Capello faces Crouch dilemma
Fabio Capello did not like the question - but the blame for its refusal to go away lies firmly at the feet of Peter Crouch.
Capello reacted with uncharacteristic public tetchiness when asked, very reasonably, exactly what Crouch has to do to start for England after a double in the win against Egypt took his international total to an impressive 20 goals in 37 games.
Crouch's England record is invariably damned with faint praise, with doubts expressed about the supposedly poor standard of opposition he has punished followed by questions about his effectiveness against the elite.
After recovering his poise, Capello went on to praise Crouch as being "in a really good moment of form", and there can be no serious doubts about the Tottenham striker's right to a seat on the plane to South Africa for the World Cup.
But has he done enough to displace the striker who appears to be Capello's preferred option as Wayne Rooney's partner, Emile Heskey? Don't bank on it.
If one goal every two games is the gauge by which the game's top strikers are traditionally measured, then Crouch's statistics place him ahead of Heskey, seven goals in 57 games for England, every time.
Crouch celebrates with Shaun Wright-Philips and Wayne Rooney
But Crouch is still fighting an uphill, and probably losing, battle to displace Heskey when the time comes for Capello to name his team to face the USA in the World Cup opener in Rustenburg on 12 June.
Heskey, and the record books justify this, is seen as a striker who helps England get results, which is why a succession of managers turn to him when the need is greatest.
But Crouch's performance - he replaced Jermain Defoe at half-time with England a goal down - offered further evidence to support the case of those of us who believe he can be an upgrade on Heskey.
Capello's record makes it almost heresy to question his judgement, and if England have a good World Cup with Heskey in the side, then he will be vindicated.
But if Heskey plays and England do not at least reach the semi-finals, then the nation will rightly wonder what might have been had they used a marksman who deals in the game's most precious currency on a more regular basis than the Aston Villa striker.
For now, however, Crouch can be content with a performance against Egypt that must guarantee him his World Cup place. He was lively, mobile, a better fit with Rooney than Defoe, and took chances when they came.
He was one of the big winners on a night when some serious jostling for position got under way, not just for places in Capello's squad but in his starting line-up.
And it was done against an Egypt side - holders of the Africa Cup of Nations - who threatened, for 45 minutes at least, to make this an uncomfortable night for Capello's England.
That was until Crouch's two goals, either side of a strike by Shaun Wright-Phillips, eased anxieties caused by Mohamed Zidan's goal.
It made for a satisfactory conclusion for Capello, who also heard the Wembley crowd, for the most part, respond positively to his request not to boo John Terry, recently deposed as captain after allegations he had a relationship with the ex-girlfriend of former team-mate Wayne Bridge.
Terry overcame some minor league barracking early on, countered by plenty of cheers, to perform well enough to suggest the Italian can now focus his mind on football alone in the build-up to the World Cup.
Chelsea's captain, with Rio Ferdinand seemingly a constant fitness worry, remains England's most reliable central defender - and a performance that grew in assurance as the game went on delighted Capello.
Matthew Upson's slip for Egypt's goal marred his night, but his swift glance down at Wembley's much-criticised pitch suggested we should offer him a measure of sympathy for the mistake.
If Crouch confirmed he will be, at the very least, Heskey's World Cup understudy, then Wright-Phillips put himself firmly back among the frontrunners for a place on England's right flank.
It is too soon to burst with optimism about Wright-Phillips, who has been at best inconsistent for England recently, but he at least gave a performance that offered comfort and contrast to that delivered by the disappointing Theo Walcott.
Walcott's inclusion was a surprise, with Villa's James Milner a much better option. The Arsenal man failed to flourish after a bright start and was eventually replaced.
It was especially disappointing for those of us who saw and felt the excitement generated by Walcott in Zagreb's Maksimir Stadium in September 2008, when he destroyed Croatia in a World Cup qualifier and hinted at the emergence of a truly special talent.
There has been little sign of a repeat since, though, as injuries and inconsistency have taken their toll, forcing us to question whether that hat-trick display was an exception rather than the rule at England level. Walcott is too promising to cast aside at this stage, but he needs to start producing better - and soon.
Walcott failed to pose Egypt any kind of real problems
Walcott offered little more than the occasional burst of pace at Wembley. Once the early impetus was lost his display drifted aimlessly towards an inevitable conclusion.
Capello has varied options on the right, with Wright-Philips back in contention, Walcott fighting to prove himself, Aaron Lennon battling against injury and David Beckham still in the mix.
But if the coach stands by his refusal to play Rooney alone up front, leaves Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry as his trusted pair in central midfield and uses Steven Gerrard pushed in from the left, then Milner is also a live contender for this position.
Milner is an intelligent, improving player and his form demands a place in England's team. He is versatile, so much so that he has even been talked about as a potential right-back. The role further forward will not be a hardship for him.
This would push Beckham, a spectator on Wednesday, further down the queue and, at the risk of offending his enduring fan base, even further away from taking up a place in South Africa.
Capello's decision to start with Robert Green in goal was also greeted with some surprise, as a testing friendly with Egypt looked to be the perfect stage to examine the promising Joe Hart's England pedigree.
It also suggested West Ham United's Green has nudged ahead of David James as first-choice goalkeeper, but surely Hart could have been given some experience at Wembley on Wednesday?
To question master coach Capello once over his strikers is risky enough. To offer up a second query about his choice of goalkeeper is even more hazardous. But Birmingham's Hart has been as good as any of his English counterparts this season and an opportunity was lost for him against Egypt.
Capello also has a quandary at left-back as a result of an injury to Ashley Cole and Bridge's decision to withdraw from England selection.
Leighton Baines went in ahead of Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock against Egypt, and while he did himself no harm, the Everton defender did not necessarily do himself a lot of good either.
Baines grew into the game after some early uncertainty, but he played within himself and did not add the attacking flourishes that mark him out as such an excellent performer at his club.
It could have been first-night nerves, or even strict instructions from Capello, but there is more to his game than was on show on Wednesday. Baines came through without any damage, which seemed to be his main ambition, and can feel satisfied with his England debut, but he is capable of better, more assertive displays.
Most satisfied of all, with good reason, will be Crouch. He is on the plane to South Africa, but is he in the team? Capello's animated reaction suggests this is still a vexed question - and the answer is still likely to be Heskey.