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Pacquiao-Márquez judges send rotten smell wafting over Las Vegas | Kevin Mitchell

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 22:57

Outrageous scoring robs Juan Manuel Márquez of world title and proves it never pays to bet against the house favourite

Only a charlatan, a politician or a boxing promoter could tell the world that congressman Manny Pacquiao deserved to get enough votes for a majority decision over Juan Manuel Márquez. The fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night was billed as a trilogy for the ages but it ended in a scandal as controversial as a backwoods election.

Yet the anger will last only as long as it takes to persuade them to do it again. And that will not be long at all. They will fight for a fourth time, almost certainly in the same place, the MGM Grand Arena, on 5 May next year, and there will be an audience of millions prepared to vindicate Bob Arum's postfight declaration: "If we do it again, it's going to break all monetary records for pay-per-view."

Those observers who believed this third meeting was merely a prelude to Pacquiao finally fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr on that bonanza Mexican Independence Day weekend in the gambling capital of the world might have to wonder some more. Mayweather will have watched the deterioration in the Filipino's ringcraft with mixed emotions: justifiably more confident than ever that he has Pacquiao's measure but aware that Pacquiao-Márquez IV will be easier for Uncle Bob to arrange.

If there is such a thing in the fight game as justice it is sustained not by humanitarianism but greed. Maybe the pot will be smaller but the promoter still harbours enough animosity towards the difficult Mayweather to cut off his nose to spite his purse. Mayweather can wait and that will make Arum happy. The complication is Pacquiao might lose to Márquez next time, although chutzpah is a bottomless glass in Las Vegas.

The night should have belonged to Márquez but we were reminded beforehand of boxing's propensity for cruel verdicts. Moments before they engaged, Mike Tyson tolled 10 bells for the late Joe Frazier. Who was to know that less than an hour later boxing would have another suffering underdog to acclaim? If Frazier went to his grave believing he had bested Muhammad Ali in two of their three wars, so Márquez will be convinced until the day he dies – along with most of the 16,000 customers who booed and whistled the highlights reel – that he should be the WBA's welterweight champion. Yet, from the detritus of shame that left a familiar stench in this rough-and-tumble town, an ignoble verity of the fight game prevailed: do not bet against the house favourite.

Robert Hoyle called it 114-114, and there were enough close rounds to give the judge the benefit of the doubt; Dave Moretti is more culpable for making Pacquiao a 115‑113 winner; and Glenn Trowbridge ought to hand in his badge and ride quietly out of town, preferably not in the direction of Mexico, for his brazen assertion that the champion won 116‑112. That is not just wrong, it is a score from Mars.

From this couch, even through the anaesthetic of television, Márquez won 117-114. Pacquiao might have split a quiet first, and maybe the sixth. But, such was Márquez's mastery of distance and timing that the boxing writers' darling only imposed himself with any certainty in rounds eight, nine and 10.

The fight engrossed rather than thrilled. Purists will have delighted in Márquez's lovely feints and the way he glided in an out of range to tease Pacquiao into mistakes. Pacquiao can rarely have missed so many times. Certainly in the 24 rounds they had boxed before this fight, he was a buzzsaw; now, refined and more conventional, he could not match his opponent's more orthodox skills, his hurtful counters. For that alone, he deserved to lose. The bruises around his face and the cut above his right eye told him that.

So did Freddie Roach (during the combat, at least). "You're falling behind," the trainer told him between the seventh and eighth rounds. I had him five points down then, with five left.

Pacquiao needed a knockout in the last and he lost the round. But he did not lose the fight because boxing did not want him to. He was more desperate than earlier but no nearer to finding a rhythm. His wildness was embarrassing for such a high-calibre operator, a great champion who might soon have to confront some tough truths.

"I've never seen him fall short with punches like this," his friend, sparring partner and fan, Amir Khan, said. "Manny can do better than this." Khan thought Márquez won. Pacquiao is an honourable man. They are all honourable men. But someone slipped a knife through Juan Manuel Márquez's toga on Saturday night, and he was not wearing gloves.

Kevin Mitchell © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


FC Halifax Town 0-4 Charlton Athletic | FA Cup match report

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 21:28

Halifax's television premiere contained a horror ending. Three goals in the final 10 minutes distorted the drama of the Yorkshire town's first live TV match and afterwards their manager, Neil Aspin, preached austerity to enhance the probability of a sequel.

The £67,500 fee from the lunchtime screening took their income from this FA Cup run to a round six figures – to add to the six-figure fee the Conference North club received from the sale of the striker Jamie Vardy to Fleetwood in August. Given the demise of three years ago when Halifax's name was temporarily lost from English football's fabric due to liquidation, it will be invested prudently.

"This is a new club, it's FC Halifax, and it will never go the same way as the previous club," Aspin said. "The finance should help us long-term but certainly in the short-term we won't be throwing money at anything, changing the budget or the structure. We play in a league where players are part-time, and you won't read about players coming here for the money; they are very modestly paid and that's the way it will continue."

Ironically, it was a Halifax reject that swung the tie the way of the League One leaders five minutes before the break. It was Matthew Taylor's versatility that won him a two-month deal from then manager Chris Wilder late in the 2004-05 season. In those days, Taylor doubled up as goalkeeper or centre-back but was employed as neither. However, the 29-year-old established himself as a defender over four seasons at Exeter, leading to his summer move to The Valley. Here, he rose to guide a looping header in from Paul Hayes' pitching-wedge of a cross.

Pre-match, Aspin's concern was that the billiard baize surface at The Shay would favour Charlton Athletic's slick passing. However, although it did not create the treacle pudding upon which Halifax enjoyed their greatest-ever shock, the 1980 elimination of Manchester City, the incessant drizzle acted as something of a leveller.

As a result, Charlton's greatest threat came from the captain Johnnie Jackson's dead-ball deliveries. Halifax goalkeeper Simon Eastwood's legs blocked one early header from Taylor, whose central defensive partner Michael Morrison had a goal disallowed for pushing shortly after the half-hour.

