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All Things Footie | Monday, June 14 | Jordan

Nao!

The headline that hailed readers of Portugal’s A Bola on Sunday—in reaction to the host’s opening game defeat to Greece—could easily have headlined a few English papers this morning. “Zi-Zut Alors!” was my favourite today, adorning the free Metro paper that can be found discarded on trains, tubes and buses up and down the country.

Being absolutely, brutally honest, England v France, Sunday 13th June 2004 will go down as one of the most exciting, thrilling and entertaining football matches I have ever had the pleasure to watch. I can’t remember the last time that two teams entertained me so much, and so consistently in such an important game. From practically the first kick of the game it was clear that two very good, very fired up, and very different teams would provide a marvellous 90 minutes of football. Within five minutes, all of the cogs started clicking: slick passing, marvellous touches and some glorious cross field balls from Scholes, Rooney, Gerrard, Beckham and Lampard; some wonderful runs, tricks and flicks from Zidane, Pires, Henry, Vieira and Makelele. You could feel the quality oozing from the TV screen on a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon.

It wasn’t just the creative play that impressed. Cole, Campbell, and King in particular defended the charge of the Musketeers brilliantly for England, and William Gallas made two astonishingly well timed challenges within the first quarter of an hour. Lilian Thuram must have wished he hadn’t said anything about Wayne Rooney’s suitability for inclusion in a Championship squad—the tenacious little scouser gave him hell for most of the game, and forced him to use every ounce of his experience. The tussle between Arsenal teammates Ashley Cole and Robert Pires was absolutely fascinating. Pires started very brightly, running at the England defence, trying to get between Cole and Campbell, and in that time he was able to put two or three fabulous, dangerous balls in to the box. After about half an hour, Pires scored his first personal goal of the day with a delightful nutmeg on Cole, but the young Englishman got his own back a few minutes later with a crunching tackle on his clubmate. From that point on, Cole’s assured defending forced Pires—and the French right-hand side—into a different shape, moving play inside where Scholes and Lampard could help out handling Vieira and Pires.

It was a match about moments. A beautiful turn from Scholes, one touch passes from Zidane, the movement of Henry, sixty yard inch-perfect passes from Beckham, awesome pick-pocket tackling and close control from Vieira. Watching Wayne Rooney shoulder barge the World Player of the Year off the ball—and impudently trying step-overs, feignts and dummys against the absurdly experienced Bixente Lizarazu—reminded me what it was like to love watching, and supporting, England again. For a large part of the game Eriksson’s trademark long ball was absent (though it reared its ugly head in the later stages); it was great to see England play football to be proud of, and to see them test the best team in the World as well as withstand the bombardment in the other direction.

I nearly had a heart-attack when 69 minutes ticked over on the clock, and Eriksson called Michael Owen to the touchline. Sven never brings Owen off, and never, ever brings him off before withdrawing the other striker. Both star strikers were poor with respect to the expectations on them, Henry and Owen will not remember this game for their own performances. The reason I don’t like Owen, and the easiest way of understanding the difference between him and Henry as footballers, is to look at their respective contributions whilst they were having ‘poor games’. Owen hardly touched the ball in 69 minutes—literally; Henry dropped deep and looked for touches, he wanted posession, on at least two occasions he beat three or four players on his own, and worked David James on at least (as far as I can remember) two occasions. He also won the penalty that gave France all three points.

After the Owen decision, I thought that Sven would have to make up for it somehow; with a ridiculous, counter intuitive, plain stupid substitution or tactical rearrangement. Cue Emile. How anyone, anywhere, of any ability, with any level of football knowledge can decide that bringing off your biggest attacking threat—who’s young, fit and full of energy—and replacing him with the most genuinely inept footballer in the entire tournament (and I’m including Ivica Mornar in that), is a good idea I simply have no clue. Im beginning to think there’s some truth in Alastair McGowan’s Sven & Nancy sketches; perhaps Nancy went to the toilet or something, and the clueless Swede thought it’d be fun to bring on the Big Friendly Giant. At half time I was asked by a friend what I thought the final score would be, “1-0 to England,” I said “or 2-1 France”. Come 75 minutes I backtracked, and said “1-0 England, or 1-1, France won’t score two now”. Then on comes Emile, within 30 seconds of my rethink, and I immediately reverted to my half time prediction. I’m not kidding here either, I firmly believe that the big idiot is perfectly capable of cocking up a game all on his own, and so he did, with a little help from Steven Gerrard.

I don’t blame Beckham, I don’t blame Gerrard, I don’t even blame Heskey—he can’t help it if he’s rubbish. France are more professional, they can keep ‘it’ up for ninety minutes, they can bring on European Cup Winners and World Class players when England bring on kids and cart-horses, they have Zinedine Zidane. It’s a puzzling result, because an England win would have been harsh against a side who had more posession, created more chances, and were more adventurous; on the other hand, a France win doesn’t give the first eleven English players the points they deserved for their effort.

