October saw England and a host of other nations revel in the delight of qualification for Euro 2012, or that’s what it should have been anyway. Instead English fans were pessimistic as they struggled to a 2-2 draw in Montenegro, who themselves were beaten by Czech Republic in the recent play-offs. So going into a double-header of friendlies against World and European champions Spain and the competent nation of Sweden, not much was expected to come out of either match. However, these may have been England’s most important friendlies for years, and here is why…
The 1-0 victories weren’t outstanding matches by a long shot, in fact Sweden in particular was probably the worst match I’ve seen this season, but they providing many strong points. One, the solidarity offered by England was as good as I’ve seen for a long time, they survived the manic possession of Spain and the threats of David Villa, Xavi and Iniesta, whilst also offering rare attacks. These qualities will be needed if they are to even reach next summer’s knockout stages. Again, they may not offer entertaining games and 3/4-0 wins, but if England fans truly want success, they will certainly have to sacrifice enjoyable matches to attain it.
Whilst many have doubted Fabio Capello, I myself am not a huge fan of him at all, it is undoubtable that he is at least trying to leave England with a new line of youth, ready to step up to the plate of the senior side. The defeat in South Africa to the Germans left an ageing, slow side in ruins. Since then former starlets like Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand are no longer the automatic picks they used to be, instead giving way for the alternatives of Scott Parker, Phil Jones and Gary Cahill. Parker has proven his undoubted potential and is easily England’s most in-form player over the last year or so. Jones has excelled since his summer move to champions Manchester United, and has been fast-tracked from the Under 21’s this summer to the seniors now in autumn. Cahill, to a lesser extent, has been decent, certainly not representing his supposed £25 million price-tag, and one feels he could easily lose his place to one of Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka or Jones.
Personally I still think that John Terry and Gareth Barry shouldn’t be in anywhere near as much as they currently are, Terry has lost all of the little pace he had, and is now a shadow of his former self. Barry has got a wonderful left-foot, but has neither the skill nor pace, again a crucial factor in football nowadays, to carry a side like Gerrard and Lampard still can. Scott Parker has shown his true ability, and looks set to form a partnership in the middle with other star Jack Wilshere.
These recent games have also shown the level of depth of the squad. Out of the 23 players in the squad, 20 saw gametime. This, in addition to the injured Wilshere, Gerrard, Ferdinand, suspended Rooney, and the likes of Aaron Lennon and Gabriel Agbonlahor out of the squad, on paper, this is a squad to match, not Spain, but among the 5th best in the world. It’s whether they can work together that is the issue. Everton’s Leighton Baines, Jagielka and new boy Jack Rodwell are all able back-ups to the solid positions of left-pack and central midfield.
Pace has always been a problem for England, with there never being enough within the first XI to support each other. Currently, Theo Walcott has pace, but no end product, right-back at last summer’s tournament, Glen Johnson, looked more like a winger playing out of position. New young stars, Kyle Walker, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Wellbeck are ambitious, all play for clubs in European competition, something that can only be a good thing, and the right hand combination of Walcott and Walker, looks, on first glance, an outstanding mixture of confidence and pace. The fact Walker also is now Tottenham’s established right-back is promising. Sturridge has another rare quality for an Englishman, a decent left foot! His inclusion at Chelsea ahead of Drogba, and alongside Mata and Malouda will only help him to be easily adaptable to a more creative style of play, that may be incorporated into England, when Capello leaves after Euro 2012. Wellbeck also is a master at holding up play, and his relationship on the pitch with Wayne Rooney at club level, could be expanded to the national team in the future, which holds a lot of promise if he’s used rightly.
So, a couple of friendlies that did some good for once! A rare feat that may provide England with the momentum they need to continue their unbeaten 2011, and maybe even turn it into a not as bad as expected 2012…