England 2 Switzerland 1

I came in just at the end of the first half: Jenas had given England a lead. Jenas? And, later in the second half, Gareth Barry came off. Barry?

Match of the Day was refusing to tell johnny-come-latelies like myself who was playing, so it took some time to dawn on me that Capello had double-crossed us about his selection yet again. Or, we’d just failed to second-guess him. No Hargreaves, no Young, and Joe Cole appearing both on the wing and in “the hole”.

As for Barry, he had been playing and I’d been watching for a full half hour without my noticing that he was even on the pitch. But that’s good news: that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Under McClaren, the men who came out well from internationals always did so to a dismal backdrop of off-days and poor form and dulled inspiration from their colleagues. Crouch at first, later Gareth Barry or the “veterans at 28” Owen and Heskey. This time, the players in the spotlight were exactly who you would want them to be: the front men, Rooney, Bentley and Joe Cole. Later, Shaun Wright-Phillips.

They could take the applause because things were working remarkably well behind them. The Swiss goal was a half-chance brilliantly taken; that, and some last-minute nerves from England as the clock ran down, was all they were permitted to have. England’s defence won possession, and – instead of blasting the ball upfield – fed it to Gerrard, or Jenas, who’d take the ball upfield with a series of short passes interspersed with intelligent but simple movement, then hand over to Bentley or Cole. Then the fun would really begin.

England made plenty of chances in the second half. What was so refreshing about these chances is that they weren’t random occurrences, but regular occasions emerging from possession football and the sheer skill and intelligence of the front three. The ball skills, the thinking, the cooperation and the attitude were all there in spades and at times it was lovely to watch. The Swiss responded with violence, upending Bentley time after time when he threatened to rip them into pieces.

It wasn’t champagne football, merely very promising. England still stood off the opposition too much, especially later on, when they should have closed down. And SWP, although good within his lights, clearly doesn’t have Bentley’s passing range or vision.

But for the first time in a long while, there was no doubt whatsoever that England knew what they were doing. The best moments under McClaren came as a result of accident: enforced selections of Barry, of Heskey. This, by contrast, looked planned and practiced, and one reflects that it was planned and practiced in only 2-3 days. Both goals, Jenas’s tap-in and then SWP’s, topped off patient, excellent play.

What highlights and online clips will conceal is England’s new reluctance to resort to the long ball. Crouch came on and was employed as a striker whose ability demanded, and got, the pass along the floor. But for excellent keeping, Crouch and Bentley would have reprised the Croatia goal.

But if you missed the game, and rely on clips and best-ofs, watch the play, but then look at the expressions on the faces of the players. That scared gormlessness, that muted little-boy-lost look, is gone. They look awake, secure, resolute even.

Towards the end, England decided to pass the ball around for its own sake, Leeds-Southampton style. Each successful pass – I didn’t count how many – was greeted with huge cheers from a large, contented Wembley crowd.

It’s easy to run away with expectations when England put in one good performance. But this was not just a good performance. It was a clever one. Not a fluke, not the consequence of an Owen or a Rooney on a blue streak. Our international side has adopted Dan Dennett’s “intentional stance.”. My summary: England kept possession well. And that means game on.

This is going to be good.

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6 responses to “England 2 Switzerland 1

  1. I wish I could share your enthusiasm but something is holding me back. Time will tell, at least England seem to be heading in the right direction seeking a pass than a hoof. However, against better oppostion with superior movement and attacking incisiveness it will be a different story although in the past we have raised our game with the underdog mentality.

    It was good to see new faces in the side with reputation alone not good enough for an England cap. I hope this means the end of Beckham’s career so he can concentrate on his retirement package so the rest of us can enjoy the emergence of Bentley’s international career. Cole (J) was the other highlight providing an outlet and being able to pass to a team-mate.

    Rooney did well but does try too much, he is a world class player that understands the game but fear he tries to dedicate his ability away from the attack too much to help the team… let the midfield do there own work!

    Hopeful cAshley Cole can put his women troubles behind him and purchase some longer studs as there are not many alternatives, Brown was woeful in the first half out of sync with the rest of the back line. Again, who can fill that position bar Chi Neville?

    James does not inspire confidence with his kicking and coming for crosses, otherwise he had a reasonable OK game. I’ve heard good things about Hart, lets hope he, Foster, Carson or Kirkland can knuckle down and impress Capello to become England’s number one.

    Overall a promising performance, but a long long way to go to find out whether these players can do it as it’s clear the manager knows his stuff.

    PS. Glad to see Stuart Pearce there, hopefully he can absorb and assimilate the knowledge from Capello to become a good coach.

  2. Talk about getting carried away already.

  3. Gerrard for right back?

  4. Surely Micah Richards is worth a shot at right back?

  5. And thanks James for the summary? Stuck here in Spain I didn’t get to see the match.

  6. It is interesting to see the two best football writers – Simon Barnes and Henry Winter – both struggling to have something substantial to say and writing below par articles. Everyone , particularly the press, feels they have to have something substantial to say NOW. The fact is there isn’t anything substantial or significant to say after a few days, there are only straws in the wind.

    The only substantial straw that I can see is that the team seemed willing to pass the ball sideways rather than immediately getting it up front. The crowd booed. A minute later, as a result of all that passing, a very good chance was created. I remember how much drooling there was after that 24-pass Argentinian goal in the last WC. I also remember something that people often forget, that the dominant Liverpool teams of the 70s and 80s used to pass it square quite regularly. then out it went went to Heighway or to Thompson or to Keegan.

    This isn’t the way Manchester United play – the United game depends on a rock steady defence, all round confidence, and skill at high speed. All the midfield and front players are excellent with the ball. It is more the Arsenal way, which is essentially a continental and Brazilian way. United are the best the English type (and Argentinian) of game produces: Arsenal the best the continent and Brazil produces. It would be more natural for England to play like United but they haven’t the players. (Lineker etc regularly talk about pace, and that may come, but not with lack of confidence and lack of control.)

    There were matters of interest of course. The strategic change from first half to second half. The employment of Crouch that left Rooney free to roam all over the place including defence. And that was much better for Rooney, even when chasing back to his own penalty area, than being the isolated spearhead. I hope Capello learns from this. Rooney’s way is closer to Ronaldhino than to Drogba or Eto’o.

    There was terrible anxiety in the first half and the defence looked clumsy and frail. Gerrard was pretty anonymous. Again, better in the second. Bentley looked very promising. It was not a genius game for him but a real playmaker’s game. I suspect he may eventually be employed not so much on the wing as in what used to be called an inside forward position. Joe Cole was very good as he often is: a proper flair player. I don’t think Lampard was much missed.

    But enough points of interest. One mustn’t forget that it was Capello’s first run-out too and he too was learning and will continue to learn.

    I think the press rather like the idea of Capello as a kind of Mussolini (that comparison will come, I guarantee). It plays to the popular idea of “That’ll teach the spoilt bastards a lesson.” Now there’s a very English thing.