A spectacular solo strike from Glen Johnson lit up an otherwise workmanlike performance from England as they recorded a 3-1 win over Mexico at Wembley.
Ledley King marked his first appearance in a Three Lions shirt since 2007 with the opening goal, and Peter Crouch made it 21 goals in 38 internationals as Fabio Capello's team recovered from a shaky start to take control of their final home friendly before they head to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Guillermo Franco responded for El Tri on the stroke of half-time, but Johnson's lovely, left-footed effort, just after the interval, ensured the encounter finished with a scoreline that was morale-boosting if a little flattering for the hosts.
Capello admitted Mexico had given his side problems but was happy with the evening's workout. "I'm happy with the result," he said. "I knew Mexico is good in possession, technically. They are faster than us and it was not easy to win back the ball. I learned a lot about some situations on the pitch. Not only me but also the players - we have to press more to win back the ball quickly."
His Mexican counterpart Javier Aguirre said that he would stick to his guns visavis the tactics that his side had played. "I am not happy with the manner in which we conceded the goals even if England deserved to win," said Aguirre, in his second spell as Mexico coach and who played for them at the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico.
"However, the spirit and the desire shown by the players was excellent," he went on. "Even when they were behind they showed great spirit. We are going to stick to our style."
With Gareth Barry out through injury and Frank Lampard rested along with his FA Cup-winning Chelsea team-mates, Capello granted Michael Carrick and James Milner the opportunity to impress with starts in central midfield. Neither man made a compelling case for promotion and that was also the case for King, whose defensive lapses might have gifted Mexico a couple of first-half goals.
Leighton Baines had a better night filling in for Ashley Cole at left-back in a starting line-up that suggests Theo Walcott, on the right wing, and Peter Crouch, alongside Wayne Rooney in attack, are in line to start England's South Africa 2010 opener against USA in Rustenburg on 12 June.
I knew Mexico is good in possession, technically. They are faster than us and it was not easy to win back the ball. I learned a lot about some situations on the pitch.
England's first goal followed an opening period dominated by Mexico. Indeed, there was a moment of anxiety for the home supporters when Ricardo Osario's driven cross skidded across the goalmouth, before King headed England into the lead. Gerrard's corner from the left found Crouch at the back post, and the lanky striker's knockdown fell invitingly for his unmarked Tottenham Hotspur team-mate to power a header past Oscar Perez.
Mexico were far from deflated by the setback however and should have equalised just before the half-hour mark, when Carlos Vela, left with only Robert Green to beat after Giovani Dos Santos had escaped from King, saw his shot turned away by the West Ham goalkeeper's right glove. Green looked beaten when Carlos Salcido clipped the outside of the post with a curling shot shortly afterwards.
But England were soon two goals clear with Gerrard acting as provider once again. The Liverpool player's whipped delivery found Rooney and, although Perez was able to touch his header on to the crossbar, the ball fell back into the goalmouth and Crouch's leap allowed him to bundle it over the line.
Green further bolstered his case to be regarded as Capello's first choice in South Africa with another stop from Vela, before Mexico's efforts were finally rewarded deep into first-half stoppage time. Rafa Marquez's powerful header was cleared off the line by Baines, but Franco was on hand to clip the ball past the Everton left-back.
England's advantage was restored, spectacularly, within two minutes of the restart. Having combined with Walcott close to the right touchline, Johnson cut inside at pace, evading a string of indecisive challenges on the edge of the penalty area before curling a left foot shot into the far top corner of the net.
Minutes later Pablo Barrera was booked for bundling Gerrard over as the Liverpool midfielder bore down on the penalty area in pursuit of Rooney's cute reverse pass. Gerrard struck the resulting free-kick just wide and that was as close as England came to adding to their score until, with eight minutes left, Rooney had a chip cleared off the line with Perez scrambling to get back, after charging out of his area to deny substitute Jermain Defoe.