[ENGLAND] England looked the less polished but more efficient team Tuesday in beating Mexico, 3-1, at Wembley Stadium, with the word “patchy” cropping up in headlines and match reports.
Mexico’s ability to stitch together passes and twice breach the English back line with through balls unnerved a sellout crowd of more than 88,000 fans during a lively first half in which England utilized its height advantage to score a pair of goals on set plays, yet also conceded a Guillermo Franco reply just before the halftime whistle. A fine run and shot by right back Glen Johnson two minutes into the second half restored a two-goal edge neither team could alter.
Peter Crouch used his 6-foot-7 stature to head a corner kick that Ledley King nodded home in the 17th minute, and knocked in the rebound of a Wayne Rooney header that Mexican goalie Oscar Perez had tipped onto the crossbar. The ball apparently caromed off Crouch’s arm into the net but the goal stood to unfairly reflect the balance between the teams and the troubles experienced by the English in shutting down the Mexican attack.
Like many of his counterparts, including U.S. coach Bob Bradley, England manager Fabio Capello is still tinkering with personnel. A few starting spots are still up for grabs, starting in goal, where there is no outstanding candidate. For this match, Capello left the Chelsea quartet of Ashley Cole, Joe Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry off the game-day roster, as well as Portsmouth keeper David James. All played in the FA Cup final May 15.
GOALKEEPER. Locked in a battle with Joe Hart and James for the No. 1 shirt, West Ham goalie Robert Green stoned Carlos Vela twice on clear-cut chances set up by balls that eluded central defenders Rio Ferdinand and King, who returned to the national team for the first time in three years after battling knee problems and poor form. Who gets the role as first-choice backup behind Terry and Ferdinand is still an open question.
OUTSIDE BACKS. In scoring his goal, Franco exploited Leighton Baines, who is auditioning for the slot behind starter Ashley Cole at left back. So, too, did Giovani dos Santos and Vela, which will certainly revive calls for Wayne Bridge to end his self-imposed exile and re-join the national team (after the World Cup).
On the opposite corner, Johnson raced forward to net his first international goal yet also scrambled at times to find the right position against a slick, cohesive foe. Johnson is fast and hard in the tackle, but far from reliable.
MIDFIELD. Johnson fared better, however, than a central midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and James Milner, who were ineffective generating attacks and a step slow to intervene defensively. England looked sharper in the second half with Steven Gerrard shifted from the left flank into the middle, and Tom Huddlestone gave some good minutes as a late sub.
Right midfield has been a problem spot, and both starter Theo Walcott and substitute Aaron Lennon don’t look fully capable. Walcott’s speed is muted by inconsistency, Lennon is the steadier but not as gifted physically though a better crosser.
Neither dazzled against Mexico yet Walcott showed enough to trouble many teams, including the USA, when he played a ball into the channel that sent Johnson clear to score his goal.
FORWARD. Crouch and Jermaine Defoe are battling for World Cup spots with Emile Heskey, who didn’t play in this game, and both were effective against Mexico.
Crouch is ridiculed for his towering, gangly appearance, yet he’s tough as well and many teams will struggle to contain him. Defoe is the type of quick, aggressive forward who has some similarities to Charlie Davies.
After scoring its first two goals on set plays, England conceded one when Rafael Marquez got his head to a corner kick and it caromed off Baines on the goal line for Franco to stuff in the rebound.
The return of Terry will add heft and experience in the middle, Ashley Cole is far superior to his understudies at left back, and Lampard is one of his country’s top performers.
Their absence provided Mexico with spaces and opportunities that won’t be present Sunday when the English face Japan, and will be much harder to come by at the World Cup.