Halifax's response to going behind was rousing – Tom Baker's 30-yarder clipped the top of the cross-bar seconds later and Jamie Rainford's volley was palmed away by the Charlton goalkeeper John Sullivan a minute after the restart. Confidence gained from consecutive promotions, during which they netted 216 times, was abundant, only for Jackson to settle things with a deflected 80th-minute effort.

"That second goal killed our spirit, and with that the game slipped away," said Aspin. Spectacularly so. Charlton's players paid for 250 of their supporters to travel up the M1, and gave them more to talk about on the return journey through Danny Hollands' close-range effort and a first goal for the club from the substitute Bradley Pritchard, who secured a contract after originally arriving as a part-time team analyst. In between, Halifax's Danny Lowe was sent off for a crude lunge at Scott Wagstaff.

Only Wagstaff remains from the Charlton side eliminated by Northwich Victoria at this stage two years ago. Chris Powell has transformed them into an upwardly-mobile side and despite being five points clear at the top of League One, the former England international welcomed the prospect of also getting beyond Carlisle in round two.

"Ultimately you don't want to be the victim of a giant-killing," Powell said. "We were very professional. You have got nothing to gain and everything to lose in a game like this. The FA Cup is second in our priorities, that's for sure, but why not have a cup run? It's something that galvanises clubs."

Richard Gibson © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


How Spain's papers rated England

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 21:04

Spanish press says England 'turned Italian' to beat Spain

Beep! Beep! Beep! Fabio Capello cranked the bus into reverse and, with barely a flicker of shame, slowly reversed it into the England six-yard box. According to the Spanish media that's what he did anyway. "England," said Sport on Sunday morning, "turned Italian to beat Spain". They could hardly have proffered a greater insult. As far as the Spanish are concerned, when it comes to football, "Italian" is another way of saying "boring". Boring and cynical and defensive. Lucky, too.

"It didn't matter to Capello that he was playing at Wembley in front of his own fans. He got his team to lock themselves in their own half and wait for a miracle," the Catalan daily Sport continued, before turning to its favourite subject: Barcelona. "The selección was a victim of the ultra defensive, mean tactics that Barcelona have suffered so often," said the paper whose cover said: "Wembley is only for Barça."

The sentiment was shared elsewhere in Spain. With just two shots on target, England had defeated the world and European champions and, many in Spain said, it was not just the miracle that Capello had waited for, it was also pretty unfair. After all, as one commentator put it, for virtually the whole game "11 poppies had chased shadows".

Marca had gathered together its very own "senate" of ex-players and coaches for the game and they all agreed. The former Atlético Madrid defender Miguel-Angel Ruiz said the result was "unjust", the former national team coach José Emilio Santamaría used the same word, and Miguel-Angel Portugal, ex-sporting director at Real Madrid and coach of Racing Santander, said: "Spain deserved a different result. England won with very little." Marca's Amalio Moratella agreed: "Rarely has a team won so much with so little."

Portugal later added on Twitter: "I'd be more worried if I was English." And Santiago Segurola, one of the country's most respected commentators, noted that England could end up falling victim to the "mirage of victory".

But the "Pross", as the Spanish media bizarrely insists on calling England, had one thing going for them: fortune. This time it had not favoured the brave. The giant flower on Capello's lapel, worn in honour of the wedding he should have been at, did not go unnoticed. When someone is lucky in Spain they are said to have a flower and the England coach had a hell of a flower. The headline on the cover of AS shouted: "Capello parked the bus: ACCIDENTAL DEFEAT."

"For the same reason that there are albinos in Africa, snakes with two heads and Japanese over two metres tall, England beat Spain at Wembley," wrote Luis Nieto in the opening paragraph of AS's match report. "It was anomaly, a caprice of fate." Tomás Roncero moaned: "If Spain won their games like this I'd convert to curling rather than puff my chest out and be proud of a footballing infamy like that."

And yet Spain were far from blameless. There was a recognition that they had been, in Segurola's words, "sterile, leaden … victim of a rhetoric without substance". AS said: "Tiki-taka lacked a killer instinct, Spain ended up sending themselves to sleep with their own lullaby."

The paper's editor, Alfredo Relaño, wrote: "This was an accidental defeat but it was still a defeat and it tastes bad. Spain played badly during a period, albeit no worse than England, who showed very little. But we have to learn. Sometimes we play so well with the ball we forget about the other goal. It was like when Diego Maradona said that Spain would be world champions if the goals were at the side of the pitch not the ends."

There was another apparent factor, too: motivation. Another friendly, another defeat. Spain have now lost to Portugal, Italy, Argentina and England and some were critical of their failure to "defend the [World Cup winning] star on their shirts with honour". Marca's headline said it all: "Damned friendlies."

Still, better damned friendlies than damned quarter-finals and la selección won the World Cup with the goals at the ends, too. The Spanish used to complain that they were the friendlies world champions, always winning the games that didn't matter and never winning the ones that did. Now it's the other way round. And that's the way they like it.

Sid Lowe © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


England's win over Spain was a purely defensive triumph | David Pleat

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 20:56

England's organisation and stubbornness against Spain was impressive but attacking options are still sorely lacking

It would be churlish to be over-critical of an England win against the reigning world champions, though sometimes there is a need to look beyond a result. Fabio Capello proved on Saturday that it is not overly difficult to arrange defensive solidarity. Yet the way the game played out against Spain also showed how tricky it can be to combine that solidity with attacking creativity.

The England manager, as expected, had flooded his midfield, with Scott Parker proving an excellent anchor in quelling the triangular exchanges and one-touch movement of Spain's midfield. The orders were clearly to retreat behind the ball quickly with two banks, of four and five, and Darren Bent as the lone forward.

