LONDON, March 4 – Fabio Capello has never given the impression that he regards Peter Crouch as anything more than an impact substitute but the Italian appears to be warming to Tottenham's beanpole striker.
Crouch’s second-half double was instrumental in England coming from behind to beat African champions Egypt 3-1 at Wembley on Wednesday evening and the 6′ 7" (2.0m) forward may just have put himself in pole position to be Wayne Rooney’s partner in attack when Capello’s men start their World Cup campaign against the United States, in Rustenburg on June 12. Related article: Crouch shows good form
Capello has, in the past, often appeared dismissive of Crouch’s prolific scoring record for his country – Wednesday’s sharply-taken brace made it 20 goals in 37 appearances.
But there was nothing equivocal about his praise this time.
"Crouch is a big option for me because sometimes you can play long ball," the Italian said. "Today we didn’t, and he played very well with one touch, two touches. In the second half he made the difference."
England were noticeably sharper once Crouch had replaced his Tottenham club mate Jermain Defoe, although Capello said he was happy enough with a first-half display which allowed Egypt to take the lead through Borussia Dortmund striker Mohamed Zidan.
"Peter Crouch is in a good moment of form and he played very well but it was not only him, all the team played a good game."
Capello said he had wanted to see how effectively Rooney and Defoe could be as a pair and the evidence presented is unlikely to have changed his view that Rooney does better alongside a target man like Crouch, Emile Heskey or Carlton Cole.
It was also a good night for another substitute, Shaun Wright-Phillips, who scored England’s second goal, outshone Theo Walcott and had his contribution described as "really important" by Capello.
The slip by Matthew Upson that allowed Zidan to score Egypt’s opener will have underlined concerns about England’s defensive fragility, particularly if Rio Ferdinand does not recover from the back problems that prevented him captaining the side here.
But overall it was a highly positive night for England after a month dominated by lurid headlines about the private life of the injured Ashley Cole and John Terry, who had to endure some early boos in his first match for his country since being stripped of the captaincy. Related article: Terry gets mixed reception
The crowd generally got behind the players however and Capello admitted his relief.
"They supported the team and John Terry. This was a most important game for him after what happened outside the pitch. He played a fantastic game like I know he can do at this level. When I chose him as captain I knew the value of him as a player," said Capello.
Steven Gerrard, who took over as captain in the absence of Ferdinand, said England’s comeback augured well for the side as the finals in South Africa approach.
"You’ve got to give credit to Egypt, they played very well in the first half. We never converted chances we had. So I think we were unfortunate to come in 1-0 down.
"But we showed good character and togetherness to get back in it and go on to win it."
Egyptian coach Hassan Shehata admitted his side had tired badly after the interval, understandably given the effort involved in winning the recent African Cup of Nations.
"It was more like a competitive match than a friendly," said Shehata, who has guided the Egyptians to three successive African titles.
"We were in front for almost an hour but we made some mistakes and let England back into it. England had chances in the first half but did not take them, after the break they did. That was the difference.
"It was our first game after winning the African Cup of Nations and we were a bit tired in the second half. We are also preparing a new system and a new style."