Crouch delivers double message
Published 04/03/2010 | 05:00
The children of Rameses threatened to embarrass the inheritors of Ramsey's tradition until Fabio Capello's half-time talking-to shook England up. A better tempo and the arrival of Peter Crouch, a proper targetman to work alongside Wayne Rooney, transformed this friendly.
After four weeks of negatives, Capello finally had a few positives to savour. John Terry looked more like his old self, Rooney and Steven Gerrard were typically purposeful, while Capello's second-half substitutions proved inspired.
Crouch, whose brace took his tally to 20 goals in 37 internationals, and Shaun Wright-Phillips struck as England responded to Capello's exhortation to press higher up the pitch and attack more.
Bad memories remain of a first half dominated by Egypt, particularly through Mohamed Zidan, who scored a fine goal.
Theo Walcott and Jermain Defoe failed their auditions, while the 4-4-2 system did not seem to bring the best out of Gerrard.
England remain a work in progress and they have only three hours of playing time, the May friendlies with Mexico and Japan, before the World Cup starts.
Expected to play 4-2-3-1 at the World Cup, Capello had assessed 4-4-2, a system that England struggled with until Crouch's arrival for Defoe.
The first half had been largely an exercise in disappointment.Walcott had started well on the right, running on to Rooney's clever pass and cutting the ball back to Frank Lampard, whose strike was straight at Essam El-Hadary.
For an international of Lampard's calibre, for such a prolific raider from midfield, this was a badly wasted chance. But Walcott then faded, squandering the opportunity to shine in the absence of the injured Aaron Lennon.
Barring Rooney, Gerrard and Terry, few of Capello's players shone in the opening period as England were swamped by the well-organised champions of Africa.
Capello's 4-4-2 approach required Gerrard to move inside from the left to assist against Egypt's extra man.
England's captain soon began roaming all over the midfield, scheming intelligently, at one point lifting a sublime pass through to Rooney, but his movement from his starting station inevitably meant Leighton Baines was exposed.
Gareth Barry swiftly recognised the problem and sprinted wide to protect the Everton left-back. Baines endured an awkward opening, and little was seen of his attacking capabilities.
Unlike Egypt. The visitors always exuded confidence in their 3-5-2 system, always looked a threat when they broke at speed, particularly when the ball was in the clever sway of the electric Zidan. The Borussia Dortmund striker, whose movement totally bemused England, found the mark after 23 minutes, helped by the poor pitch which proved treacherous terrain for Matthew Upson.
Attempting to clear Hosny Abd Rabou's driven through ball, the West Ham centre-half slipped. Suddenly, Zidan had the goal at his mercy. Such a good player was never going to spurn such an enticing opportunity.
The whole Egyptian team then dropped to their knees and kissed the turf, showing their faith and perhaps some thanks to the surface.
England needed some divine inspiration. Capello's chosen attacking axis of Rooney and Defoe was a failure. The England manager's use of Defoe was particularly perplexing.
The Italian had said his preferred frontline would be "one big forward, one small forward.'' Rooney is 5ft 10 and Defoe 5ft 6in, neither a citizen of the land of the giants. Typically decisive, Capello hooked Defoe at the break, introducing Crouch to such good effect.
England's collective mood improved when Crouch made his mark, taking his 56th-minute chance expertly. Gerrard started the move, stroking the ball down the inside-right channel for Barry. The Manchester City midfielder's first-time cross was perfectly judged, picking out Crouch, who swept the ball home.
Terry continued to impress, covering across to dispossess Zidan and then blocking a drive from Ahmed Fathy. He almost lost possession, though, after 72 minutes and was then truly alarmed by the sub, Mohamed Nagy, who beat him for pace and then skill.
Moments later, the armband changed hands, Gerrard presenting it to Rooney as the Liverpool midfielder was replaced by James Milner. The Aston Villa player was immediately involved, bringing his zest and inventiveness to proceedings.
Running down the inside-left corridor, Milner slipped the ball wide to Baines. At last in an advanced position, Baines whipped in a cross which was deflected out to Milner.
Catching the ball beautifully, Milner dispatched a fierce left-foot volley which El-Hadary repelled with a punched clearance. Wright-Phillips chested the ball down and sent it serving back towards to El-Hadary, who was beaten by its movement.
Capello's subs were enjoying themselves, Wright-Phillips the poacher turned goalmaker with 10 minutes remaining.
The Man City flier's cross was met by Crouch, whose offside position went unnoticed by the Paraguayan referee. Not one to turn down such largesse, Crouch fired the ball unerringly past El-Hadary. (© Daily Telegraph, London)