Two own goals from Japan’s centre halves saw England win their second warm-up friendly for the World Cup in a week. The far eastern nation, who also qualified for the tournament, took the lead in the first ten minutes, undoing Fabio Capello’s side from a corner. Brazilian-born centre back Tulio found a gap through the crowd to beat David James at his near post. The Italian responded to England’s well below par performance at half-time, making five of his six permitted substitutions. James was replaced by Joe Hart who made a number of saves during his 45 minutes on the pitch. Darren Bent and Theo Walcott also made way at the break, with Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole coming on. The Chelsea midfielder got the assist for the England equaliser when, with a quarter of the game remaining, he found himself in space down the right and his cross was headed into the Japanese net by Tulio. In the last ten minutes Ashley Cole’s left-wing cross was met by the sliding foot of Yuji Nakazawa, who placed it beyond Eiji Kawashima for the second own goal. Liverpool duo Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher also got to play from the break, on for Glen Johnson and Tottenham’s Tom Huddlestone.
England in truth deserved nothing from the game. Shots on target included a Frank Lampard free-kick from distance in the first-half and a poor penalty by his high standards saved by the keeper just before the hour mark, a Gerrard effort after the break and a brace of opportunities for Wayne Rooney, the first from long range and the second a sublime strike from the corner of the box which brought the best out of Kawashima. The spot kick was awarded for a blatant handball by Keisuke Honda from a free-kick. Capello had handed Huddlestone his first start, with Bent, David James and Aaron Lennon also in the XI besides the returning captain Rio Ferdinand and Chelsea trio John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard. Japan were without former Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura who had been ruled out with an ankle injury and fielded a largely domestic-based side, but former West Brom midfielder Junichi Inamoto, Wolfsburg’s Makoto Hasebe and Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow all started.
The English wide men with the exception of the two Coles played very poorly today. Theo Walcott barely figured and when on the ball he continued to take poor touches, whilst the experiment of Aaron Lennon on the left failed, with him cutting inside to no effect. Wright-Phillips did little to stake his claim for making the 23 man squad to be announced by Tuesday. These performances, combined with Joe Cole’s assist may mean he has played his way into contention and could well be joined by Adam Johnson, who was not involved today but looked bright from the bench against Mexico on Monday. James Milner is a certainty to be on the plane, down to versatility if nothing else. Up front, Darren Bent did more to impress than Heskey, though the Villa frontman had a reasonable chance late on, a downward header well wide from Gerrard’s ball in. Sunderland’s 25-goal striker got very little service again, just as he did in the friendly against Brazil in Qatar at the end of last year, but perhaps should have done better with a header from a corner before the half hour mark.
Although today’s game was only a friendly, there was a real lack of urgency at times and possession was conceded an awful lot in the final third. Neither of this week’s two matches was a convincing England performance, especially when you consider they are the bookies’ third favourites to win the World Cup. Defensively Capello’s side looked shaky at times – Rio Ferdinand in particular – and the lack of protection on the flanks worries me. Japan on the other hand looked organised and though they did not exploit this weakness in wide areas they had some joy through the middle with lone striker Shinji Okazaki splitting our centre halves on more than one occasion. They looked difficult to break down and will pose a considerable problem for Group E opponents Cameroon, Denmark and the Netherlands. Nonetheless a win is still a win and the hallmark of a team that wins medals is a side that can play as England have and still achieve victories. Capello now has to lose seven players for Tuesday. He claimed this week he knew twenty of the squad he was going to take, perhaps today may cause him to have a rethink.