Before England took on Egypt at Wembley my plan for this article was to analyse the performance of whoever started at left-back. Leighton Baines was the chosen man and he had a very composed and assured game on his England debut, with no real errors to mention aside from a poor free-kick at the end of the first half.
Baines gave me little to write about, I was pleased with his overall performance and he made some decent runs into space and perhaps should have been used as an outlet more often by his team mates.
There were many encouraging aspects in England’s overall play. I was impressed with Arsenal’s Theo Walcott in particular during the opening stages. He may have failed to significantly contribute towards a goal but it wasn’t for want of trying – he put one on a plate for Frank Lampard in the first five minutes only for the Chelsea man to fire his effort straight at the keeper.
Spurs striker Peter Crouch, who like Walcott is struggling for playing time at his club, scored two (granted, one was offside) and seemed to invigorate the side on his introduction. I’ve always liked Crouch for England, he is one of those players who really ups his game when representing the national side and his sheer size must scare the opposition.
However, the man who impressed my most was boss Fabio Capello. England’s performance in the first half was fairly poor, I’m sure most would agree with that, and to be honest I was worried Egypt were going to come away with an improbable victory. Capello showed just how good a tactician he can be with his first lot of substitutions. Obviously Crouch came on and bagged two, but the introduction of Michael Carrick proved to be a huge turning point in the game.
The Manchester United midfielder came on for Frank Lampard, who by his own standards was having a bit of a shocker. Lampard gave possession away cheaply on a number of occasions and the Chelsea man missed a couple of chances where you would normally expect him to hit the back of the net. I rate Lampard, and in no way would I suggest he should be dropped but if a player isn’t playing well they need to be taken off. Where previous England managers had clear favourites (I doubt Sven Goran Eriksson or Steve McClaren would have removed Lampard) Capello thinks only of the team – at least this is the impression I get. The introduction of Michael Carrick gave England a greater assurance in midfield and his understated display should not be downplayed.
England’s lacklustre performance and general failure to cause the Egyptians any major problems concerned me going into the break. However, the second half display and the performances of a few individuals should give us England fans great encouragement ahead of the tournament in South Africa. Aside from the players I’ve already identified the likes of James Milner, Shaun Wright-Phillips and keeper Rob Green also deserve a mention for their respective displays but the man of the moment, for me, was Mr Capello.
Written by Gareth Freeman, a sports writer who blogs about England, Cheltenham 2010 tips, the Premier League and the World Hurdle 2010.