Well, Heidi hi everyone! If you think that’s a bad opening, well, things are going to get much worse for all of you before they get any better. I’ve spent much of the afternoon mentally composing tabloid headlines for tomorrow’s papers. On the positive side, there’s “Swiss Rolled” and “Berne Baby Berne”, whilst on the negative side, I managed “Gouda God” (Gouda’s a Swiss cheese, isn’t it?), “Cuckoo Crocks” and “Joe Cole Whipped By Young Boys”. Anyway, it’s Fabio Cappello’s first match in charge of England tonight, and he’s ringing the changes already. The England team lines up as follows: James, Brown, Ferdinand, Upson, A.Cole, Bentley, Jenas, Gerrard, Barry, J.Cole, Rooney. Gerrard is the captain, Jenas starts on the Voodoo Left-hand Side and David Bentley, apparently, is the new David Beckham. The Swiss line up as follows: Benaglio, Lichtsteiner, Senderos, Eggiman, Spycher, Inler, Gelson, Barnetta, Yakin, Gygax, Nkufo.
I have to say, before I depart briefly, that I have been nothing but impressed by Cappello so far. There are plenty of things within the England set up that he can do nothing whatsoever about – the poor training that young players receive, the lack of investment that big clubs put into youth development and so on, but his attitude over the last couple of days – banning the majority of the circus that follows the team about, impressing upon everybody straight away that things will be done his way and that if you don’t like it, you can lump it. There even seems to be what could almost pass for a degree of humble pie amongst the depressingly familiar line-up of Ian Wright, Alan “Newcastle United’s Next Manager” Shearer and Alan Hansen in the “Match Of The Day” studio. Cappello seems to have a presence that seems to unnerve the assorted pundits, and his hand is strengthened all the more for this. He’s somewhat fortunate in that he’s kicking off his time in charge against a very mediocre Switzerland side (who are probably second only to their co-hosts Austria as “The Worst European Hosts Ever Of A Major Tournament”), but it does make for an interesting evening. I’ll be back, of course, in time for kick-off.
8.00: Off we go, then. England in their new, 1982-esque red strip, and Switzerland in white. The Swiss national anthem sounds a bit like the backing music to an insurance advert, but it’s still five times better than “God Save The Queen”. The minute’s silence lasted about 30 seconds, by the way. Everyone at Wembley should feel very proud. Also, Wembley seems to have a new pitch, presumably in advance of the rush of cup finals and play-off matches that are due to be played upon it.
8.08: Not much to report – two potentially uncomfortable touches for the 57 year-old David James, and approximately eighteen of the players on the pitch within a couple of yards of the centre circle. England look sloppy and nervous – Gerrard is caught on the edge of his own penalty area and James saves comfortably. Cappello has a “Christ, what have I let myself in for here?”, look on his face.
8.12: First chance for England. Cole puts Rooney in from the Swiss goalkeeper blocks his shot. He should, probably, have scored, the big pudding. The band (a long-time bane of my life, as some of you will know) strikes up “The Self-Preservation Society”, from “The Italian Job”. Is this sophisticated irony or are they taking the piss out of Cappello?
8.17: The Ghost Of David Beckham looms large over Wembley tonight. John Motson has already mentioned him about fifteen times, as if no-one has told him that he’s not even playing.
8.21: Rooney hits the side netting for England. If you’re watching this on digital TV in the UK, by the way, you can, via the “red button”, access live coverage of Northern Ireland vs Bulgaria. Wes Brown gives the ball away (presumably for comic effect), but Barnetta pulls his shot wide.
8.25: Now, I’m no great tactician, but… Rooney looks horribly isolated up front and they are giving away possession far too easily. Also, the defence looks very leaden-footed – the Swiss look much more dangerous than England do going forward.
8.30: Best chance of the match so far from Switzerland. Senderos flicks the ball on but it passes wide of the post from Eggiman’s glanced header. A minute or so later, Barnetta wastes a free-kick by blasting it over. They’re growing in confidence, and look not far short of as much better than England than Croatia did at the end of last year.
8.35: The crowd is grunting, “There’s only one David Beckham”, a couple of moments after David Bentley sends over a disappointing free-kick. They should shut the hell up. Morons.
