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Capello faces Crouch dilemma

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Phil McNulty | 08:00 UK time, Thursday, 4 March 2010

At Wembley

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 RooneyCrouch 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.

Theo Walcott failed to shine against EgyptWalcott 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.

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  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    And then I ca go back and read the blog!

  • Comment number 3.

    And to pre-empt the mods, good morning, PHIL:)

  • Comment number 4.

    I am afraid that last night showed once again that Lampard and Gerrard do not work together in the midfield. With them we were at sixes and sevens, once Lampard (who had a poor game) was taken off, we started looking more balanced.

    I stand by my comment yesterday when i said "any team relying on Peter Crouch is not going to win the World Cup" - yes he scored 2 goals and took the plaudits, but he causes more free kicks than he gets (his size makes it look like he is infringing), and i am afraid that while Egypt are a good side, the sides we will need to beat are great sides, and in these games Crouch will offer us nothing.

  • Comment number 5.

    From an Aston villa perspective, I was pretty baffled as to why we only saw one of our four players get any game time at all last night. Stephen Warnock deserved at least 20 minutes run out. Milner, although came on (and then 2 goals were scored, hmmmmm) with 20 minutes left, dserved to be ahead of Walcott in the starting line up. Heskey has maybe done enough to prove to Capello he should play with Rooney, but giving the big man a run around and remind the fans of his capabilities was surely necessary. And maybe a cameo from Downing, after his injury last year, would be a good reminder to everyone what a special talent he has been for England these last few years.

    Why Walcott and Wright Phillips (who did actually do well) got a call up in the first place (neither have been playing regularly or consistently at club level) is a quandary, but to get one over the consistently excellent Ashley Young (someone who IS playing and performing week in week out) is the really truely baffling thing!

  • Comment number 6.

    Scorless Rooney. Did he missed Antonio Valencia?

  • Comment number 7.

    Without turning this into club wise selection battle, I say writing that Theo's performance was not good on the night is a wrong statement. I advise you to watch the game again and see if Gerrard provided any spark to the game as captain OR did Lampard have any reasoanble shot on target.

    The policy of playing Gerrard, Lampard and Barry in the same team is not going to help Engalnd's cause in longer run. One has to make sacrifice of his WC starting XI place so that likes of Joe Cole, Stewart Downing OR Ashley Young can play on the left flank.

  • Comment number 8.

    Let us not forget if Lampard would have put that gilt edged chance (sitter) away that Walcott provided in the first 5mins it may well have provided a springboard for bigger and better things for him.

    Also i hope people can now put the argument to bed about starting Defoe with Rooney, Defoe should not start he is not up to the task he is ideal to bring on when Defenders are tiring.

  • Comment number 9.

    If Rooney will be firing when the WC proper starts then Heskey or Crouch should be fine along side him.
    It'll be Wallcot or SWP on the right and whoever's playing there will know that they'll be subbed for the other if they're not performing.

    I just hope that the real Gerrard and Lampard will turn up this summer and and show the commitment and quality that we'll need from them to make it to the semis - where we'd obviuosly be outclassed by the likes of Brazil or Spain.

  • Comment number 10.

    Dont be fooled by Crouch, he is one dimensional. Usually he comes on and gives away annoying freekicks (just for being so tall)

    No mention of the biggest reason the performance and result was turned around last night. CARRICK. His range of passing and vision are unique in our squad. Before Carrick came on at halftime Barry had been 'pulling the strings'. Barry is a stopper not a creator and should not be our playmaker. This also begs the question - where does Lampard fit into this midfield? - he was replaced at half-time after a disappointing display.

  • Comment number 11.

    I don't understand why you would play Hesky ahead of Crouch. I'm from Ireland and I don't see what he has done to deserve a place beside Rooney. Crouch came on and scored two good strikers goals, which is all you need with the likes of Rooney, gerrard and Lampard in your team.

    If things don't go England's way in South Africa, having started Crouch on the bench, then the question would be more then justifiable. Surely the question should be considered now rather then after the World Cup?

  • Comment number 12.

    Crouchy should've been guaranteed on the plane to South Africa regardless of this performance. He is a player who's technical ability is outstanding for a player of his size. I would say the weakest aspect of him game is his heading which everyone expects him to be good at. But if you have Rooney then that doesn't matter so much. Crouch is now in the top 20 all time England scorers, only 5 behind Rooney and that's in 21 less games.

    Milner I think should also go and Carrick who i have been a critic of had a very impressive outing last night.

  • Comment number 13.

    Surely Rooney must play up front by himself, his form for Man U just about demands that it happens. Allows Gerrard more of a natural role in behind and also a more natural winger on the left. Walcott should not of been in the squad never mind starting 11. Only thing we learnt from Upson playing is that him and Terry cant play together against pace, Torres and Villa would have a field day against them. We have no cover for RB Brown just not good enough. We will be lucky to get past 1/4s.

  • Comment number 14.

    It was a really useful game last night with good indicators on who can perform on a poor pitch and who can't. It might be worthwhile training on sand for a period to get the team used to variable bounce. The wmebley pitch has been a disaster since the re-build of the stadium.

  • Comment number 15.

    same old thing again Phil keep Walcott, leave Beckham etc can't see why as Walcott showed why he has been poor all season and shouldn't be going. Beckham on teh other hand offers something different than get the ball and run up the line like a headless chicken. Englands set pieces last night were awful and Beckham is most definitely needed especially as Milner is more likely to be used on teh left than the right and Beckhma can also play in the middle.

    Baines was poor last night, Gerrard didnt perform brilliantly and Lampard missed 2 gilt-edged chances which at a World Cup he needs to put away. Defoe did himself no favours and neither did Walcott although Wes Brown was solid at the back

  • Comment number 16.

    Milner is the most on form midfielder in the country, and Capello has stated he'll select players on form. He should start on the left or right for England.
    If Crouch's england form deserves a place then i dont think Joe Cole can be ignored - he's never let England down, unlike Gerrard and Lampard who consistently under perform. There was a much better balance with Carrick playing in the second half.
    I think a midfield of barry, carrick and gerrard in behind a lone stirker rooney would be about the best England can muster, considering the distinct lack of talent up front. People may mention defoe, and although he has scored 20 plus goals this season, his strike rate is awful, how many should he of scored? and how much higher in the league would spurs be if they had a more clinical striker?

  • Comment number 17.

    I don't understand the issue that managers have with Crouch. He's been to so many clubs, performed really well, then been tossed aside. I'm a Liverpool fan, and when we signed Crouch a friend of mine scoffed and predicted we'd picked up a donkey. I thought differently and felt vindicated following many, many important (and often spectacular) goals. Then Benitez jettisons him! I just don't get it.

  • Comment number 18.

    "But if Heskey plays and England do not at least reach the semi-finals"

    Let's not fall into the media's trap of overhyping the national team but... ENGLAND TO WIN THE WORLD CUP! It's going to be like 1966 all over again!! Football is coming home!!

  • Comment number 19.

    Amazing, not one reference to the performance that changed the game, Carrick. Is that because it implies he is better for a balanced midfield than Frank Lampard (and that would never do would it).

  • Comment number 20.

    A case of job done really. Crouch is an excellent player to have available to come off the bench. Baines needs more games before we can see what he is made of. I rate Milner and to my mind could be a better bet than Barry.

  • Comment number 21.

    For the life of me I can't see how Emile Heskey is a better option than West Ham's Carlton Cole.

    Perhaps someone can explain?

  • Comment number 22.

    2 Plus points however were the performances of Carrick and Milner, both very positive when they came on. Carrick's passing is far superior to any other player we have and moves seem to start much quicker with him playing.

  • Comment number 23.

    I was at the game last night, and to be honest I don't think Crouch had that good a game. Yes he scored twice, however they were relative tap-ins.

