Ah, international friendlies. I’m not altogether certain what the point of this evening’s match actually is. A week after Manchester United and Chelsea slugged out their Battle Royale in Moscow, England have to drag their sorry backsides out onto the (doubtlessly sodden) pitch at Wembley for a match against the USA. Of course, when the USA have beaten England before, it has been treated as a national disgrace. In 1950, Joe Gaetjens’ goal was enough to give the Americans a 1-0 win at Belo Horizonte in the World Cup. Skip forward forty-three years, and the haplessness of Graham Taylor’s time in charge was emphasised by a 2-0 defeat in Boston. Other than those two matches, England’s record against the Americans is pretty decent. Gary Lineker and Kerry Dixon (!) scored two each in a 5-0 England win in Los Angeles in 1985, and a young Alan Shearer scored both of England’s goals in a 2-0 win for them at Wembley in September 1994. The last time that the two sides met was on this day three years ago, when England won 2-1 in Chicago, thanks to two debut goals from Kieran Richardson (!!!). We live, I like to think, in an age in which the USA team is no more taken for granted. We could score cheap laughs at their atrocious past kit decisions, but I don’t think that there is much between the two teams tonight. England are ranked 11 in the current FIFA World Rankings (on the generous side, one suspects), while the USA are ranked at twenty-one (a little mean, in my humble opinion). This will be a very stiff test for Fabio Cappello, and I suspect that the added enticement of winning at Wembley might be enough to sneak it for the visitors. Here are the teams – we’ll be back shortly for some socccccah.
England: James, Brown, Ferdinand, Terry, Ashley Cole, Beckham, Hargreaves, Lampard, Gerrard, Defoe, Rooney.
USA: Howard, Califf, Cherundolo, Pearce, Bocanegra, Dempsey, Bradley, Clark, Beasley, Johnson, Wolff.
20.00: They’re kicking off at five past tonight, to accommodate a BBC1 programme called “Fire Detectives”, which was all about the dangers of illegally purchased fireworks, and opened with a car that had seen a Roman candle let of inside it. Made quite a mess, it did. David Beckham is presented with something that is either a very old, leather cap or half a pumpkin (it’s difficult to say, since it’s in a glass case).
20.05: Dear me. A very half-hearted St George’s flag behind the goal. England’s supporters seem to be on holiday tonight, even if the players aren’t allowed to be. England are in white tonight, and the USA are in navy blue. The referee is wearing a shirt so bright that even Petr Cech would probably baulk at wearing it.
20.08: Kick off is three minutes late. Mark Lawrenson has already managed to fit in a Norman Collier gag, when referring to the Wembley PA system. Down with the kids is our Mark. Anyone under the age of 40 will probably have to Google “Norman Collier”.
20.11: Kudos, by the way, to the USA’s Landon Donovan, who has become the youngest ever player to reach 100 caps tonight. The USA have friendlies after this against Spain and Argentina – warming up with the easy one, then.
20.15: A shaky start from England. The old schoolmasters’ favourite, “Stop bunching!”, springs immediately to mind, and they’ve given away a couple of needless free kicks in the centre of the pitch.
20.20: “He can’t cross from there”, chortles Lawrenson as Beckham crosses a perfect ball for Gerrard to tap in, but the referee’s not happy with the haste with which the free kick was taken. He shoots second time around, but it skids across the face of goal and wide.
20.33: We lost you for a moment, there. Blogger gremlins, I think. England had their best chance in the middle of all that. Beckham dragged a free kick back from the touchline, and Steven Gerrard’s shot was blocked by an American defender.
20.36: I think that Frank Lampard may have just had his first touch of the ball.
20.40: England, by the way, have got about 16 players on the bench tonight, so don’t be surprised to see a completely different team playing in the second half.
20.42: Good chance for England – Gerrard gets away down the left and crosses in low, but Defoe (under a little pressure) shoots wide when he should really have scored.
20.46: GOAL – England 1-0 USA – Very good free kick from David Beckham, and John Terry heads into the bottom corner from twelve yards out.
20.50: England are starting to get a little bit more space now, and are creating more chances. Defoe looks lively (if unreliable) up front for England, and Rooney (who is supposed, one presumes, to be partnering him) is running all over the place. The USA do look a little stretched now, though. Yellow card for Cherundolo for a foul on Defoe.
Half-Time – England 1-0 USA: Nothing to write home about, but a solid 45 minutes from England, and they more or less deserve the lead. Very difficult to read too much into it, because most of the players look absolutely worn out. The Americans look organised and committed, but limited. Ricardo Clark has been feisty in midfield, but they’ll have to do quite a lot more than they are now just to get a shot on target tonight.
Second Half – One change for England – Bentley on for Beckham – presumably for a bit of pace. More or less straight from the kick off, Eddie Johnson shoots just wide for the USA. Two changes for the USA, by the way – Brad Guzan on for Tim Howard in goal, and Frankie Hejduk for Steve Cherundolo.
21.16: Ball through for Defoe, but his shot is straight at Guzan. I just have this sneaking suspicion that John Motson and Mark Lawrenson are going to end the night having a fight or in bed together. You can hear them crackling with sexual tension.
21.18: Defoe wriggles free of his marker and his shot is well saved by Guzan, who has had a bright start. At the other end, Johnson’s shot for the USA is deflected well wide.
21.22: Further changes for England – Lampard and Brown off, Gary Barry and Phil Johnson on.
21.24: GOAL – England 2-0 USA: Gary Barry plays Steven Gerrard through with more or less his first pass of the ball, and Gerrard rolls the ball past the goalkeeper. Should really be enough to wrap the game up, given that the American performance has been pretty insipid.
21.32: More changes, perhaps unsurprisingly, for the USA. Freddie Adu (who was going to be the greatest footballer in the history of the game, once – must have taken up smoking or something) is on for the USA, and Peter Crouch, who I doubt that anyone has ever thought was going to be the greatest anything in the world (with the possibility of a clothes line) is on for England.
21.35: The match is almost down to a walking pace now, but England are still managing to create a few half chances. The crowd at Wembley tonight is 71,273, which is pretty impressive, considering everything.
21.40: Christ. The crowd are doing a Mexican wave. Fifteen minutes still to play, by the way. Ah, well – at least England won’t be stinking out the European Championships. Yellow card for Rooney. He might be trying to get himself sent off in order to avoid the trip to Trinidad & Tobago.
21.46: Half a chance for the USA. A cross from Lewis on the right is pawed away by David James. The first things that he has really had to do all night.
21.51: The BBC just showed a shot of George Cohen (from the 1966 World Cup winning team), and he looks exactly like Nat Lofthouse did just before he died. Mark Lawrenson made a comment that may or may not have been loaded with anti-semitism about Cohen being a very generous host in his executive box at Craven Cottage. The ground’s almost empty, by the way. Man, I hate it when people leave before the full time whistle.
21.55: Much Adu about something. Freddie shoots from the edge of the penalty area, and James has to stretch to save.
22.00: Full Time – The match peters out to a dribble, and it winds up 2-0 to England. I’m really surprised at the USA. I know that it’s the end of the season, but I would have anticipated a little more fight from them. We didn’t really learn much about England or, I suspect, the USA this evening. Time enough, for a little break to recharge the batteries before the start of the forthcoming European Championships.