Fabio Capello will spend an uncomfortable 48 hours deciding who to trust with England's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ fate after a thoroughly unconvincing 2-1 victory over Japan in Graz. An embarrassing defeat by the side positioned 45th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking was avoided thanks to a couple of late own goals.
But the overall display will have convinced no-one, least of all their astute coach, about England's durability. A team the Italian has moulded so carefully for so long now seems riddled with anxiety and imperfections. And after he makes the difficult seven telephone calls on Tuesday morning to inform those who have not made the cut, Capello can only hope those left land in a much better state in Johannesburg on Thursday morning than they will leave.
"The first-half we were too slow, and allowed them to outpace us and create more than we did," said the Italian about the team's two halves. "In the second we had more pace and more creativity and gave the Japanese more of a match and stopped them from playing."
Nothing definitive can be read into any pre-FIFA World Cup performance. Four years ago, Italy were no-one's idea of winners until they actually beat France in the Final. Yet, having posed so many questions of their coach in beating Mexico on Monday, if there were answers to be gleaned here, they made for pretty unpalatable viewing.
Aaron Lennon was ill at ease on the left wing and with so much to gain on his first start, Tom Huddlestone failed to stem the flow of Japanese attacks from his midfield holding role. Up front, Darren Bent linked well enough with Wayne Rooney but when presented with his one golden first-half opportunity, when Yuji Nakazawa looped Rio Ferdinand's long ball skywards, the man who scored 25 times for Sunderland this season headed wide.
All this was bad enough. Behind them, England's defence was having a collective shocker. Paired together for only the ninth time in Capello's entire reign - and the first since the captain's armband was passed between them - Rio Ferdinand and John Terry both seemed unsure of themselves. Ashley Cole took a long time to settle and at right-back, Glen Johnson was as bad as he had been good against the Mexicans.
Johnson and Huddlestone were at fault for Japan's goal, a nice training ground technique as Yasuhito Endo drilled a low corner into the box for Marcus Tanaka to thump in from ten yards. It was a well-worked effort but it required the Liverpool full-back to lose Tanaka as he made his run across the England box, and the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder to move away from the near post as the ball flashed past him.
England's response was positive without being convincing, or containing an end product. Rooney was only just off target when he steered Huddlestone's shot much nearer the Japan goal before Frank Lampard let fly from fully 40 yards, with the dip and serve proving too much for Eiji Kawashima, who was thankful Tanaka came to his aid.
A change of story after the break
If Capello expressed his displeasure at half-time on Monday, presumably his mood was even worse as the interval whistle blew. He might have had a number of substitutes in mind, but as Huddlestone and Bent were among the five men replaced, it did not seem Capello thought their auditions had gone well. With Shaun Wright-Phillips on the left, Joe Cole operating behind lone striker Wayne Rooney and, on his 30th birthday, Steven Gerrard pulling the strings alongside Lampard in midfield, England returned a more balanced outfit.
But once Lampard followed his spot-kick miss in the FA Cup final by having his penalty saved by Kawashima after Keisuke Honda had blocked the Chelsea man's free-kick with his arm, they started to get agitated. Rooney was involved in an ugly-looking clash with Tanaka and even Capello got embroiled in a touchline spat with a member of the Japanese coaching staff, who had taken exception to the Three Lions' increasingly robust tackling.
Had Joe Hart not made a couple of excellent saves either side of Lampard's penalty failure, part of an eye-catching second-half display from the young keeper, England would not have been in a position to have Japan transform the game on their behalf. As it was Tanaka panicked when Cole swung over a cross that probably would not have reached Rooney at the far post, and prodded the ball into his own goal. Then, when Ashley Cole crossed from the other side, Nakazawa turned the ball into his own net, again Rooney's presence playing a mental trick to force the defender into a rash mistake.
Emile Heskey failed to put an England name on the scoresheet at the death when he glanced Gerrard's curling cross wide. But the thunderstorm that accompanied the final whistle was an ominous warning of what lies ahead next month if the Three Lions cannot find their roar.