A few weeks ago I wrote a fairly miserable report of my experiences at New Wembley. It had been a bad game played by a bad team amid a number of spectators whose outlook just seemed that bit wrong. It was depressing and I felt unhappy all night.
No matter: last night was fantastic. Perhaps it was because the match was a competitive fixture, perhaps because it was against Russia and not Germany, perhaps it was just the way the stars were aligned in the North London sky, but we – and everyone else, it seemed – had a really good evening.
I read a quote from Michael Owen saying how the team were a little shocked at half-time; despite leading 2-0, they knew that they had been up against it for long periods. It got even more difficult after the break, as the Russians constructed a number of scintillating attacks down either flank, through the middle, and everywhere in between. They were beautiful to watch on the ball, controlling everything instantly before moving the ball along to a well placed teammate with no wasted touch. An absolute delight to watch, and I would imagine that we’ll have a real game on our hands in Moscow.
So the England triumph was very impressive, especially by such a margin. If the first two goals owed something to poor Russian defending (and this was to be their achilles heel all night), you still have to credit Michael Owen for his instincts in front of goal. The first landed at his feet inside the six yard box, but how did he compose himself to slot his shot into the one place the Russian keeper couldn’t reach? As for the second, Heskey, playing as if he were 9 feet tall, drew defenders to him and freed space for Owen, whose volley was hard and fast and flew into the net.
Great stuff. One of the reasons this England team had become so boring was the continued failure of the players to perform as a cohesive unit. For too long we have attempted to shoehorn our best players into the side, regardless of how this affected the performance of the group as a whole. And these performances were always underwhelming and only occasionally effective. Now, with enforced absences, we appear much stronger, and much more pleasing on the eye. If Neville, Beckham, Lampard and Rooney walk straight back into the team when they’re fit, are we really better off? World Cup 2006 would suggest not.
As I mentioned, we had a terrific evening. Really good, if distant, seats (photos tomorrow), a lively atmosphere, and no money wasted on expensive concessions. The latter was because we miscalculated our journey, leaving Tooting at 630 and only reaching Wembley at 745. This including a perfect set of train changes, so if we’d had trouble with the trains we’d have missed it all (something that also would’ve happened had Hade not checked that I had the tickets as we were leaving – I did not…).
The only downside was that we felt obliged to leave after 80 minutes again. Being on the South side of the stadium our post-exit jog meant we had that much further to go to get to Wembley Park, but, once there, we were on the trains quite quickly and home by 1115. Had we waited for the final whistle I feel confident that we would’ve needed to add another hour to that at least. We were far from alone; people started pouring out after about 75 minutes, which is again a damning indictment on the Stadium planners. Every midweek England game will be the same, and it’s a real shame.
Back to Fulham tomorrow!