    Something else which needs pointing out is the balance of the team in the first half. On the left Baines was going forward, yet Gerrard was not attacking the wing. While on the right, Walcott had no support from Brown.

    In the second half, replacing Lampard with Carrick allowed Gerrard to move more centrally, and Walcott was starting to look deadly on the right wing. Its unfortunate for him he went off, but Shaun Wright-Phillips started off were Walcott left, terrorising the left hand side of the Egypt defence.

    From then on, Egypt were always going backwards. And I don't think Crouch was the sole difference between the two sides.

    So once again, the debate is play Gerrard and Lampard together, or play with only one, and have a more balanced, more effective team.

  • Comment number 24.

    As an Evertonian I was very interested to see how Baines would perform, and I think Phil is spot on. 'Solid but not spectacular' is my verdict, I too was surprised at his lack of trademark runs down the left, for some reason he chose to play the exact same ball every time....he'd get just past half way, then the moment he was confronted by someone he passed infield instead of trying to go out wide.
    It happened so often I am convinced it was under instruction, not solely down to nerves.His corners and free kicks were a mixed bag, but I don't recall him having that many.But he did last the entire match, so I am hopeful Capello saw enough to give him a second chance in the next friendly.
    As for the team performance, I was horrified at the first half offering. Much improved in the second, due in no small amount to the introduction of Carrick who exposed the fact that Lampard's passing game is not the strongest part of his repetoire. Gerrard and Barry only functioned sporadically, and Walcott is desperately short of match time and will struggle to make the finals I think. The positives were Milner and Crouch, the latter having surely cemented his place in the team to play in South Africa. His goal scoring record for England can surely not be ignored now, regardless of who the opposition has been.

  • Comment number 25.

    in italy the press says that capello will leave england for juventus fc ,next year...maybe it's a joke.i don't know.

  • Comment number 26.

    @ 7. I think highlighting Theo was meant to do just that! highlight his inefficiency. however, turning this into a Gerrald Vs Lampard's average perfomance is just one more person wearing Wenger's glasses, and failing to see that Theo did indeed perform below par. He was cheerless, had pace but gave up and though it can be exciting to see those bursts forward, it can also be exciting for everyone to see total commitment & dedication.
    So, yes, he was poor! despite others' perfomance

  • Comment number 27.

    Dreadful first half performance - didn't play as a team - back to the usual huff and puff of England of old. Second half - what a change. Lampard off - Gerrard starts to play - Carrick on - the midfield starts to play like a midfield. I'm sorry if it upsets Chelski fans but Lampard is rubbish - the team plays better without him. Rooney is a great player but needs to realise he can't win a game on his own at international level. Crouch should go to SA. Walcott - very lightweight.

    Still think we haven't a snowballs chance in hell of winning the WC. A better team than Egypt would have buried us in the first half. Very worrying.

  • Comment number 28.

    Mentioning Crouch because he scored and ignoring the actual change between first and second halfs is very myopic, expecially from a purported football expert and cheif football writer.

    We were better second half because we kept the balland slowed the pace of the game. Period.

    And the man who enabled us to do that, was Carrick.And yet you still talk of Gerrard/Lampard as some sort of holy grail midfield. It simply doesnt work.

    Carrick appears the only midfield option we have on current form who can actually hold on to the ball and pass it to someone in the same coloured shirt reliably. He should be first name on the sheet where the midfield is concerned.

    Wright Phillips isnt the best winger in the world by a long way, however, without the Lennon option, he offers more penetration and pressure on the full back than any other player we have, Walcott once again proved himself little more than a sprinter not fast enough to win on the track, transferred to a football pitch, if speed doesnt work, he has nothing else to offer.

  • Comment number 29.

    Am I the only person in England who can see how poor a player Wayne Rooney is?
    His ball control is reminiscent of Sunday morning football. You would have thought that training with Berbatov would have made him better.
    Last night he consistently was involved in attacks breaking down simply because he cannot control a ball.
    It was also interesting that the goals all came about when neither he nor Walcott were involved.
    He does score goals but a lot of chances go begging and a lot are with his head and if he insists on coming back into midfield we have a big problem.
    W atch the game again while not wearing the "I luv Wayne" spectacles and see what I mean.

  • Comment number 30.

    Good blog Phil
    At last Crouch is given some credit. And Mr Capello is finally one England manager who can use a squad to change things around. Crouch is going to be (I hope) an option in Capello's armoury in SA. To his detractors I say who is better? His performances are vastly underated.
    I also feel that Gerrard must show some form at this level, we lost possession far too many times when he was in 'Hollywood pass mode'. Often he ignored the simple but effective pass wide trying to play throughthe middle of Egypt's defence. Note to Gerrard -All the goals started with Crosses. Milner looked the much better player when he came on.
    The transformation was marked , so top marks to Mr Capello who retains his presence of dignity and an impression he really knows his players and what is required in any give situation.
    I believe Mr Capello will get the best out of this crop of athletes and how well we do will in large part be attributable to him.

  • Comment number 31.

    Crouchs international goalscoring record is superb. One goal in two is high quality for any international striker. Given that in his 37 games he's only started 17 and only played the full 90 12 times gives added weight (according to, he actually averages a goal every 100 mins he spends on the park, one goal every 125mins in competitive games). The idea that he's an 'impact sub' is a media myth - before last night he's only scored two of his international goals when coming on a s a sub, although admittedly he can change games (Argentina friendly in 2005?).

    I think last night should show Fabio Capello two thingsabout his options going forward. Firstly that if Rooney doesn't get on the scoresheet (and he was left isolated for much of the first half coming deep or wide to find the ball) England are short of other goalscoring options from open play and that having a second striker who can score goals is vital. Secondly if that second striker is a player capable of holding the ball up (Crouch or Heskey rather than DeFoe who is generally looking to latch onto through balls) not only does it help out Rooney with some of the donkey work, it also brings players like Gerrard into the game more (he looked much more comfortable second half with two physical strikers opening up space in front of the midfield).

    To me there's no question that Crouch ticks all of the boxes which fabio needs to tick for the second striker (big, strong, holds the ball up, good passer of the ball, good control, gets into good positions and scores goals) yet there still seems to be hesitation to select him. What more has the bloke got to do?

  • Comment number 32.

    definately a game of two halves...the tempo was wrong in the first half.

    defoe has pretty much sealed his role on the bench after that - and i have to confess (as someone who has never rated him) crouch played very well, took his goals very well and can be very pleased with his performance

  • Comment number 33.

    'believe he [Crouch] can be an upgrade on Heskey.'

    Statements like this betray the superficiality of your footballing knowledge mate. Heskey and Crouch are miles apart as players. Heskey is a battering ram of a centre forward - brilliant in the air, wins all the knock-downs and knock-ons and holds the ball up as well as anyone in the English game.

    Crouch - despite being tall is actually rubbish in the air, get's brushed off the ball far too easily and (as a diametric opposite to Heskey who wins tons of freekicks) constantly concedes them because of his inability to jump without wrapping his arms around the defender.

    Crouch is essentially a finisher. Forget he's tall and watch him play. He's very good on the deck when the ball’s played into his feet. Essentially he is a plan B to Heskey not an upgrade of him - a totally different player; a totally different option. Yes he's tall but he doesn't play like a tall player and if his height is of any benefit it is in that he confounds defenders who are unaccustomed to him because he is invariably not the player they expect him to be.

    For me we stick with the system that qualified us. Start with Heskey and Rooney. Let Heskey batter them black and blue with Rooney feeding off him and then if the goals don't come go with Plan B (Crouch on for Heskey) in the second half.

  • Comment number 34.

    No comment on Carrick, but then again Phil has been spending all season telling us how average he and his partners in midfield are.

