Crouch double saves slow-starting England

England 3 Egypt 1
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The Independent Football

John Terry won over the boo-boys and England recovered from a similarly unpromising start to defeat Egypt at Wembley.

On his first appearance for his country since news of the scandal that resulted in him being stripped of the captaincy by Fabio Capello came to light, Terry must have had a slight sense of foreboding.

There were plenty of boos as his name was read out before kick-off. But the reception was not terrible by any means and by the end, the fans were solidly behind the Chelsea man.

They were also solidly behind England after Capello's men scored three times in the second half, Peter Crouch's brace sandwiching a Shaun Wright-Phillips effort after the African Nations Cup winners went ahead through Mohamed Zidan.

By the time England play again, against Mexico in May, Capello will have named his provisional squad and an expectant nation will begin to dream.

There was a mixed reception for Terry at the start. By half-time the discontent was far more general after a strangely lifeless performance from the hosts.

Asked which team was heading for the greatest show on earth in South Africa this summer, a stranger would have pointed instantly to men in white. Unfortunately, England were wearing their new red change strip.

The pitch was an issue, again. Terry slipped to allow Wael Gomaa to bounce a volley goalwards that Robert Green seemed content to let head towards his net as Jermain Defoe was on the line to clear.

Matthew Upson lost his footing to provide Zidan with his scoring opportunity shortly afterwards, the crisp finish equal to something a very similar sounding Frenchman could produce.

It was the pivotal point of a very disappointing opening half-hour, lacking cohesion and fluency.

Even the normally reliable Frank Lampard was off colour.

When Theo Walcott provided the one first-half reminder of his pace and flew towards the byline to reach an incisive pass from Wayne Rooney, his cut-back was perfect for the Chelsea man, who disappointingly drilled his shot straight at Essam El Hadary.

Thereafter, it was a chasing exercise for England and a chastening experience for Capello, who watched new-boy Leighton Baines struggle to acclimatise to his new surroundings, his midfield fail to function and both Gerrard and Rooney find it impossible to work round Defoe in the manner they like to do with Emile Heskey.

His lack of inches is not Defoe's fault of course. And his impressive goalscoring record suggested he was long overdue his first international start since November 2008.

But there is a reason Capello had not paired the diminutive Tottenham man with Rooney since the very opening World Cup qualifier.

And whilst Defoe's poor performance could be overlooked, Rooney has to be somewhere near full throttle for England to go close in South Africa this summer.

Not that Egypt are a bad side. Far from it.

They won their third successive African Nations Cup in Angola last month and they could easily argue they are better than all six representatives of the host continent at the World Cup.

Their slick passing and movement was beguiling and provided the perfect test ahead of a Group C encounter with Algeria - who qualified at Egypt's expense - in Cape Town on June 18.

Lampard had another opportunity when he drove a volley into the ground before he was replaced at the interval by Michael Carrick.

But Crouch's introduction for Defoe was the telling one.

Crouch is like Defoe in not being a target man but his size offers a quite different problem for defences.

Gangly and awkward, Crouch has an unerring habit of being in the right place at the right time. He was at the near post when Gareth Barry reacted to Gerrard's through-ball and fired a low cross into the six-yard box, just right for Crouch to steer home.

Rooney had sprung to life too. An audacious overhead kick required excellent technique, even if the referee deemed the approach had been too physical for his liking.

The Manchester United man then cut a shot wide of the far post after darting past more flailing Egyptian defenders.

He ended up leading England from the front too, as Rooney took the armband off Gerrard when the Liverpool man was replaced by James Milner.

It took just two minutes for that double change to produce results as Milner's shot required a flying stop from El Hadary to keep it out, only for the keeper to be totally deceived by the flight of fellow substitute Wright-Phillips' follow-up.

Wright-Phillips turned provider on the Three Lions' next attack to set up a clearly offside Crouch for his second, his 20th goal in 37 games for his country.

Crouch will be in Capello's provisional squad, Wright-Phillips may not make the cut. Deadline day is approaching and at least Terry can look forward to that.