In this system, the release ball is often a longer one and the front man has to be able to retain possession, a difficult task when outnumbered. Here Bent, who lacks top technique, was left too isolated. It would have been interesting to have seen how Bobby Zamora fared in the role.

Yet England stuck manfully to their task. By retreating and not being enticed into trying to snatch the ball too early, the home side settled and waited to nick back possession, tackle or intercept. Covering the spaces between colleagues, they beavered away and stayed narrow when Spain attempted to thread the ball through the eye of a needle (see diagram), cluttering up the centre to ensure there was always an interception in waiting.

The home side were never caught short of defenders, never dragged out of position seeking the ball, and never had to encounter a Spanish overload in the last 40 yards. Indeed, with bodies blocking their sight of goal, Spain were reluctant even to muster a shot.

As an exercise in stubborn defence, it was impressive. Yet this was a win purely for defensive organisation. The full-backs Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole kept narrow distances from the central former Everton combination, Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott, who sat deep and determined. In front, Theo Walcott and James Milner did their wide defensive duties diligently (again, see diagram).

But England will need to show more against opponents who are less likely to dominate in the way Spain do all-comers. The 4-5-1 formation Capello employed can be attractive too, providing there are no square pegs forced into round holes and there is an attacking philosophy behind the tactic.

What is key is including a more naturally attacking player to support the lone front man, a forward-thinking midfielder who is willing to drop deeper when possession is lost to rejoin the middle threesome. In 1987 at Tottenham Hotspur I had Glenn Hoddle in this role behind Clive Allen. Wayne Rooney is the obvious candidate to be England's modern-day Hoddle, though he was absent on Saturday, will be again on Tuesday and, likewise, will miss the group stage in Poland and Ukraine. And we appear to have no Allen at present.

Capello had Phil Jones and Frank Lampard either side of Parker at Wembley, but they had few opportunities to break forward as England were denied the ball for long periods. Indeed Jones, the debutant who seems assured of a future at this level though more realistically alongside John Terry at the back, seemed to be the closest midfielder to Bent in the first period. That seemed an unnatural fit.

Capello will have been encouraged by the discipline he witnessed on Saturday, but solving the balance between attack and defence will still be uppermost in his mind. We must unearth the right front man and loose forward in his five‑man midfield.

David Pleat © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Ireland's triumph is just reward for Trap

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 04:01

The Ireland manager's calm demeanour during the France handball furore helped his team to emerge stronger

For Giovanni Trapattoni, nothing will compensate for the injustice visited upon him and the Republic of Ireland in France on that infamous World Cup play-off night two years ago. But, as the Italian's adopted nation stood on the brink of Euro 2012 qualification after the stirring 4-0 away win over Estonia in the play-off first leg, there was the clear sense that the dignity he showed in the aftermath of the Thierry Henry handball controversy had reaped its reward.

The arch pragmatist had refused to rant and rage, his five decades in the game reminding him of the finality of the result. His calm in the eye of the storm felt remarkable at the time. Trapattoni says "his law" is never to look back and he had already begun to dust down his slick Italian suits and plot for the next campaign. The players, he hoped, would emerge stronger and with more composure.

The road to Poland and Ukraine has been bumpier in terms of selection difficulties. For the World Cup qualifying campaign, Trapattoni could rely on virtually the same XI but injuries and suspensions have presented challenges this time out. Under his meticulous charge, though, the squad has grown and options now run deeper. There is a togetherness, a hardiness and the collective knowledge within the group of what is required from each one of them.

The coming-of-age moment against Estonia had been signposted but the scoreline was still gloriously unexpected. Never before had Trapattoni's team won a competitive tie by more than two goals.

The return in Dublin on Tuesday night should be nothing more than a celebration. Trapattoni's Ireland have lost only twice in qualification games, on both occasions by the odd goal, and they have conceded only once in their past 10 matches, including friendlies. For the record, Trapattoni has never surrendered a four-goal advantage.

"When myself and my staff came to Ireland in 2008, the aim was to qualify," Trapattoni said. "The first target was World Cup qualification and we missed this, as we all know, against France. It's OK. We just started again with the aim.

"I could have complained in Zurich [to Fifa, after the France defeat]. But I just said what we must say. There are politics in sport and I was not happy to be political. All the people knew, they all saw the situation so words were useless.

"Raymond Domenech [the France manager at the time] said: 'Giovanni, I am sorry.' He said to me: 'finished' and he gave me his hand. 'You know football,' he said. Yes, I know football. I think that the job we have done has improved the team and the team understand at last what we want. We have made a good job this time."

There was euphoria in the Republic squad after the thrashing of Estonia and thoughts have turned towards the finals, and the preparations for them. Ireland hope to arrange a friendly against England next year.

"Everyone has their own memories of Euro 88 and the World Cups in 1990 and 1994," said the defender Richard Dunne, who was a non-playing squad member at the 2002 World Cup, Ireland's last appearance at a championship. "Those players are legends around Ireland. If we can achieve half of that next summer, it will be brilliant for us."

David Hytner © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


How do Sweden solve a problem like Zlatan Ibrahimovic? | Marcus Christenson

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 03:01

It could be said that Sweden, England's next opponents, are a one-man team who are better without the one man – Zlatan

Erik Hamren's appointment as national coach three years ago was supposed to be Sweden's "Germany moment". It was time for a fresh approach with a team built on the emerging talent of the successful under-21 team. For Joachim Löw, read Hamren. For Mesut Ozil, read Ola Toivonen. The Swedes were ready to take on the world.

The plan, however, has not quite worked out. The Sweden team who are England's next opponents at Wembley on Tuesday is a mix of new and old. There is the promise of Martin Olsson (Blackburn), Behrang Safari (Anderlecht) and Toivonen (PSV Eindhoven) but Olof Mellberg (ex-Aston Villa), Anders Svensson (ex-Southampton) and Andreas Isaksson (ex-Manchester City) remain key players in Hamren's team.