    Crouch scores 2 in another meaningless friendly - "He has to start! HE can't stop scoring in pointless games"

    20 in 37? What were the games he didn't score in, the ones that count?

  • Comment number 35.

    Not sure which game you were watching last night Phill.
    England were dire for the majority of the game.
    This article is simply jumping on an easy bandwagon, reactionary and poor.
    I completely agreee with SirMouseburger, crouch offers nothing to England where it counts. We have better players. He scored 2 last night, great against, who exactly? Egypt, who can only play if its the African Cup of Nations, or if England decided they can't be bothered to turn up, like the first half last night.
    This is England, any squad we put out should be Egypt. Look at the difference in the calibre of players.
    Lampard and Gerard were both terrible last night, Gerard provided no link to the forwards and left us explosed on the left. Although this is also due to Capellos insistance on unbalancing the side by playing without a left midfielder. (What does Ashley Young have to do to get into the squad!?)
    Lampard was utterly dreadful and England were obviously better when Carrick came on. For the way Capello wants England to play he is the best player we have. Carrick should start ahead of Barry and Lampard.
    More to follow.

  • Comment number 36.

    Apologies, Sammy J, but you're in La-La land if you think Heskey should have played last night. Not only do we already know exactly what he does alongside Rooney (not a lot), but he's hardly been in scintillating form for Villa. Personally, I think whenever he plays, he destroys your greatest strength, which is that beautiful, interchangeable, pacy, counter-attacking front 3 of Gabby, Ashley and Milner/Carew, much like Berbatov did to United.

    I agree with you on some other counts, though - YWarnock should have had 20 minutes, Milner should have started ahead of Walcott, and Young should have had a call-up, though not at the expense of SWP, who HAS been playing as consistently as injury has allowed and has sparkled in pretty much every appearance in a blue shirt I've seen him in this season.

    Sir Mouse/Sharpshooter - this myth that Lampard and Gerrard can't function in the same team these days is ludicrous, and I don't understand why sensible people keep it alive. Lampard had an off game, that doesn't suddenly mean it's an unworkable partnership. In an ideal world, Capello would abandon his precious two strikers, and realise a 4-4-1-1, with Barry and Lampard central, and Gerrard in behind Rooney, is the way to get the best out of all his players and the team.

  • Comment number 37.

    Interesting article and picks up on the main issues in last night's team selection. Clearly Capello was hoping that a forward line of Defoe, Ronney and Walcott would wrk as this is probably what he would like to use in South Africa. The "big man up front" option - Crouch, Heskey or Cole may work at wembley but I think he would like a more skillful front three in the latter stages of the tournament. Sadly it failed last night but this was Wembley.

    I think the selection of Green shows that he has the goalkeeping position to lose. Hart had to play some of the game to have a chance of being considered first choice.

    In defence Terry and Ferdinand will start with Upson guaranteed next choice. He will be hoping for Johnson and Cole to be fit. Brown will certainly go in the squad and it will be interesting to see if he takes two more defenders as Lescott could go as cover for cente back and left back. So Baines reasonable performance may be in vain.

    In midfield Barry looks a very limited player to be an international starter. I would go for Carrick, Gerrad and Lampard. If Lennon is not fit I would go for Milner as well as a starter. Milner may well come back from the World cup as an automatic first choice as Robson did in 1982 and Platt did in 1990.

    In the forwards I think he will pursue with Rooney and Defoe to get the mobility he will need in the South African conditions. Crouch, Heskey and Cole may well be competing for two places. I think there is another place up for grabs in the forwards - Agbonlahor or Walcott. It depends on whether Walcott can find any form.

  • Comment number 38.

    13. At 08:46am on 04 Mar 2010, Otters_Pocket wrote:

    Surely Rooney must play up front by himself, his form for Man U just about demands that it happens.


    Rooney cannot play by himself for England purely down to the fact that the service and support from the 'regular' midfield is virtually non-existent. If Capello can be brave enough to shake up the midfield with Milner and Carrick and perhaps Joe Cole then maybe it could be a possibility. That however will never happen.

  • Comment number 39.

    You really can't argue with Crouch's goalscoring record. The bizarre thing is that he seem to be in finer form for his country than for his club!....although this may have something to do with Tottenham lazily playing a long ball game every time he plays. Walcott and Lampard were very quiet, I'm not a fan of Lampard at the best of times, but aside from his missed sitter there wasn't much to complain about...he just disappeared. Gerrard found a few nice touches in the second half, but definitely needs to be played more centrally. For me, Milner and Carrick were the differences. Carrick showed a lot more creativity than the solid, but unremarkable Barry, although it should be noted that Carrick also has a tendency to drift in and out of games. But Milner certainly needs more game time. Not only did he link nicely with Baines to give us a wide attacking option on the left hand side, but he looked assured from the moment he came on, and allowed Rooney and Gerrard to play football in the areas they wanted to. I'd actually advocate dropping Lampard to the bench, and starting Milner on the left, with Gerrard playing as an attacking midfielder and Barry/Carrick as an anchor man/defensive playmaker. We completely failed trying to play a central game, and it was only when our wider options increased that we began to pile on some serious pressure. Shaun Wright Phillips' first touch, and his dribbling technique, leave a lot to be desired, but his ability to beat a man and whip the ball into the box was incredibly effective last night.

  • Comment number 40.

    I wonder whether we are ever going to give up trying to play Gerrard and Lampard in the same team. I think we would be better off playing a standard 4-4-2 playing a holding midfielder, either Barry or Carrick (who I thought did very well when he came on) alongside Steven Gerrard with more license to attack. That allows you to have to more natural wide players on the wings, I would say a fit Lennon on the right and Milner on the left. I realise that Gerrard and Lampard are top class players, and that the idea of leaving one of them out is very difficult to accept, but they have very rarely excelled for England as they do for their clubs. I really think we should pick one of them and let them do what they do best, rather than accommodating both but sacrificing their effectiveness. Spain don't feel the need to pick Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso all in the same team just because they have them available, they will pick a less stellar name to do a job, and make some tough decisions on who not to start. Admittedly, we don't have the array of talent to chose from that Spain do, but the principle is the same. Sadly I think we are unlikely to see this happen, Capello seems pretty set on starting Gerrard on the left.

  • Comment number 41.

    29. At 08:57am on 04 Mar 2010, spurskingy wrote:

    Am I the only person in England who can see how poor a player Wayne Rooney is?

    Yes you are - Ridiculous comment!!!

  • Comment number 42.

    Heskey is far superior to Crouch in terms of hold-up play, distribution of the ball, ability to win it in the air and sheer physicality. He's not going to score you lots of goals, no, but he will get the best out of Rooney and play to the strengths of Lampard and Gerrard.

    Its the whole Peter Beardsley debate all over again. Are forwards only in the team to score goals, or can they improve the team in other ways? I'd like to think that a forward who helps our many attacking midfielders to score is much more vital than a hotshot striker.

    Besides watching Peter Crouch is painful, the man does not look like an athlete.

  • Comment number 43.

    Hi Phil

    I think your moderate criticism of Baines was a unjustified. I think he was pinned back to a certain degree by the attacking prowess of Egypt's pacy right midfield. I think he gave a competent performance and, if Bridge does indeed follow through and not go to the World Cup, he will be on the plane to South Africa.

  • Comment number 44.

    Yes crouch did well last night, and i do think that on the evidence so far he could be the best partner for Rooney....and shoud without doubt be on the plane. We know what Defoe can do and how he can work with rooney, and heskey shouldnt even be in the premier league never mind going to the world cup......But i keep asking myself why Agbonglahor isnt being considered....?? he has the pace, strength, and power to help lead our attack and would love to se him create a partnership with Rooney.

