnson 47
It was a case of “mission complete” as England emerged through their penultimate pre-World Cup friendly with a victory over Mexico. However, despite the favourable score line, the match provided more than enough for Fabio Capello to be concerned about. Many Mexican fans must have been tearing their hair out seeing England go 2-0 up, as were it not for a lack of basic defending skills they would have been going in at half-time 1-0 up and deservingly so. There are some factors which can perhaps explain England’s lack of performance. A slight air of anxiety could be sensed as the hype begins to gather momentum, and the pressure along with it. There will also have been a sub-conscious unwillingness to fully commit and therefore risk injury, given that the English style is based on pace, power and directness. In turn, the tentativeness of the home team allowed Mexico, a team who are comfortable on the ball in a typically continental fashion, time and space to dictate play.
Many players struggled to play to their full strengths. Theo Walcott’s performance helped add weight to the claim that he will be perhaps more useful as an impact player. The Arsenal striker has not quite developed as expected to date, and is a victim of the over-hyping culture of the British media. He harbours a scintillating raw pace that could cause serious problems to tired defences late on. However, at times Walcott continues to show a lack of strength, control and decision making, summed up by Andy Townsend’s cry of: “make up your mind, Theo!”Sloppy passing from the likes of Michael Carrick, and Ledley King getting turned with considerable ease provided further moments of unease for expectant Three Lions fans. Nevertheless, the second half saw a significant improvement by England. Such friendly ties tend to become a bit watered down as more and more substitutions dilute any sort of focused tactical plan. England remained solid and utilised their powerful attacking prowess more fruitfully. The two England goalkeepers, who were both effectively on trial, also provided optimism. Robert Green produced a fantastic one-on-one save, and Joe Hart can consider a second half clean sheet a job well done.
Despite the questionable first-half display, the end result alone should be enough to put confidence in the minds of the England players. Capello has the experience to swiftly iron out the creases in the performance, and the game will most likely have little effect on what happens at this summer’s tournament. England should show what they are really capable of when those who make the cut can relax and proceed to channel all energy into the tournament. Once the key 23 players are safe in the knowledge that they convinced Capello to take them to South Africa, they can play at maximum capacity without worry if injury or lack of form will see them miss out on their dream. Only then will England know if they are good enough to win the World Cup . For now, those players on the fringes still have some last-minute work to do.