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News & Comment

Carrick and King let chances slip as hopeful Wembley bids farewell

No one could say that the Football Association did not do its best to nurture the kind of national unity reserved for times of impending war. They even had some troops on the pitch to support the effort. The vast sea of white formed by the commemorative "Road to South Africa" T-shirts given to every England supporter made Wembley seem like the home to some kind of spiritual choir with Fabio Capello, whose vast image towered above those who walked up Olympic Way in the sunshine, the leader.

Capello has come up with the kind of evangelising statements in the last few days which give many the reasons for more of the usual hope which grips the English nation during one summer in every four. "I hope to play against Italy in a final or a semi-final but my shirt at that moment would be an England shirt," was his latest in last night's programme. But the implacable, square-jawed look on his face after Peter Crouch had so fortuitously scrambled in England's second goal just after half an hour last night told another story.

Crouch's 21st goal in 38 internationals promotes his case to play a leading role in South Africa as much as the back-post header which allowed Ledley King to score England's opener, if Capello decides to persist with 4-4-2 in just over two weeks' time. But the real story had been unravelling back down the pitch where England quite frankly defended like a side who will struggle to find a route out of the group stage.

Michael Carrick's failure to impose himself in front of the England back four – sloppily gifting possession to Giovanni dos Santos, failing to seize the ball as Carlos Salcido bounced out of challenge by James Milner and unleashed a shot against the upright – added an unwanted extra significance to the results of the medical examination on Gareth Barry's right ankle ligaments today.

Milner did not seem to offer the same presence that Capello has come to expect from Barry and Frank Lampard and it was to Steven Gerrard that he turned after the interval, switching Milner out to the left.

The best to be said of Leighton Baines' struggle is that a night chasing the shadow of Dos Santos will probably not materially affect the course of his summer in which Ashley Cole will take up England's left-back position, but King's first goal for six years in an England shirt promoted the supposition that England have found a built-in solution with him.

Things did not look so comfortable for the Spurs man at the back. It only took five minutes after his goal for Guillermo Franco to spin away from King and unleash a shot which flew over Robert Green's bar.

Other mental images for Capello this morning will be the moment Carlos Vela whipped beyond the Tottenham player and through on goal to unleash a shot which Green touched away with his right-hand. He also failed to prevent Rafael Marquez placing the header which set up Mexico's goal just before half time.

There were reassurances for the home side, though. Milner demonstrated that he can translate his central midfield role at Aston Villa into one for Capello, Theo Walcott displayed glimpses of the ability which put England on such a firm course to the finals in Zagreb over 18 months ago. But Capello's creed in a richly successful club career has always been to designate his best players into roles where they can cause damage and where the players at his disposal have caused him a danger to buy more. He must go with what he has got this time. It is a war effort in which, as yet, the munitions look mildly defective.