G Johnson Ferdinand King Baines
Walcott Carrick Milner Gerrard
Carragher for Ferdinand 45’
Defoe for Crouch 45’
Hart for Green 45’
Huddlestone for Carrick 62’
Lennon for Walcott 77’
A Johnson for Milner 85’
G Johnson 47’
After 45 minutes, pundits were sharpening their swords and searching for enough soil to cover England’s coffin despite the 2-1 advantage. But after 90 minutes, it’s a ho-hum, forgettable 3-1 victory, if one that’ll leave Capello with some things to complain about.
That England were two up with a third of the game gone can only be credited to Mexico’s laughably bad set play defense. England scored from their first corner – a training ground routine from Gerrard to Crouch to King – as well as the second – Crouch finishing (from an offside position) after Rooney’s header was well-saved – despite Mexico having almost complete control of the ball.
I was only somewhat joking when I tweeted that Wembley hadn’t seen any away side with so much possession since the Hungarians in 1953. Carrick and Milner couldn’t tackle their way out of a paper bag as Mexico’s 4-3-3 caused problems, limiting England to counter attacks. But like Barcelona proved in this year’s Champions League (and Liverpool somehow proves ten or so times a season), sometimes possession doesn’t mean all that much.
Amongst England’s first half goals, Green came up with two incredible saves, twice denying Vela on the break, while Salcido rattled the same post Chelsea repeatedly thumped nine days ago. On the stroke of halftime, England hospitably mimicked Mexico’s hopeless defending, allowing Franco to pull one back after Marquez headed a corner goalwards, cleared off the line by Baines directly to the striker’s feet.
I’m certain Capello peeled paint off the wall with his halftime talk. Thankfully, Glen Johnson’s blistering strike less than 90 seconds into the half rendered the next 45 minutes mostly moot. Combining well with Walcott to charge down the flank, Johnson cut inside and curled a brilliant lefty shot into the far corner.
What little momentum that might have carried over from Franco’s goal was dead, while England also did a better job pressing the opposition, helped by moving Gerrard inside and Milner out wide. Mexico continued to see more of the ball, but did a lot less with it. Although the final 20 minutes were mainly spent in England's end, with the substitute Barrera often torching Baines, Hart had little to do besides catch shots straight down his throat and take goal kicks.
All in all, a mixed bag from England, but that I feel secure in writing that about a 3-1 win shows the team’s progression under Capello as well as the expectations going into the World Cup. What needs to be fixed is identifiable; a central midfield of Lampard and Barry (or Lampard and Parker, or Lampard and Huddlestone, or even Lampard and Gerrard) won’t have as much trouble closing down a fluid side and Ashley Cole will reclaim his starting spot, among others.
Obviously, England were impressive on set plays. Walcott also used his pace to great effect (if the end product left something to be desired at times), while Johnson – good in both attack and defense – was my man of the match. Rooney, Crouch, and Gerrard also showed some signs of understanding, although Gerrard was far better when central in the second half.
No injuries, despite the much-maligned Wembley turf, a win, and Capello knows a good deal more about the 30 players in his squad. That’s all you can ask from a friendly.