England's Crouch steps up to the plate

Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:10 PM ET

The Wembley Stadium playing surface was patchy at best.

And so, too, was England’s performance.

But for the likes of Peter Crouch, Ledley King and Robert Green, the 3-1 World Cup tuneup over Mexico on Monday was an opportunity to state their respective cases for increased roles — if any — in South Africa.

With manager Fabio Capello needing to whittle his World Cup roster to 23 by June 1, Crouch, King and Green turned in inspiring performances on a day in which the score flattered the home side.

Often called gangly and uncoordinated early in his career, Crouch continued his bid to supply some much-needed offence from anyone on the English squad not named Wayne Rooney.

After sending in a cross that King headed in for the game’s opening goal, Crouch increased the England lead to 2-0 on a ball that appeared to partially glance in off his arm. It was his 21st goal in 38 international appearances, impressive stats that will be difficult for Capello to ignore when it comes to handing out playing time at the World Cup.

King was making his first appearance for England in three years after battling chronic knee problems. The Tottenham captain showed no signs of fatigue, playing the entire 90 minutes en route to strengthening his efforts to survive the final cuts.

Green, meanwhile, continued his campaign to be anointed as England’s starter in goal for the World Cup opener against the United States on June 12, making a couple of outstanding stops against a quality Mexican squad that is listed 17th overall in FIFA’s world rankings. He had no chance on Mexico’s only goal, which came off the foot of Guillermo Franco.

Glen Johnson also scored for England, which faces Japan on Sunday in what will be the final match before Capello makes his last set of cuts. England is listed at No. 8 in the FIFA rankings, one spot behind Argentina.

The game was the conclusion of a hectic 24 hours for the Mexicans, whose charter flight from Germany to England Sunday was delayed due to a mechanical failure caused by a bird splattered against the windscreen of the team charter. Because of the setback, the Mexicans were unable to practice at Wembley that day.

Thriving on diving

Arjen Robben is one of the most gifted players in the world.

Unfortunately he also is one of the most theatrical.

Time after time Saturday during the Champions League final between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, the gifted Robben, easily the top performer for the German side during the entire competition, could be seen flopping down to Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabeu turf, often clutching a body part and writhing in alleged pain.

Give the officiating crew credit for not consistently buying into Robben’s schtick, mostly allowing play to continue in Inter’s 2-0 win over Bayern while Robben still was lying on the ground, wearing an astonished look on his face because no foul had been whistled on the play.

Robben is too talented a performer to have the need to use such tactics. And yet, like so many others in the beautiful game, diving has become as much a part of a player’s repertoire as skill.

And that’s too bad. Because, in the eyes of many fans, it understandably diminishes the image of the sport.

In less than three weeks, Robben will exchange his red Bayern uniform for the bright orange jersey of the Netherlands for the start of South Africa 2010. And, in a tournament where every whistle and foul could be the difference between advancing and going home, don’t expect the diving to diminish.

To be fair, Robben won’t be the only one doing it. He’ll have plenty of company.

And if the officials don’t crack down on these shenanigans, the credibility of the sport once again will come into question.


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