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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London

Forget about the result, this was not a good night for England. Fabio Capello has much to ponder before he makes his final squad selection for the World Cup. A 3-1 victory over a side of Mexico’s quality is a fine result on paper, but the performance that went with it was patchy, incoherent and unlikely to upset any watching rivals. If England play like this in South Africa, they’ll be coming home far sooner than they would like.

The problems were at their most acute in the centre of midfield. Not since Prince Charles first asked Lady Diana out for coffee has England ever seen a partnership so doomed to failure as Michael Carrick and James Milner. Mexico ran riot in the first half, capitalising on the complete lack of physical presence in front of the defence. Carrick’s passing went awry, Milner seemed subdued and unimpressive. With every passing minute, Gareth Barry became more and more important to England’s hopes of success. The tenacious Scott Parker, watching from the sidelines, must have been convinced that he’d been given a chance. He wasn’t. Instead, Capello brought Steven Gerrard in from the left, moved Milner out wide and gave Carrick another 15 minutes to play himself off the plane before replacing him with Tom Huddlestone.

It wasn’t much better at the back. Ledley King was left floundering in the wake of Guillermo Franco, a man hardly known for his coruscating pace. Rio Ferdinand seemed tentative and unsteady. Glen Johnson was unable to push forward as often as he would have liked and Leighton Baines seemed so wracked with anxiety that he was a liability throughout. There were positives out there, if you looked hard enough. Peter Crouch proved why you need at least one tall man in the England side, Wayne Rooney gave a typically tigerish performance, Gerrard was exceptional and Rob Green made a couple of smart saves. The most obvious positive, however, was that this was only a friendly.


For the first 13 minutes, it seemed like a typical night for Gerrard in an England shirt. He gave the ball away, he drifted in from the left leaving Baines horrifically exposed and did nothing to suggest that he was in the team for any reason other than reputation. Then he received a nasty bang on the head, came off for treatment and returned with a great big bandage and a spring in his step. Four minutes later, he trotted over to take a corner and….beat the first man! The ball arced through the air to Peter Crouch who nodded down for Ledley King to open the scoring. What twisted magic was this? He created the second goal as well, driving in a cross for Wayne Rooney to head against the bar, Crouch cleaning up on the line with only the scantest regard for legitimacy. In the second half, he shifted into the centre and held his position all night, shepherding his team-mates and creating some kind of cohesion in the centre. This was not the Gerrard of the 2009/10 season, or even the Gerrard who won the Football Writer’s Player of the Year Award in 2008/09. This was some kind of super-Gerrard, mature and responsible. If Capello has any sense, he’ll take a big stick to South Africa and keep it close at hand. If a bump on the head can do this to Gerrard, imagine what it could do to Emile Heskey.


In the first half, England were in their standard 4-2-3-1 with Peter Crouch as the most advanced striker. He didn’t dominate the backline with the same gusto as Emile Heskey, but he was vital at set-pieces. Wayne Rooney dropped in behind him, pushing at the point of least resistance wherever possible. Theo Walcott caused problems on the right, while Gerrard was, for the most part at least, out left. After the break, Capello changed to a very standard 4-4-2 which gave England far more stability, but less creativity. Jermain Defoe joined Rooney up front, but he wasn’t able to impose himself on the game. There was no sign of the much-discussed back three, so it seems certain now that Capello has settled on his Plan A and Plan B.


They’re certainly a lot of fun. Few teams come to Wembley with as aggressive a formation as 4-1-2-3 and even less push so far forward that they barely have a man in their own half. And this wasn’t even their first choice line-up. Key players like Javier Hernandez and Andres Guardado started on the bench. Efrain Juarez, usually a right-back, took up a role in the centre of midfield with grizzled warhorse Gerrado Torrado while Rafael Marquez pushed up from defence as an anchor, providing a perfect base for Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela to launch their sorties. Unfortunately, there has to be a balance and it’s the defence that will let Mexico down. The fact that England scored with almost every one of their attacks tells its own story. Oscar Perez does not look like a world class goalkeeper and the team’s eagerness to push forward leaves them exposed at the back. They may qualify for the second round, but it would be a major surprise if they did much more.


Crowd - 88,638
Yellow Cards - Barrera, Dos Santos, Rodriguez (Mexico)
Red Cards - None
England - Rob Green (Joe Hart 46), Glen Johnson, Rio Ferdinand (Jamie Carragher, 45) Ledley King, Leighton Baines, Theo Walcott (Aaron Lennon, 77), Michael Carrick (Tom Huddlestone, 61), Steven Gerrard, James Milner (Adam Johnson, 85), Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch (Jermain Defoe 45)
Mexico -
Oscar Perez, Efrain Juarez, Paul Aguilar (Pablo Barrera, 52), Rafael Marquez, Carlos Salcido, Javier Rodriguez, Gerardo Torrado, Ricardo Osorio, Giovani dos Santos (Cuauhtemoc Blanco 72), Guillermo Franco (Javier Hernandez, 45), Carlos Vela (Andres Guardado, 62)