Crouch strengthens case to be 'Plan A' for Capello

England 3 Egypt 1
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The Independent Football

After 20 goals over 37 caps, including two more last night, there is little more Peter Crouch can do to impress Fabio Capello over the next three months unless he is planning to learn Italian and develop a working knowledge of contemporary art.

As it stands it will have to be the Tottenham man's goalscoring record that makes the difference come 12 June when Capello selects his team to face the United States in Rustenburg for England's first World Cup finals match. It is not a bad record at all, especially when you consider Crouch has only ever started for England on 17 occasions and has had to wait as countless others have been given their chances.

Last night in this friendly was Crouch's most eloquent case yet that it is him not Emile Heskey who deserves to start for England – and Crouch has had to make a few over the years. If it is a goalscorer and a targetman whom Capello wants alongside Rooney in attack then there really is only one man.

Capello chose to experiment with the formation that has seen him safely through World Cup qualification and if any England manager has earned that right then it is surely him. As he explained afterwards, he just wanted to see how Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe play alongside one another – and now that he has, it may be some time until we see them together again.

It was a woeful first half, in which England were outplayed by the champions of Africa and one goal down at half-time. The expected widespread booing of John Terry did not materialise but that was pretty much the only thing that did go right. Steven Gerrard looked lost in a 4-4-2 formation. Rooney looked like he might lose his temper. And Matthew Upson fell over to let Egypt score their goal.

So much for Plan A. Plan B looked familiar: he was 6ft 7in tall and wearing the No 20 shirt for England. When Crouch arrived on the scene, Capello reverted to the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation that gives Gerrard the scope to roam behind the centre-forward. With his former Liverpool team-mate laying the ball off to him, Gerrard came alive and so did England.

This, again, was England under Capello at their very best: a big centre-forward punching the holes into which the likes of substitutes Shaun Wright-Phillips and James Milner could run. The Manchester City winger scored the second goal on the night and made a greater impact in his 33 minutes than the man he replaced, Theo Walcott.

The captaincy changed hands twice during the night, from Gerrard to Rooney and eventually to Gareth Barry, but it was the switching of the formations that made the difference. With Crouch on the pitch, England changed to 4-2-3-1 and they finished the game with the Spurs man in attack with Carlton Cole back in the original 4-4-2 shape.

"I wanted to understand what happened with Defoe and Rooney together," Capello said afterwards. But the problem with these two is not just that they struggle to work together, it is the effect that they have on those players around them. Most notably the effect that they have on Gerrard.

With Frank Lampard and Barry in the centre of an orthodox 4-4-2 formation, the only place for Gerrard to go is the left wing, or worse yet the no man's land that is neither central midfield nor the left wing. At times last night he did not seem to know where he was supposed to be and you could see from his demeanour that he did not like it.

Last night's opposition were a different calibre to the usual friendly fodder. From front to back, the Egypt players have a delightful feathery touch on the ball and after they had survived an early scare they settled in nicely. At times it was difficult for England even to wrest possession from them.

If Lampard had put away Walcott's cut-back in the fifth minute it might have been a different story. But the England football team's history is full of ifs. Walcott did well to slip between Ahmed Fathy and Hosny Abdrabou and cut the ball back but, sadly, his performance declined from there on in.

The left side of England's midfield looked conspicuously empty for much of the first half. Gerrard only reluctantly wandered over there. The new boy Leighton Baines at left-back was understandably unwilling to surge forward. It was like a throwback to the bad old days when Sven Goran Eriksson tried all manner of players in attempting to solve the left-side conundrum.

Egypt were already on top by the time they scored in the 23rd minute. This one had much to do with the dreadful Wembley pitch that had drawn so much criticism from Milner earlier in the week. When Abdrabou's cross from the left came in, Upson slipped over which gave Mohamed Zidan, the impressive Borussia Dortmund striker, time to control the ball and sidefoot it past Robert Green.

From then on we saw some of the worst of England. Capello shouting at an uncomprehending Gerrard. Rooney and Defoe shrugging at one another. Walcott knocking the ball too far ahead of him and chasing aimlessly after it. When Rooney clattered into Egypt's captain Ahmed Hassan and responded by lambasting his team-mates, Capello looked like a man who had seen enough.

It had got so bad at times that you almost forgot about Terry, the subject of some halfhearted booing early on which was drowned out by cheering and the chanting of his name. He must have been glad the goal was Upson's fault.

Crouch came on for Defoe at half-time, Gerrard was restored to a place in the centre again and it worked immediately. Michael Carrick found Gerrard in the centre. He played the ball out to Barry whose cross was met first time by Crouch, swept in by that long right leg.

Milner came on for Gerrard and England went back to a more orthodox 4-4-2 with Wright-Phillips on the right. He scored the second, a half-volley in the area after Milner's initial shot was saved. Crouch's second was another beautifully worked goal, Wright-Phillips picking the ball up on the right and crossing low for Crouch to poke the ball in. Experiment over and normal service resumed.

England (4-4-2): Green (West Ham); Brown (Manchester United), Upson (West Ham), Terry (Chelsea), Baines (Everton); Walcott (Arsenal), Lampard (Chelsea), Barry (Manchester City), Gerrard (Liverpool); Rooney (Manchester United), Defoe (Tottenham).

Substitutes used: Crouch (Tottenham) for Defoe, h-t; Carrick (Manchester United) for Lampard, h-t; Wright-Phillips (Manchester City) for Walcott, 57; Milner (Aston Villa) for Gerrard, 73; C Cole (West Ham) for Rooney, 86.

Egypt (3-5-2): El Hadary (Ismaily); Gomaa (AlL-Ahly), Saeed (Zamalek), Fathy (Al-Ahly); El Mehamady (Enppi), Hassan (Al-Ahly), Ghaly (Al-Massr), Abdrabou (Ismaily), Moawad (Al-Ahly); Zidan (Borussia Dortmund), Abdelnaby (Al-Ahly).

Substitutes used: Zaki (Hull City) for Abdelnaby, 64; Nagy (Alexandria United) for Hassan, 64; Aboutrika (Al-Ahly) for Abdrabou, 75; Abdel Shafy (Zamalek) for Moawad, 75; Salem (Ismaily) for Saeed, 84.

Referee: C M Torres (Paraguay).

Booked: Egypt Fathy.

Man of the match: Crouch.

Attendance: 80,602.

Terry Tracker: How did the defender fare?

Talk beforehand revolved around how Wembley would respond to John Terry after his recent alleged misdemeanours. Wayne Rooney, among others, begged the crowd not to boo him – did they listen?

Pre-match National anthems. Terry goes to take his tracksuit top off and then stops when he realises no one is unzipping.

6 min Terry's name is read out. The cheers drown out a hint of booing.

8 min Terry's first touch is booed. He kicks the ball straight out of play.

9 min Terry wins first header – then another one.

10 min "There's only one John Terry" rings out.

14 min Comes forward for header on goal from a Lampard corner.

17 min Slips at corner, lets Gomaa get a shot in.

20 min Takes ball off Gomaa's toe, sells Baines short with pass.

23 min Egypt score. Luckily for Terry, it's Upson's fault.

40 min Corner falls at his feet in Egypt box – Terry can't react in time.

73 min Gerrard substituted. Gives armband to Rooney, not Terry.

Sam Wallace