Sunday, 14 October 2007

European Championship Qualifier: England v Estonia, 13th October 2007

Yesterday afternoon saw the England team take on Estonia. Wembley stadium was packed out even though nobody in their right mind would have considered this anything more than a glorified training session.

And so it proved, the team was as expected with Gareth Barry rightfully retaining his place alongside Steven Gerrard in midfield and the Owen/Rooney partnership was back together for the first time in what has seemed like years.

England started brightly and took just 11 minutes to open the scoring. Big Micah Richards played a through ball to Little Shaun Wright-Phillips who eased his way into the box and drilled his shot between the legs of Watford goalkeeper Mart Poom. 1-0. A goal straight out of the Man City academy.

Wayne Rooney then tried an audacious chip from outside the box which just went over the bar. It would have been a spectacular way to end his goal drought but accuracy was lacking in the finish.

The foul-mouthed Scouser didn’t have to wait too long though. Just after the half hour, Joe Cole played a weak cross from the left travelling about 2mph. Michael Owen, whose drop in pace has vastly improved his link up play, dummied the ball for Rooney to strike. The shot took a deflection that wrong-footed Poom and crepped oh so slowly into the back of the net. The Estonia ‘defence’ were motionless during this entire passage of play.

Within a minute, another poor cross, this time from Ashley Cole, should have been dealt with but Estonia, whose players it seemed had the collective footballing nous of a chic pea, seemed to somehow contrive to give England a third goal. Taavi Rahn somehow managed to plant a header from a good 20 yards out, past the luckless Poom. As good an own goal as you are ever likely to see. 3-0 long before half time. Game over.

In the second half, with the game already over as a contest, it was expected that England would run riot against the blatantly inferior opposition. Not so, England became almost complacent and lacked any sort of cutting edge. Chances were wasted to put the game out of sight most notably a two-on-one with Gerrard and Joe Cole where the two somehow managed to fluff their lines completely.

Nasty little Ashley Cole picked up a nasty looking ankle injury that rules him out of the Russia game on Wednesday. If his recovery time is anything like that during his last season at Arsenal we might not actually see him on the pitch for a long time (One can only hope).

Fans in attendance decided to amuse themselves by booing Frank Lampard when he was brought on. Aside from his goal against Germany, and this is putting it as nicely as I can, it’s difficult to see what exactly Frank Lampard brings to the current side. His obvious limitations as a player mean that he is unable to adapt to any system that isn’t identical to that of his club side where he often excels. There was phrase about square pegs in round holes that was often banded about when Svennis was in charge and I think it’s become clear that Fun-time Frankie cannot fit into any England shaped holes presently. Especially after another solid if unspectacular performance by Gareth Barry.

A couple of other observations. If Paul Robinson insists on hoofing the ball every time he gets it then it’s essential there needs to be someone who can win the ball in the air up top. What’s the use of long ball to a pair of short-arses in Owen and Rooney? This is where Peter Crouch becomes remotely useful (I cant stress ‘remotely’ enough). Failing that, we could just try and keep things low.

I know with Russia around the corner the players felt they didn’t need to exert themselves – particularly when Estonia posed about as much threat as a wet panty-liner – but I cant help but feel that this is exactly why England will never be footballing superpower. The mentality for years, regardless of manager, is to be to sit on your lead. We very rarely have the opportunity to celebrate thrashings even against sides like Andorra and Estonia. It’s been the same for years and it’s exactly why in tournaments the top sides more often than not, beat us. While yesterday’s result wasn’t exactly ‘ground out’, the second half was a complete non-event and a poor spectacle for anyone who had to suffer it.

But why am I complaining? A win is a win and the team should be on a high going into Moscow and its artificial pitch on Wednesday. Another 3-0 scoreline need not be frowned upon. However, considering the number of games won by the same scoreline recently, it’s a real shame that none of them have actually been memorable. Job done. No fanfare. The English way.

Oh, apparently there was some kind of rugby match going on later in the evening.

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