Considering the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ is just 17 days away, the major talking point prior to yesterday's international friendly between England and Mexico was the state of the Wembley pitch. The much-maligned surface, rather than the threat of some tough tackling from the likes of Jamie Carragher or Rafael Marquez, appeared to be foremost in the minds of the players and the press, with both John Terry and Rio Ferdinand coming out to criticise the turf over the past week.
However, a precautionary ice pack on the ankle of Mexico’s Guillermo Franco following his half-time withdrawal notwithstanding, it appears that all 32 players used came through the match unscathed. So, with the players relatively healthy, what did both coaches learn from England’s 3-1 victory? Certainly it seemed that Javier Aguirre was more content than Fabio Capello after the match.
“I am satisfied with some things," said 'El Vasco'. "We showed confidence, character, personality - we never gave up. But we need to convert our chances more and not concede so early, and that will take us to the next level. I have the best generation of young footballers this country has ever produced - they were world champions at U-17 level. Add that to our experienced players and I feel this team is ready to make history."
We need to be more threatening from set pieces and take our chances when they come.
When asked for his assessment of England's performance, Capello said he was "happy" before offering a wistful pause and adding: "I'm not concerned by tonight. It was really important to know where we are now, physically and mentally after a long season.
"We have time to recover a lot of the spirit of the team, of the group, and those qualities we have. When we play counter-attacking, we are really dangerous. But I don't just want to play on the counter. I want more."
Capello, who, upon his appointment as England coach, spoke of his players' fear of playing at Wembley, will have been heartened by the fact that his side have now won their last nine matches at the stadium, although they have have now kept only one clean sheet in eight games.
“I think we started slowly and I don’t think we deserved to go two goals in front,” captain Ferdinand told FIFA.com. “Although Mexico were good in possession, we didn’t quite get to grips with the fact that they put a lot of bodies in front of our defence and that’s what led to their goal. But it was a good exercise and good preparation for the World Cup.”
For Mexico, it was the first time they had conceded three goals in over a year, since a 3-1 defeat by Honduras in qualifying for South Africa 2010 back in April 2009. Carlos Vela was frustrated by the defeat.
“I’m disappointed,” the Arsenal forward told FIFA.com. “We always try to win, but England made it difficult for us, as you would expect. They are a very good team. But we did well and we need to take the positives from the performance. We kept the ball extremely well, but we need to be more threatening from set-pieces and take our chances when they come.”
Yet, rather than dwell on the negatives, there were pleasing aspects for both sides. Glen Johnson’s breathtaking second half strike capped a man-of-the-match performance, the work-rate of Wayne Rooney and Gerardo Torrado was exceptional, right-wingers Giovani Dos Santos and Pablo Barrera gave Leighton Baines an uncomfortable night, and Peter Crouch netted his 21st goal in 39 internationals.
In the stands, the game was watched by a sell-out Wembley crowd, who gave the home players a patriotic send-off in red and white t-shirts that, together, gave the impression of a huge England flag. The t-shirts, which were placed on every seat, were part of an attempt to set a world record to create the biggest St. George’s Cross. “It looked impressive,” said England goalkeeper Robert Green. “The fans gave us a great send off.”
England now return to their training camp in Austria ahead of a friendly with Japan in Graz, while Mexico face Netherlands on Wednesday.