By Cameron Dickinson of The National Game
A typical English friendly performance saw Fabio Capello’s side secure victory, but in unconvincing fashion, throwing up more questions than answers.
Goals from Ledley King, Peter Crouch and Glen Johnson were enough to see off a spirited Mexico side that showed enough craft to cause the home side’s shaky defense problems.
The technically proficient Mexicans highlighted England’s shortcomings when faced with a good passing side and showed how much they need a quality ball-winning midfielder in the squad. When faced with a side who can really take advantage of their dominance of possession then England could really come unstuck.
On the plane?
It wasn’t all bad news from Wembley though, as a number of players appeared to book their place on the plane to South Africa.
Rob Green has been Capello’s number one goalkeeper for the past few games, despite the reservations about his nerve on the world stage, and he has taken a giant step to cementing his place as England’s number one with his performance against Mexico. The West Ham man made two fine stops in the first half and could not be faulted for the visitors’ goal in stoppage time. He was replaced by Joe Hart at the break but he should be confident about keeping his place against Japan on Sunday.
Another player who had question marks lingering over them is Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson. The 26-year-old has been hampered by injury troubles for most of the second part of the English Premier League season and has had his defensive abilities called into question, but his performance last night was his best in an England shirt.
To cap of his performance he scored a sensational goal straight after half-time, cutting in from the right wing before curling a left-footed strike in to the top corner from 20 yards. Many English right-backs can probably defend as well as Johnson, but his attacking play should see him on the plane.
There was a gap of three years between Ledley King’s 19th and 20th caps due to his fitness problems, but last night he proved he still has what it takes. The Tottenham man opened the scoring with a header from a Peter Crouch knock down and looked decidedly more accomplished than Rio Ferdinand at center back (as did Jamie Carragher when he came on).
King’s Tottenham team-mate Crouch also nudged ahead of Emile Heskey in the striker pecking order with another good performance. The former Liverpool man bagged his 21st England goal in 38 appearances, amid suspicions of handball and offside, and led the line well. He looks like a shoe in for South Africa.
Still in the departure lounge
The injury to Gareth Barry has shown just how much England lacks in experience in their defensive midfielders. Michael Carrick showed he just isn’t up to the job at the international level.
His passing was woefully inept at keeping the ball and was unable to help James Milner settle in to an unfamiliar role alongside him, which is extremely worrying. Against more adept opponents the Man United man could become a liability if he plays like he did against Mexico.
If anyone was in any doubt about Ashley Cole’s importance to England’s World Cup hopes then the performance of Leighton Baines should make up their minds. Everton’s left back was poor throughout and showed his lack of experience at the international level. Unfortunately for him there are not enough games for him to grow in to the role, and while he will most probably be on the plane, he seems to be going as back up.
Since taking over as England’s captain Ferdinand has really struggled with his fitness, indeed King has started more league games this season, and his lack of match practice showed here. John Terry must have seen the game with a smile as it seems to have solidified his status as the number one center back.
Ferdinand looked far from his best and did not lead the line in the way you expect a captain to. We can only hope that he is rusty and rather than succumbing to his injury problems.
What of Mexico?
Of course it wasn’t all about England as Mexico themselves are gearing up for an important World Cup campaign and they will be encouraged by how they played, if not by the result.
Arsenal’s Carlos Vela looked sharper than he has for his club in the opening period and was twice denied by Green before Carlos Salcido was desperately unlucky to hit the post with a fine drive after half an hour.
They got the goal they deserved on the stroke of half-time through a combination of good movement and poor marking when Rafael Marquez nodded a corner goal wards, only to see his effort half blocked by Baines on the line allowing Guillermo Franco to poke it home.
Javier Aguirre’s side disappointed after the break as they failed to recover from Johnson’s early thunderbolt. They will have to be worried about just how easily England saw the game out.
Also a worry for the Mexicans will be the fact that they outplayed England for most of the first half yet still went in trailing which indicates that they are not quite good enough to challenge the big hitters in South Africa.
The Italian was pleased with his side’s efficiency but still feels that they need to improve if they are to make a serious impression at this summer’s tournament.
He told The Times: “I’m happy for the result. Mexico were good technically and it was not easy getting the ball back. Not all the teams we will play against will play like this, but it’s very important to press the ball and win it back quickly.
“When we counter-attack, we’re really dangerous, but I don’t just want to play on the counter. I want more.”
Next stop Graz
The team will return to Austria to continue their altitude training this week before playing Japan on Sunday in their final friendly before the real games start.
There is plenty for the manager to think about between now and then, like just who does he trust to play for England at a World Cup where there is so much at stake for him and the country.
Time will tell whether this squad of players is collectively good enough to bring the trophy home, although judging by this game we may have a tough summer ahead.
Cameron Dickinson is a contributing writer for The National Game. His column appears courtesy of The National Game.