More questions than answers for Capello after England fail to convince

England 3 Mexico 1: King and Baines struggle but home side take advantage of poor Mexican defending

Fabio Capello will not be the first England manager who finds himself on the eve of a World Cup finals privately wondering why it is that his players seem so intent on posing him problems rather than solutions the closer that they come to the reckoning.

It was that kind of night at Wembley, one on which England won but still managed to send their supporters home with a few new anxieties to go with all the usual ones. Historically England teams have a unique knack of going off the boil when it matters most and as they applauded a half-empty Wembley last night everyone was thinking the same thing.

Can Capello iron out all the problems in the 19 days before they face the United States on 12 June? So many questions, so little time. The identical T-shirts that the Football Association gave every supporter meant Wembley had the appearance of a cult gathering. And usually at this point in the build-up to a major tournament everyone starts to believe the same thing: England can win it. But they were not thinking that last night.

There were holes in England's defence, even with Ledley King back after almost three years and, more critically, problems in central midfield. The England manager finds out today whether Gareth Barry is on course to make a recovery from his damaged ankle ligaments in time to be worth taking to South Africa a week today and after last night he will be praying for a positive report.

The pair whom Capello picked to protect his back four struggled at times, particularly Michael Carrick, who has a habit of looking queasy every time a great opportunity presents itself. Barry's injury is the kind of chance that Carrick has been waiting for but after nine minutes he gave the ball straight to Giovani dos Santos and never really recovered his composure.

The scorer of England's first goal, King looked flat-footed at times when confronted with the pace of Carlos Vela. At left-back Leighton Baines was exposed by the lop-sidedness of England's formation and did not cope as well as might have been hoped. The ball that Pablo Barrera slipped through his legs late in the game was the kind of moment that can change a manager's mind about a player.

Then there was Steven Gerrard, that riddle wrapped up in a mystery, inside an England shirt. Wandering in from the left side in the first half he looked out of sorts, then he had a nasty clash of heads and came back from treatment playing better. He was moved into the centre of midfield in the second half and was the game's best player – it was then you started to think that Gerrard might stay there if Barry does not make it.

Gerrard is the solution to so many of England's problems and yet, in the way that a succession of England managers have tried to shoehorn him into unfamiliar positions, he can also be the problem. When he was finally slotted into holding midfield he was excellent.

Having been selected ahead of Emile Heskey to start alongside Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch scored his 21st goal for England with the kind of opportunism that has served him so well for his national team. He might have been offside when he put it in with his arm from a yard out but there is a good argument for saying that Heskey would not have been in the right place at the right time.

Swimming against a tide of Mexican dominance – they had the best of the possession by a long way – there were still some decent performances. Robert Green played the first half and was excellent – given the standard of defending, he had to be. Glen Johnson scored his first international goal with an improbable shot with his left foot which was good enough for the corporate brigade to vote him the man of the match.

Then, in the final minutes, the two wingers Adam Johnson and Aaron Lennon showed little bursts of skill and pace that lifted the heart. Had Johnson been more cynical he might have taken advantage of the Mexico defender trying to tear his shirt off his back and go down for a penalty but he is a still a relative innocent at this level.

Watching in the stands, David Beckham will have seen all this before. The hope mixed with fear and bewilderment as England stand on the brink of a major tournament still not sure of themselves. It is hard to believe that they will have sorted it all out in the space of games against Japan on Sunday and the less than formidable Platinum Stars on 7 June but Capello has achieved enough to expect the faith of the support.

For England's first goal, King reacted smartly to Crouch's back-post header on 17 minutes to guide the ball out of the reach of the Mexico goalkeeper Oscar Perez. He was not so sure-footed at the other end.

Later in the half he was badly stretched when Dos Santos combined with Vela to open England up. Baines struggled too and, with Mexico in control of the game, Carlos Salcido hit the post on 31 minutes. It was against the run of play when England scored a second a few minutes later. Rooney headed onto the bar from Gerrard's short corner and Crouch forced the follow-up over the line.

