Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Friendly Fire

I love the willingness of football pundits, columnists and fans to pick apart the minutiae of any football match. The fact that Italian television cheaply fills its airtime with hours of football discussion fills me with admiration. So it’s with great affection that I remark how hilarious it is that anybody is trying to find anything of significance in England’s game with Mexico the other night.

Yes, I watched along with millions of others in the deluded belief that I might come away better informed about how England would play and what their chances were. We were kidding ourselves. This was a pre-World Cup friendly. They are ostensibly rehearsals for the tournament, but when have you ever seen a team carry forward the form they’ve shown in friendlies to the competition?

England’s record in this area suggests we should actually hope for awful results, with the classic being the defeat to Uruguay and the draw with Tunisia before the 1990 tournament. Similarly the 1-1 with South Korea in 2002 was actually an indication that the Koreans were better than we thought. You can go right back to 1982, when a fine England side drew with Iceland before the finals. An honourable mention for a pre-Euro ’96 game so crap it didn’t even count as a full international – England 1, Hong Kong XI 0. I’d like to know what odds you could’ve got on England beating Holland 4-1 after that game.

Meanwhile England’s final match before the last World Cup, with Jamaica lined up to provide an inkling of what the group game against Trinidad and Tobago might bring, saw a 6-0 thrashing which bore no relation to the agonising 2-0 grind a couple of weeks later. I’m glad Fabio Capello hasn’t fallen into the trap of arranging meetings with weak opponents against whom England can flatter to deceive, with both matches being against teams who are actually going to the tournament and have just as much invested in playing well. (Diego Maradona, by contrast, boasted of the quality in his Argentina side after a 5-0 win against... Canada. I’m not ruling out a glory run for Argentina, but let’s see how good they are in a real game.)

At least we’re not alone in this. Portugal drew 0-0 with Cape Verde. Australia only managed to beat New Zealand with a goal four minutes into injury time. Their press laid into them afterwards with statements beginning ‘If they’re going to play like this in the tournament...’ But they almost certainly won’t. It’s just empty chatter to fill the time until the tournament begins. Much like this post.