Sunday, June 25, 2006

"Getting away with it..."

Just as World Cup fever looked like fading away entirely, lacklustre England managed to sweat it out a little longer – just about.
But the stifling heat wasn’t the only thing yesterday to be closer than expected.
The biggest winners were the touts who somehow managed to sell England tickets for £1,000 apiece – double the top price for the hosts the day before.
Anyone judging this England good value for a grand deserves a place on Fifa’s technical panel, which added John Terry to the list of baffling ‘Man Of The Match’ recipients.
Terry had looked the most likely to gift Ecuador a lead that would have left England even more red-faced than the Stuttgart sun had managed.
Thankfully Ashley Cole, perhaps feeling freed from the burden of that unsavoury little News Of The Screws ‘sensation’, managed a stunningly swift rescue lunge.
Even the usually-raucous (for good and for bad) support seemed a little stunned into a stupor by the conditions – and the players’ failure to cope.
The first brass band version of ‘Football’s Coming Home’ was a long time coming – and even then sounded strangely jaded and lazy.
This was not so much singalong terrace stomper, as jazzy after-hours lounge Muzak.
Rival managers Sven-Goran Eriksson and Luis Fernando Suarez looked like those improbable ‘before’ and ‘after’ models from a Charles Atlas mail-order muscle-building ad.
Yet Sven was quickly both jacketless and jumpy, leaping twice in the first-half to tap the ball back to an England player.
If only Frank Lampard had shown such accuracy.
Eriksson’s decision to belatedly go for a defensive midfielder behind Lumpalard and Steve Gerrard suggested he’d been reading two-week-old papers in Baden-Baden these last few days.
Michael Carrick justified his selection through the quality and vision of his passes.
Yet he didn’t really do much in terms of being an apparently ‘defensive’ midfielder.
Even my blue-and-lilywhite-tinted contact lenses couldn’t help but notice how few tackles he actually made, or attacking opponents he closed down.
Partly this was down to the sheer paucity of effort by Ecuador, who arrived looking like they expected defeat – and became impatient for its confirmation.
Carrick’s contributions today could just as easily have been made, and admired, pushed up alongside Gerrard – with redundant Lampard replaced with an extra striker.
Wayne Rooney’s control of the (long) ball, and defender-bamboozling tricks, were wasted by having him facing away from the goal for so long, and with no one in support.
Lampard was abysmal – seemingly in a contest with new Chelsea colleague Michael Ballack over who can have the most long-range shots without actually scoring.
But Ballack is at least contributing to the German side in other, effective ways.
Ironically, the one time you wanted Lampard to shoot was when he inexplicably tried to play in Rooney, only to see his half-hearted pass trickle to an opponent.
Having denied being ‘married’ or even ‘engaged’ to Beckham, Sven must have felt tempted to go down on one knee after that free-kick somehow arced in.
After that, for all the ineptness on display from both sides, the most anxious moment came when ‘keeper Paul Robinson fell awkwardly and a nation shuddered as one: ‘David James…!’
Robbo just about clung on – as did England.
Yet as one relieved but rueful fan remarked on his way out: ‘I think Ecuador’s problem was, they showed us too much respect.’
Inside the stadium, fans were paid the rare honour of hearing Baddiel and Skinner’s authentic ‘Three Lions’ rather than the bowdlerised, ubiquitous German version.
On this weekend’s showings, however, when it comes to convincing World Cup contenders, England rather than Germany look more like the pale imitations.

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