Just in case we were in any danger of getting carried away by Team GB's heroics, Team Fabio reminded us last night what English sport looks like when the wheels really do come off. It could have been a Steve McClaren tribute night at Wembley: a wretched performance in the rain and booing on the final whistle from an England support who have had a gutful of insipid football.
Fabio Capello applauded in delight when Joe Cole stole an undeserved equaliser for England in injury-time and the Italian's reaction showed just how far his expectations have fallen in only five games. In less than a month, England will face Croatia in Zagreb in their second 2010 World Cup qualifier and on this evidence the manager is not just short of a winning formula – he does not even know his best team.
Fresh from pushing Brian Barwick out the door, the Football Association board will have watched this performance with growing horror. Steven Gerrard was consigned to the left side of midfield, Wayne Rooney was anonymous and the new captain John Terry allowed himself to be turned by no less an international striker than Milan Baros for the Czech Republic's first goal. The visitors thoroughly deserved to win, and that England avoided the second defeat of Capello's new reign cannot mask the problems in a team that still looks hopelessly incoherent.
On 10 September, Capello will get his chance to show that his England team is demonstrably better than that of his predecessor when he faces Croatia. He will be able to test his theory - one that he is increasingly tetchy in defending – that this team is progressing. The question is whether Capello is sticking to his guns to try to hold this team's fragile confidence together or genuinely believes that he has unlocked the potential to this England team. The groans of more than 60,000 fans says that this particular road is currently leading nowhere.
Capello grew angry when Harry Redknapp's theory that he was wasting Gerrard on the left wing was put to him, the England manager insisted that it had been a 4-3-2-1 formation with Gerrard and Rooney behind Jermain Defoe. Whatever it was, it certainly did not work. The Liverpool man drifted inside from the wing and influenced the play as much as he could in the first half and when he was substituted before the hour, what little existed of England's attacking fluency departed with him.
If Gerrard was out of position then Rooney was completely out of sorts. His goalscoring record for England is now an unconvincing 14 in 44 games and he was substituted on 69 minutes with the demeanour of a man who does not know from where his next international goal will come. Given that he plays there for his club, surely a place on the left wing would be better-suited to the Manchester United striker. He certainly has done little to justify his automatic inclusion as England's centre-forward.
Wes Brown scored England's first goal having been completely embarrassed when the Czechs scored their first. Emile Heskey trundled during after the second half to little avail. It was a good night to be Peter Crouch, Dean Ashton, Michael Carrick or anyone else who happened, through whatever reason, to have no association with this performance. As a farewell to Barwick it was the kind of night that sends chills through an FA chief executive: more than 20,000 empty seats and a restless public.
The Czechs made it look effortless at times, they passed the ball infinitely better than England and without arguably their best player of Euro 2008, Libor Sionko, and the injured Tomas Rosicky they were comfortably the better team. It was not a bad first game for their manager Petr Rada, who kept the drama to a minimum and fielded a team that played simple, counter-attacking football.
On 22 minutes, the Czechs worked the ball artfully from the left flank to the right but not before the entire England midfield had conspired to get themselves trapped within a few feet of each other. It began when David Beckham chased a misplaced pass of his own right out to the left flank leaving his own position completely exposed. In response the Czechs played in Radek Sirl down their left wing who went round Brown much too easily.
From there Sirl cut the ball in to Baros, a striker who struggled to hold down a place in the Portsmouth team last season, who found himself with his back to goal and Terry behind him. Unforgivably, the England captain allowed himself to be turned from a standing position, Baros hit the shot and, just to compound the two mistakes, Ashley Cole deflected the ball past David James.
Defoe squandered two perfectly good chances in the first half and was replaced at the break. Rooney dropped ever deeper into midfield to collect the ball and headed his only decent chance from a Beckham cross straight at Petr Cech. Then in the minute before half-time, England struck an equaliser when Beckham's corner found Brown who got ahead of Tomas Ujfalusi to head the ball in robustly for his first international goal in 18 caps.
With three new players on at half-time, England lost their way at the start of the second half and, as is their way, they paid dearly for it. Jan Polak had already wriggled past one tackle when he was stopped crudely by Gareth Barry on the edge of the area. The free-kick was a nice angle for any player with a sweet left foot and when Marek Jankulovski curled the ball into the top right corner of James's goal, the England goalkeeper did not even bother to stick out a hand.
There was farce when, with the game in full swing, Beckham stopped in order to play a Czech attacker offside but completely failed to notice substitute Vaclav Sverkos come from an onside position and run at the England goal. Wide on the right flank, Sverkos took the ball around James and only just missed with his shot. James appeared to be laughing on the television close-ups. In the circumstances you could not blame him.
Joe Cole came on to join Heskey in attack, a pairing we will probably never see again and David Bentley and Stewart Downing were brought on to play on the wings. Lampard was booed off again, although it was hardly his fault alone. And then just as Capello was reconciling himself to a second defeat, Joe Cole saved him with an equaliser. He toed the ball over the line in a penalty box scramble for a goal as untidy as England's performance.
Goals: Baros (22) 0-1; Brown (45) 1-1; Jankulovski (48) 1-2; Cole (90) 2-2.
England (4-4-2): James (Portsmouth); Brown, Ferdinand (both Manchester United), Terry, A Cole (both Chelsea); Beckham (LA Galaxy), Barry (Aston Villa), Lampard (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool); Rooney (Manchester United), Defoe (Portsmouth). Substitutes used: Woodgate (Tottenham) for Ferdinand, 57; Joe Cole (Chelsea) for Gerrard, 57; Heskey (Wigan) for Defoe, 46; Downing (Middlesbrough) for Rooney, 69; Jenas (Tottenham) for Beckham, 79; Bentley (Tottenham) for Lampard, 79.
Czech Republic (4-1-4-1): Cech (Chelsea); Grygera (Juventus), Ujfalusi (Atletico Madrid), Rozehnal (Lazio), Jankulovski (Milan); Kovac (Spartak Moscow); Vlcek (Anderlecht), Plasil (Osasuna), Polak (Anderlecht), Sirl (Zenit St Petersburg); Baros (Lyon). Substitutes used: Pospech (Copenhagen) for Grygera, 46; Jarolim (Hamburg) for Vlcek, 46; Sverkos (Banik Ostrava) for Baros, 46; Kadlec (Sparta Prague), for Shirl, 75; Rajnoch (Mlada Boleslav) for Kovac, 75; Papadoloupolos (Bayer Leverkusen) for Plasil, 90.
Referee: T Hauge (Norway).
Man of the match: Polak.
Attendance: 69, 738.
Fabio Capello's England record
6 February 2008: England v Switzerland, Won 2-1
26 March 2008: France v England, Lost 1-0
28 May 2008: USA v England, Won 2-0
01 June 2008: Trinidad & Tobago v England, Won 3-0
20 August 2008: England v Czech Republic, Drew 2-2
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