Too often Sven Goran Eriksson would begin his review of England performances with the phrase, "First half good, second half not so good". One of the notable differences between Fabio Capello's England and that of the previous foreign manager is that Capello's team normally improves after the break.
So it was at Wembley last night. This was always going to be a difficult fixture for England. Egypt were confident and organised after a successful month together in Angola winning the Africa Cup of Nations. They began with 10 of the team which started the final and it showed. However, Capello cannot have imagined his team would look so leaden.
While Egypt passed the ball with composed command England appeared short of confidence and options on the ball, and slow to react off it. It can be assumed they will be a more cohesive unit after their pre-finals training camp in Austria but, not for the first time, Capello must have wondered why a nation of 50 million people, in which football is the national sport, cannot produce more players able to control and pass the ball under pressure. As so often, scratch a couple of names off the team sheet and it becomes obvious that England's run of international failures is not down to bad luck. It is also why David Beckham is still in the squad.
In the long term Trevor Brooking hopes to provide a solution by skill-centred coaching of five-year-olds, but Capello cannot wait until 2030. He needs to find a short-term fix for English inadequacies. Obviously Wayne Rooney, a rare throwback to the days when young footballers learnt their skills in the street, is central to Capello's hopes. But for all his talent Rooney is not Diego Maradona and cannot win the tournament alone. Last night made it clear England are best served by his being partnered by a target man.
The problem with partnering Rooney with Jermain Defoe is that their lack of stature demands more accurate passing than England can consistently provide. The arrival of Peter Crouch, who has always had an extraordinary capacity to make loose passes look good ones with those telescopic legs, gave England an outlet. With Rooney less isolated they also looked more coherent.
At half-time Capello told the team to play with a higher, more "English" tempo. This is usually suicide at a World Cup, as was shown in Shizuoka against Brazil, but should be possible in a South African winter. England's best period came in the third quarter, with Steven Gerrard driving forward from a roving midfield commission and Shaun Wright-Phillips stretching Egypt in a way the disappointing Theo Walcott never did. This created the space for Gareth Barry to drive into for Crouch's first goal.
As well as sweating on the fitness of Rooney, Capello will be anxiously monitoring that of Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole. Ferdinand is the best passing defender in the country and when he is absent the supply forward is too slow, or too imprecise. Johnson and Cole are comfortable going forward, Wes Brown never has been and Leighton Baines, on his debut, was inhibited.
With the timely equaliser injecting confidence England began to look a decent side even if the result was flattering. They remain a work in progress but there is potential to work with and the Austrian sojourn should be a critical period. One imagines Capello can barely wait.
* England's Under-21 side lost 2-1 to Greece in European Championship qualifying last night.Reuse content