    As for lasts nights game, we were a changed team in the second half. was that because of Crouch? No! he played well but the real game changer was Carrick. he connected all the decent play in a calm and confident manner. he has to be a must in the england starting 11. Have faith in Carrick, put Lampard on the bench he will never work well with Gerrard (who is a vastly superior player) and lets get some balance in the team.

    Englands best 11??

    johnson,terry,Rio,bridge(milner if bride wont play)
    lennon, gerrard, Carrick , Barry, (barry playing a bit narrow for Milner to get forward)
    Rooney, Agbonglahor.

    Im a United Fan, but the English connection at Villa could be something that gives us a little extra.


  • Comment number 45.

    It's still remarkable to me how many people are prejudiced against Crouch because of his awkward appearance. Get over it, people, and judge him by his play. I wonder if the aesthete that is Capello is similarly influenced?

  • Comment number 46.

    Carrick is a much better option in midfield than Lampard. I'm sick of hearing about good old Frank - he only looks good at Chelski because of all the excellent foreign players around him (apart from Ballack of course). When he plays in the same team as Gerrard he drags Gerrard down to his level. When Carrick came on last night things improved immediately. He can start moves, his passing is intelligent and he doesn't panic and Gerrards game definitely improved because of it. Lampard and Gerrard together - NO. Get rid of Lampard he's useless.
    I'm not a Man U fan bigging up Carrick, I'm a scouser bigging him up.

  • Comment number 47.

    21. At 08:49am on 04 Mar 2010, DennyCraneWHU wrote:
    For the life of me I can't see how Emile Heskey is a better option than West Ham's Carlton Cole.

    Perhaps someone can explain?

    Heskey obviously has some dirt on someone at the FA. Thats the only explanation for his continued inclusion in England squads. Capello is breaking his own first rule by sticking with him. He is not playing regularly enough for his club and isn't playing well either.

  • Comment number 48.

    When England's 2nd 11 prove to be better than their 1st 11, again, it is time for some changes.

    Lampard was dreadful, again !!! As a chelsea fan I have seen this over the last 2-3 years. He has just lost what he had. The Englad midfield should be Milnar, Carrick, Gerrard, J.Cole (If fit).

    As for Crouchy, well done son - keep it up and lets gets shot of Heskey !!!

  • Comment number 49.


    totally agree with the fact that Carrick deserves to be in the England Midefield, he has been the main playmaker for Utd's last 2 seasons, and in both those cases they won the Premiership and picked up a Champions League win and a final slot the following year! So he has a proven track record!

    Carrick can pick passes out of nothing, he can also defend which Lampard cannot do! I also agree that when he came on last night, England fashioned far more chances than they had while Lampard was on!

    Carrick and Gerrard for central midfield!

  • Comment number 50.

    I thought Carrick has solid game when he came on

    As the commentator said: Carrick has been the main playmaker for the team who has won the League 3 years running - Or someting similar.

    We looked more balanced as soon as Lampard came off and no doubt if Gerrard came off it would have had the same effect.

    To many times when Gerrard, Lampard and Barry play togerther they are far to close together when looking to pass to each other.

    Walcott = Average - How he can play infront of Milner, SWP & Young is baffling!! Hes only started 5 games this season and completed 90min once.

    Still we won which is the most important thing!!!

  • Comment number 51.

    I have to say there is a media clamber regarding David James and Theo Walcott that is completely lost on me.

    Capello has made it clear that Rob Green will be his England number 1 for over a year now. So he will start him in as many games as possible to give him experience going into the tournament. Green is a steady keeper, and deserves his chance. Joe Hart's chance will come in good time. James however seems to be the media friendly choice...for whatever reason? Maybe as it is likely he will provide an excellent "calamity" story for all the hacks to jump over come the summer. James had his big chance in Euro 2004, he failed. At 40 years old, he will be far past his peak of say 5-6 years ago. An excellent shot stopper...yes but there are too may weaknesses in his game for him to be thrown into a world cup, his mentality being one of these. He once stated that his overuse of his playstation led to a loss of form.

    Walcott on the other hand has done absolutely nothing to warrant a place on the plane this summer. I'm suprised that the media have reported his performance as only "disappointing". He was abysmal from start to early finish. His form at Arsenal has been poor and he is injury prone. His goalscoring record for a right sided forward is terrible, and I believe one of the worst things that happened to the guy was getting that hat trick against Croatia, as is has created an expectation level that he will never be able to fill, why? Because for all his athleticism and speed he is simply not a good footballer.

    At international level, you need players who are footballers, who can control, and keep the ball. Possession is key, and I do not see how the playground-like knocking the ball around a full back and chasing it will ever help the england cause. For me...and in this order he would be behind Beckaham, Milner, Lennon, Bentley, Wright-Phillips and Ashley Young for a place on the right side of our midfield.

    One performance, one hat trick in 4 years of top level football does not make a player...ask Dennis Bailey

  • Comment number 52.

    " 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."

    Ah so the qualification campaign left lots of questions about Capellos ability did it?

    "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."

    Really ? I hadn't heard, when did that happen then? Was it relative to the match? I am pretty sure I read a blog yesterday where 80% of readers at least said they didn't want to hear it, so you ram it down our throats again.

    "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"
    Why is he likely to shoot you and throw you in a river somewhere?

    The issue is not Crouch replacing Heskey, Rooney didn't score last night, Why? Why are you not taking your starlet apart for not having a top goalscoring record at International level.

    Yeah Crouch is on the plane, but why change a strike force that works clearly, and what about Plan B. I don't see the problem, Couch Heskey, Rooney Defoe and A N other. One thing is clear, Crouch doesn't play the same role as Emile, and you journos seem desperate to make the wheels come off the bus before it even gets going.

  • Comment number 53.

    29.spurskingy wrote:

    Am I the only person in England who can see how poor a player Wayne Rooney is?

    You most certainly are mate, you haven't got a clue

  • Comment number 54.

    It was important last night for England to get the victory and to keep the confidence up. At the same time I also think it was an opportunity missed. I was bitterly disappointed to see walcott on the wing. Firstly if Lennon is fit he is a far better player tahn walcott, his game is much more rounded these days offering pace, GOOD crossing, goals and even defensive qualities, he is quite frankly a shoe in for the right wing.

    With this in mind I think it was a great opportunity to try Milner on the right wing. He is different to Lennon and is a good option to have when a defence is sitting deep and putting two people on Lennon. His work rate, range of passing and intelligent movement make him the perfect alternative to Lennon's outright pace.

    With regard to the left side of midfield I have to say that i'm pleased Downing didn't play. We have better options there. I'd much sooner see joe cole or even milner there before him. Downing has been poor at best in the past there for England. He offers nothing to the way England are looking to play. He might put a shift in for Aston Villa however he generally plays on the right wing, with ashley young on the left. This not only says something about Downing's ability as a left winger but also begs the question, isn't young the better left midfield anyway??

    P.s. Carrick should take most of the plaudits for last nights victory. He got the midfield ticking. I feel slightly sorry for Defoe who would have been given far more opportuntiy had Carrick started. As it was he touched the ball about 3 times.

  • Comment number 55.

    i just wonder if milner didnt start because hes been so impressive (best engllish player in EPL this year?) this season for both club and country that he has a spot on the plane already

  • Comment number 56.

    in regards to my other comment (49#), I meant that he has been the main playmaker, not including Ronaldo. As in all fairness to Carrick, he set up a lot of Ronaldos goals

  • Comment number 57.

    # 33 very good post

    i agree with everything you say

    you are right about the free kicks he concedes, i think crouch needs to become more savvy when it comes to internationals. As it stands he gives away far too free kicks because he still doesn't understand that you can't get away with what you do week in week out in premiership - international refrees are far too picky.

