Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Land of Hype and Glory
If this was supposed to be the warm up game in which England proved they were ready to surpass expectations this summer, it disappointed. It is, however, unlikely that ‘surpass’ and ‘expectations’ were the words featuring on Fabio Capello’s list of things to achieve at Wembley last night, though ‘warm’ and ‘up’ were probably high on the agenda.
In light of the FA Cup and Championship Playoff finals’ ‘pitchgate’ issues, Capello may well have been happiest to escape the obligatory Wembley farewell with no significant new injuries. A slight neck strain for Wayne Rooney appears to be the only blemish. Ledley King’s knees and Rio Ferdinand’s back, the two biggest anatomical concerns on display, appeared to survive their respective excursions, even if it was with a relative paucity of mobility.
Most reactions to the game are suggesting that Capello has work to do, while seemingly forgetting that the game itself was part of the work. While the pre-match suggestion of a trial 3-5-2 system remained just that, the match was always going to comprise both England and Mexico XIs being tweaked and adjusted throughout.
In the first place, this was an England purposefully shorn of its double-winning Chelsea contingent. A starting eleven missing three of its most consistent (Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and John Terry) and traditionally, one of its most inventive (Joe Cole) performers was always going to look disjointed. Lampard’s absence became all the more evident with Steven Gerrard also moved from the centre to roam from the left, but consequently provided little to no cover for a nervy Leighton Baines. In Gerrard’s absence, James Milner and Michael Carrick were handed the reins in midfield.
While form may be temporary, some losses are for a longer temporary period than others. Carrick seems to be suffering a lengthy dip and his at-times sloppy distribution contributed to England making a characteristically sluggish start. Milner, despite being full of industry, struggled to match the verve of the Mexican attacks and Walcott’s service to an increasingly aggravated Rooney was non-existent – a fact made all the more obvious by Aaron Lennon’s cameo.
A cameo was all that was reserved for Adam Johnson in the end too, while the other much-discussed potential debutant Michael Dawson did not feature at all. Both should play against Japan in Graz, but it seems an odd decision not to allow their first significant exposure to international football to be at Wembley. The pressure on both to perform in the final outing before the squad is announced will be higher than last night’s send-off at the national stadium.
Nevertheless, criticism of the England side seems unfounded. It would be a hard-hearted fan who could not forgive those being mindful of the Wembley pitch, but moreover, judgement on a mix-and-match England has been swift and harsh. Mexico may have looked the better side for most of the game, but an England side with notable absentees saw off its World Cup peer comfortably in the end – precisely the thing that those criticising Capello’s dearth of options below his starting XI would have you believe was England’s weakness. Capello is assessing his squad continuously and the warm up games are part of it. Those wishing to see the real World Cup-ready England will have to wait until Rustenburg on June 12th. Rob MacDonald