“The players suggest England can bring the World Cup back from South Africa. What poppycock. What self-delusion” – Steven Howard

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “These were just two stupid mistakes. Two silly mistakes. Presents, but I prefer to give gifts in non-competitive games rather than in a really important World Cup qualifier. It’s possible in pre-season to make mistakes like these – I can accept them. I wouldn’t accept mistakes if they are on things we practise in training in the week and then don’t do out on the pitch. Sometimes that makes you angry, but these were different. I think the players just played with too much confidence sometimes when they had the ball. Sometimes, mistakes like these are down to having too much confidence.” – Fabio Capello.

Runner-up: “John Arne Riise had three bad tackles before he was booked. Carew had three elbows before he was booked for throwing another one into Gary Caldwell’s face. Gary wins the ball in his first tackle of the night and he gets a yellow card for it. Then the referee forgets he’s already booked him and gives him a second yellow card. That’s when he realised he had to send him off. It was unbelievable. The bottom line is the ref got these big decisions wrong and he has cost us the game because of it.” – Darren Fletcher.

Today’s overview: It’s a case of whether the glass is half full or half empty this Thursday as the fourth estate divide their post-match England analysis between the Three Lions woeful first half errors, and an impressive turnaround in the second half.

Pulling no punches, Oliver Kay reads the riot act to Rio, Barry and Johnson. “Capello was entitled to be alarmed by the sight of those three players sleepwalking their way through the first half. By stroking the kind of casual, absent-minded passes that would not be tolerated on the first match of their clubs’ pre-season tours, Ferdinand and Barry each laid on a goal… but equally unsettling was the performance of Johnson, whose numerous unforced errors suggested that the right-back berth will remain up for grabs.”

Continuing the focus on the negatives is Kevin McCarra. “The errors smacked of times and managers gone by… Footballers working for Capello will, by now, have been shrewd enough to work out that listlessness on the field is an offence that will be punished, irrespective of the status of the fixture in question.”

Predictably, The Sun’s Steven Howard appears to go a step too far in his criticisms of England. “While pundits have been raving over Fabio Capello’s perfect seven out of seven start and how he has altered the face of English football, nothing much has really changed below the surface. While we are very good at knocking over the lightweights of Kazakhstan, Belarus, Slovakia, Ukraine and Andorra, we still struggle against the best… the players suggest England can bring the World Cup back from South Africa. What poppycock. What self-delusion.”

Martin Samuel attempts to grab the middle ground. “In World Cup year it is not helpful to put a gloss finish on what is still very much a work in progress. Capello did not rebuild this England team with undemanding optimism. He saw through its faults first; and there were plenty here on which to work.”

And then there were the individual assassinations.

Particularly pissy, If Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry are given the benefit of the doubt over their sloppy errors and say that they are fine players still shaking off the pre-season rust, we can find less get-outs when it comes to the new Liverpool full back.” While shifting the blame on, Patrick Barclay went gunning for Gareth Barry. “Maybe the word ‘obscene’ is overused in the context of Barclays Premier League wages, but how else would you describe the sight of a man who is paid about £120,000 a week by Manchester City passing blind across the face of his own penalty area, as Gareth Barry did in opening the way for Rafael van der Vaart’s goal?”

In The Times’ rating of the England players performances, Ferdinand, Barry, Johnson and Beckham all received lowly 4/10 grades. Duncan White’s ratings in the Telegraph saw Ferdinand and Barry scrape the barrel with 5/10 while Johnson and Becks received sixes. While the Mirror handed Ferdinand and Johnson fives and Gareth Barry only claimed a four out of ten.

Amazingly, David McDonnell managed to reach the conclusion that Goldenballs proved his England credentials last night. “David Beckham last night provided compelling proof of why he should be included in Fabio Capello’s 23-man World Cup squad bound for South Africa next summer. Beckham was one of the few England players to shine on a night when several of Capello’s men looked like they had spent the previous night in one of Amsterdam’s famed coffee shops, sampling the local delicacies.”

