For fans of the glamour clubs, I suspect internationals can be a bit of a chore – getting in the way of the Champions’ League and, to a lesser extent, the Premier League. Perhaps it is because I grew up watching Fulham as a third divison side, a million miles away from the glory of internatioanl football, that I still regard internationals as a treat.
I was like a giddy little child waiting for the Spain game. The cynic that I am, I still haven’t bought into the hype that seems to have grown around Fabio Capello’s England. Don’t get me wrong – the Italian is a fantastic coach – but the true test of a national team is how they perform on the big ocassion, in the heat of a tournament.
Tonight’s game in Seville showed just how far England have got to go. They manfully stuck to their task, but their shortcomings were rather cruelly exposed by an excellent Spanish side. The way the Spaniards kept the ball was incredible. Xavi Hernandez buzzed around the midfield all night with deft little touches and wonderful vision – perhaps that performance will shut a few of the English tabloids up. The movement from Torres and Villa, now such a formidable front partnership, was exceptional and the way in whch their narrow midfield interchanged breminded me of what Roy must be trying to do with Fulham (Spain also play with an anchorman in midfield and no ‘natural’ wingers).
The mistake that settled the game came from Phil Jagielka unfortunately. His hurried clearance went straight to Xavi and in the blink of an eye the ball was past David James. Villa showed such clever feet to create space where there didn’t seem to be any and finished clinically. But Jagielka’s stray pass highlighted the difference between the sides. English centre halves still have a tendency to try and play their way out of troble or hit the ball long. The Spanish are happy to roll 5-10 yard passes into Senna and start their attacks from deep. It’s something we still need to learn: the value of keeping the ball at international level can’t be understated.
It was nice to see Northern Ireland win away from home tonight. Yes, it was only against lowly San Marino, so our very own Aaron Hughes could probably have played up front and little damage would have been down at the other end. But Northern Ireland have had difficulty picking up away wins for a while and, even if there still seems too much for Nigel Worthington’s side to do to keep themselves in with a chance of qualifying, they have slayed one ghost with ease.
The Republic’s luck was most certainly in against Georgia in Dublin. Trailing to a very early goal, only the referee can explain why he gave a penalty and allowed Robbie Keane the chance to change the game. It looked like one of the softest handball decisions I’ve seen. They say a lucky manager is better than a good manager. Trapettoni might just have crossed the threshold from one to other after that slice of fortune.
Norway might have produced the performance of the night to beat the Germans. That win was entirely unexpected and it sounds as those Brede Hangeland played his part.
And to round off an excellent evening, I’m now watching a fiesty affair between the United States and Mexico. Judging by Mexico’s performance so far (they’ve just started the second half), Sven-Goran Eriksson might be Portsmouth manager soon rather than later. The States lead 1-0 thanks to a goal by Michael Bradley after carnage at a corner. If they hold on, Eriksson is almost certain to be out of a job. Oh, and that boy Clint Dempsey is having a good game so far.