By Chris Wright
Whereas it’s easy to dismiss them as being futile exhibitions of nothing in particular, international friendlies do serve a purpose – they provide a platform for experimentation in a competitive (if not by name) atmosphere, and afford national managers the stage to tinker with the personnel at their disposal with the safety net of being assured that the outcome will be completely non-decisive.
It’s basically ‘dry-humping’ in a footballing sense – a chance to hone your technique without…well, ‘blowing your beans’, so to speak.
Basically, what I’m getting at here is that England’s 2-1 friendly win over Denmark in Copenhagen last night shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Denmark were decent (especially young Christian Eriksen, Ajax’s Bergkamp-backed starlet), but England…were better. I mean actually, intrinsically better!
Darren Bent celebrates after scoring England’s equaliser
When Daniel Agger nodded the Danes in front with just seven minutes on the clock, England immediately rallied – honest to God, rallied – as a temporarily blinded Theo Walcott bungled past Simon Poulsen’s retina-centric challenge to lay one on a plate for Darren Bent to equalise just three minutes later.
Bar a couple of inept slips from the ever-inept Glen Johnson, England then set about playing with the kind of urgency and contained aggression that has been missing for months (nay, years), whilst still retaining some semblance of prowess and ability.
It took until deep into the second-half for Aston Villa to sew up the victory on England’s behalf, when substitute Ashley Young slid home his first international goal with 20-minutes left to play but, despite the raft of changes made by Capello and the alterations made to the dynamics of the midfield (Parker and Barry were much stouter and reassured than Wilshere and Lampard), everything moved along seamlessly.
Oh, and by the way, just how good was England’s newly-crowned ‘most-capped full-back of all time’, Ashley Cole?
Ashley Young wheels away after scoring his first international goal
Speaking of Wilshere, L’il Jacky was handed his full England debut, thus giving him the chance to show the baying world why he’s been vested with the powers to deliver English football from technique-shy evil and, by and large, the 19-year-old Arsenal tyro put in an outwardly decent shift.
Wilshere was duly deployed in the deep-lying midfield role that Fabio Capello had ear-marked for him before the game and, I think it’s fair to say, struggled when called upon to tail the lively Eriksen – which, for me, highlighted the fact that he perhaps should have been deployed much higher up the pitch in order to fully utilise his burgeoning talents, in fact I’d have been tempted to drop Rooney and play Wilshere off Darren Bent up top from the start, but what do I know?
England pair Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott before kick-off
Lord knows I try my damnedest not one to get carried away with the usual torrent of bullsh*t that accompanies every individual England performance (‘pro’ or ‘con’), but on February 9th 2011, I felt a seminal shift deep down in my very bones – last night was the first time in at least the last decade that I watched an entire England game and actually bloody enjoyed it!
Surely that’s got to count for something?