England's manager Fabio Capello struck a familiar note last night in complaining that his players looked tired as they dropped two valuable home points for the second time in their European Championship qualifying campaign.
Only a surprising result later in the evening, when Montenegro were held 1-1 by Bulgaria, allowed them to stay on top of Group G on goal difference after a 2-2 draw with Switzerland, conceding twice to direct free-kicks in the first half. Frank Lampard, from the penalty spot, and Ashley Young brought the game level but England could not find a winning goal, missing four good chances after equalising.
A year ago, Capello was shocked at how weary his players were at the World Cup and the fear must be that the same problem will recur if they do qualify for the finals in Poland and Ukraine next June. "The difference was the energy," he said. "The Swiss players were fresher than us, that was the real difference. In the second half there was a good reaction but in the last 10 minutes I was worried."
He had reason to be. The coaching staff were pleased in training last week at how refreshed the players looked after a week's break. By the end of the game, however, the XI left on the pitch were out on their feet.
Capello has already planned to have a week's rest before the finals but for now the question is whether England will miss the competition for a second successive campaign.
They play a tricky-looking game in Bulgaria on 2 September before receiving Wales at Wembley. The visit to Montenegro, who held them 0-0 last year, is in October and automatic qualification may depend on it. Otherwise England could be forced into a two-leg play-off the following month.
The captain, John Terry, admitted it was "disappointing" to concede two goals from set pieces: "It's not an excuse that we've played too many games. We should have won and had the chances to do so. It's something we have to deal with. I thought in the second half we did very well but we've dropped two points."Reuse content