8.39: Oh irony of ironies. The crowd have started booing, and Joe Cole forces a good save from the Swiss goalkeeper – their second half-way serious chance of the match. Seconds later, a massive stroke of luck allows Gerrard to put Joe Cole through, but his shot is blocked.
8.41: GOAL – England 1-0 Switzerland: Gerrard plays Joe Cole through on the left hand side. Cole puts the moves on the Swiss defence and drags the ball to turn the ball in from six yards. They have been playing a lot better in the last five minutes or so – as if they’re finally starting to settle into the pattern that they’re being asked to play in.
8.47: Half-Time – England 1-0 Switzerland: Cappello doesn’t look happy, and it’s understandable. The faults with their first half performance have been almost completely down to two things. 1. Individual errors – at lot of the time, they’re just passing the ball straight to the Swiss players. 2. They don’t seem to know where each other are half of the time. I would qualify this all by saying that they did look much better in the last five or ten minutes of the half or so. Back in fifteen minutes.
9.04: Three changes for the Swiss at half-time, and none for England.
9.06: Tremendous ball into the penalty area from Bentley (who’s starting to find his range), but Rooney mis-controls and the ball dribbles just wide.
9.10: Another lovely pass from Bentley puts Rooney through running away from goal. He chips the goalkeeper but the ball lands on the roof of the net. Seconds later, he has a shot deflected wide.
9.12: Jenas shoots from the edge of the penalty area and forces an excellent save from the Swiss goalkeeper Benalia. Calm down, ladies: Peter “The Broken Weather Vane” Crouch is preparing to come on for England.
9.15: Joe Cole and Jermaine Jenas off, and Crouch and Wright-Phillips on.
9.16: GOAL – England 1-1 Switzerland: England are carved open down the middle, and Derdiyok shoots across David James and into the bottom corner. England now have Crouch on his own up front, and Rooney on the left. Crazy times. The goal actually came against the run of play – England had started the second half pretty well.
9.20: GOAL – England 2-1 Switzerland: See? I told you – crazy times. Gerrard gets away down the left hand side and crosses for Shaun wright-Phillips to score from point blank range. In the four minutes between the goals, the England crowd had started to boo the players again.
9.22: This has opened up into quite an entertaining game, now. Rooney picks up the ball about 25 yards out, performs a nice little trick to turn himself towards goal, and shoots a foot or so wide.
9.26: Another terrific pass from Bentley finds Crouch, whose volley brings a good save from Benaglio. This has been a considerably better second half performance from England, and I’m guessing that Cappello may have had one or two home truths for the players at half-time.
9.31: Two more changes for England. Wayne Bridge and Owen Hargreaves on, Gareth Barry and Ashley Cole off. More booing from sections of the crowd, for reasons that I can’t quite make out. Motson is back off on one about Beckham. I think he might, you know, fancy him.
9.36: This is much more like it. I don’t know whether the Swiss couldn’t give a toss or what, but England are playing some very attractive passing football, and are probably worth a goal. The lustre is only being taken off it comes from the witless braying of the home crowd, who – and let me remind you, this is in a home friendly against Switzerland – are cheering every touch.
9.41: Motson’s reminder is a timely one: England’s next match is away to France. That’ll sort the men from the boys.
9.45: More substitutes! Rooney off for Ashley Young. Motson has got Rooney picked out as his man of the match. I’d be tempted to go for Gerrard, myself. This evening’s crowd is just shy of 87,000. Not bad, it has to be said, for a friendly.
9.50: GEEKS! That’s what Mark Lawrenson (who writes a weekly page for the BBC Football website and is therefore just as much of a geek as me) thinks of you if you voted online for Steven Gerrard as Man Of The Match.
FULL TIME: England 2-1 Switzerland – A decent performance, particularly in the second half, when they played better football than anything that they managed over the last 18 months. David Bentley, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney played well, and what really stood out was that the players seemed to be wanting to do it for him. With ten minutes to play and the score at 2-1, Wayne Rooney was still tearing around as if it was the last minute of the World Cup final and they were a goal down. They looked as if they wanted it for the first time in quite a long time. Room, I think, for cautious optimism.