The hope that a raft of new Zlatan Ibrahimovics would be seamlessly integrated into the national side has evaporated but at least Hamren's is a more attacking team than Swedish line-ups over the past decade.

The previous coach, Lars Lagerback, was a tough act to follow, having taken a country with a population of nine million to five straight major tournaments, but towards the end of his nine-year reign Sweden had fallen out of love with his safety-first tactics. Hamren prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation with attacking full-backs (too attacking, some say) and the team scored an impressive 31 goals in 10 games as they qualified for Euro 2012 as the best group runners-up – beating the world's then No1-ranked team Holland in the process.

But while it is possible to talk about how Johan Elmander has improved since joining Galatasaray from Bolton Wanderers and how the hugely talented Toivonen is likely to overcome his blip in form sooner rather than later, there is a huge shadow cast over all the Sweden players – the considerable pall of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The 6ft 5in Milan striker, who has 28 goals and 72 caps, is omnipresent, towering above any other squad member, whether he is playing or not. Hamren has made Ibrahimovic captain but has not been repaid in kind yet. If anything, the forward's form for Sweden has nose-dived since the appointment.

It is, in many ways, difficult to think of a player who is less captain material than Ibrahimovic (though, in fairness, he did once invite the whole national team for dinner at his house, where he served wild boar, which he had shot himself).

His body language when on Sweden duty recalls the attitude of the former Brazil forward Romário, who once looked around the PSV Eindhoven dressing room and thought: "How did I end up playing with this lot?"

As one of Europe's outstanding strikers, the former Ajax, Barcelona, Juventus and Internazionale forward is clearly a cut above everyone else in the Sweden squad but – rather ominously – they perform better without him. They can appear nervous around him and often try to pass the ball to him although other players are in a better position.

Before the decisive Euro 2012 qualifier against Holland, for which Ibrahimovic was suspended, the Swedish media produced statistics that showed that Sweden had a 100% record in Euro qualifiers in games without the forward. They had not dropped a single point in 10 years since Ibrahimovic made his debut. In contrast, in games with Ibrahimovic, Sweden had won 55% of the games. A staggering figure and Sweden went on to beat Holland 3-2 to qualify for Poland and Ukraine with Elmander working tirelessly up front on his own. It could be said that Sweden are a one-man team who are better without the one man.

This past week the Zlatan-hysteria reached new levels with the publication of his autobiography. It is, by all accounts, a good read. Parts of the book go some way to explain the enigma that is Zlatan, especially when he talks about getting a slap in the face from his mother after falling down a roof rather than a cuddle and when he opens his father's fridge to find only beer, no food. "I looked everywhere for one macaroni or a meatball but there was nothing," he writes.

He also talks about how Mido (formerly of Spurs and Middlesbrough) threw some scissors at his head while they were at Ajax, and that he subsequently thumped the Egyptian. He says that Freddie Ljungberg was a prima donna ("This, you see, is how we do it at Arsenal and that is actually the way to do it because we know at Arsenal. Oh and I can't go on that bus because my back hurts") and that he threw homemade bombs at a friend's shop in Malmo. He also claims that he was praised by Fabio Capello after punching Jonathan Zebina in training while at Juventus, with the Italian manager saying "it was good for the team". With such a character, it is easy for the team to be lopsided.

Hamren confesses that he has a very un-Swedish outlook on coaching, in that everyone should not be treated the same way, that it is not all about the collective. "I treat everyone differently," he said after being appointed. "How I treat someone depends on their qualities, their ability, their experience. There are a few things where the same things apply to everyone, for example, the rules I set, otherwise it wouldn't work at all. But there are clearly players who do the hard, dirty work, the so-called water carriers, and then there are those who are star players. Zlatan is a star player. I don't understand the debate in Sweden that we would be better without Zlatan, I just don't understand it."

Tuesday night will show how England, who have not beaten the Swedes for 43 years, can cope with Zlatan and Hamren's new-look side.

Ones to watch

Ola Toivonen (PSV Eindhoven) The skilful No10 was watched by Liverpool in 2010 but recently signed a new contract with PSV, where he was appointed captain at the start of this season. With Sweden his role is to support Zlatan Ibrahimovic in attack and he scored the winning goal against Holland in the final Euro 2012 qualifier.

Martin Olsson (Blackburn Rovers) The 23-year-old has come a long way since trashing the away dressing room at White Hart Lane after being sent off against Spurs in 2008. Aaron Lennon tore him to shreds that day but he has wised up defensively since then. Versatile and one of Blackburn's more consistent players this season.

Emir Bajrami (FC Twente) Born in Serbia, Bajrami's family moved to Sweden when he was four. The attack-minded 23-year-old midfielder was part of the Sweden Under-21 team that reached the semi-finals of the 2009 European Championship and he moved from Elfsborg to Twente in 2010. Left-footed and skilful but can drift in and out of games. MC

Marcus Christenson © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Winning a first England cap tests temperament more than talent | David James

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 03:00

International recognition is every player's dream but your debut comes with potential pitfalls it is wise to avoid

Last week's England squad announcement – with the welcome news of two debutants, Jack Rodwell and Daniel Sturridge, joining a number of other young players in the national set-up – got me thinking about what it is like to receive a first senior call-up and the hurdles those players may face.

It is natural to assume that young players simply need to put in a good performance on the pitch to secure their England future. But the reality is far more complex. A place in an England side is dependent on so much more than what happens over the course of 90 minutes: there is a whole new set of challenges that can easily derail a youngster.

An England call-up is life changing. Suddenly the whole country knows who you are and shenanigans that were ignored a fortnight ago can become headline fodder as your name takes on the additional tag, England international, rendering everything you say or do of increased significance. Your voice becomes louder, and having a microphone for your opinions – such as Twitter – can be dangerous, with even minor criticisms of the national set-up potentially jeopardising future selection. Some players can handle it, others can't. Over the years I've witnessed both, with even talented players falling by the wayside.

Some players fall into the trap of thinking they have made it, dreaming of how much money they are likely to make now they have an England cap. It is true that an England call-up turns heads. It can open the door to a better contract, a more regular first-team place, or a lucrative move to another club. Such choices are fantastic, but it is not always easy to make the right decisions. Agents, say, may be pressurising you to make a move before you are ready. It can be a very precarious time, because you are not yet an established player.

When I was a young player at Watford there was a lot of excitement around Lee Sharpe at Manchester United and Carl Tiler, who joined Nottingham Forest for £1.4m. Crucially, neither followed the career trajectory predicted for them. A place in the England team can be a fragile existence – it is simply a start, not a finish, and what happens next depends on plenty of hard work and commitment.

In my own career a number of successful appearances at Under-21 level paved the way for me to sign for Liverpool. Suddenly I felt I was on this incredible trajectory, going up and up. It felt like the whole world thought I was the best thing since sliced bread and I wanted it to last forever. Yet within two months I went from being the bee's knees to getting bombed out of the side with barely a first-team game for the rest of the season. None of that helped my England chances.

People are wont to say that playing for your country means nothing these days, but, believe me, getting an international cap is a landmark moment that players obsess over. After moving to Liverpool I was desperate to get my first senior call-up, and distraught when it did not come. I wondered if I had missed the boat and suddenly club football no longer seemed to satisfy me. Disillusioned with English football my agent at the time called to say that clubs in Spain and Italy were interested in signing me and I seriously considered a move.

I stayed at Liverpool, of course, and finally received a call-up to the Euro 96 standby squad under Terry Venables. It should have been my moment to prove myself, but instead I handled the opportunity badly. Holed up in the team hotel for a few weeks I got cabin fever and started fooling around. I trashed Alan Shearer's room, tipped his bed over and generally made a mess thinking it was funny. Understandably, he wasn't at all impressed. We weren't mates at the time so it couldn't even be construed as friendly banter.

I know that if a young player did that to me now I'd be furious, but back then I was immature and completely unaware of how my behaviour could affect my England career. Ultimately, if your personal ability on the pitch is outweighed by a tendency to upset the star players in the team you may well find yourself expendable. That incident was probably the undoing of my England career, and I was quickly out of the frame after that, making my senior debut only at the age of 26.

I have seen similar things happen to others. Personality counts for a lot – from a consummate professional such as James Milner, to the overexcited chirpy ones who can't quite settle down. I sound like an old man saying this, but all that youthful exuberance can cause problems and I often think "pipe down a couple of decibels and do your best to fit in". Those who have failed to do so have landed out on their ear and never made it back.

Handling that environment is a huge challenge for a young man. Just being part of a team with players such as Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney can leave them starstruck. It is one thing to play against big names in the Premier League, or say hello to them in the tunnel, but being their team-mate brings new pressures. Essentially, you are fighting for your place and that can make other players tetchy and defensive.

Before an international friendly, when fringe players tend to be involved, there is typically a lot of gossiping about who deserves to be in the squad and who does not. There is pressure on both sides and a feeling of tension and uncertainty that younger players will no doubt pick up on.

All the more reason, then, to celebrate the longevity of players such as Rooney and Spain's Iker Casillas. Both were just teenagers when they made their senior international debuts and yet both have remained at the very top all these years later. Now with 73 and 125 caps respectively, their international career achievements are truly extraordinary. It would be fantastic if, in years to come, we could look back at the current crop of youngsters joining the national set-up and say the same thing.

David James has donated his fee for this column to charity.

David James © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Newcastle United are in a better place thanks to Mike Ashley | Paul Wilson

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 03:00

Sports Direct Arena may be one of the owner's cruder decisions but some of his previous ones have been good for the club

When Premier League fixtures return next weekend after what has felt like an even longer than usual international break they do so with a richly promising meeting between the two remaining unbeaten sides. Manchester City, top of the league and going like a train, entertain Newcastle United, surprise package of the season and going for a song.

That is not strictly true. It is only the naming rights to Newcastle's ground that are up for sale, Mike Ashley having announced he was taking the club off the market two years ago after failing to attract buyers with an asking price of £100m. Considering the club are now seeking to make £10m a year from anyone willing to make an honest stadium of St James' Park and come up with a better name than Sports Direct Arena, the original deal for the whole kit and caboodle seemed much better value, though just as Ashley was not trampled in a buyers' rush in 2009 the indications are that he is unlikely to realise as much money as he hopes from a change of name that has gained approval only in the parts of the north-east populated by Sunderland fans.

City made a similar switch and a raft of money at the start of the season, simply by inviting their existing sponsors to cough up around £400m more to have their name attached to the stadium, quite some going when Uefa are encouraging financial fair play and City do not even own the former Commonwealth Games venue but lease it from the council. Clearly it must have helped that there was no 100 years of history with the Eastlands stadium and supporters were not emotionally tied to the name – City would have faced much more spectator unrest had they tried to rebrand Maine Road – though what has assisted City more than anything is having the sort of backers who can happily part with such sums in addition to paying stratospheric salaries and granting the club real clout in the transfer market.

That is what has put City on top of the table, regardless of the individual brilliance of David Silva and others. The Etihad splurge has even put Manchester United's nose out of joint, let alone Newcastle's, and for Alan Pardew's side to break up the Manchester duopoly on the top two positions, as they did briefly a week ago, is nothing short of miraculous given the gulf in budgets.

It appears Pardew is deserving of credit, along with the chief scout, Graham Carr, for rebuilding the team with unheralded signings from France, though before his typically tasteless Sports Direct Arena stunt people were starting to say that Ashley must be doing something right, too.

