I would like to start by pointing out that it was my birthday yesterday and that, as a result of this, I am massively hungover, so I would like to apologise for any spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or wildly libellous statements that I may make regarding Steve McClaren’s parentage or the right to exist of the state of Israel. The England team lines up as follows: Robinson, Richards, Ferdinand, Terry, Ashley Cole, Gerrard, Barry, Wright-Phillips, Heskey and Owen. Now, I hadn’t noticed Emile Heskey miraculously turning into an international standard striker – I can only presume that, in my stupor last night, I left my phone off the hook. Otherwise, I’d have been expecting to start this afternoon. I will give McClaren some credit for picking Gareth Barry (who should, of course, be known by all right-thinking people as Garybarry), for comedy reasons if nothing else. Anyway, more to follow shortly.
16.55: They’ve come out onto the pitch to that dreadful FIFA anthem. “He’s got a horrible haircut” seems to be the general consensus of this room. The woman singing the Israeli national anthem (which sounds, for the record, terrible – somewhere between a Eurovision entry and the backing music for a tourist board advert) scares me a little. It’s in her eyes. “God Save The Queen” is, of course, a dirge. But you already knew that, didn’t you? There’s nothing wrong with smirking at that the fact that Shaun Wright-Phillips’ mascot is as tall as Little Shaun, is there?
17.00: Kick-off. My prediction – I think that this match will be absolutely rotten, and that England will stink the place out. John Motson is claiming that there are 85,000 in Wembley this afternoon. Bollocks, are there.
17.05: Not actually a bad start from England, actually. Kind of positive, at least. Mind you Garybarry has already demonstrated the sort of ball control that wouldn’t look out of place on a park pitch tomorrow morning. The referee, I am told, has got so many things in his shirt pockets that it looks like he has got fake breasts.
17.10: Fucking Emile Heskey. Useless. Christ. He just blazed the ball over from twelve yards, in case you were wondering.
17.15: John Motson briefly ponders whether the Israel defender Gershon should be sent off for holding. No, John, he shouldn’t. He wasn’t the last defender. He wasn’t even the second last defender. The resultant free kick is wretched, and from the corner that comes from it, Heskey heads wide.
17.20: GOAL: England 1-0 Israel – Joe Cole crosses from the left and, Shaun Wright-Phillips who, upon first glance, looks about five yards offside, puts the ball in. Upon second glance, though, he looks level. Smart finish, though.
17.25: It has been drawn to my attention that I have inadvertently recreated an old Monty Python joke.
17.30: Scotland beat Lithuania 3-1, by the way, and Russia are apparently leading Macedonia 1-0. As you may have guessed, there’s not a lot going on at Wembley at the moment. Is the England band playing “Ring Of Fire”?
17.35: God. They’re playing “Rule Britannia” now. No shame, some people. Micheal Owen finds himself in the six yard box with only the Israeli goalkeeper to meet. The first shot smacks him in the face, and Owen blasts the rebound over.
17.40: Ashley Cole has a chance to score for England, but the goalkeeper saves it smartly. It’s all England at the moment.They look much more balanced without Frank Lampard and (and it pains me to say it, to be honest), this is a much better performance from them overall.
17.45: Bernardo gets booked for having a pointless row with the referee. Half-time comes with the score still 1-0, and it has been more or less one-way traffic. I don’t even recall Israel having had a shot yet. Even Emile has settled in quite nicely. It can’t last, can it?
18.00: Substitute for Israel – Tamuz on for Bitzhaki. John Motson points out that the corporate seats (the best seats in the ground) are still empty after the break. I don’t think I’ve seen a more apt metaphor for the state of modern English football.
18.05: GOAL – England 2-0 Israel – Tremendous goal from Michael Owen, spinning on a proverbial sixpence and putting the ball into the corner of the net (though it has to be said that there was no Israeli marking whatsover). All the corporate seat holders missed it, too.
18.10: John Terry. Micah Ricards. Michael Owen. Gary Barry. Rio Ferdinand.That’s five players in the England team with two first names and no surname. You’re at the cutting edge of digital sports media, here. All the biggest stories, as they break. Meanwhile, Ziv scythes through Little Shaun and picks up a yellow card for his troubles. He now misses their next match, against Croatia. At this rate, they’ll run out of players for that match.
18.15: I’ve just poured myself a massive gin and tonic. Israel made another substitution, by the way, but I can’t remember who it was. If someone could look it up for me and report back, I’d be terribly grateful.
18.20: GOAL – England 3-0 Israel – A corner from the right-hand side, and Micah Richards heads the ball into an empty net. It looked like it could conceivably be a foul on the goalkeeper upon first viewing, but the replay shows that the Israeli goalkeeper ran straight into Michael Owen and fell over. He’s booked for his protest, as is John Terry, for over-exuberant celebration.
18.25: Steven Gerrard picks up a knock and looks hurt for a moment, but opts to carry on. I can see the steam coming from Rafa Benitez’s ears from here. It’s only for a couple of minutes, though, and he’s replaced by (gulp) Phil Neville. Andy Johnson comes on for Emile Heskey, who has been “better than I was expecting” this afternoon.
18.30: A final substitution for Israel. Meanwhile the goons at Wembley are singing “God Save The Queen”. “God”, indeed.
18.35: This has got the feel of an exhibition match now, really. Bentley comes on for Shaun Wright-Phillips, who gets a very hearty round of applause indeed. There is what sounds like a lot of booing for David Bentley, who withdrew from an under-21 tournament for no good reason (according to John Motson). I feel a bit sorry for him, on his debut and all. Not very, though.
18.40: They’re still booing Bentley. There are a lot of empty seats, too. Who are these people that leave matches five minutes before full-time? Owen is put through by Andrew Johnson and rounds the goalkeeper, but Ziv clears brilliantly on the line. Let that be a lesson to those that were streaming out.
18.45: The crowd is given as 85,372. Yeah, right.
18.47: FULL TIME – England 3-0 Israel – Okay, so this was a decent enough performance by England, but what on earth has happened to Israel? They were terrible this afternoon. England won’t have it this easy again. Three minutes after the end of the match, and Wembley is already absolutely deserted. It may be a new stadium, but old habits die hard.