Substitute Ashley Young saved face for England but manager's selections and motivational skills continue to baffle
Switzerland: England's nemesis. Discuss. First the FA is wiped out at the court of Sepp Blatter, then two set-piece goals past a shambolic English defence lay the ground for an underwhelming 2-2 draw that casts doubt on their qualification for Euro 2012.
On the turf where Barcelona mesmerised us seven nights earlier England closed the 2010-11 season with a match that entertained only through accident and fightback. Fabio Capello's men recovered from 2-0 down to remain unbeaten in Group G but the manager hardly attracted new admirers with his caution or by blaming fatigue again.
Gone from the Wembley grass were the silver threads left by Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta. In their place: a good old English struggle. A brighter second-half display was reminiscent of one of those Wembley friendlies in which fresher, hungrier players show the old guard how it should be done.
Capello claimed England "arrived without energy", thus finishing this campaign the way he ended the World Cup, blaming weariness, but also contradicting an earlier claim that his players had been freshened by their break since the end of their domestic rigours. Low marks were picked up by Joe Hart, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Theo Walcott, James Milner and Darren Bent, who missed an almost open goal.
The current rebirth cycle began in Bloemfontein, South Africa, with the crushing 4-1 defeat to Germany, with a starting XI that now leaps off the page for sheer improbability: James; Johnson, Terry, Upson, Ashley Cole; Milner, Lampard, Gerrard, Barry; Defoe, Rooney.
David James and Matthew Upson are distinctly past tense; Jermain Defoe has played back-up at Spurs for most of this campaign and Gareth Barry has been usurped by Jack Wilshere. The three substitutes who saw action in Africa were Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Emile Heskey. None is likely to be seen in an England shirt again.
Initially Capello argued against a purge, insisting that young players need to be blooded slowly and in low numbers. But youth was not deterred. Joe Hart established himself as first-choice keeper, Wilshere blossomed at 19-years-old and Gary Cahill, Ashley Young, Leighton Baines and Andy Carroll poked heads into the picture.
Capello, the martinet, has even acknowledged his error in sending England's World Cup squad straight into boot camp rather than allowing them a pre-tournament break, and has promised not to repeat the mistake next summer before Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine (assuming they qualify). But there is no enduring sense that he is bold enough to release a tide of youth.
In the first half England were in classic duty-free mode. Walcott overran the ball or found cul-de-sacs, Milner's crossing was ineffective and the whole back line was summer-drowsy. First a Tranquillo Barnetta free-kick bounced past Hart; then a two-man wall of Walcott and Milner split to allow Barnetta to lash a second inside Hart's near post. In each case the England keeper's anticipatory powers failed. He is the least prone of all England's goalies to concentration lapses but he is far from invulnerable.
Wilshere is the recruit least tainted by the old fatalism and it was his attacking energy that drew a foul inside the box from his Arsenal colleague, Johan Djourou. Lampard converted the penalty and England retreated to the dressing-room – probably to hear a Capello tirade. The introduction of Young for Lampard after the interval accentuated Capello's folly in leaving the Aston Villa forward on the bench in the first place.
Young's evolution this season has led him from the flanks to a withdrawn striker's role, where he is far more potent. On the wings his crossing lacked the precision of an international No11 or No7. Through the middle he floats behind the centre-forward. In the opportunist role he cracked England's equaliser on 50 minutes. Further forward, Bent is stuck in that shadowland just below international class.
The No10 position will be closed off to Young when Wayne Rooney returns because Rooney and Carroll are Capello's most likely strike force next term. But there is no doubt Young has matured to become a threat through the centre. Aston Villa fans will object, but a move to Manchester United would hasten his education through regular exposure to Champions League action.
Wilshere is being allowed to play his natural game, courtesy of Scott Parker, who fulfils the screening duties Wilshere was asked to perform in his earliest England days. Some will say Wilshere's energetic display exposed the fallacy of Arsenal's protestations about his weariness but the reverse applies. This game showed him to be an automatic starter for the senior XI who has progressed beyond U21 level and should not go back.
Overall, though, the European powers will not be daunted by what England served up as football finally took its leave. The spots of light – Wilshere, Young, Baines – leave Capello short of a constellation. The England coach continues to baffle with his selections. On the flanks Milner was a non-event but played the whole 90 minutes while Walcott was allowed to stay on for 77 minutes before giving way to Stewart Downing.
A 2-2 draw with Switzerland does not carry the ignominy of last year's final outing in Bloemfontein, but to see England chasing the game against a nation with four points from four games in Group G, and then be booed off, hardly inspires confidence in this side – or in Capello.