Thursday 29 May ~
Had things gone differently, with only nine days to go until the summer's major football tournament, the England squad would now be in some training complex in the Alps and Michael Owen's current virus would be a much greater cause for concern. Instead, England were last night involved in one of their most pointless match of recent years. The papers have been full of John Terry's woe for the last week and after scoring the first goal last night he once again referenced events in Moscow, before proclaiming: “I've shown I'm a man for the big games.” The final in which he missed a penalty was undoubtedly a big game, but last night's match was far from it.
Martin O'Neill was one of many yesterday to describe this game as “pointless”. And the Aston Villa manager was right. This was a game between hosts who had just finished a season and were dreaming about summer beaches and agents' phone calls against a US team who had little ambition to trouble England even if they had been technically better. The paying public seemed to agree too. The official attendance was given as over 71,000 but this included the pre-paid Wembley season tickets, so the actual numbers in the stadium were much lower than this, shown by large amounts of empty seats.
So to the game itself, which turned out to be fairly standard England fare. As the USA were the opponents it was no surprise that David Beckham started. With little to discuss about the line-up, many of the reports this morning concerned themselves with old worries about the state of the national team: a “jaded” and frustrated Rooney without a proper strike partner, an out-of-position Gerrard playing in the “graveyard shift” and in midfield with Frank Lampard, and a general lack of pace in a predictable England performance. After three games the Sun has already begun to question what “Fab is on about”. At least, given the USA's poor performance, there weren't any England goalkeeping mistakes to howl about.
England's next game is not quite as pointless but a lot more dubious. Sunday's fixture in Port of Spain against Trinidad and Tobago has as little footballing relevance as last night but politically it could have much more. This is widely known to be a courtesy fixture to gain favour with the powerful and highly controversial Concacaf president Jack Warner, who holds control over 35 votes in his region, vital for a winning bid to host the 2018 World Cup. However, Warner favours a bid from his area, such as the one placed by last night's opponents, the USA. After his comments last year – “Nobody in Europe likes England. England invented the sport but has never made any impact on world football” – it could be that the FA are simply wasting their time.