Before the game started the lineup looked a bit second string to me. Leighton Baines made his England debut, but Egypt fielded the same side that won the African Cup of NationsÂ in January; confusingly both sides were wearing their change colours, although the words ‘cynical marketing ploy’ spring to mind as England’s new ‘away’ kit was only launched yesterday and tonight’s game was presumably supposed to inspire us all to go out and buy it at the first opportunity.
John Terry was booed during the introductions, when he first touched the ball (less than ten seconds into the game) and throughout the first half; it was comparatively mild and seemed to die out in the second half.
The game started brightly and it was soon obvious that Egypt were a good test for England; the visitors lookedÂ comfortable with the ball, knocked it around nicely and were not really under stress defensivelyÂ despite some early England pressure, but yet again English passes seemed to be going astray.
Anyone expecting a 6-0 win would have been disappointed; when Egypt took the lead after 23 minutes with a goal from MohammedÂ Zidan, it could hardly be described as ‘against the run of play’ although Matt Upson’s slip made Zidan’s job a lot easier.Â It wasÂ tough to find a word that adequately summed up England’s defence at that pointÂ but ponderous and unconcerned spring to mind. If the defence is not considerably tighter then anything beyond the second round this summerÂ is going to be a bonus; anyone who saw Brazil’s second goal against Ireland on Tuesday night will appreciate that. On the other hand, we were without the services of a few of our first choice defenders tonight.
Zidan’sÂ goal ought to have woken England up: the slow motion close ups of Wayne Rooney showed exactly how frustrated the Manchester United striker was. To their credit, the Egyptians were showing other teams how to defend against England: pack the midfield and cut off service to Rooney, who really is the only genuine world class player we have.
Half time arrived with England losing 0-1 and it felt a little like some of the World Cup tournaments of the past: losing to a decent team that may have been underestimated before the game, no real sign of any breakthrough and players beginning to become frustrated.
Yet what followed was a validationÂ of why Fabio Capello is paid so much money by the FA. He madeÂ fourÂ second half substitutions, each of which contributed toÂ the final result.Â Carrick and Crouch replaced Defoe andÂ Lampard at half time and made an instant impact: Carrick started the move that resulted in Crouch’s equaliser. Then Shaun Wright-Phillips replaced Theo Walcott and James Milner came on for Steven Gerrard who – it has to be said – didÂ not do a great deal other than to pass the captain’s armband to Wayne Rooney when he was substituted.
Twenty minutes after coming on, Wright-Phillips scored and England had taken the lead. Milner’s shot was parried into Wright-Phillips’ pathÂ by Essam El Hadari, who flapped at the Manchester City winger’s snap shot. Crouch made it 3-1Â five minutes later; the Spurs striker was awarded the ManÂ Â Of The Match award despite having played for exactlyÂ half of it.
So summing up,Â from our point of view it wasa game of two halves: the first half was asÂ lacklustre and the second half was encouraging. Gerrard and Lampard will no doubt probably start against the USA in June, but if they’re going to be as anonymous as they were this evening they might find themselves on the bench at half time; Defoe – and particularly Walcott – are in danger of not going to South Africa at all and that despite some of the dark mutterings on Radio 5 before the game, Robert Green should beÂ our number one goalkeeper.
A few random observations before it’s time for bed:
* Does anyone else find it odd that a Danish brewer is the official beer of English football?
* Clive Tyldesley’sÂ observation that ‘Zidan’ is not spelled the same way as ‘Zidane’ isÂ about as fatuous as saying that ‘Pillao’ is not spelled the same way as ‘Pullao’Â in different Indian restaurants or ‘Sechwan’ is not spelled the same way as ‘Szechuan’ in different Chinese ones.
* Beating Egypt does not make England champions of Africa, although it’s a nice thought.
* Latin American and Meditteranean referees will almost always blow for foot up regardless of the circumstances and also tend to do so if a sliding tackle comes in from the side. Looking confused or bewildered will not stop them.
* Michael Carrick is arguably a better all round midfield player than Frank Lampard at the moment.
* Wayne Rooney should be England captain.