Fabio right back at start as Johnson plays joker

Never let it be said that England's manager Fabio Capello is boosting his average by seeking inferior opposition for friendly matches. Away games with France, Spain, Germany and Holland refute that, as well as illustrating that for major nations, serious opposition is often not to be found these days in qualifying groups.

So taking on a real challenge, as opposed to shooting practice against an Andorra or a Kazakhstan, is a necessary part of a team's development. In fact – while this would not have been the intention – winning only one of those four friendly matches has actually had the desirable effect of damping down expectation ahead of what we can reasonably assume is next summer's real test. How, after all, can England or their followers be talking, or even thinking, in terms of winning the World Cup when performing as abjectly and conceding such ludicrous goals as in the first half in Amsterdam?

Capello was surprisingly unconcerned by those lapses, in public at least, sounding if anything less vexed than even Sven Goran Eriksson had been after losing an August friendly 4-1 to Denmark at the start of the last World Cup season four years ago. Capello came out with the line that he would rather the team made such mistakes in what he called pre-season; the problem with that, of course, being that there is no guarantee they will not occur when it really matters. If there are to be extenuating circumstances, perhaps the manager will indeed extend a degree of leniency to Rio Ferdinand, Gareth Barry and Glen Johnson – all pencilled in on most people's squad lists for next summer – for their lapses, as well as those like Ashley Young and Shaun Wright-Phillips, who were unable to make more of the opportunity offered to add substance to their claims.

Given that Ferdinand has in the past demonstrated the capability of recovering from such aberrations, the most alarming of those individual performances that fell so far below par was that of Johnson. At Liverpool's training ground the next day, Rafa Benitez was able to make a joke of it, claiming that his new £17m(!) right-back was up against such a world-class talent as club-mate Ryan Babel. This drew the intended laugh, and later Benitez was honest enough to confess that Johnson still needed to improve defensively, which he hoped would be achieved "between us and Capello". The worry for England is that right-back has become the only position in which there is currently no serious competition for places. Indeed, while Capello (below) likes in a squad of 23 to name three goalkeepers and then two players for each outfield position, he could not find anybody to understudy Johnson for the Amsterdam game, and chose an extra midfielder. Wes Brown, although not without his faults, was the Italian's first choice when he took the job, but like all Manchester United's right-backs he has struggled with injury. While Sir Alex Ferguson has neither the necessity nor the desire to help England, it would be of considerable benefit if Brown, Gary Neville or even the long-suffering Owen Hargreaves could command the position at Old Trafford. Luke Young, never convincing at international level, suffered from playing on the left for Aston Villa; Micah Richards is falling between two stools of full-back and centre-half and the Under-21 incumbent, Coventry's Martin Cranie, is nowhere near ready.

If Barry is not to fulfil the early potential he showed with England, there is at least an adequate, more creative option in Michael Carrick. Similarly, should neither Young nor Wright-Phillips (who has had rather more chances) have the season they need, there is no position with more alternatives than wide midfield. Young's club colleague James Milner added to them with his cameo on Wednesday, and may yet avoid becoming one of those players who appear for years at Under-21 level without being able to make the step upward.

Jermain Defoe and Carlton Cole both benefited from his unfussy service from the wing and the success of that trio also emphasised a valuable quality of Capello's, not shared with many of his England predecessors – the ability to make telling substitutions.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue