I have a confession to make. It is a confession that I never thought I’d ever have to acknowledge. But yesterday afternoon, it actually happened, and now I don’t know what is happening with the world:
I actually enjoyed watching an England match.
I have trained myself to expect nothing but turgid, laborious, slow and generally irritating football matches watching England play football. I watched my first World Cup in 1990, missed the Euro’s in 1992, as well as the World Cup in 94 because it was past my bedtime. In 1996 it was exciting and the football team had interesting characters, but for 90% of my life the international football I have watched has been ponderous and terrible to watch.
Then, when you contrast that to the football Arsene brought to us from 1997 onwards, it almost shone an even bigger light on the dour approach to watching England and that is where my thoughts and opinions on the national team have been forged and built upon ever since; a slow-paced and tedious national team, contrasted with my domestic team who played scintillating stuff.
Of course as Arsenal fans we know this hasn’t been a universally applied rule ever since 1997. Arsenal have played plenty of shoddy games and had some styles and approaches since then that were hardly ‘edge-of-the-seat’ stuff, but broadly speaking it has been a lot more enjoyable watching The Arsenal than England over my lifetime.
So my expectations from yesterday’s game against Iran were, well, pretty limited. I expected an absolutely boring slog of a match and I hunkered down to watch halfway through my working day. But instead I was treated to a game in which England actually played, well, good. It took me by surprise if I’m honest.
And I’m not just talking about the flurry of goals that were scored, either, although that was of course a positive contributor. But instead I’m talking about the way that England played. There was progressive balls out from defence, there was movement and pace about the attack, the midfield were industrious but also creative and pulling those Iranian players apart. England played well.
I suppose what also helps is that the star of the show was our Starboy himself, Bukayo Saka, who bagged two goals and the man of the match award and was certainly good value for that accolade. When Jermaine Jenas is giving praise to an Arsenal player, you know he is having a good game and I watched that match yesterday, like I’m sure you did, with a smile on my face and a sense of pride. Bukayo’s success feels like our success, right? I mean we all love him, support him and have been right behind him for a few years now, but he’s the guy that has taken it all in his stride. But we’re basking in the glow that is emanating from his performances on the pitch and I think that enabled me to watch that match yesterday with a little more of a smile on my face and less of my usual “It’s England, meh” grimace that usually has accompanied my perception of the national team in tournaments of yesteryear.
England were good, they scored goals, the build up play and way they moved the ball – quicker, with more zip about them – was very impressive. And yes, there will be the Celebration Police who will be out in force now, quick to caveat that “it was only Iran”, but there’s beating Iran by a single goal and getting the three points, then there’s beating them with swagger and loads of goals that set the team up fantastically from a confidence point of view for the coming matches. Do you think that the USA or Wales watched that game and said to each other “it’s fine. It’s only Iran”. I bet they didn’t. That’s because they have to play both of these teams and this statement victory will be making them think twice ahead of their respective games against Iran (Wales) or England (USA) on Friday.
I watched the Wales vs USA game in the evening last night and it was an interesting affair, albeit not the greatest from a technical point of view I thought. The US looked in control in the first half and then seemed to completely bottle it in the second. Let’s credit the Welsh; they know how to bang out a collective sing-song, but they were given a bit of a helping hand by the way the US retreated in to their own half in the second half of the game, coupled with some pretty calamitous defending on the award of the penalty. I thought the English commentary duo went a little over the top on Bale though; in the second half one of them even made a ‘walk on water’ Jesus reference for Bale; he’d hardly been in the game until he stuck away the penalty and wasn’t exactly running the show afterwards. Keifer Moore was more impressive to my eyes, yet everything was about Bale in quite a sickly sweet love in over a player who is coming to the end of a very admittedly impressive career.
In the other game in the day I sort of half-watched the Netherlands vs Senegal. Both teams didn’t make me think “wow”, but there are some decent players on both sides. This was the ‘battle for first place’ in my mind and when Senegal beat Qatar later in the week, it’ll be interesting to watch the final game between them and Ecuador, because I suspect that might be the one for ‘battle for second place’ if Ecuador get beaten by those men in orange.
Today I’ll not get in as much time watching any of the footie as I have an all day meeting, but I’ll be interested to find out what the deal is with Argentina. Many people put them as one of the favourites for the competition and with Messi in form that could very well be the case. But I’ll be intrigued to see if they can do what England did with the ‘minnows’ of their group.
Arsenal news is obviously still thin on the ground other than Saka’s excellent showing and Turner’s performance against Wales, of which I think he did ok. Couldn’t do much about the pen, made a good save from Ben Davies, had a little flap at a cross, so all-in-all there was not a lot he could have done to influence yesterday’s game for the US. Be interesting to see how he gets on against England on Friday.
That’s it from me for today. catch you all tomorrow with more ramblings.