    Heskey is better at turning the tussles with the defence to his advantage, he has always had that drogba like ability to go fall down like he's been shot even though he is built like a brick wall. Until crouch can be more intelligent at this side of the game he will always give away too many fouls.

  • Comment number 58.

    35.Cantonas Starched Collar wrote:

    This is England, any squad we put out should be Egypt.
    I'm sorry, I just love this comment ...... I know it's a typo, but I still ove it

  • Comment number 59.

    " And maybe a cameo from Downing, after his injury last year, would be a good reminder to everyone what a special talent he has been for England these last few years."

    downing has only ever been below average for england and never special. he rarely beats the first man with his crossing, just look where he's being played for villa- central mid and wide right, why? because he can't cross.

    walcot is great when theres space in a game and he can run onto the ball i.e. the croatia game, but when he gets it to feet and has players in front of him then he doesn't have the dribbling ability to go past them. he's actually better off in games against the better teams who will push on and leave more room in behind. swp is a poor mans lennon, sure he did alright last night but against better opposition he's easily shackled. watching him reminds me why beckham was/is so good and thats the ability to cross from anywhere on the right without even needing to beat a man. too often swp/lennon/walcot just waste ball when faced with players in front of them. milner is the only other option on the right who can just deliver a cross without having to beat a man, but unlike becks he can also beat a player if needed. he is becks natural successor on the right. oh and joe cole should also be considered here if gerrard is going to get the left hand role, which was his before he got injured.

    up front defoe got a start when last year capello said he wasn't considering owen because all he did was score goals and he wanted more. well defoe certainly doesn't do any more than just score so theres inconsistancy here. heskey on the other hand can hardly score at all and really has no place in the starting line up when you see the deft touches and ball holding ability of crouch, who can also score.

    defence is the most worrying. wes brown isn't an international full back, how many times did he give the ball away? and green, upson, and baines are a long way of international standard either. but looking behind them theres not a lot else to choose from. our defensive record in general has been poor under capello, and you can see why when we don't have our first choice line up often enough.

  • Comment number 60.

    What we learnt was that Walcott is not and should not go to the world cup.
    We must pray Lennon gets fit. He is the key and under Harry has become the complete winger. Tricks aplenty, fastest player in the premiership and has now added crossing and long passing; ability to pick players out at will to his game. He's looked sharp and more an intelligent player than the sorry, awful, fading walcott.

  • Comment number 61.

    The worrying aspect is that players who did well last night like Wright Phillips and Crouch are not first choice players for their Premiership teams.I was at Wembley last night and was amazed how much of the young crowd got bored ,more interested in the Mexican wave and to be honest to watch Egypt a fairly good side run rings around England for periods was quite disturbing.This was a botched up England side and it showed.I also think that Frank Lampard was shown up for what he really is.He plays well in a "good" side at Chelsea.In a moderate England side ,he is moderate.Michael Carrick made alot of difference when he came on in the second half in place of Lampard and to be honest from earlier on dropping the ball the Egyptian goalkeeper finished up being a liability and the "Achiles heel" of the Egyptian side.

  • Comment number 62.

    Proof once more that Gerrard and Lampard don't work together - it has to be one or the other. Thought Gerrard was poor last night, but fortunately for him so was Lampard - would still start with Lampard though.

    I agree that if Lampard had converted Walcott's cross early on the review of Walcott's performance would be vastly different but I would still take Walcott to South Africa ahead of Defoe - at least Walcott can play as both a winger and a striker, while I feel that when it comes to the international stage Defoe is little more than a short Andy Cole.

    Concerned about us having Robert Green in goal too - he wasn't really tested last night which was a shame as I don't trust him against world class opposition. What a travesty to see Paul Robinson trapped in the pundits studio.

  • Comment number 63.

    FedupwithGovt wrote:

    When he plays in the same team as Gerrard he drags Gerrard down to his level.

    I agree with you Lampard is not the player he was. However it is not just Lampard who is on the slippery slope. Gerrard, Ferdinand, Terry, are all getting to the end of their best days, so I feel singling out Lampard is a little unfair.

    We need some fresh-blood in our team. I agree with you in that we need to stop this mind-set that Gerrard and Lampard must start. Based on the form of both this season I would suggest neither should start. As a United fan, I like Carrick he does bring a composure to the team, and always plays it simple, however for me he is a bit 'tippy-tappy' and doesn't like putting a foot, - however I suppose Barry is there for it.

    My England starting Xi at present would be:


    Brown Ferdinand Terry Cole (fitness allowing)

    Milner Carrick Barry Gerrard

    Rooney Crouch.

    Whatever people say about Crouch, he has this great knack of scoring goals for England!

  • Comment number 64.

    Lampard is terrible. England lack any decent options up front, Rooney i on good form but his strike rate is still very poor. Without Ferdinand at the back there is a lack of pace at the back.

    England will not win the world cup.

  • Comment number 65.

    Phil, do you have any comment on Michael Carrick? Surely one of the most underrated players in the Premier League. I don't think he gets the plaudits because he has a laid back style, but this disguises his true work rate, which is as good as anyone around, and there is certainly nobody to touch his passing range and creativity.

    He has been a key part of a team that has won 3 straight titles and a Champions League. I really don't understand why Gareth Barry is ahead of him in the pecking order, though obviously Lamps and Gerrard offer more in the way of a goal threat.

    Surely it's time to get him in the team.

    Also, with Rooney playing so well up front on his own for United, is it not worth Capello trying this with England? 2 wingers who are quick and can cross are vital if this happens - any of Lennon, Milner, Cole, Young and Wright-Phillips would suit.

  • Comment number 66.

    i agree with the a number of posters advocating carrick in centre mid

    he is the best passer in the squad and that is a real asset in international football. The game against germany immediately sprngs to mind, he absolutely bossed that game - when he is on it and pinging the ball around with 40 - 50 yards passes it is great to watch

  • Comment number 67.

    Some excellent points raised so far, but let me deal with one very quickly.

    spurskingy asks: "Am I the only person in England who can see how poor a player Wayne Rooney is?"

    Yes, you probably are.

    Now on to other posts. Some very valid points made about Manchester United's Michael Carrick when he came in. Retained possession well and did play his part in an improved England performance.

    I refuse to join in the criticism of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard however, because these are the sort of quality players Capello will count on in South Africa. And they are not exactly playing together in central midfield, Gareth Barry is effectively alongside Lampard in there.

    Now to the increasing debate around Peter Crouch.

    I believe Fabio Capello will start with Emile Heskey in the World Cup, but I do think Crouch should start at least one of England's games before South Africa, if only to give him the full opportunity he deserves.

    I bow to the superior knowledge of a succession of England coaches, but I am not a huge Heskey fan. Alan Shearer rightly says judge a striker by his goals, and he does not score enough. He hardly gets any in Premier League these days.

    Crouch does and, in the light of Capello's insistence that he will not play Wayne Rooney as a lone striker, I feel he is worth a go as his partner.

    I am not for one second suggesting he is the answer to all England's problems and will be the deciding factor as to whether they win the World Cup or not, but 20 goals in 37 games is some record and commands the attention.

    My own preference would be to have James Milner on the left of a midfield four (take your pick on the right the way things are going) and put Gerrard behind Rooney. Capello insists this will not happen so I will put the ball away on that one.

    On this tactical basis, and given the current evidence of form, I would put Milner on the right, leaving Gerrard to drift in from the left into centre, which is what Capello likes him to do.

    I do agree with some posters that Crouch concedes too many fouls, but how many are actually fouls? It became a real issue in the England camp at the World Cup in 2006 that foreign officials were effectively punishing him for being tall and looking awkward.

