Super-sub Jermain Defoe torpedoed Slovenia at Wembley as England warmed up for Wednesday's vital World Cup qualifier with Croatia with a worryingly difficult win.
Defoe said earlier this week he would be content to make an impact from the
bench if Fabio Capello thought that was where he could do most damage.
And yet again, the Spurs forward immediately made an impact after replacing
Emile Heskey, driving home his fifth goal in the last three internationals, all
of which he has started among the substitutes.
Now Capello must decide whether to leave things as they are, or elevate Defoe
into his starting line-up at Wembley next week, when the Three Lions know
victory will book their place at South Africa 2010.
In fact, Capello has quite a lot of thinking to do. Robert Green suffered a
couple of early problems and £22million defender Joleon Lescott allowed Zlatan
Ljubijankic to escape his clutches near the end to bring Slovenia back into a
game in which England enjoyed dominant spells without giving the impression of
being in control.
In addition, Wayne Rooney failed to convert three fine chances to score in
front of England's Ashes-winning heroes, having one shot blocked, another hit a
post and a third booted off the line.
He could claim an assist for England's opener though as he was the man dragged
down in the box to allow Frank Lampard to drive home the penalty.
As Slovenia were hand-picked by Capello as opponents who most mirror Croatia in
both approach and style, the amount of time he spent at the edge of his
technical area must be a concern.
Too often the visitors' pacy forwards were able to run at exposed England
defenders, who in turn left Green vulnerable.
The England keeper may have been making his fourth consecutive start but in
international terms he is a rookie.
Much like David James in his 'Calamity' era, Green is prone to rushes of blood
and if referee Jonas Eriksson had spotted a deliberate handball outside the
area, England might have been playing with 10 men for 88 minutes.
If that wasn't enough, Green then came racing out of his goal to slide at the
feet of Milivoje Novakovic after the English rearguard had been pierced.
Thankfully, Novakovic chose to stay on his feet - and eventually curl a shot
over - rather than dangle out a leg and wait for the contact.
Capello's agitation was obvious. Thankfully, the Three Lions stirred before
their manager reached for his hairdryer.
That Rooney was at the centre of England's revival did not come as a surprise.
The Manchester United striker had already glanced a near-post header wide from
Glen Johnson's cross when he cut inside Miso Brecko and Cesar, then opened up
his angle for a shot that would have tested the Slovenian goal if Cesar had not
recovered his ground.
Terry thundered a header against the bar as a wave of confidence went coursing
through English veins.
Still, it needed the assistance of Eriksson for England to get their goal.
It did seem Rooney was beating the ground more in frustration than expectation
when he was sent tumbling by Cesar as the pair tussled to reach Steven Gerrard's
But Eriksson was well disposed to England and had spotted the shirt-pulling
that preceded it. Lampard drove home the spot-kick.
Rooney should really have scored himself on England's next decent attack when
Matthew Upson stooped low to flick on Lampard's corner.
Most of the goal was gaping as Rooney took aim. But he could only strike the
outside of a post.
In contrast to his fellow Merseysider, Gerrard had been slightly subdued. He
almost produced a moment of pure class before the break through.
After collecting Gareth Barry's pass, Gerrard advanced on the Slovenian goal
and let fly with a curling shot that nearly scraped the paint off a post so
close did it come to going in.
As promised, Capello made four changes at the interval, which led to a rather
disjointed opening to the second period.
But within 18 minutes of Defoe's arrival, he had taken his tally to five in
what constitutes three second-half substitute appearances.
Fellow new arrival Aaron Lennon returned a pass to his Tottenham team-mate.
Defoe still had plenty to do but found a shot which sliced through a gaggle of
Slovenian defenders and ended up in the bottom corner.
For Rooney though, there was no end to the frustration as the lively Lennon
darted into the box and cut a cross back the forward would normally have
Instead he found the only man who could keep it out and Matej Mavricrozic
bundled off the line.
England coach Fabio Capello was unhappy with his team's lack of concentration
"I was not happy to concede a late goal because the concentration was not good
in the last four or five minutes," said Capello. "We played too slow, we played long balls and didn't play the style I like. I want the players to focus and concentrate on every minute of the game."
Jermain Defoe's goal will have boosted his chances of a place in the starting line-up
against Croatia in their World Cup qualifier on Wednesday but Capello would not
be drawn on whether the Spurs striker had done enough to get the nod ahead of
"Heskey played a good game," said Capello. "I had a chance at half-time to see a different style of play with two smaller
players. I am still trying different things. I want to know a lot of things but Jermain always scores when he plays the
second half. I want to use the time before the next game to decide. I am happy
tonight. Friendly games are very important preparation for me. Slovenia were a difficult team to play against but I learned a lot about
individual players but I cannot share anything. We had a lot of chances and we have no injuries."
Capello admitted that the could not see whether or not Wayne Rooney had been
fouled for the penalty but Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek was unhappy with the
penalty because it could have robbed him of his centre-half Bostjan Cesar for
next week's World Cup qualifier against Poland.
Cesar was guilty of pulling Rooney's shirt but he hurt his ankle in a collision with the Manchester United striker. "You can never be happy when you lose a game," said Kek. "This match was a real test ahead of our qualifier against Poland.
"We were brave and played well. I am angry and disappointed with the injury but these things happen in football. We have probably lost Cesar for the game with Poland. You play a friendly match and then you lose a player, I am not angry about
Rooney but about losing a player. The x-rays show that nothing is broken but the ankle is really swollen and we
will wait and see over the next few days if he is able to play or not.
"England were better but our young players showed they can play at this level
and the selection of the team will be tougher now. We now have to rest and regenerate the guys as best we can ahead of the
Poland match. We wanted to stop the English passing game and we did that at some points but
we did make some mistakes that we will have to correct in the future."