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World Cup (Mexico vs. England): England untroubled by great expectations in 3-1 win

Fabforum

A noisy crowd of more than 88,000 packed London's Wembley Stadium on Monday for the English World Cup team's "farewell friendly" with Mexico. And when the famously devoted English fans got to their seats, they found red-and-white T-shirts waiting for them, shirts that, once pulled on, left the hulking three-tiered stadium looking like a giant St. George's Cross.

It was an impressive sight. But whether the high expectations that will follow England to this summer's World Cup prove too heavy a cross to bear remains to be seen.

That certainly wasn't the case against Mexico, with first-half goals by Ledley King and Peter Crouch and a second-half score by Glen Johnson lifting England to a surprisingly easy 3-1 victory.

Of course, English Coach Fabio Capello has expectations of his own, something he confirmed last week when he said his team could beat any other in the world. And it's unlikely he saw anything Monday that changed his mind.

Mexico, on the other hand, whose busy preparation for the World Cup has featured everything but quality opponents, looked unsettled much of the night against the eighth-best team in the world according to FIFA. And it certainly couldn't match England's size or speed, something the home team wasted little time taking advantage of.

Midfielder Steven Gerrard, nearly knocked out of the match in the 12th minute in a four-player collision at the center circle, started both of England's first-half scoring plays on corner kicks.

The first came in the 17th minute, when Gerrard, his head heavily bandaged because of a nasty gash, hooked a pass across the goalmouth to Crouch. The lanky 6-foot-7 striker, the tallest man ever to play for England, easily out-jumped Mexican defender Francisco Javier Rodríguez and headed the ball to a waiting King, who had no trouble deflecting it into the left corner of the net from there.

On the second, which came 17 minutes later, Gerrard fed superstar striker Wayne Rooney in the middle of the penalty box. Rooney's blast was stopped by Mexican keeper Óscar Pérez, with the ball lightly kissing the crossbar as it rose above the goal. When it came down, however, Crouch was there again, leaping to keep Rodríguez away as the ball bounced over the goal line.

Crouch was given credit for the score, although video replays raised questions as to whether he actually touched the ball.

Mexico, frustrated once by the goalpost -- which stopped a bending Carlos Salcido shot late in the first half -- and a couple of other times by English keeper Robert Green, scored its only goal in first-half stoppage time. And it came off a corner kick as well with Rafael Marquez, playing his first game for Mexico in nearly three months, taking a pass deep in the penalty area and heading it toward Guillermo Franco, who volleyed it home.

Johnson got that score back two minutes after the intermission, taking a short pass from Theo Walcott at the touchline, dribbling through half the Mexico defense to the center of the field, then getting off a strong left-footed shot from the edge of the 18-yard box that Perez never touched.

But if Monday's results confirmed for the English and their fans that their team had the right to dream of a World Cup title this summer, for Mexico and Coach Javier Aguirre, it confirmed their darkest nightmares. After a lengthy series of "observation" matches and tuneups against the likes of Iceland, Senegal and club players from Angola -- matches it dominated -- Mexico has precious little time left to get up to speed for its World Cup opener June 11 with South Africa.

El Tri will try again Wednesday when it meets the Netherlands -- ranked fourth by FIFA -- in Germany.

-- Kevin Baxter, reporting from London

Photo: Mexico's Andres Guardado fires a free kick against England Credit: Gerry Penny, EPA.

 
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