Scotland/Norway, England/Kazakhstan

There was no way into Scotland v Norway: the Antiquary spilled guys out onto the street clutching radios, the Baillie was full to the doors and people craning for a glimpse of even one of their many screens. The Standard’s crowded front yard told a similar story, so we pushed on for the Cambridge and eavesdropped for news. I could, apparently, have scored that one with a zimmer frame, or was it with a ball and chain? But there wasn’t any anger or contempt on view. Watching England used to be like this, in the mid ’90s when I’d get to the Wellesley early with mates and grab a table, a table I’d later be warned about standing on…

In the Cambridge, they’d just finished with Charlie Nicholas’s “be realistic about this” interview, which was basically and justifiably positive about the way Scotland had performed. I felt that Norway had been unjustly played down by the Scottish press in the days before the game: there have been more Norwegians playing at the very top of the game in recent years than Scots, although that is beginning to change.

Game over in the Cambridge, although there didn’t seem to be any appetite for turning the TV off. Top Gear on Dave was considered for a few seconds, or Wales v Liechtenstein. Then someone went up to the bar and had a quiet word: a button was pressed, and suddenly it was all red and white on the screen: Wembley. A drunken, middle-aged shout of “Come on, Kazakhstan!” but one met by frowns and nervous shuffling on seats.

I saw the first half!

And, actually, having seen it, wasn’t too surprised by the eventual scoreline. It’s another of those cases where you appear to have seen a different game from the press. I felt that Kazakhstan rode their luck to a great degree in the first 45, not merely in not conceding, but in not collecting 4 or 5 yellow cards for some frankly childish and unsubtle foul play. Kick Rooney, kick Walcott, and go down at every opportunity seemed to be the tactic, and the referee was too weak to deal with it. Fortunately, Rooney was in no mood to be wound up, and Walcott doesn’t get wound up, and, luckily, it didn’t lead to injury, but I keep finding that word “luck” on my lips when it comes to Saturday’s visitors.

My principal disappointment was the performance of Matthew Upson, who had a terrible day, and must feel grateful to Ashley Cole for taking some of the negative attention away from him. England need a solid backup for John Terry, for the sake of the captain’s erratic form and his frequent injuries. Unfortunately, there isn’t one: central defence is England’s new balsa department.

But the midfield actually played with a degree of awareness and intelligence – I don’t remember a single Gerrard glory pass in the whole half, and Lampard was extremely unfortunate not to cap an impressive display with a goal. The passing still wasn’t up to the standards of a Spain or Italy, but it was much better than we have been used to seeing lately. The team are more willing to wait, more willing to loiter on the ball.

No Michael Owen, of course, who would have loved to be on the end of one of the passes Rooney and Walcott were sliding into the opposition area. But not no Michael Owen for ever: if Ray Clemence’s recent comments are a good reflection of Capello’s thinking, Capello wants Owen to raise his game to a whole new level, to regain real footballing ambition, to stop waiting for things to get better. It’s a harsh approach for a player who has never let England down, but the results could be very interesting six months from now. I wonder if Wigan might consider another bid for him in January?

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7 responses to “Scotland/Norway, England/Kazakhstan

  1. I was idly sitting in the sunshine wondering where to watch the game when a friend who I have not seen for four years texted me and said he was in King’s Cross and had a spare (and free) ticket. So I very excitedly dug out my 1998 vintage England shirt (which STILL FITS – I think they stretch) and got on the bus to Wembley. Which I thought very impressive and good atmosphere.

    I thought it was our finishing which let us down in the first 60 minutes or so. But I was to excited to really watch the game…

  2. My highlight was the gentleman next to me referring to ”Kazabayan”. I’m not sure whether he was genuinely mistaken or making a joke.

    Good stuff, as ever.

    R

  3. I thought Gerrard was woeful; he gave the ball away so often that England would have been better off playing with 10 men. He also fell asleep in defence so badly once that I shouted at the screen. I thought that their attempts to play through the middle of the opposition’s defence were doomed without the skilful Cole, J. As for central defence; did Barry play there often enough in the past that it might be worth experimenting with him there? He might be no worse a defender than Upson and would give you someone who really could bring the ball out of defence and let your midfield run further up the pitch. Mind you, when you have to consider playing men out of position, you know your squad isn’t good enough. What a pity that Carragher had a hissy-fit.
    On a more positive note, Young Theo started in fine fettle; did you see why he faded, James? Did they simply mark him tighter? If so, surely he and Brown ought to be able to find a way out of that? Or are they entirely dependent on the coach to solve their problems?

  4. On the defence- I know that Woodgate might be too injury prone but from his days at Leeds, he always struck me as more naturally talented than Terry. I wonder as well whether the absense of Ledley King has hit us hard there- King I remember playing in midfield occasionally for Eriksson not to mention at centre half against France in 2004 and was wonderful- the fact he hasn’t played enough is a real pity because you get the sense he could have been very very good. Another thought is that of course if Neville comes back to right back then Brown can move inside- Brown has always looked a very good centre half and has the pace and composure to play there.

    I think to a degree though that’s a position where you need a settled hierarchy- its obviously Terry and Ferdinand at the top at the moment- but we need to get the other positions lined up below. I wouldn’t mind betting Capello is trying to develop the understanding between James, Ferdinand, Terry and some of the others too so that they can slot in- hence why I wouldn’t mind guessing that Upson and Lescott will return. Probably for me Lescott is more of a longterm option- Upson afterall is in that category of sold by Wenger which always makes me doubtful.

    Lastly a question- what do you and Scots make of the Kris Boyd situation?

  5. @Mike: yes, and Rooney’s still only 22. I still hanker for the 2004 model a bit, though, for the sheer terror he inspired in the opposition and the scale of the damage he could inflict.

    @Dearieme: I felt that Walcott was kicked out of the game, purely and simply. After the first twenty minutes, during time which he’d left his marker dead on about five occasions, the K’s crowded his side of the field (leaving a noticeably greater amount of space for Rooney to work in. They could stop one man, but not both at the same time). As for Barry in defence, no, I wouldn’t go for that – I think Capello’s right to play him in his club position.

    @Matthew: bad luck on that ticket – while you were watching the game live, I think I must have been eating profiteroles, listening to jazz.

  6. gracchi – beat me to the comment about Ledley King, but I also hope that Micah Richards has a good England future still ahead of him…