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England 3-1 Egypt

More questions, then some answers

March 3, 2010
By John Brewin, Wembley Stadium
(Archive)

That Fabio Capello is a creature of habit is well documented, and he will be glad that his winning habit remained in place in seeing off the recently crowned champions of Africa.

• Harris picks his England World Cup squad

Some England fans get behind John Terry
GettyImagesSome England fans get behind John Terry

We also know he likes to be decisive, as evidenced by John Terry's 12-minute dressing down and demotion, yet this encounter may not have aided his decision-making when June 1 and the time to announce his squad arrives.

In contrast to the chill wind of Wembley on a Wednesday, England and Egypt had previously met on a balmy Sardinian evening at Italia '90, the last game that the Pharaohs have played at a World Cup finals. Since then, Wembley's visitors have been continental champions no less than four times, an achievement England have not emulated even once let alone three times in a row. Comfortably Africa's best team, yet unable to show it when their continent showcases itself less than 100 days hence, they showed why it will be a shame they will be absent this summer.

For Terry it was, just as with the Stamford Bridge handshakes on Saturday, a matter of getting the moment when all eyes would be on him over with. The expected barrage of boos descended in the announcement of the line-ups and after his first touch, a harried-looking hack straight off the side of the pitch.

Despite that Travis Bickle barnet, "JT" looked in a mood to keep a low profile and had sheepishly strolled out fourth behind temporary replacement skipper Steven Gerrard. Perhaps Terry's somewhat voluminous ego was sated by those who chose to remind, via the medium of song, and brass accompaniment, that there is - and some may say thankfully - only one of him. And after that shaky start, it had to be said that Terry's performance showed why he will remain first choice, and the eventual abating of boos reflected that.

Of course, as a result of the continuing fall-out from the antics of the deposed skipper, and the absence of fellow tabloid favourite Ashley Cole, a debut was granted to Leighton Baines, perhaps by dint of the torrid Sunday afternoon Stephen Warnock had suffered on this very pitch at the feet of Antonio Valencia. With Gerrard's free role finding him often drifted from the left, the Everton defender found himself sometimes outnumbered by Egypt's 3-5-2 system, with Ahmed Al-Muhammadi using the overlap though Baines also made a couple of notable interceptions to bail out his ailing central defensive colleagues. That he was also granted a fair proportion of the dead-ball moments indicated he had impressed Fabio Capello in training.

Added sub-plot hysteria was provided by the pre-match debate over the possible presence of Ryan Shawcross, a young man who has earned his place in Capello's squad in all but the eyes of aggrieved Arsenal followers yet who was forced to wait for his chance as Matthew Upson resumed his role as first-choice stand-in. In the light of Terry's distracted recent form and Rio Ferdinand's injury, the West Ham man had a chance to be first in line yet his slip for Mohamed Zidan's 23rd minute goal served to deepen doubts about his suitability.

With leadership so in question these days, another burden, that of inspiration, is now placed on the tattooed shoulders of Wayne Rooney. And, with shades of his half-time San Siro outburst, it was left to Rooney to do much of the on-field cajoling and indeed rollicking of below-par colleagues. Heaven forfend that his bruised knee had not passed a scan on Monday. Theo Walcott, save for one run and slipped pass that should have led to a Lampard goal, and Jermain Defoe, benefitting from some Rooney creation yet finishing in the nervy fashion it was thought was behind him, clearly both failed to make their mark and were given the hook after failing to link with the main man.

Peter Crouch scores his second against Egypt
GettyImagesPeter Crouch scores his second against Egypt

That Peter Crouch, whose positively prolific England goal record was said in pre-match to still not have convinced the England coach, scored twice will have done little for that Defoe unease, especially when Capello all but confirmed Crouch's plane seat when he said post-match: "He's one of the players, one of the forwards. I'm happy. I have to choose from a lot of players, it's good."

If a striking combination of little and large is to be plumped for then Defoe may be suffering a jittery build-up to the final squad announcement on June 1.

Walcott meanwhile must wonder whether Shaun Wright-Phillips' goal and assist for Crouch's second has wiped out those fading memories of Zagreb in September 2008.

Frank Lampard's recent form has matched the indifference of Chelsea of late and he too, though surely a certainty, showed signs of malaise. With Gerrard likewise rather quiet, only Gareth Barry, the supplier of Crouch's first, looked like he was playing at the level of England's qualifying campaign. James Milner's part in England's second goal, married to his fitness and versatility, make him another certain flier.

Milner's teetotal lifestyle and unassuming eloquence have lately made him something of a poster boy for those railing against the playboy foibles of his England team-mates. His showing, and those of fellow replacements offered much to their manager and may even have clouded the decision-making for a starting line-up for Rustenberg and Team USA on June 12.

DEAR DEPARTED: The shocking death of Macclesfield Town manager Keith Alexander, announced at lunchtime, was marked by the wearing of black armbands at both Wembley and the Under-21 match at Doncaster. Your correspondent, a Maxonian himself, would like to add a note of tribute to a thoroughly decent and pioneering football man.

FRIENDLY FIRE: The announcement of England's pre-World Cup schedule allows those fans staying home one more chance to wave off their heroes against Mexico before Capello's men line up against Japan in Austria, adjacent to the Alpine scene of their training base. In lining up both Egypt and Mexico, the FA's policy appears to be playing the near-neighbours of their Group C opponents. Odd considering the Mexicans play nothing like the USA do.

EGYPT VERDICT: Well organised and, unlike their opponents, bearing the signs of a team used to recently playing with each other, the first half was a dream for the Pharaohs and their rowdy fans. The second half saw them freeze somewhat, not surprising considering the conditions.

ENGLAND VERDICT: Almost a reverse of the old Sven adage of "first half good, second half, not so good". Rustiness may have played a part in that yet the uncertain defending of experienced players like Upson and Wes Brown will not have pleased Capello. Rooney was even able to take something of back seat as the subs flourished after the hour and Peter Crouch, making it 20 goals in 37 internationals, grabbed his chance and an almost definite finals place.