England fringe players give Capello reason to smile

Last night’s friendly against Ghana provided a worthwhile and enjoyable night’s work for England head coach Fabio Capello. As the country’s media lambasted the Italian for allowing the Champions League quintet to leave the squad ahead of the Black Stars visit, the forgotten aspect was that the decision allowed fringe players from the squad to stake a claim.

It must be said that Ghana provided such boisterous opposition that the players in question could be judged as if it was a competitive fixture for their country, such was the visitor’s commitment to the game itself. That allowed the likes of Stuart Downing, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines and Andy Carroll to emerge from their understudy posts and stake a claim for future starting spots.

With Capello seemingly in the middle of changing the team’s formation, he must have been delighted at the chance to see how some of his squad could fit into that system. Downing in particular had an excellent night, showing Capello just what he is capable of when given some freedom on the wing. His ability to cut in from the right troubled the Ghanaians all night and his craft when coming into more central areas gives the Italian another option out wide. The former Middlesbrough man doesn’t have the pace or trickery of most of the other wingers at Capello’s disposal, but he is an all-rounded footballer and can hurt opponents in all sorts of situations, as shown in his assist for Carroll’s first half opener.

Talking of Carroll, the Liverpool striker is an excellent prospect for England. His performance last night was one lacking in any real sharpness because of his recent injury, but he still managed to take his goal extremely well. His hold up play is progressing well and his aerial ability is obviously a real asset. Another player who is certain to be in and around the England setup for a good while is Milner, who despite being heavily involved in Capello’s plans over the past few years, is yet to nail down a starting berth. However, the new system certainly helps his chances, as the Manchester City man can play in anyone of five positions in the 4-3-3 system so will be a valuable player for England.

The other fringe players to get their chance last night also proved a point to Capello, although with varying degrees of success. Cahill showed he is a shrewd operator at centre-half, even if he is not quite the finished article yet. Whether he is international class remains to be seen, but he did well against a fluid Ghanaian attack and showed glimpses of a quality defender. His partner for the first half, Jagielka, looked a yard short at times, but they both showed the quality to suggest they’ll be chomping at the heels of the ageing John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, as well as Michael Dawson, who isn’t out of sight in terms of overtaking in the pecking order.

Another defender to have a good night was Baines, who carried his fine club form onto the international stage. It’s hard to see Baines usurping Ashley Cole for the left-back spot, but he’s a valuable understudy and being four years his junior, he may well get his chance if he continues the way he is going.

So a night that started with talk of short-changing fans, ended with an enthralling contest and plenty of food for thought for Capello.

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