England sign off with a win
Three Lions not at their best, but they manage a win against Mexico
By James Riach. Last Updated: 25/05/10 8:41am
Johnson celebrates his goal with Rooney
England picked up a victory in their last game on home soil before the World Cup with a 3-1 triumph over Mexico at Wembley.
Fabio Capello continued his excellent record as Three Lions boss but despite goals from Ledley King, Peter Crouch and Glen Johnson, the Italian will want an improved overall performance against Japan in Austria on Sunday.
On a fine evening in London, England took the lead as King, on his return to the international fold, nodded in after Crouch headed a Steven Gerrard corner back across goal after 17 minutes.
Crouch was then the scorer on 35 minutes as he bundled the ball in from close range after Wayne Rooney saw his effort rebound high off the crossbar, but Mexico got a deserved goal just before the break as Guillermo Franco scrambled home after Leighton Baines had headed off the line.
England improved in the second period following a triple substitution, and Glen Johnson made the win secure with an outstanding individual effort two minutes after the restart - coming inside and hitting a superb left-foot shot into the net.
However, quite how the Three Lions were ahead at the break was beyond rational explanation.
Handed his eighth start in 10 internationals, Robert Green made two excellent saves, had a post rattled and conceded in stoppage time. Yet he handed the gloves to Joe Hart at half-time a winner.
England's recurring defensive problems stemmed from an inability to subdue
Giovani dos Santos, who hardly set the world alight at Tottenham but showed why they paid nearly £5million to sign him.
With central midfield duo Michael Carrick and James Milner not settling to their task, far too many holes were offered for Dos Santos to chase into and defensively England were not fleet-footed enough to cope.
It was Dos Santos who provided the return pass which opened up the entire goal for Carlos Vela to aim at. He went for the bit Green was filling.
Carlos Salcido then curled a rebound against a post after Milner had blocked his initial shot before Vela outpaced Johnson and brought another good save out of Green, who must be in with a decent chance of keeping the jersey.
Capello remained impassive. His most expansive gesture coming when Carrick gifted Dos Santos an early opportunity with a risky crossfield pass that did not come off.
The Italian's deadpan expression possibly had something to do with the contrasting emotions of watching his team struggle, while at the same time edge into a two-goal advantage.
On his first appearance since 2007, King scored a perfect goal for his troublesome knees, pushing off one leg rather than actually jumping to steer home Crouch's nod-back from six yards after the Spurs striker had pulled to the far post to meet Steven Gerrard's deep corner.
King did lose his bearings quite badly in the opening stages as he tried to keep tabs on Dos Santos and it was easy to imagine what damage someone like Lionel Messi would do.
As the contest wore on though, the Tottenham skipper improved and he must be reasonably confident of being amongst the 23 names Capello unveils to the world on 1st June.
It has long since been established that Crouch simply cannot be left out. When Gerrard curled a beautiful cross onto the head of Wayne Rooney and Oscar Perez acrobatically touched it onto the bar, who better to have standing on the line than the 6ft 7in forward, who nudged home his 21st England goal - the same number as Kevin Keegan and Mike Channon and joint 16th on the all-time list.
Franco did pull one back for Mexico after Baines' attempted goalline clearance fell kindly to him, but Johnson responded straight after the interval with a sensational first England goal, collecting Theo Walcott's square ball then stepping past three defenders before producing a thunderbolt finish with his left foot that completed the scoring.
Capello was still watching - seeing Gerrard look far more comfortable in central midfield than Milner had, Walcott not quite live up to his sparkling first-half effort, Hart deal with a less frequent threat to his goal with confidence and Francisco Rodriguez head a goalbound Rooney effort off the line.
Right at the death, there was also a six-minute debut for Adam Johnson, who lit up the stadium with a couple of mazy runs that Aaron Lennon matched on the other flank.
But England head back to their Austrian mountain retreat on Wednesday, by which time injuries to Gareth Barry and Darren Bent will have been assessed, with Capello knowing the time is getting close when problems have to be rectified, otherwise they will really start to hurt.
|2||1st Half Goals||1|
|5||Shots on Target||9|
|2||Shots off Target||7|