Not really sure what to make of England last night. Wembley was rather subdued and so were the team that the fans had come to see. This wasn’t a celebratory finale to the qualifying campaign, the gloss having come off England’s seemingly serene progress to South Africa in the Ukraine on Saturday.
This had the feel of a low-key matinee, with the understudies getting a go in place of the big names. Nobody really made the most of their chance to impress, with the possible exception of Peter Crouch. The tall forward scored twice, displaying the kind of predatory touches in front of goal that seem to come to the fore in international football (his England record is quite remarkable), but you get the sense that Fabio Capello wants a little more physicality from a man of Crouch’s stature. Both his partners this evening would have hoped to have done more as well. Gabriel Agbonlahor is clearly a very talented footballer with blistering pace but whether he has learnt how best to use that attribute, especially at the highest level, is a valid question. He has yet to leave an impression on an international game and may well be left behind as a result. Carlton Cole, though his fierce shot created Crouch’s second, will have to keep scoring for West Ham if he wants to make the cut.
It is terribly difficult – and overly harsh – to attempt to judge Ben Foster on a night like that. He did make one splendid second half save but was mostly fielding backpasses for the rest of the evening. His honest post-match assessment, that his season has been disappointment, is difficult to argue with, particularly when Edwin van der Sar’s injury gave him the opportunity to play himself into Capello’s thoughts. He’s been far from commanding in the United goal and might have slipped down the pecking order as a result.
Though Shaun Wright-Phillips did grab a goal, I was left disappointed with his performance. Yes, he was playing out of position on the left, but time and again he failed to beat his man and deliver a cross. Frustratingly, much of England approach play came down the left, leavin them unable to exploit the potency of Aaron Lennon’s running on the opposite flank. Whether the fact that the Tottenham winger was substituted early for the second game running indicates that he has now done enough to book a ticket to South Africa, remains to be seen.
The decision to give David Beckham the man of the match award (brilliantly compared to President Obama’s Nobel Prize Peace in Capello’s interview awards) must throw into question Steve Bruce’s qualities as a pundit. He was certainly upstaged in the ITV studios by the articulate Owen Hargreaves, though how England wish he could shake off his injury turmoil and take his place on the field as an authentic holding midfielder. Beckham, sporting a ridiculous beard that might have been an attempt to replicate Abraham Lincoln’s magnificent facial hair (though I doubt it), did enliven the crowd but I felt, in an all-too brief cameo, James Milner made more of an impression. His mazy run and shot against the post served as another timely reminder to Capello of his capabilities: the Aston Villa winger must surely be in the squad.
ENGLAND (4-4-2): Foster; Johnson, Bridge (Milner 78), Ferdinand, Terry; Barry, Lampard, Wright-Phillips, Lennon (Beckham 59); Crouch, Agbonlahor (C. Cole 66). Subs (not used): Hart, A. Cole, Upson, Carrick.
GOALS: Crouch (4, 76), Wright-Phillips (59).
BELARUS (4-5-1): Zhevnov, Kulchy, Yurevich, Sosnovskiy, Bordachev (Kashevsky 84), Verkhovtsov, Omelyanchuk, Shitov, Kalachev, Kornilenko (Kovel 77), Kutuzov (Rodionov 45). Subs (not used): Amelchenko, Lantsevich, Rudik, Krivets.
REFEREE: Lucilio Cardoso Cortez Batista (Portugal).