The final whistle, on this cold Wembley night, was greeted with smiles and cheers from England supporters. A win and three second half goals could at least leave a warm, glowing feeling for the journey home. But as the feeling returns to those supporters fingers, so might memories of the first hour of England’s performance against Egypt. Memories that will leave them asking concerning questions to one another this close to the World Cup.
Fabio Capello’s attempts to reunite the squad dominated headlines before the game. It was clear he viewed winning this friendly as a sure way of helping this by his selection. Injuries and the surprise selection in Defoe and Walcott apart, this was the side that Cappello has tried and trusted over the recent months. The names of many of which would have been in the starting line up if it were the World Cup opener against USA.
Lampard should have opened the scoring in the fourth minute after good work and pace down the right hand side from Walcott. Lampard shot straight at El Hadari, in the Egypt goal. He had more time to pick his spot.
Despite this positive start and half chances England created after that, Egypt settled the quicker and better of the two sides. Their technical ability and passing on the ball was more consistent, leading to better possession. The type of keep ball England will fall short of in comparison to the continental sides this summer.
England’s width only existed down the right through Walcot with Gerrard on the left pushing inside. Walcott’s buyout start disintegrated as his pace overwhelmed his logical thinking. Too many times he knocked the ball too far ahead of him like the age of a boy his shirt number suggested. His lack of games this season highlighted and his place in the squad is in real danger.
Rooney was dropping deep and defensively, and England was at times scrappy. Defoe cleared an effort off his goal line after Terry slipped in the penalty area after an Egypt corner but it was Upson’s slip in the twenty third minute that proved costly.
Zidan had caused England problems before the opening goal which he slotted past Green with net control and a cool finish. He did profit greatly from the slip but the signs where there when in the twentieth minute. Zidan’s pressure on Brown at right back, forced a loose pass which Egypt took advantage of. Zidan had the freedom to run through the line of England’s defence without getting picked up. When the ball came his way he shot wide but this sort of pressure rocked the home side in the early stages.
Lampard should have done better again with a chance just outside the six yard box. Defoe had an effort saved by the keeper but Rooney’s roar of frustration to team mates with ten minutes of the half left to go, told the story.
The cheers that greeted the final whistle were in sharp contrast to the boos that were heard at half time. Boos which echoed around Wembley louder than those even for John Terry before the game, and which greeted his first touch which resulted in his attempted pace to Wes Brown go straight out of play. The support, or lack of boos, improved for Terry in the second half (he even got a cheer at one point). As did England’s performance. Stern words from a certain Italian evidence again, not for the first time during the half time break.
It took until the hour mark for England to step up a gear but they did instantly through substitute Peter Crouch, on for Defoe at half time. He struck low and hard from a Barry assist after a delightful passing move started by Carrick. Who arrived with Crouch for Lampard. Crouch would finish the game with twenty England goals from his thirty seven appearances. Surely a good enough stat to get him on the plane this summer?
Carrick’s impressive passing display, linking defence up with the midfield and midfield to attack will again spark doubt to the effectiveness of Lampard and Gerard in the same team. Lampard didn’t impress. Gerrard, although playing inside still, did so in much more in a ‘Liverpool like fashion’ in the second half. Carrick sat deep allowing Barry to push further forward and went about his audition for Capello well.
Such can also be said to for Wright- Philips who replaced Walcott. He scored the goal that put England ahead after Milner’s effort was saved and his reaction was met by a weak hand from El Hadar and crossing the line. His one two with Brown and then cross from the right was met by Crouch who slotted home in the eightieth minute to round of the victory.
All smiles. A combination of tiredness from the opposition and much improvement impacted on England’s win. The average first hour display though will need to be a ghost by the time the heavy weights of world football are stood in front of England this summer. They won’t wait until the hour mark for us to get going.
Tactics down the left need to improve to increase the option when attacking more than the defensive element on this display. Ashley Cole will provide this but with no natural left winger could be exploited if the opposition break. England have two friendlies left (Mexico and Japan). Both after the provisional squad announced. Chances for Downing, Joe Cole or Milner in this area?
The Defoe and Rooney partnership is still awaiting a goal between them and as that didn’t happen despite another forty five minutes could be good news for Heskey if he can keep his Aston Villa place.
Capello stated back in September he knew his first choice goalkeeper and with Green playing all of this game would point the finger towards him. Most question marks arise from the back four with three out of the first choice injured in this game, fitness and form could cause Capello a selection headache.
The right hand side of midfield may give Capello a similar problem but to a lesser extent to one of the above.
It’s ‘squeaky bum time’ With United lifting the first trophy of the season at the end of last month, team and players alike will be getting to the stage where they can taste the of glory of success the end of season can bring. A season which has the added incentive of a World Cup places up for grabs. Baines and Milner will have impressed Capello against Egypt. For Walcot, Joe Cole and other players on the edge of the squad, they now have their last role of the dice to make it into his plans. No one who thinks they already have done enough may dare take their foot of the gas- ask John Terry how quick and decisive Capello can be with matters that don’t please him.
‘Team England’ isn’t quite there yet. Egypt has proven that. You expect a man like Capello to already be working on the improvement. His ability to make the necessary changes at the break to influence the second half has been vital and will be vital again but surely certain players have to up their club form so the performance of England’s first half displays mirror that of the last half and hour against Egypt.