LONDON (AFP) – A spectacular solo strike from Glen Johnson lit up an otherwise workmanlike performance from England as Fabio Capello's side notched up a 3-1 win over fellow World Cup qualifiers Mexico at Wembley on Monday.
England's Glen Johnson (R) beats Mexico's Gerardo Torrado to go on and score during their international friendly football match at Wembley Stadium in London. England won 3-1. AFP photo
Ledley King marked his first appearance in an England shirt since 2007 with the opening goal and Peter Crouch made it 21 goals in 38 internationals as England recovered from a shaky start to claim control of their final home friendly before they head for South Africa.
The West Ham striker, Guillermo Franco, responded for Mexico 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."
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 World Cup opener, against the United States in Rustenburg on June 12.
England's first goal followed an opening period dominated by the Mexicans, who were unfortunate not to be denied an early penalty when Franco turned King in the box and had his shirt pulled by the Tottenham defender before he fired wide.
There was another 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 striker's knockdown fell invitingly for his unmarked Tottenham 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 midfielder's whipped delivery found Rooney and, although Perez was able to touch his header onto 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.
Rafael 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.