Mexico got the goal they deserved in first-half injury-time when King failed to get off the ground to challenge Rafael Marquez who headed the ball towards the far corner. Defending the post, Baines headed the ball three yards to the feet of West Ham's Guillermo Franco who scored with embarrassing ease.

Reorganised at half-time, England reacted immediately. When presented with an unpromising short pass by Theo Walcott out on the right, Johnson decided to run at goal himself and eventually beat the goalkeeper with a left-footed shot.

For all his extreme pace on the right wing, Walcott still drifted in and out of the game but, on the occasions he has the ball, you can see why Capello finds it so hard to resist leaving him out. Rooney was quieter by his standards, although he did thread a perfect ball on 66 minutes through to Gerrard.

With Gerrard in the centre, England looked more comfortable in the second half and comfortable is just about acceptable for now. But they will have to be much better than that in South Africa.

England (4-4-2): Green (West Ham); G Johnson (Liverpool), King (Tottenham), Ferdinand (Manchester United), Baines (Everton); Walcott (Arsenal), Carrick (Manchester United), Milner (Aston Villa), Gerrard (Liverpool); Crouch (Tottenham), Rooney (Manchester United). Substitutes used: Hart (Manchester City) for Green, h-t; Carragher (Liverpool) for Ferdinand, h-t; Defoe (Tottenham) for Crouch, h-t; Huddlestone (Tottenham) for Carrick, 61; Lennon (Tottenham) for Walcott, 77; A Johnson (Manchester City) for Milner, 84.

Mexico (4-3-3): Perez (Jaguares); Aguilar (Pachuca), Osorio (Stuttgart), Rodriguez (PSV Eindhoven), Salcido (PSV Eindhoven); Juarez (Pumas Unam), Marquez (Barcelona), Torrado (Cruz Azul); G Dos Santos (Tottenham), Franco (West Ham),Vela (Arsenal). Substitutes used: Hernandez (Manchester United) for Franco, h-t; Barrera (Pumas Unam) for Aguilar, 52; Guardado (Deportivo la Coruna) for Vela, 61; C Blanco (Veracruz) for G Dos Santos, 71.

Referee: M Toma (Japan).

Man for Man

Robert Green Two excellent saves from Vela to enhance prospects.........  8

Glen Johnson Easing his way back to fitness, then a stunning goal......... 7

Rio Ferdinand Says he is fully fit, but not at his best here......... 5

Ledley King Scored, but worrying lack of pace exposed......... 6

Leighton Baines Unable to stem dangerous attacks down his flank......... 5

Theo Walcott Some hard running to mainly good effect......... 7

Steven Gerrard Enjoyed second half in central position ......... 8

Michael Carrick Did not take chance to impress with Barry injured 6

James Milner Demonstrated versatility in centre and out wide......... 7

Peter Crouch Clearly ahead of Heskey now. He scores goals......... 7

Wayne Rooney Worked well with Crouch and Gerrard......... 7

Substitutes:

Joe Hart: Held everything 7

Jamie Carragher: Kept line tight 7 Jermain Defoe: No chances 6

Tom Huddlestone: Won tackles 7 Aaron Lennon: One good run 6

Adam Johnson: Late debut n/a

Mexico

Oscar Perez Lack of height a handicap.....................5

Paul Aguilar Pushed up right flank on Gerrard.....................6

Javier Rodriguez Made two fine saving tackles .....................7

Ricardo Osorio Adventurous centre-back did well......... 7

Carlos Salcido Good duel with Walcott, hit post.........  ......... 6

Efrain Juarez Unable to exert much influence.....................5

Rafael Marquez Holding defender, made goal .....................6

Gerardo Torrado Some nice passes from the captain......... 7

Giovani dos Santos Former Spur imaginative in attack......... 7

Guillermo Franco Troublesome before injured.....................7

Carlos Vela Lively but denied twice by Green......... 7

Substitutes: Javier Hernandez 6 Pablo Barrera 6 Andres Guardado 6 Cuauhtemoc Blanco 7

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
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

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick