Despite the scoreline suggesting a fairly routine victory for the Three Lions, England did not have things all their own way against Egypt. When Matthew Upson slipped on the spongy Wembley turf to allow Mohammed Zidane to fire the visitors ahead, the 80,000 crowd was silenced. Wayne Rooney showed his frustration on more than one occasion and even Fabio Capello was seen to be shaking his head when returning to the home dug-out after issuing instructions on the touchline.
Yet following what was presumably a wake-up call from the Italian at half-time, England came out a different side in the second half. With Steven Gerrard, captain for the night in the absence of Rio Ferdinand, given more licence to roam after the break, the home team had more of an attacking impetus.
The Liverpool midfielder believes, however, that the turnaround was achieved not only by the tactical switch, but by the attitude of his team-mates. Whereas once England may have crumbled after going behind in front of an expectant Wembley crowd, they are now able to flourish.
“It was the perfect platform for us,” he told FIFA.com. “The boys reacted and showed everyone that we are a good team, that our confidence and togetherness is still there. And, having gone a goal down, we showed that even more.
“I think there’s more of a mental toughness about this team than the one that went to Germany four years ago. The team has improved since then definitely, players have matured, improved and we’re at our peak. We’re enjoying playing together and we’ve got a manager who demands that we work hard for each other and that we do the right things.”
Gerrard also hailed the impact made by second half substitutes Peter Crouch and Shaun Wright-Phillips, who scored England’s goals on the night. Crouch has now taken his tally to 20 in 37 international games, while Wright-Phillips showed great skill and tenacity after replacing the subdued Theo Walcott.
"We were a bit individual in the first half,” admitted Gerrard. “But we pressed lot more in the second. We showed good character and togetherness to get back in it and go on to win it. There was a big reaction from the players after half-time and there had to be. Crouch and Wright-Phillips made a big difference when they came on and I think we could have won the game by a few more goals in the end.
"You've got to give credit to Egypt too, they’re a fantastic team. They’re the champions of Africa, they can pass the ball well, they’re extremely organised and they got massive confidence from going a goal in front. They played very well in the first half, but at the same time, we didn’t convert the chances we had.
“I think that if Algeria would have seen Egypt beating us, it would have given them massive confidence, but hopefully they’ll be a bit more concerned and worried about us.”
England goalkeeper Robert Green echoed Gerrard’s praise for the Egyptian team and was quick to acknowledge that the African champions merited their goal, rather than it being a gift from an over-complacent side.
“They are a good team, they’ve got a lot of good players and we didn’t underestimate them,” he told FIFA.com. “We know we have to take on board what happened in the first half, but the pleasing aspect for me was to see the sense of unity and bounce back together.
“You only learn things from adversity and tonight that we learned that we can bounce back. The more lessons we learn between now and the World Cup the better. We’re coming up against three teams who play in very different ways.”
Many people are tipping Green to be England’s No1 at the FIFA World Cup™ and while the West Ham United stopper is confident of a place on the plane to South Africa, he is refusing to get carried away by the prospect.
“It was pleasing to play and I feel that if I wasn't going to be part of it [the World Cup] I wouldn't have been playing,” he continued. “It is now about looking forward and improving, I want to learn and I have learnt things from the game. I want to play in every game and that means improving and taking confidence from every game.”