Claiming the majority of the plaudits is Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe.

Richard Williams interpreted Defoe’s second half brace as confirming why Little Mickey is out of the England picture. “The meaning of Jermain Defoe’s brilliantly executed brace of goals is that it will take a near-miracle in the colours of Manchester United for the former golden boy to regain the position of England’s penalty-area predator in time for a last tilt at the World Cup next summer.” Sam Wallace followed in kind writing “it has taken Defoe more than five years to reach 10 international goals for England but his current record is seven goals in his last nine games for his country and form like that will be impossible to ignore once Capello has to make the difficult decisions next May.”

Typically swimming against the tide, Henry Winter showered his praise on Don Fabio. “Anyone can be famous for 15 minutes but no one uses those minutes more famously than Fabio Capello. His interval impact on England was again phenomenal, turning first-half innocents into decent internationals, getting his players going, getting them believing, getting most of them to appreciate the importance of possession, and, crucially, getting Jermain Defoe on. After the runaround, the turnaround.”

Onto domestic matters.

With the Premier League just days away from swinging back into life, David Hytner sits down with Alan Curbishley, Joe Kinnear and Gordon Strachan to discuss the season ahead including predictions for Manchester City to break into the top four and Portsmouth to go down.

Cocky as you like, Jeremy Wilson rants against Chelsea being this year’s title winners. “Did I miss something? Did Chelsea sign Franck Ribery, David Villa and Fernando Torres while I wasn’t looking? Or perhaps they are about to launch into the summer transfer market with renewed intent. If not, I am really struggling to find an explanation for all the bookmakers that have made Carlo Ancelotti’s team favourites for this year’s Premier League title.”

While totally dismissing the Gunners’ title hopes, Alan Hansen believes that City can pip Arsenal to fourth place this season. “Fourth place is a genuine target for City, though, because of the situation at Arsenal. They are the club most at risk of dropping out of the top four. They have lost Toure and Adebayor to City, but Wenger is saying that they might not need to strengthen. I disagree because Arsenal can improve every department of their team, but maybe they don’t have the funds to do so.”

Steve Bruce has bolstered his Sunderland squad once more, Mikey Stafford detailing the Black Cats’ £6m capture of Lee Cattermole from Wigan. Staying with defensive midfielders, David Hytner reports how Spurs are targetting Celtic’s Scott Brown as well as remaining interested in Toulouse’s Moussa Sissoko.

The Independent have their finger on the transfer pulse announcing that Werder Bremen want Chelsea’s Claudio Pizarro and that Hull are monitoring Real Madrid striker Alvaro Negredo. While over in the Daily Mail we learn that Blackburn and Zenit are also planning to swoop for Negredo and Fulham are closing in on Mark Viduka.

According to Tony Banks “Chelsea are poised to make Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic (pictured) their fourth signing of the summer in a £5million deal.” Elsewhere in the tabloids, The Sun link Manchester United with Schalke keeper Manuel Neuer, Alan Nixon links Argentine defender Renato Civelli to Blackburn, while the Mirror report that West Ham and Fulham are plotting a move for Arsenal target Marouane Chamakh.

The Star close out today’s transfer lies reporting that Spurs are weighing up a £5m move for Crystal Palace forward Victor Moses, while “penniless Portsmouth are closing in on former Middlesbrough star Bolo Zenden.”

Finally, with her tongue firmly pressed against her cheek, Marina Hyde investigates the new initiative from Middlesbrough defender Andrew Taylor to help footballers from being ripped off. “Was Dwight Yorke overcharged for the stripper’s pole he had installed in the bedroom of his Alderley Edge home? Did he obtain the platform-raised, black-sheeted waterbed with electronic ripple control that occupied the same chamber at a competitive price? And what of the private chapel the Beckhams commissioned to be built in the grounds of their Hertfordshire estate, which in my mind twins the place inextricably with Brideshead? Was that priced fairly, or were they fleeced by whichever holy/faux-ly chapel supplier they used?”