Capello has his mind made up by England's worrying lack of decisiveness
England 2 Japan 1: Only two own goals save side's blushes but Italian will spring no surprises in final squad
It will be in his childhood home in the north-eastern Italian town of Pieris this morning that Fabio Capello sits down to finalise the seven names that will not be on the flight to South Africa on Wednesday morning – with a little help, perhaps, from his elderly mamma Evelina.
It has been another rocky two days in the life of the England manager, whose brinkmanship over the Internazionale job has forced the Football Association to reorganise itself in the space of one Sunday to appease him. And last night, before he is pitched headlong into the most manic six weeks of his England reign, Capello did what all good Italian boys do – he went to visit his mother.
Amid all the uncertainty over the games Capello was playing with the FA and Inter, there was the small matter of an embarrassing defeat being avoided yesterday in Austria. It was thanks only to what the Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen would surely have called "kamikaze defending" that Japan's rearguard scored two own goals to get England out of a hole.
Capello said afterwards that nothing he had seen yesterday had changed his mind on the seven out of the 30-man squad whom he will not be taking with him to South Africa. Working on the basis that this was not England's best afternoon's work, one can only surmise that those borderline players who figured prominently yesterday will not be going to the World Cup finals.
That surely means Darren Bent ,who did nothing of note in the first half apart from head wide a chance created to him by a mistake from one of Japan's centre-backs. Michael Dawson, Stephen Warnock and Scott Parker have not played a minute over the two warm-up games, which must make them non-starters for the squad. That leaves three more to be thrown overboard.
Shaun Wright-Phillips had a better game than Theo Walcott, whom he replaced at half-time, but working on the basis of Capello's assertion that no one had changed his mind it will surely be Wright-Phillips who stays behind. Adam Johnson had six minutes against Mexico in which he looked sharp but Capello was so lukewarm about him in his pre-match press conference on Saturday, that it is difficult to see him making it
The biggest choice, assuming that Gareth Barry will be fit enough to be worth taking to South Africa, will be between Tom Huddlestone and Michael Carrick. In the second half he played against Mexico at Wembley, and yesterday's first half, Huddlestone looked the better of the two. But, again, Capello defended Carrick before the game and it seems that he too will get the nod.
Dawson, Warnock, Parker, Bent, Wright-Phillips, Adam Johnson and Huddlestone. To judge by the often hard-to-decipher pronouncements of the England manager and his even more unpredictable team selection, those are the seven who look the favourites not to make the cut. But as Capello kept cheerfully reminding his inquisitors yesterday, we will all just have to wait until tomorrow to find out.
Capello began the game with a 4-4-2 system, with Huddlestone partnering Frank Lampard in central midfield. That changed to 4-2-3-1 in the second half, which is the Italian's formation of favour, although with one major adaptation. Steven Gerrard was not playing in the role usually occupied by Wayne Rooney – that honour went to Joe Cole. Instead Gerrard was back as one of the two holding midfielders.
That was not the exceptional aspect of Gerrard's position; what made it interesting was the fact that he was playing alongside Lampard. It was the first time that the odd couple have been paired together in central midfield since England beat Estonia in June 2007 and represented a step backwards to try to solve one of the great intractable problems of modern times.
Ever more it seems the case that if Barry is not fit to play against the United States on 12 June, as expected, then the old dysfunctional double act of Gerrard and Lampard will be pressed into service in the centre of midfield. With Capello likely to leave behind at least two holding midfielders – Huddlestone/Carrick and Parker – there are not many who can do the task and few he actually trusts.
In the first half, England had been fairly wretched, with Rooney and Bent completely out of sorts in attack and Walcott running into all kinds of problems on the right wing. The Arsenal man is a favourite of Capello's and there is no question that he will get the nod to go to South Africa but it is a long time since he has put in the kind of performance for England that deserves such certainty from his manager.
The task was not made easier when Japan scored after seven minutes, their centre-back Marcus Tanaka crisply striking a corner hit to the edge of the area by Yasuhito Endo. That meant that Japan's 4-1-4-1 formation became, as Capello tartly noted, more like 9-1 as they tried to hang on grimly to their lead.
They were helped by a strong performance in goal by Eiji Kawashima, who was sharp enough to save a Lampard penalty on 54 minutes after Keisuke Honda had handled a free-kick struck straight at him. It was Lampard's second successive penalty miss after that one against Portsmouth in the FA Cup fina,l but Capello insisted he would not be taking the privilege away from the Chelsea player.
