The first McClaren friendly

Now, on to the business of England’s first match since the abdication of King Sven and the ravishing Queen David. In the first half Greece decided to re-enact 45 minutes of scenes from the long lost classic of the small screen “The Three Stooges visit the Maracana”. Certainly goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis may have thought he was in Brazil, though judging from his pirouette and stab at the ball in the build-up to the first goal, he must have been informed that he was at a beach volleyball tournament rather than a football match. In behaving so poorly he not only gifted John Terry the opening goal, he also ensured that third-rate newspapers across the country would have the chance to woo their attentive readership with such imaginative headlines as ‘Captain Fantastic’

It would be hard to begrudge England their victory; they were presented with four comedy pieces of defending by their opponents and managed to convert three; only Peter Crouch’s header from Gerrard’s well-placed pass missed the target. The fourth came courtesy of some good work by Jermain Defoe on the left and a run to match it by Frank Lampard. It would be satisfying, after having Lampooned Mr Lampard on these pages before, to note that his goal came by way of a deflection. However, it can’t be denied that Mr Lampard had a fairly productive, if quiet game. He did show that he can be useful defensively, provided his partner in the centre of the field is not Steven Gerrard. However, he seemed to go to sleep occasionally at set pieces, and his failure to keep tabs on his man almost saw England concede in the second half. 

Which brings us to the matter of the second half. Once it dawned on Nikipolidis and his team-mates just what sport they were there to play, they went about it quite effectively. England’s chances were limited in the second-half, and on more than one occasion, almost scored. Still, with Owen Hargreaves in the centre of the pitch, England had plenty of energy and bite. The much-maligned Bayern Munich player was rightfully awarded the man of the match award, though the vigour of his challenges suggests that he could be prone to giving up free kicks in dangerous situations. He would not go wrong by closely studying the foremost practitioner of his art, Chelsea’s former France international Claude Makelele, a man who seldom commits an unnecessary foul.

England’s overall ability to pass, Gerrard’s energy going forward, and Hargreaves energy all over the pitch bode well for the McClaren regime, however. Let’s see what the next group of matches produce.

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