views

Crouch targets a World Cup berth as two-goal salvo rescues England

ENGLAND (3) vs Egypt (1)

PETER CROUCH staked his claim for a World Cup starting spot after his two-goal show helped galvanise England at Wembley.

The Egyptians gave Fabio Capello’s men a stern test in the first-half and deservedly led through Mohamed Zidan’s 18-yard strike.

But Crouch replaced Tottenham team-mate Jermain Defoe at half-time and seized his opportunity with two clinical finishes to take his goal tally to an impressive 20 in 37 games.

Fellow substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips also stepped up his claims with a lively performance on the right, capped by a seventh goal for England, as Capello’s men showed they have not been affected by the recent off-the-field events.

But not even the bang in-form Wayne Rooney could prevent Crouch from taking the plaudits and the Spurs striker hopes the boss took notice. “Anyone who plays for England is going to feel under pressure, certainly in a World Cup year,” Crouch said. “It’s up to the manager. All you’ve got to do when given your chance is try and take it and I’ve given the manager something to think about tonight.”

Unsurprisingly, Capello was giving nothing away, but did admit that Crouch’s performance had given him food for thought. “He’s one of the players, one of the forwards,” the Italian said. “I’m happy. I have to choose from a lot of players, it’s good. Crouch is a big option for me because sometimes you can play long ball. Today we didn’t, and he played very well with one touch, two touches. In the second half he made the difference.”

Asked if he was angry with his side’s lacklustre first-half display, Capello added: “No, in the first half we had a lot of chances but didn’t score. I changed some players but I was also happy with the first half. I said to the players to press more to win the ball back quickly and in the second half we did that.”

All eyes from the start were on dethroned centre back John Terry, who was booed by a small section of the Wembley crowd, only to win them over with a solid display.

Frank Lampard twice should have put England in front – first firing a Theo Walcott centre straight at keeper El Hadary, then scuffed another chance over from a corner from debutant Leighton Baines.

But Egypt were posing all sorts of problems and were well worthy of their 23rd minute lead when Zidan pounced on a slip from Matthew Upson to fire past keeper Robert Green.

England walked off at the break to more jeers but returned revitalised after the break, thanks largely to the introduction of Crouch and midfielder Michael Carrick.

Just 11 minutes had passed when captain Steven Gerrard fed Gareth Barry down the right and his centre was coolly tucked away by Crouch.

Rooney also sparked into life, but it was Wright-Phillips who made the next telling contribution, firing past El Hadary from 15 yards after James Milner’s effort had been parried.

Wright-Phillips then fed Crouch for his second five minutes later to wrap up a satisfactory night.


Rivals also have room for optimism

UNITED STATES proved they will be no pushovers come 12 June after proving a match for the Netherlands in Eindhoven.

The Americans held their own until goals from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Dirk Kuyt gave the Dutch breathing space before Carlos Bocanegra’s late goal forced a tense finish.

England’s other group opponents Slovenia enjoyed an easier ride, however, beating Qatar 4-1 with striker Milivoje Novakovic among the goals.

Elsewhere, Scott Brown’s goal gave Scotland a fine 1-0 win over Czech Rebublic, while Argentina beat Germany and European champions Spain claimed a 2-0 win over France.


ENGLAND | KEY DATES

16 May: Provisional 28-man is squad announced

17 May: Squad departs for high-altitude training camp in Austria

23 May: Friendly against Mexico at Wembley (subject to Fifa approval of date), then return to Austria

30 May: Friendly with Japan in Graz

1 June: Capello names final 23-man squad

2 June: Depart for South African base in Rustenburg

13 June: England’s first World Cup match, against USA