Slick France give England's new generation a reality check

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The Independent Football

If last night marked the beginning of the end for England's golden generation and the start of a new era of young players then at least the new boys can say that they have passed through one crucial rite of passage at Wembley: they were booed off at half-time and the end of the game.

For the likes of Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Kieran Gibbs, last night was a reality-check – a realisation that international football is played at a very different level, especially by a team as accomplished as France. The second lesson was that there is no such thing as patience when it comes to an England home crowd.

This was not the brave new world that the Wembley crowd might have hoped to see, and from Carroll there was the performance of a raw 21-year-old rather than the new Alan Shearer. But these players require time, considerably more time than the 19 months Fabio Capello has left on his Football Association contract, and discarding them after one performance would not be the actions of a serious football nation.

That said, it was an inauspicious end to Capello's annus horribilis, a year in which his England team have gone from being one of the favourites to win the World Cup to one that the nation demanded was broken up and rebuilt. With approximately 13 players missing through injury last night, Capello duly obliged by fielding his most inexperienced side yet and even they were booed off.

The England manager ended the evening embroiled in a row over his deployment of Steven Gerrard with a bolshy Liverpool fitness coach – of whom few had heard before last night – who saw fit to call it on with the FA via Twitter. All in a night's work for an England manager who cannot seem to please anyone at the moment.

If there was one piece of good news from last night then it came in the 86th minute when Peter Crouch scored England's goal with his first touch of the game to take his record to 22 goals in 42 caps. If Crouch was any other striker he would be guaranteed a starting place with the kind of record he has, but he is the man whom Capello has tried to replace with everyone from Carlton Cole to Jay Bothroyd, another debutant last night.

No matter how many obstacles are thrown in Crouch's path – and Capello all but ignored him during the World Cup finals – he always picks himself up and gets on with it which is a lesson that should not be lost on the likes of Carroll and Henderson after their difficult first night at Wembley.

At least Crouch can cross off Bothroyd as a potential threat to his place in the squad for the long-term. On the basis of the Cardiff City striker's 18 minute cameo – and given that he is 28 already – it can be said with some certainty that last night was his first and last cap. One of Capello's weirder ideas, it never looked like Bothroyd was going to find his feet at international level.

In the first half especially, Wembley found it hard to get to grips with the notion that England were facing the only European nation who had an even worse World Cup finals than them and struggling so badly. So assured did France look it made you wonder how this impressive team of Laurent Blanc's had risen so quickly from the ashes of the sides that self-combusted out in South Africa.

The France manager has built his team around a few reliable remnants – Florent Malouda, Yoann Gourcuff and Hugo Lloris among them – and the likes of Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema who were left behind by Raymond Domenech when his team went to South Africa in the summer. They dominated England for most of the first half.

For a striker accustomed to the diagonal ball played in to his head, Carroll got nothing like the service he needed in the first half with Theo Walcott and James Milner on the wings. England looked more dangerous in the second half when Adam Johnson and Ashley Young were the wide men and Milner tucked in behind first Carroll and then Crouch.

Capello lost Gareth Barry and Rio Ferdinand to injury at half-time which was why he kept Gerrard on the pitch for longer than Liverpool had anticipated their captain would play. All three players left Wembley with injuries last night, although Capello can hardly be held responsible for every misfortune that befalls his players on the pitch.

With Henderson and Barry struggling in midfield, France opened the English defence up on 10 minutes. Benzema and Malouda exchanged passes around Phil Jagielka, the Everton man looking exposed at right-back, and Benzema beat Ben Foster at his near post.

There was barely the glimmer of a chance for England in the first half and when Blanc's team scored again 10 minutes after the break it was shaping up to be a terrible night.

Jagielka and Joleon Lescott, by then the central defensive partnership, hesitated when Bacary Sagna's cross came in, allowing Mathieu Valbuena to score.

There was a greater liveliness about England after that, Gerrard's back-post header hit the top of the bar and Johnson had a shot that took two deflections and went wide. At the other end, Nasri, the outstanding player in the match, struck a shot against Foster's near post.

By the time Crouch came on it looked pretty hopeless for England but he scored with his first touch, coming in at the back post to meet Young's corner and guide it into the roof of the net. It set up a decent finale in which Crouch bullied the France defence in a manner that will have been instructive to Carroll, by then watching from the substitutes' bench.

There is a long road for this England team to travel before they are anything like the finished article and they would benefit from a bit more understanding. But the radicals who want to change everything would also have to acknowledge that there is still some fight among the old guard. If this is a new era, then Crouch deserves a part in it, too.

England (4-2-3-1): Foster (Birmingham City); Jagielka (Everton), Ferdinand (Manchester United), Lescott (Manchester City), Gibbs (Arsenal); Henderson (Sunderland), Barry (Manchester City); Walcott (Arsenal), Gerrard (Liverpool), Milner (Manchester City); Carroll (Newcastle). Substitutes Richards (Manchester City) for Ferdinand, h-t; Young (Aston Villa) for Walcott, h-t; Johnson (Manchester City ) for Barry, h-t; Bothroyd (Cardiff City) for Carroll, 72; Warnock (Aston Villa) for Gibbs, 72; Crouch (Tottenham) for Gerrard, 85.

France (4-3-3): Lloris (Lyons); Sagna (Arsenal), Rami (Lille), Mexes (Roma), Abidal (Barcelona); Gourcuff (Lyons), M'Vila (Rennes), Nasri (Arsenal); Valbuena (Marseille), Benzema (Real Madrid), Malouda (Chelsea). Substitutes Sakho (PSG) for Mexes, h-t; Remy (Marseilles) for Benzema, 67; Diarra (Bordeaux) for Valbuena, 68; Payet (St Etienne) for Malouda, 77; Hoarau (PSG) for Gourcuff, 85; Reveillere (Lyons) for Sagna, 87.

Referee CB Larsen (Denmark).

Attendance 85,495.

Man of the match Nasri.

Match rating 6/10.

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