    I hope my remarks about Leighton Baines did not appear too critical. This was not the intention, but I am glad the Everton supporter who posted agreed when he felt he played within himself. He did not get forward as often as usual - although this could have been under instruction.

    Baines is a very good player and there is more to come there.

    What are we to make of Theo Walcott? I was in Zagreb when he tore Croatia apart, but it just hasn't happened for him since. Is his World Cup squad place in doubt now? I am not giving up on him just yet, but he did not enhance his claims last night.

    And, lastly for now, what about the goalkeepers? I felt Joe Hart should have played last night. There was a growing sense in the media last night that Robert Green's inclusion means he has now overtaken David James in the pecking order.

    Your views on that, and all things England, are welcome as ever.

  • Comment number 68.

    I have to agree with most of the comments here that Carrick has to play in midfield, he was the one that changed the game last night. Do we have to wait for Gerrard or Lampard to retire before England managers realise that they don't play well together, they are too similar. Regarding Crouch, he should go to the World Cup, however, I wish he would get some more muscles in his legs and learn to jump without using an opposition player as a springboard. Finally, Walcott should be left at home, not up to it at the moment.

  • Comment number 69.

    Lots of people focusing on England with the ball. What about without the ball? If we are playing Spain at any point then we should expect not to have the ball for long periods of time so England should also be judged on tactical nous when trying to win the ball back.

    Play that entire second half team which included Crouch, Carrick, milner and SWP. The vindication? It was played at premiership pace. Watch Chelsea recently without Essien but with instead Lampard passing the ball around... SO SLOW! With milner on the left and carrick in the middle with barry we were so good at giving the egpytions no room to play. No disrespect, with the ball egypt are a quality team but how many long balls did they play in the first half? None? (other than goal kicks) Now second half when we pressed the ball like a team, there were many instances of defenders clearing the ball just to get it away which created about half an hour of pressure. To me the key was milner and carrick whose closing down was brilliant. Similarly milner will get back and help the left back ALL the time and if this is against players of ronaldos quality this is essential to help cover a non ashley cole left back (whom i dislike but as everybody knows is just brilliant).

  • Comment number 70.

    As usual Phil, you have changed your opinion. You not so long ago were arguing that Defoe should be starting. Now fater Crouch comes on and scores 2 sitters, all of a sudden he should be starting. If Carlton Cole scores a hat trick this weekend, will you be calling for him to have a starting spot in Englands next game?

    I saw stats for this season - Defoe has only scored less than a 1/3 of his goals in the first half of games. Throwing another name in the hat, and sure to be put down for it - but Darren bent has scored 2/3 of his goals in the first half, showing he is a more effective starter for me. I also believe he hasnt been given a fair chance for England. The last game he played he had literally no service at all, apart from chsing dead ends into the corners. What does HE have to do, should be the question, not what Crouch has to do - considering he doesnt even get regularly in the Spurs team - incidentally the reason Owen is supposedly not getting picked. Can I point out Owens record for England and the fact he has more goals than Crouch this season?? Yet no argument for him. Also the fact he trains with Rooney week in - week out. Surely a benefit??

    In my opinion, and I have always said this - England wont win anything with Barry in midfield, and gerrard on the left. Barry, while a good player, is not experienced enough at the top level - Im talking CL/PL top four. We would be better off with Gerrard & Lampard, and asking one of them to sacrifice their attacking instincts for the good of the team, then adding some natural width - how about Milner left, Lennon right?

    Milner is in fantastic form, and should have started this game, as should Joe Hart. I think Fabio missed a golden opportunity there. as you rightly said Phil.

    As for Leighton Baines - see my earlier comment about Gerrard on the left - he cant go forward as he does for Everton, coz Gerrard gives him absolutely no cover defensively on the left. Bit unfair to criticise that part of his game last night. I think he did well.

    Anyway rant over - my starting XI (all palyers being fit with exception of hargreaves):
    Hart, Brown/Richards, Terry, Rio, Cole/Baines, Lennon, Gerrard/Carrick, Lampard(in better form than Gerrard), Milner/Cole, Rooney, Bent.
    Bench: Robinson (he's played well enough to get himself back in IMO), Upson, Johnson, Barry, Beckham, Young, Cole, Owen, Defoe. (23 man squad)
    Fringes: Green, Cahill, Lescott, Warnock, SWP, Agbonlahor, Heskey.

  • Comment number 71.

    Phil you do love to jump on a bandwagon started by some kneejerk reaction dont you? Another rather ill informed and poorly written blog.

    So Crouch scored a couple more goals in a friendly against a team who yes, are good but didn't manage to even qualify for the World Cup. He's been scoring goals like this for years. On the big stage against world class teams? No.

  • Comment number 72.

    nervous watching last night. Brown - kept giving the ball away. Terry - did well. Upson - unlucky to slip for the goal (although Andy Townsend blamed him for slipping in commentary). Baines - Did ok. Walcott - Awful apart from one run to setup lampard. barry - ok. lampard - missed 2 sitters. Gerrard - when is he going to perform for England? Rooney - isolated first half and got frustrated, cant play on his own up front for england. Defoe - poor.
    All the subs did very well. Capello wasn't supposed to pick players on reputation - so why does lampard keep getting picked? And as for Gerrard, the fact that he is vice captain means he will always get picked. I say drop gerrard for milner on the left.

  • Comment number 73.

    I hope this puts to bed the debate about Defoe starting. The partnership between him and Rooney just isn't effective. Luckily it would seem the one man who's opinion matters realised this long ago. Defoe must surely now be below Heskey, Crouch and probably Carlton Cole in the pecking order for a start and should surely only go as an impact substitute.

    I was impressed with Carrick last night and I think he helped to turn the game around. Whether he plays ahead of Lampard though is another matter. I think once Heskey is back in the team he brings the midfielders into the game more in an attacking sense and this is where Lampard has the edge over Carrick.

    I disagree with Phil that Crouch can be "an upgrade on Heskey". We all know Heskey doesn't get many goals but he brings things to the team which none of the other options (including Crouch) do. Crouch doesn't hold up the ball or bring other players in anywhere near as well as big Emile does.

  • Comment number 74.

    I thought Leighton Baines' perceived lack of attacking last night was the fault of Steven Gerrard. Many times he had clear opportunites to pass wide to Baines who was running up the flank, but instead opted to move in to the centre, fruitlessly. It's not coincidence that Baines began to move forward more after James Milner came on. Almost every time Milner moved forward he would check behind to see where Baines was.

  • Comment number 75.

    55# afraid i have to disagree with your comment about Milner being the best english player in the EPL this season, simply because of how outstanding Rooney has been! If Rooney wasn't in the form that he is currently in, then I would agree with your comment!

    However I do think he should start in the England Midfield, alongside Carrick, Gerrard and Lennon

  • Comment number 76.

    Last night's game has added to the doubts in my mind that Lampard is capable of performing for England at all. His performances have been lackluster and he gives the ball away far too much, without adding anything significant to play making in midfield. One has to wonder, with the strength in depth in midfield, with players like Cole a Hargreaves fit, whether he'd be in the squad at all. On the basis of both club and country performance Carrick must start.

    Crouch was obviously the beneficiary of a significantly improved second half midfield performance.

  • Comment number 77.

    I dont think it would happen in a million years but am I the only one that loves Beckham playing in the middle? Its true that Carrick affected the game when he came on last night with his passing but I think Beckham could do the same but better. He's so calm on the ball and rarely seems to lose it. When he has played in the middle he's usually been very good. To be totally honest though id just like to see a few games without Lampard playing, i think he's just there on reputation now which i don't think it on. Great to see Milner play - he's the future of our midfield.

  • Comment number 78.

    Why does everyone buy into lazy commentators saying we were poor first half?
    England were solidly on top all game.
    I despair of commentators who haven't got a clue. England had three golden chances first half including a calamitous miss by Lampard. Egypt scored from one of our players slipping over. Did they have another chance?