He appointed Pardew, after all. He sold Joey Barton, now seen as a key move in allowing less strident personalities at the club to express themselves more fully on the pitch. He pocketed £35m from Liverpool for Andy Carroll, a deal that looks more like the sale of the century with every passing week, no matter how much of the cash trickles down to Pardew. And with a team unbeaten in third place, and supporters as happy as they have been since the early promise shown under Kevin Keegan,

Ashley has not only put an end to the rather squalid soap opera of expensive comings and goings he originally found himself supervising, he has shown that a degree of success can be achieved by clubs where spending has to be sustainable.

Newcastle's big advantage is a ground holding 52,000 that regularly sells out. That not only generates income, it excites potential signings, and Carr has spoken about the importance of the St James' Park match-day atmosphere in convincing foreign targets they are moving to the Premier League big time. Though Sunderland's ground holds almost as many, they cannot make the same boast. The Stadium of Light will fill if results are good, yet results have to come first.

Ashley always had a full stadium, now he has the results to go with it, and if he needs extra revenue from naming rights and shirt sponsorship to keep Newcastle at their present level the supporters might have to swallow their pride and go along with it. However depressing the Sports Direct Arena match-day atmosphere sounds, Newcastle do not have the global fan base of Manchester United or Arsenal, or the luxury of backers with deep pockets like Manchester City or Chelsea. They have to make money where they can, or think they can.

Ashley may struggle to get his latest project off the ground because really famous names have a habit of resisting takeovers – cycling's Milk Race disappeared for a while when new sponsors dried up on discovering that no one ever wanted to refer to the event by any other title, meaning that the Milk Marketing Board got years of free advertising long after they had ceased to pick up the tab – though at least he is no longer trying to sell the club. He has probably decided economic conditions are not auspicious, and he is probably right. When he does come to sell up, if that is his ultimate intention, it could be completely different from the last time.

Not only might he find a few prospective buyers, there may even be a few supporters wanting him to stay. Unpredictable, that's Newcastle. But indisputably in much better shape than two years ago.

Paul Wilson © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Halifax rise from the ashes for FA Cup fairytale against Charlton

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 03:00

Halifax Town folded in 2008, but a reformed club is on the rise and looking to make a giantkilling

FC Halifax Town's FA Cup fairytale has come early. Three years after Halifax Town AFC folded and a famous name diced with oblivion, the reformed club that was reborn in English football's eighth tier on Sunday welcome Charlton Athletic, leaders of League One, in the first round of the FA Cup.

For the first time in 100 years of a team called Halifax existing they will appear on live television, with ITV broadcasting the 12.30pm kick-off. The nearest precedent, a Match of the Day highlight, came in 1980 in the third round when the old Halifax defeated a Manchester City side of Joe Corrigan, Steve Daley and Michael Robinson courtesy of a Paul Hendrie goal at the Shay.

Neil Aspin's impressive record as the Halifax manager shows six losses in 84 league games and a 30-game home unbeaten run. "We've won back-to-back championships [to enter the Conference North] so it couldn't have gone any better," he said. "Even though people might say: 'You won those leagues easily.' The first year we got a hundred points and the team below us got 96. The biggest challenge [on his arrival in the summer of 2009] was that it was a massive club in a low level of football, so expectations were high."

Since the new club was formed the old gluepot at the Shay that helped undo City 31 years ago has been replaced with a surface fit for lawn tennis, and an impressive new main stand has been built at a stadium where rugby league is also played, and which is owned by the council. This will help Charlton, who are managed by Chris Powell. "In an FA Cup game, when you hope the pitch and surroundings can be a leveller, unfortunately it doesn't give us any advantage," conceded Aspin.

Halifax Town AFC folded in the summer of 2008 following an £800,000-plus tax bill. The club had entered administration during the 2007-08 season, but fans did still not believe Halifax could fold. "Everyone was under the impression that if they stayed up that season it would be all right," says Tom Partridge, a lifelong fan who was at the club's last away game, at Crawley Town, in the Conference, which was won 4-0. "There was an £800,000 tax bill, but there wasn't the money to pay it off so we got wound up. It was a shock."

Although Halifax finished 20th, three points clear of danger, after failing to agree a CVA, 10 points were docked, before a £2m total debt pushed the club into liquidation. Bobby Ham is one of the three directors who rescued the Halifax name. "We were keen supporters at the time. The three of us – David Bosomworth, now the chairman, Stuart Peacock and myself – decided we'd like to make a go of it, and our ultimate aim is to get them back in the Football League. The club had been put down three divisions [from the Conference] which was a sad blow. Once we'd got the club, there were five weeks to the start of the season and we had to look for a manager. We took Jim Vince on a two-year contract. Things didn't work out and we paid him up just before the end of the first season, and we got Neil Aspin."

Ham said he, Peacock and Bosomworth "had to put a bit of money in" and is reluctant to say precisely how much. But nothing had been left from the old club, so kit, balls, corner flags – everything – had to be bought, and for FC's opening match their strip of blue shorts and shirts was sourced from a local shop. "We've said we'd run the company well for whoever takes over eventually. It's a proper business, everything has to be spot on," Ham said.

Jamie Jackson © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


England's young guns will be vital for Euro 2012, says Capello

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 02:40

• Manager praises Jack Rodwell, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck
• John Terry will make England return against Sweden

Fabio Capello did not only supervise the most unlikely of victories over the world champions at Wembley, he did so without regulars such as Wayne Rooney and John Terry, and by giving match time to inexperienced newcomers in Jack Rodwell, Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones.

Jones started the game in midfield, Rodwell and Welbeck came on in the second half and impressed so much that their manager claimed their emergence at international level was more important than the scoreline.

"Rodwell, Jones and Welbeck are really, really good players," Capello said. "I always had confidence in them, but today they showed what they can do. They played without fear and I think all three will be important players for England in the European Championship in summer."

First there is another Wembley friendly against Sweden on Tuesday, for which Capello, who was sporting a floral buttonhole in honour of the family wedding he missed in Italy, has already promised to ring the changes. "Terry will play against Sweden," he said. "So will Gary Cahill, Kyle Walker, Daniel Sturridge and Bobby Zamora."