Joe Hart coped well with what was thrown at him in the second half and, after two confident performances, must now be a contender to start games. England's breakthrough came with 18 minutes left on the first occasion that they stretched Japan and got in behind them. Joe Cole's cross was headed into his own goal by Tanaka.
Emile Heskey came on with 14 minutes left, which meant that England went back to their favoured system in qualifying with the quiet man from Aston Villa leading the line. Unfortunately for Heskey, the simple header he missed from Gerrard's cross on 89 minutes was business as usual for the man who has seven goals in 58 caps.
By then England had got their winner. Ashley Cole's cross from the left wing was deflected past Kawashima by a badly judged lunge from the defender Yuji Nakazawa. England had squeaked past the team ranked 46th in the world. At least you could say that Capello had made his mind up.
England (4-4-2): James (Portsmouth); G Johnson (Liverpool), Ferdinand (Manchester United), Terry (Chelsea), A Cole (Chelsea); Walcott (Arsenal), Huddlestone (Tottenham), Lampard (Chelsea), Lennon (Tottenham); Rooney (Manchester United), Bent (Sunderland). Substitutes used: Hart (Manchester City) for James; Carragher (Liverpool) for G Johnson; Gerrard (Liverpool) for Huddlestone; Wright-Phillips (Manchester City) for Walcott; J Cole (Chelsea) for Bent, all h-t; Heskey (Aston Villa) for Lennon, 76.
Japan (4-1-4-1): Kawashima (Kawasaki Frontale): Konno (Tokyo), Nakazawa (Yokohama F Marinos), Tanaka (Nagoya Grampus), Nagatomo (Tokyo); Abe (Urawa Red Diamonds); Honda (CSKA Moscow), Hasebe (Wolfsburg), Endo (Gamba Osaka), Okubo (Vissel Kobe); Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse).
Substitutes used: Morimoto (Catania) for Okazaki, 64; Matsui (Grenoble) for Okubo, 71; Tamada (Nagoya Grampus) for Endo, 85.
Referee R Eisner (Austria).
Man of the match A Cole.
The shape Ef england's world cup squad
Fabio Capello must cut his squad of 30 to 23 tomorrow. Here's how it's shaping up:
Goalkeepers: Robert Green, David James, Joe Hart
Defenders: Leighton Baines, Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Ledley King, John Terry, Matthew Upson
Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Theo Walcott
Forwards: Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Wayne Rooney
Michael Carrick/Tom Huddlestone, Darren Bent/Emile Heskey
Stephen Warnock, Michael Dawson, Scott Parker, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Adam Johnson
England man-for-man marking - by James Mariner
David James Veteran had little to do on 50th appearance, and first start since last April. Not to blame for Japan's goal, a shot through a crowded penalty area. ......... 6
Glen Johnson For all the praise for his fine goal against Mexico last week, defensive lapses remain a concern. Badly lost Tulio for Japan's opener.......... 6
Rio Ferdinand Composed display from the captain but he appeared to struggle for fitness late on in only his fourth appearance in seven weeks.......... 7
John Terry Unfussy and unflustered performance, happy to put himself where it hurts. Deflection of Morimoto strike forced Hart to tip over.......... 6
Ashley Cole Got forward well on return to line-up and went close with a shot. May have done better with Japan's goal but recovered to set up winner.......... 7
Theo Walcott Started with a point to prove but never quite convinced. Looked for penalty after early tumble before being replaced at the interval. ......... 6
Frank Lampard Appears to have picked up the English penalty disease again at just the wrong time. That aside, an industrious and hard-working display. ......... 7
Tom Huddlestone Always tidy in possession and showcased defensive qualities in limited time on pitch. Lucky to see one wayward shot redirected by Rooney. ......... 6
Aaron Lennon May just have confirmed his place in the line-up to face the United States. Went close early on and presented an attacking option on the right.......... 7
Darren Bent Came up as 'D Brent' on the stadium screen and the Sunderland forward failed to make a name for himself. Produced two wayward headers.......... 6
Wayne Rooney Inventive showing from the supposedly out-of-form forward. Saw 25-yarder tipped over and linked up well with Gerrard after the break.......... 8
Joe Cole (for Bent, h-t): Did his utmost to make the plane and driven cross forced the first own goal. 7
Gerrard (for Huddlestone, h-t): Made case for playing behind Rooney. 7
Carragher (for G Johnson, h-t): Unfussy display from Liverpool man 6
Wright-Phillips (for Walcott, h-t): Lively showing on the left wing. 6
Hart (for James, h-t): Impressed again and still to concede for England. 7
Heskey (for Lennon, 77): Missed gaping open goal. 5
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