May 30th 2010
I've never placed much faith or interest in the necessary evil that is the friendly or warm-up match. I've long believed that there is too much football played in England and pointless Wembley invitations and trips half-way around the world rarely produce any answers but usually provide more questions. So it was with this week's two games against Mexico and Japan.
Both games produced the result that England would have wanted and, just possibily, Fabio learned something he didn't know. In truth though, as a supporter, all you wanted was to see a good result and all the players walking off without any strains or broken metatarsals. In that sense, the warm-up's have been a success.
Monday's Wembley farewell produced a decent enough result with a 3-1 win over Mexico and the usual goal for Peter Crouch confirmed that, at International level at least, the 'big man' still has a decent enough touch in front of goal to suggest he can be relied upon if Plan A isn't working. Of course, it could be argued that Mexico opened up England far too often to make it an entirely comfortable evening but, in terms of warm-up's, the contra view is that England have a nice habit of winning even when they are not looking entirely convincing.
Dos Santos caused England enormous problems and the home side's inability to cope with the speedy Mexican (Impressed by the way I didn't mention Gonzales there? I am!) meant that the visiting South Americans managed a hefty 23 shots on goal but only West Ham's Franco scored. While Mexico embarrassed England at one end, the home side found themelves two goals up with a King counter following a Crouch nod-back from a Lampard corner and a Crouch nod-in after a Rooney header was touched onto the bar by Mexican keeper Oscar Perez. 2-1 up at the break, England broke Mexico just after half-time with a cracking goal by Glen Johnson.
Rob Green acquitted himself well with two excellent saves and may have made himself Capello's number one as a result while Michael Carrick probably assured himself a summer at home eating Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding crisps with an inept display in midfield. When Gerrard was moved into the central area after Carrick was substituted, England appeared much more comfortable.
Against Japan in Graz, it was Rooney who shone while the home side's defence provided England's two goals after Tanaka put the Japanese ahead after only seven minutes. Between Japan's opener and England's 72nd minute equaliser, Frank Lampard missed a penalty and Capello made five changes that probably saw the exclusion of Darren Bent who doesn't seem to have done enough to warrant inclusion in the final 23.
Nakazawa's own goal after 83 minutes ensured Capello's side go into the World Cup with the confidence of two wins in a week but little else could have been shown to the Italian who must surely have had the final squad in his head before this week's distractions and can at least be assured that, training injuries aside, he can now work on informing the first XI who they are and begin finalising tactics.
I've long argued that Alf's wingless wonders only came about when the pressures of the tournament dictated situations that worked under pressure. Similarly, I'm not upset at anything I've seen this week but just mightily relieved that pre-tournament injuries and demoralising defeats have been avoided. I'll be happier still when FIFA ban friendlies.