For what it’s worth (even though I hate this kind of thing), some ratings:

ENGLAND
James [6] Coped with crosses well, but should have been better positioned for Zidane’s free kick and was foolish to dive at Henry’s feet for the penalty.
A Cole [8] Despite early blips, coped with Pires well, and did everything asked of him in the lonely left hand side of the England team.
Campbell [8] Kept Trezeguet quiet, and did the same to Henry when he drifted his side; a couple of colossal headers in the dying moments.
King [8] Defied all expectations by playing magnificently, his partnership with Campbell kept two of the best forwards in the competition from getting a meaningful shot on goal.
Neville [7] Did everything he needed to and did it well, was never really tested as Zidane moved inside and Beckham kept track of Lizarazu.
Scholes [7] Some great touches, neat passing and turns brought some of his Manchester United form into the England side for the first time in a while. Should have gotten in the box more.
Lampard [8] A marvellous goal, and a fantastically energetic and tidy performace. Kept pace with Vieira for most of the match, but resorted to kicking out on too many occasions.
Gerrard [7] A fine performance at the heart of England’s midfield, a poor pass that left James in trouble for the penalty that won France the game, but it was not symptomatic of his performace.
Beckham [7] Wonderful passing, understated performance—not his normal ‘heartbeat of the team’ show—class written through his play like a stick of rock though, and it was an excellent penalty save (though I have a feeling Barthez was about a yard off his line when Beckham struck the ball).
Owen [5] Seriously, was he playing?
Rooney [9] England’s best attacking player by a street. Caused no end of problems for France, won a penalty with his only clear cut chance of the game (for which Silvestre should definitely have been sent off for), held the ball up well, good distribution—no one else in the squad like him.
Subs
Vassell [7] I can’t believe it’s the same player that looks so average for Villa every week. Excellent cameo, was unlucky not to score, genuinely think he and Rooney would be better than the Owen option.
Heskey [4] Worse than useless, if he simply hadn’t run on to the pitch but stayed on the sideline—making England play with 9 men—France would not have won.
Hargreaves [6] Only avoiding a 7 because he didn’t have time to do as much as he could have. Played will, tidy in posession and ran at the french defence.

FRANCE
Barthez [8] Excellent penalty save, and the fantasque Fabien was no where to be seen.
Gallas [8] A superb performance from the Chelsea defender, some magnificent challenges and a disciplined performance.
Silvestre [6] A poor show from the United centre-half, looked uncomfortable with Rooney and Scholes running at him, and for a fast player should have gotten miles closer to Rooney when he cynically brought him down for the penalty.
Thuram [7] Just about managed to keep Rooney at bay, though the Evertonian got the better of him once or twice. Worked hard and played an important part in the unit.
Lizarazu [7] Didn’t excel attacking, was troubled by Rooney and Beckham (bringing the latter down for the free kick that led to Lampard’s goal), but was steady enough to stop the flank getting overrun.
Pires [7] After a marvellous opening period out wide, Ashley Cole forced him to move infield where he linked up with Zidane and Vieira impressively. Involved in some nice moves and with a more dominating presence in the box could have provided a couple of assists. Tired early and replaced by Wiltord.
Vieira [9] The heartbeat, spent most of the game being fouled by Lampard, Scholes, Rooney and Gerrard, kept the ball moving at all times and covered all the ground he needed to. Allowed Zidane to break and supported the French attacks superbly. The french had the majority of the ball, and no player had more touches than Vieira.
Makelele [8] The unsung hero, worked tirelessly in front of the defence trying to keep Scholes, Gerrard and Lampard out of the game; popped up all over the pitch, seemed like an extra man for France at times.
Zidane [9] You simply can’t fault his nerve. Big time player, big time performance. Not all of his tricks and touches worked in open play, but held his nerve for the 90th minute penalty and scored a glorious free kick. Not the flurry of 360 pirouettes we saw four and six years ago, but quietly effective—a superb distirbuter of the ball.
Trezeguet [7] Largely anonymous, had a few touches and supported play well. Got up well for two or three crosses but couldn’t direct his headers.
Henry [8] Everyone expects him to score spectacular goals, beat multiple defenders and exhibit his array of tricks every minute of every game. It was a quiet day for Henry, but despite that he showed flashes of genius and his awareness and opportunism after playing 90 minutes of tiring football won France the match.
Subs
Wiltord [6] Ran a lot, tried hard, didn’t achieve much. As usual.
Sagnol [6] Did his job well and offered a bit more energy down the flank as Gallas tired.
Dacourt [6] Despite being on the pitch while his team scored two goals, he was only there about 2 minutes—barely got a touch.

So there you are.

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