    I don't think England are going to win the world cup but credit where credit is due. We beat the African champions comfortably.

    N.B. on Baines - whereas Brown was supporting a genuine right winger, Baines had no-one in front of him first half. At no point did Gerrard move out left as support. When Milner came on he offered an alternative option on the left. Milner looks fantastic right now and Gerrard started showing flashes of his old self.

    Remember people. England are ranked 8th in the world. In premiership terms they are Birmingham City. Lets get behind them but not load them with expectation. I think Capello has shown that he knows what he's doing and I'm confident that he will wring the best possible world cup performance out of the players he has - the same as Sven did in 2006.

  • Comment number 79.

    I think Crouch deserves to start for England due to his scoring record. Lampard appears to be out of sorts along with Gerrard this season, but Gerrard did actually play well against Egypt.
    My midfield based on recent showings would be SWP, Barry, Gerrard, Milner, with Carrick , Lampard , Walcott, and J.Cole as back up.
    My forwards would be Crouch and Rooney, with Defoe and Heskey as back up´s.
    Defence is not really possible to select due to the injury situation.

  • Comment number 80.

    67. At 09:43am on 04 Mar 2010, philmcnultybbcsport wrote:

    Now on to other posts. Some very valid points made about Manchester United's Michael Carrick when he came in. Retained possession well and did play his part in an improved England performance.

    I refuse to join in the criticism of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard however, because these are the sort of quality players Capello will count on in South Africa. And they are not exactly playing together in central midfield, Gareth Barry is effectively alongside Lampard in there.

    Carrick is the only player we have that can, right now, find another player in our team reliably with his passing. That makes him indespensible on current form for our midfield.

    Lets take a test of your stalwart gerrad/lampard stance.

    how many times have you watched the two in the England midfield - 50 games maybe?

    How many times have you written an article extolling how great the two played togather? Have a look, two at most I should imagine.

    That says everything.

    A winning team isnt just the eleven best players, its the eleven players who make the best team.

    Ask Jimmy Greaves.

  • Comment number 81.

    I don't know why Capello won't play Rooney up front alone. This would give us the chance to play 3 in the middle, with Carrick, Barry and then one of Lampard and Gerrard (in the group maybe even leave out Barry). Two proper wingers with pace and delivery (Milner and one other) and Rooney up front.

    The other thing is the defence. Upson appears to be in purely because he's left footed, we really need Terry and Rio fit and firing come June

  • Comment number 82.

    Just a point on Baines - he's a very decent defender but his qualities lie when he's allowed to bomb forward and overlap/interact with the left midfielder.

    England didn't have a left midfielder last night. They had Gerrard nominally playing there, but let's face it, he wants to play in the centre and when he got the ball that's where he was. In possession he was only looking to spray 40 yard Hollywood passes to the other flank rather than give and go to the left. Baines was consistently making himself available on the flank, but Gerrard just wasn't interested.

    Ironic that on the other flank you had the opposite problem in Brown and Walcott. Walcott crying out for someone to interact with, Brown reluctant to cross the half way line.

  • Comment number 83.

    Beckham probably gave one of his finest Wembley performances of his enitre 15 year career last night. Perfectly positioned to feign "delight" at SWPs goal- yes David, i know you havent managed it in 115 tries but thats how easy it can be to score a goal at wembley- and beautifully adept at jogging down the touchline at a pace perfect to receive his usual celebrity figure worship, Beckham was truly in his mode.

    His hair delicately groomed, this is, indeed always has been, the sphere in which Beckham has excelled in the greatest. Very accomodating of the F.A and Mr Capello to use up a squad place on a free pass for a "team mascot" but if thats what it takes to keep everyone happy, then England will just have to accept they go to South Africa with 22 genuine choices rather than the 23. Yes SWP was pretty good, scoring one and crossing for another but if our "becks" had done likewise, a feat he managed about, yes never, in 115 attempts then rather than merely good or acceptable, it surely would have entered history as a "legendary" feat destined to be talked about down the ages.

    Well done Becks, another triumph night for the brand, i can only salute you, Sir.

  • Comment number 84.

    Not sure i agree with the bit about Walcott. In the first 5-10 minutes, England looked most dangerous when he was given the ball.

    Similarly in the last 5 of the 1st half he got the ball, in the 30 minutes or so in between we kept going left, where Baines was playing alone. Can Walcott get blamed for a mixed performance if he doesn't have the ball? yes he doesn't always make the right option on his final ball but neither does Lennon or SWP.

    If we are talking about last night as a benchmark for world cup inclusion, Lampard & Gerrard should be at risk because carrick did more than they did. Barry was far more involved when carrick was on.
    If we are saying it is a mixture of past performances and this one, then Walcott goes - his hatrick changed the qualifying campaign for England. As do Lampard & Gerrard.

    As for crouch - if we play 2 up top yes he should play, England cannot go to a world cup and hope Rooney is going to score all our goals.

  • Comment number 85.

    Why does Peter Crouch play better for his country than he does for his club? Easy, international defences, just like our own defence only get together every now and again so obviously there's going to be missunderstandings and communication problems,and unfamiliarity, thats where Crouch can capitalise. In the prem Crouch can be made to look one dimensional and limited, but thats because they are familiar with him, at international level they're not and that can be unsettling, they simply don't know what to do with him and they don't realise until its too late that for a chap his size he's extremely athletic, agile and aware. Could be Englands secret weapon, if deployed right.

  • Comment number 86.

    Crouch has proved for Spurs that he is the perfect plan B to throw on for the last half hour of games, because there's no other striker quite like him. Especially in the start of the season when we played Keane/Defoe up front, Crouch coming on gave our opponents something totally different to deal with and he caused big problems for lots of teams. He has rarely been quite as effective in games he has started for us. I think I speak for most Spurs fans when I say that Crouch is a better plan B than he is a starter, both at Spurs and at international level.

    As much as I don't rate Heskey, he does link with Rooney very well and can also hold up the ball so we can bring the midfield forward. Is that worth sacrificing a second goal threat for? Quite possibly. Ideally someone like Carlton Cole will turn into a Heskey-type player who also scores goals but I can't see that happening any time soon.

  • Comment number 87.

    Germany and the Cezchs get to semi-finals with ober tall centre-forwards with similar styles to England so lets do it. Defoe is an on the break player and England are so not that team in the heat against more sophisticated international teams.

  • Comment number 88.

    Playing favourites again, Mc?

    - Crouch, because he scored two, gets a strong mention. He's NOT world class. He won't start. Simple. Heskey should be axed!

    - Milner, you're advocating all the time. He's good. He should start. But, don't play favourites all the time, Phil. It's getting repetitive.

    - Rooney was ordinary. State the fact. And, why was he shouting? There's a sneaking suspicion he's getting a bit ahead of himself in the 'commannding' role! To be fair, there were rarely any feeds to him.

    - Until Carrick brought a calm, England did not know what to do! Phil, seriously, did you watch the game?

    - Lampard and Gerard suffocated the team. As always.

    Egypt's not a team to build England's resume on!

  • Comment number 89.

    As a Villa fan I can see exactly why O'Neill rates Heskey, and lets face it, MON knows his stuff.
    Heskey's role is not to score goals, it is to provide them. He is brilliant at holding up the ball. The amount of flick-ons that he can accurately deliver has made him a valuable asset and contributed to countless of England's finest performances. So to keep critising his scoring record is to miss the point.
    In simple terms -
    Who is the best striker in the country?... Rooney (not Crouch, although he is a good player).
    Who is the better provider of goals? Heskey or Crouch? I'd back Heskey.

    Let Rooney score the goals and the rest of the team can chip in here or there.

