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England stutter

MORULENG, June 8 – England's stuttering build-up to their World Cup opener against the United States continued as Fabio Capello's men laboured to a 3-0 win over South African club Platinum Stars on Monday.Having lost captain Rio Ferdinand to a training ground injury last week, Capello will have been relieved to have got through this final practice match without any further setbacks on that front, five days before his squad face the Americans in Rustenburg.

But the Italian was given cause for concern by the defensive lapses that were scattered throughout a display that was just as disjointed as the unconvincing friendly wins over Mexico and Japan that preceded his squad’s departure for South Africa.

Not until Joe Cole sidefooted home midway through the second half was the game put beyond the reach of the South African Premier League side, who missed a fourth-minute penalty two minutes after Jermain Defoe had given England the lead.

Wayne Rooney swept in a James Milner pass minutes from the end to give the scoreline a more flattering allure on an afternoon when Capello’s stars might have suffered greater damage to their morale.

The only player to feature for the full 90 minutes, Joe Cole was one of England’s livelier performers and he looks likely to start on the left of midfield on Saturday in the absence of Gareth Barry, who will not have recovered sufficiently in time from his ankle injury.

England’s opener came after Glen Johnson released Steven Gerrard into space on the right of the box. Gerrard, who has taken over the captaincy from Ferdinand, delivered a textbook cutback and Defoe finished cleanly from the edge of the six-yard box.

That positive start was almost immediately undermined, however, when Glen Johnson needlessly conceded a penalty with a shove on Mzikayise Mashaba two minutes later.

Joe Hart, granted the first 45 minutes to press his case for promotion above Robert Green, may have relished the opportunity to demonstrate his prowess at keeping out spot-kicks but the goalkeeper was not required to make a save as Bradley Grobler’s effort sailed high over his bar.

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Capello’s decision to pair Rooney with Emile Heskey for the second half suggests the big Aston Villa striker is winning his personal battle with Peter Crouch for a starting role alongside the Manchester United man.

Crouch, who featured alongside Jermain Defoe for the opening period, did not help his cause with a couple of flagrant misses. Having failed to connect with Ashley Cole’s low cross in front of goal, the Tottenham striker then headed an equally inviting delivery from Defoe two metres off target.

Heskey’s finishing was no better when he was presented with a free header by Aaron Lennon after the interval and England were fortunate not to concede an equaliser when Lehlohonolo Masalesa got clear of the back four shortly afterwards only to screw his shot wide of Green’s right-hand post.

Cole settled any doubt about the outcome following a solo run by Rooney and England’s talisman, who showed no sign of his recent groin and knee problems, wrapped things up in the closing minutes.

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