I’m probably in a minority in so far as that I really enjoy these friendly matches. No pressure, no stress, just an exhibition involving some of the best footballers in Europe. If they contrive get their back-sides spanked by, say, Denmark or Australia, we can put it down to a bad day at the office and get on with it. Tonight’s match was an intriguing one. I don’t really know anything about Hungary (as they are now – >everyone knows about the Puskas team of the 1950s that – quite literally – dumped Billy Wright on his arse at Wembley in 1953), and places for the Paraguay match are up for grabs. It all made for an interesting evening.
So… as ever, a mixed bag. The first forty minutes was poor. Not for the first time, Ericsson played it too cautious for the first forty minutes. Hungary sat back relatively well, and the “experimental” formation wasn’t equipped to pressurise them into making mistakes. Of course, as soon as they did start pressing, things started to happen. Beckham was magnificent – his best England performance for a long time – and Owen started to get into decent goal-scoring positions. Pity Lampard missed the penalty, but there we go.
The second half performance was considerably improved. The midfield got forward to support Owen, and the goals started flowing. I was particularly delighted to see John Terry score. His performances for England have warranted a goal, and it’s good to know that he can come up like that and score for England as well as Chelsea. No need to panic about the fact that they pulled one back. For the second match in a row, England were hit by a freak long-range shot. No need to worry too much.
I have, of course, one or two criticisms to make. Why weren’t Crouch and Owen paired up at the front? At some point during the World Cup, one presumes, Ericsson will have to do this. Best to give them an extended run-out at the same time. Especially when they did so much damage in the brief time they were paired up against Argentina at the end of last year. Maybe on Saturday against Jamaica. Then there’s Owen Hargreaves. It’s almost a cliche to say it, but is he really an international class player? Or is he in there because he plays for Bayern Munich and Ericsson thinks that’s enough? I’m starting to wonder. Other than that, apart from a minor gripe over Gary Neville in the first half, it was all good.
So… the plus points. Theo Walcott looked the part when he came on. He might well scare a few defences in Germany. Beckham’s coming into form at a very encouraging time. Gerrard was excellent in his attacking role. All in all, we still have much to look forward to.