Terry was always likely to be restored to the starting lineup and the captaincy at the earliest opportunity, although Capello was at pains to emphasise that his rotation of resources was no reflection on the performances of Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott against Spain. "My two centre-halves were fantastic," the Italian said, after both had featured prominently in a deep rearguard action that lasted for most of the final half hour. "They played with a lot of confidence and prevented Spain passing their way through the  middle. Scott Parker also showed what an important player he is. He improves in every game."

Spain, before the celebrations get out of hand, do not have the most impressive record in friendlies. Since winning the World Cup last year, they have performed faultlessly in Euro 2012 qualifying, but have lost friendly fixtures against Italy, Portugal, Argentina and now England. Vicente del Bosque, the Spain coach, denied his players were not taking friendlies seriously enough or that they were suffering from complacency. "I was angry we did not win this game," he said. "We kept hold of the ball well and dominated the game. England defended deep, with men behind the ball. We lacked pace when we needed it, but I have to congratulate Fabio Capello on his tactics and his players for carrying out the plan well."

Paul Wilson © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Said & Done: Jean-Claude Van Damme's dinner date

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 02:30

Man of the week; Freddy Shepherd on fans; Van Damme's dinner date; plus Loulou Nicollin eyeing England

Man of the week

Bahrain coach Peter Taylor asked by ESPN about the regime's treatment of banned striker Alaa Hubail, on trial this month for taking part in pro-democracy protests. Hubail says he was tortured pre-trial, "living a nightmare of fear and horror". Taylor: "I don't know who you are talking about."

Fifa's response to the ongoing trials of athletes: appointing Bahrain's ruling family member Shaikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa to the 2014 World Cup committee last month. Bahrain's official news agency reported: "This testifies to the global acclaim of the kingdom's role in enhancing sport."

Campaign of the week

The Sun on beating Fifa's poppy ban: "We [still] mustn't let corrupt Fifa and its arrogant boss Sepp Blatter off the hook. The ban was outrageous … Maybe if we'd bribed them, they'd have changed their minds sooner." (Dec 2010: The Sun on England's World Cup bid. "Today The Sun makes this plea to Mr Blatter and Fifa: don't be put off by the BBC's rehashing of ancient history. Despite BBC muckraking, The Sun trusts Fifa to put football first.")

Man of the people

Former Newcastle owner Freddy Shepherd says selling naming rights to St James' Park betrays the fans. "Once again it all comes down to money. Fans like myself will always call it St James'. It's about emotion."

1998: Freddy in a Spanish brothel, via the News of the World: "Newcastle fans are mugs … and the girls are all dogs! Me, I like blondes, big bust, good legs. I don't like coloured girls. I want a lesbian show with handcuffs." (£32.9m: Newcastle's loss in Shepherd's final year. £37m: the amount he made from selling up.)

Dave news

October: Dave Whelan on racism. "I think we should forget colour and … you know, it doesn't bother anybody. If they call somebody white, if they call somebody black, you've just got to get on with it. You know, I think the players who come and complain, sometimes they are a little bit out of order." November: Dave Whelan on spitting: "It has no place in football. It has no place in society. It is disgusting, a horrible thing to do. I was shocked."

Big society news

£4.6m: amount Vodafone donated to good causes in the last financial year including football projects, "changing lives across the UK". £8bn: latest figure put on the tax they avoided via an HMRC "sweetheart deal". Vodafone say the figure, aired in the Commons public accounts committee, is false: "Vodafone is a good corporate citizen."

Ramzan update

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov's club Terek Grozny say an opposition striker who was "badly mauled" at their ground by men dressed in police uniforms was being "provocative". Russia's players' union said the attack took place in sight of Kadyrov's sports minister; the club deny wrongdoing.

• Also new for Ramzan last week: a night out in Grozny with Jean-Claude Van Damme to watch a play called Spiritual Values. Van Damme was back in Chechnya a month after he took a reported six-figure fee to attend Kadyrov's celebrity birthday party. Van Damme told the party: "I love you, Mr Kadyrov."

Apology of the week

Italy: Former Juve keeper Michelangelo Rampulla, sorry for condemning the decision to call off the Napoli v Juventus match after a man died in flooding. Rampulla told the media: "In Naples people die all the time, there are shootings every day. One dead? Play on." Rampulla: "Sorry if I offended."

Plus Australia: Adelaide United's Antony Golec banned for one game for tweeting about a referee: "you are gay, biggest homo going around, you gypsy". Golec: "I apologise. What I thought were private comments were sent in a moment of excitement."

Bulat's week

Switzerland: Prosecutors say Xamax owner Bulat Chagaev used a forged Bank of America letter to show he had $35m in a US account in order to avoid the club being wound up. Swiss media say the letter had an old address, an "unknown signature" and "many grammatical errors". Chagaev denies wrongdoing.

Manager news

Italy, 2 Nov: Cagliari president Massimo Cellino tells fans to lay off coach Massimo Ficcadenti. "There are those who dare pass insults, but for every so-called fan who whistles, 100 show support. We're building for the future through hard work, patience and trust. I have all these qualities, so must the fans. I'm not even thinking about changing Ficcadenti. He's a good coach and a good man. It's time to be serious, earnest and, above all, level-headed."

9 Nov: Sacks him.

PR world

26 Oct: Carlos Tevez is "hurt by insinuations he refused to play" for Man City, says his spokesman. "He feels his reputation has been damaged by that. It's been a very difficult time. But Carlos is back and will follow any instruction from City about training, who he trains with, where he trains and what time of day – he just wants to play football."

