Match highlights here
On an evening where records were broken in the stands, a paradoxically uninspiring performance from an experimental England side meant a Wembley send-off was thoroughly anti-climactic. 86,000 fans combined to create the biggest flag of St. George on record, yet the efforts of the crowd were woefully mismatched by an England team that re-affirmed a harsh reality: that this squad fundamentally lacks strength in depth.
Capello’s decision to experiment with the starting line-up saw the likes of James Milner, Leighton Baines, Rob Green and Michael Carrick getting a chance to shine. But, bar Green’s commanding first-half performance, no-one seemed capable of overcoming their Mexican counterparts and announcing themselves as reliable squad members for the upcoming tournament.
Milner struggled desperately to assert himself in the centre alongside Michael Carrick, who himself has surely done enough to rule himself out of a seat on the plane.
Their awkwardness in the middle was baffling. Individually at club level, they have performed at a consistently high level. Milner has shone at the heart of a Villa midfield riddled with flair, his twelve goals and 15 assists in the Premiership alone indicating his ever-growing potential. Carrick, too, has ensured he is now known as one of the most assured, cultured players on the ball for Manchester United.
Yet when playing together they both proved ineffective. They frequently gave Gerardo Torrado and Alberto Rodriguez the chance to feed a hungry Mexican attack, prompting the hermit-like Fabio Capello to venture to the edge of his technical area, arms crossed; always an indication for an instant improvement in performance.
Even this didn’t seem do the trick, as Carrick continued to misplace passes, one of which culminated in Vela’s one-on-one miss. Thankfully the opponents were Mexico, not Brazil. Or Spain. Or Argentina.
Such disappointment in the performances of not only Carrick but Tom Huddlestone, who encountered the game with such ease that he hardly touched the ball in the closing stages, only seems to heap more pressure on the recovery of Gareth Barry.
Barry’s rigid efficiency, which saw him misplace one pass in 90 minutes in his first appearance under Capello, has ensured that he has become a tactical lynchpin for the side.
Barry’s willingness to sit in the heart of midfield gives both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard their wish of being able to make runs into the box, something that was noticeably lacking at Wembley yesterday. Yet Carrick and Huddlestone’s failure to control the midfield in such a way prevented Gerrard from maximising his attacking potential; his one attacking threat came from a free-kick on the edge of the area, which did not even hit the target.
If England’s midfield transparency was disappointing, their defensive disorganisation was simply depressing. Leighton Baines has shone at Everton this season in both defence and attack, and, having given Baines the full 90 minutes, it seemed that Capello was all but decided on the understudy for Ashley Cole.
Yet the ease with which the defender was overwhelmed by the pace of full-back Juarez and the trickery of Gio dos Santos, a player who struggled to even secure a start at Spurs, surely means that Stephen Warnock must now be considered. A player capped once for England providing cover for an injury-prone Cole? Worrying.
Even Ledley King, whose return to the side after a three year absence culminated in a goal, showed a distinct lack of understanding with Rio Ferdinand, allowing the darting runs of Vela and Dos Santos to evade them all too frequently.
The positives? The performances of both Rob Green and Joe Hart will have given both Capello and England fans some consolation. Green, known for jokingly sporting ‘England’s Number Six’ on his gloves, gave reason to his frustrations by pulling off two stunning saves, both from the wasteful Vela, when it looked certain that the back of the net would bulge.
Joe Hart, although not tested vigorously, showed glimpses of his commanding presence that has resulted in his nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year.
In relation to the unconvincing performances of England’s other wingers, Adam Johnson’s seven minute contribution seemed to be verging on exciting. In a short space of time, Johnson combined his committed running towards goal with a shot, something that Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott have consistently seemed afraid of.
It is clearly impossible to rule out England’s chances of lifting the trophy in Johannesburg based on one friendly. However, the nervous display on Monday will have done nothing to stem the pressure placed on the fitness of England’s stars. After the game, Capello bluntly stated: “I’m happy about the result. It was important.” Not as important as as well-preserved metatarsal, surely?