    My final point is that Capello needs to clarify his position on selecting players not playing regularly? What does this mean because yesterday I saw Wright-Phillips, Crouch and Walcott all playing but by no means regulars in their teams.

  • Comment number 90.

    Mr McNulty said:

    "I refuse to join in the criticism of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard" .


    Why not? It is obvious to everyone that they can't play in the same team, it unbalances the whole team. Lampard is not anywhere near the quality we need in the world cup. Gerrard plays far better when Lampard is not around. Stop going on about Crouch - ok he should be on the plane but as a sub - we have better options up front with Rooney. The question of Gerrard and Lampard is a far more serious issue.

  • Comment number 91.

    Reasonable performance last night I thought. No one really going out of their way to excel but a friendly at this time of the year is always going to be a bit like that I guess.

    There is lots of talk on here today about this person or that person not doing much last night and people making definitive statements on the basis of their own opinion. Fair enough I suppose.

    However, what people seem to forget is this is one game and why such definitive conclusions which they think is more indicative that the previous 10+ games when this 'team' has worked pretty well?

    Last night was about giving a couple of people chances and just tweaking things. Someone like SWP took that chance. Someone like Brown perhaps didn't.

  • Comment number 92.

    I agree the Theo was largely disappointing last night. His season doesn't look like its started yet- he still looks as though he's coming back from an injury and is desperately lacking confidence. I think that Capello's decision to include im yesterday was to a) give him some more game time and b) to almost reassure Walcott of the belief he has in him to replicate the form he was showing at the start of last season in Zagreb.

    What Theo gives us more than any other player is pace. Aaron Lennon proivides genuine competition to Walcott in this department, but whilst I appreciate that Lennon's form has been far superior to Theo's over the season, its clear that Capello rates him and would prefer to start him come June.

    The system Capello plays in S.Africa will demand that players get beyond Heskey. Employing Gerrard, Rooney and Walcott behind Heskey is ideal, and if he can recapture the form he has shown in patches for England, I feel he will be critical to our success. In any case, asssuming he takes both Lennon (if fit) and Walcott to the World Cup, I am more than comfortable in our options in that area

  • Comment number 93.

    60. At 09:36am on 04 Mar 2010, MagnificentSeven wrote:

    What we learnt was that Walcott is not and should not go to the world cup.

    than the sorry, awful, fading walcott.

    Fading??? he has been injured most of the season and is not yet 21!!! i disagree he his fading i believe the best is yet to come.

  • Comment number 94.

    I wouldn't even be looking at Heskey, Carlton Cole does everything he can do only better and is more of a goal threat, I won't be getting carried away by Wright Philips either, last night he crossed for Crouch to score but his normal crossing is terrible, Barry is another who flatters to deceive keep him on the bench and play Milner instead.

  • Comment number 95.

    I think that Englands' formation prevented Baines from showing any of his attacking instincts. With Gerrard in a roaming role there was no-one to overlap with, unlike the right wing. If Downing or Joe Cole had played we would have had 2 effective areas of attack.

  • Comment number 96.

    My Player Ratings:


    GREEN (6): Reacted expectedly slow to an unexpectedly taken early shot for England to go 1-0 down and a couple of lose pieces of distribution. Still wish we'd given Hart a run out, but don't think any of hte contenders are much better than the others.


    BAINES (6): Didn't produce enough going forward (partly due to lack of supply) but did enough at the back to justify why he's the front runner without Cole and Bridge

    UPSON (5): Showed very little composure in defence and looked uneasy throughout the match. More solid in the second half but mainly as part of a settling team and less associated with his own performance settling.

    TERRY (7): Given the early responce from the crowd think he handled himself well. Played with much more composure than he has done in recent games for Chelsea. Gave a good account of himself and showed why he is the best Centre half we have

    BROWN (4): Produced very little going forward while being suspect at the back. I'm going to be concerned if we have to start a World Cup with Brown as our primary right-back


    BARRY (7): Was the better of the starting midfielders and clearly felt he had a point to prove. Held the ball up well, produced a few good passes as well as holding his own defensively.

    GERRARD (6): Had a poor first half with wayward passing and losing possession regularly with ease. Settled more in the second half when England began to up the tempo and urgency.

    LAMPARD (5): Similarly poor first half as Gerrard and should have finished at least one of his two good chances. Didn't really settle

    WALCOTT (3): Commitment with absolutely no end product. Had a dangerous first few minutes before then losing his way. Seemed out of touch, losing possession and never really beating his man.


    ROONEY (7): Showed some good touches but never really got the service he needed in the first half. England focused too much through Rooney which at International level isn't the way to go. At times had 3 defenders smothering his ever move. Good to see him show frustration without anger at his team mates in the first half and looked the most dangerous throughout.

    DEFOE (5): Never really got going and had 2 chances that by his own high standards should have finished. Again didn't really work well with Rooney.


    CARRICK (7): Looked a lot more composed on the ball than the replaced Lampard and had a very solid half. Passing was more direct and seemed more influential

    CROUCH (8): Match winning performance with 2 well taken goals (if 1 was a little fortunately given onside). Staked his claim further to a starting place and more important, England didn't play aimless balls towards Crouch just because he was on the pitch.

    WRIGHT-PHILIPS (7): Beat the last man a little more than Walcott and did'nt look like he would lose the ball everytime he ran at the defence. Produced a great cross for Crouch and scored a goal (if not with the aid of poor goalkeeping).

    MILNER (7): Instantly produced better attacking flair and produced a wonderfully controlled shot to lead to the confusion for Wright-Philips goal. Looks a lot better than most in hte England Midfield.

    COLE (6): Didn't have enough time to make an impact really but does provide a different option up front. Power and pace but need to see a little more first.

  • Comment number 97.

    Hi Phil

    We have to sort the left side out. I thought Baines did ok. It's never easy without a recognised winger in front.I fear this affected his decision to bomb forward as much as any instructions from Capello. I would be looking at Milner out left. Would have Gerrard playing behind Rooney.

    As a toffee I'm also hoping Jagielka can get fit and force his way into the squad. It will be a tough ask but Capello clearly rates him.

    I don't believe we have enough to win it but the Germans always seem to progress with average teams possessing a strong mentality. This will be vital for us and one area Capello can earn his considerable coin.

  • Comment number 98.

    Lampard and Gerrard need dropping....simple, neither of them look interested, make any tackles or track back and there impact on the game is minimal. They have both become far to long in the tooth for England and need a kick up the backside which tells them they don't have a right to play everytime they are fit.

    I would take a committed Barry, Carrick, Milner over them everyday.

    Phil stop defending the obvious choice - when was the last time lampard or gerrard had a 8/10 game for England?

  • Comment number 99.

    Also to those who insist Lennon is the answer to the RM position. I like Lennon and he is a better player now than a few years ago, but he is a dif player to Walcott.

    Lennon has yet to score for England in 15 games, all our midfielders are going to have to weigh in with goals so perhaps that is a mark against him when Capello is considering his options. If Walcott is more of a natural striker, Lennon is more the winger then SWP is the bit in between.

  • Comment number 100.

    Crouch did very well when he came on but can you really tell me that Defoe wouldn't have put those two chances away? They were fairly straightforward tap-ins to round off excellent moves.

    The whole purpose of choosing a squad for the World Cup is to cover all bases. Crouch must go because he gives us something different* but I think that pace and movement will ultimately triumph over height in Capello's thinking.

    However, you can't argue against Crouch's goal-scoring record. While I accept that his goals have come against the Jamaica's, Trinidad's and Andorra's of this world, he has that happy goal-scoring knack for England and if he doesn't play against the bigger teams, he's not going to score!

    * as long as we don't rely on long balls but get the ball wide and get quality crosses in.


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