An occasional series, mostly after a weekend of sporting delights.
England quite good shocker
And there we were – me included – extolling the virtues of the Spanish football team, ahead of their clash with England. Worshipping the tiki-taka (and hence Barcelona), positively lapping up the Sid Lowe articles in the Guardian about the overabundance of centrocampista talent available to the Seleccion. Such evocative words – suggesting football played at a higher plane. Xabi Alonso in Saturday’s Guardian, full of respect for the Premier league, but still bewildered by our obsession with the tackle. Saturday evening could only be an exhibition of the finer arts, the lumpen English there to provide the support act.
Er, final score, England 1 Spain 0. Yes, England 1, Spain 0. The journos and tweeters went mostly into “it’s only a friendly” mode. (Though some of the tweets were saying well played). The stats showed Spain had 99.9999% of the possession. England were playing like Italy. It’ll still be a disaster at Euro 2012.
Yeah, but England beat Spain 1-0. 1-0, 1-0 , 1-0! Not 0-1, 0r 0-4, which we expected. FIFA thinks we are the fourth best team in the world. NO-ONE in England does. We are battered and bruised by years of shattered expectations. Quarter finals, out on penalties, that’s the likely outcome. (That makes us top eight, but that’s not good enough – hey we won a World Cup a long time ago. And we have the Premier League and Sky Sports HD).
So how did this reversal of expectations happen? Well, England took the Jose Mourinho game plan vs Barcelona – stay deep, flood midfield, harry the centrocampistas and hit on the break – and stuck to it. Had a few dicey moments, but until right at the end, managed to contain the Spanish waves of attack. Maybe they weren’t at their sharpest – it was only a friendly – but they were still dangerous and they dominated possession. But a James Milner free kick, a Darren Bent header against the post and Frankie Lampard nodding in, and we won. One-nil.
Good points for England (apart from winning). Lescott and Jagielka (resuming the old Everton partnership) really solid at the back. Scott Parker heroic in defensive midfield. Lots of young players, like Jack Rodwell and Phil Jones doing well and getting good experience. Against the best national team in the world. And Frank Lampard, dignified, intelligent, wearing the captain’s armband and scoring the goal, only weeks after he was being completely written off by the media. Frank has been for so long part of the dysfunctional how-to-play-Gerrard-and-Lampard-in-the-same-team debate that his virtues can be forgotten. Hardworking, versatile, skillful, eye for goal. Getting on (for a footballer) but still a key man for England. Remember he scored the goal that never was against Germany in the World Cup (only two feet over the line). At 2-2 anything could have happened.
So, an encouraging night for England. Doesn’t make us favourites for Euro 2012. But it has to boost the confidence. Leave the World Cup and the scratchy qualification behind and… believe!
The Heineken Cup – so intense!
After the England football, I switched channels to watch the last twenty minutes of Munster vs Northampton. What a game. So in-your-face. It was Munster 20 Northampton 18, then after a Ryan Lamb penalty, the English team 21-20 up. It was like that at eighty minutes, but the ball was in play and Munster had it. Keeping the ball in hand, they had 41 phases before they finally engineered a position for fly half Ronan O’Gara where he could attempt a drop goal. It was still a long way out, but he executed it perfectly. 23-21. Heartbreaking for Northampton. Ecstasy for Munster. The technique and patience and nerve involved in charging into a solid defence 41 times and not losing control of the ball is extraordinary. And credit too to Northampton for holding out all that time. The nature of rugby union, with its phases, its re-grouping and re-assault, builds a tension that is quite different to football, with its fluidity. The nerves get shredded more in rugby, I find.
Talking of which, Quins only just inched past Connacht at the Stoop on Friday night. 25-17 in the end. I guess that as Connacht are the weakest of the Irish teams in the competition, and as Quins beat them quite easily in the Amlin last year, we weren’t expecting too much resistance. But Connacht were excellent – a lot of pace, clever running, a solid scrum, rampaging forwards. A little ill-disciplined, which in the end was the difference, because Nick Evans kicked five penalties out of six.
It’s getting edgy now – 11 wins out of 11. When are we going to lose? Please don’t let it be the next game! Especially not in the Heineken. If we get past Gloucester next week, then the candidates must be Toulouse twice in December and Saracens in the Premier at Twickenham on 27 December. But y’know, the boys are looking good. Maybe they’ll do an Arsenal. Les Invincibles.
(And then the Sarries will beat us in the play off final. Look, I’m a West Ham fan – I can’t help but expect the worst.)
I was looking at my Twitter stream the other day, most of which is sport-related, and I saw Australia 21-9. I assumed it was just another routine rugby league victory in the four nations, but then realised it was cricket. Hang on, 21 for 9? Australia? Really? Wow! Yes! Playing South Africa, who themselves had been shot out for 96 in their first innings. The Aussies recovered to a mighty 47. Well done the tail enders. But 47. Australia. What’s Going On? (With thanks to Marvin Gaye).