9 Nov: Carlos skips training, flies to Argentina.

Back on form

France: Montpellier president Louis "Loulou" Nicollin – paying tribute to opponents Saint-Etienne: "They are pathetic imbeciles. They'll get theirs one day because in life we always meet again. What a bunch of dickheads." Also new from Nicollin – who caused trouble last season by accusing PSG's president of liking to "grab a sausage and stab himself in the arse" – a plan to expand his bin-collecting business into England. "They don't know how to collect bins properly in England. But first, I have to speak English. I'm taking lessons at the minute."

Plus: Larissa news

Paraguay: Model Larissa Riquelme says she was "sad" to be pelted with bottles by Cerro Porteño fans upset with the form of boyfriend Jonathan Fabbro. "It was shameful that it can happen to me," said Larissa. "I love this club, and Jony tries hard. Many people know nothing."

David Hills © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Darren Bent shows England there may be hope without Wayne Rooney | Kevin McCarra

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 01:59

Isolated striker stays alert as Fabio Capello experiments with his forward line in 1-0 friendly win over Spain

It has been a while since Wayne Rooney was a talisman for England. Indeed, the dismissal against Montenegro that will sideline him at the start of Euro 2012 has turned him into more of a burden to his country. This friendly with Spain at least invited Darren Bent and others, as substitutes, to take our minds, and that of Fabio Capello, off the Manchester United player. They did so with this victory.

On an evening that seemed initially as if it would be a trial for any England forward, Bent maintained enough concentration to put the header against the post that allowed Frank Lampard to score. The Aston Villa player had located a pocket of space so that he could make untroubled contact with James Milner's free-kick. In that episode, Bent displayed one of the arts of a forward by being alert when there had hitherto been so little involvement for him.

It is important to learn what others can do in Rooney's place, particularly on an occasion such as this in which the opposition test a lone striker's concentration to its limits by denying his team-mates the ball. Bent, indeed, had seemed taken by surprise after 15 minutes as an angled ball from Lampard released Phil Jones. The striker was offside when the ensuing pass reached him and he reacted in the traditional manner by suggesting it had been unduly delayed.

Whatever the potential angst in an encounter with the world and European champions it was vital to involve Bent, who had three goals for his country in 2011. A match with Spain is, however, a far from ideal context for any player, let alone a wannabe poacher. It took a while for Bent to dispel that notion.

For much of the match before the goal, Capello had little more to study in the striker than his patience and attempts to stay mentally sharp in the long stretches when the match was being conducted far from him. For all that, Bent would have continued to matter even if there had been no impact of any sort against Spain.

Rooney did score twice during the qualifier with Bulgaria in Sofia, but there had been a long spell in which marksmanship appeared to have fallen out of his repertoire on the international scene. The red card in Podgorica was not the sole cause of doubts about his reliability. England require someone whose marksmanship is the essence of his contribution.

Footballers equipped for that line of work are rare and costly. Liverpool stumped up £35m for Andy Carroll, who has laboured to cause the anticipated degree of havoc since his move from Newcastle United. Capello's concerns in this department are not to be underrated. He was moved to present Danny Welbeck with a competitive debut against Montenegro that ties him to this country, so removing the fear that he might take up his other option of representing Ghana.

Capello has to scour his options. Few would have supposed that Bobby Zamora, 31 in January and with one cap to his name before this fixture, would be entitled to even a touch of optimism about being in the party for the campaign in Poland and Ukraine. The beauty of this game lay in the fact that no one's case for inclusion could be gravely harmed, even if it was also true that the scope did not exist for the sort of exciting feats that would make Capello see a candidate in a new light.

The manager was in no rush to conduct experiments, with only Stewart Downing brought on for Theo Walcott at the start of the second half. Even so, Bent had to trust that Spain would let a cross come his way eventually, as indeed they did. He might not have scored on his own account, but the capacity to be elusive in the midst of a throng was noteworthy.

Bent, with 64 minutes gone, made way for Welbeck, who soon posed a direct threat as he linked with a fellow substitute, Jack Rodwell. The crowd began to react when the ball came his way since England forwards had a certain promise when the opposition were concerned with an equaliser.

That scene had not been envisaged beforehand. No one will suggest that England are now superior to Spain, but the capacity to sneak a goal will always be precious.

Kevin McCarra © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Fleetwood and Luton take League scalps

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 01:59

• Fleetwood Town beat Wycombe Wanderers 2-0
• Stourbridge denied win against nine-man Plymouth Argyle

The magic of the FA Cup may be a careworn concept, as faded as Paul Daniels and his on-stage shtick, but there were still moments to cherish for fans of unheralded sides up and down the country as the first round got underway in earnest. Fleetwood Town and Luton Town were the only two non-league clubs to pull off genuine, if minor, shocks but the result of the day perhaps came at Home Park where Stourbridge, of the Evo-Stik Southern Premier Division, were denied a win against nine-man Plymouth Argyle.

Despite falling behind in the fourth minute, the Glassboys – who arrived for the match to find that Stourbridge had been misspelled on their shirt badges – recovered to lead 2-1 shortly after half-time through goals from Aaron Drake and Ryan Rowe. The Plymouth player-manager, Carl Fletcher, equalised before a frantic final 10 minutes: a Sean Gebbis penalty, following Robbie Williams's red card, made it 3-2 to the visitors but Onismor Bhasera again pulled Plymouth level. There was still time for Conor Hourihane to become the second Plymouth player to be sent off, as Stourbridge claimed a replay against opponents who, despite being rooted to the bottom of League Two, are three divisions above them.

Fleetwood secured the biggest scalp, knocking out Wycombe Wanderers despite playing more than half the match with 10 men. Andy Mangan and Jamie Vardy scored the goals that ensured the Lancashire club, second in the Blue Square Bet Premier Division, beat a side 27 places above them in the league system.

Luton, relegated from the Football League in 2009, are five places below Fleetwood, but overcame League Two opposition in the shape of Northampton Town. The substitute Adam Watkins scored the only goal of the game in the 80th minute at Kenilworth Road to put the Hatters in the hat for the second round.

That was as far as the giant-killing went, though Maidenhead United celebrated 140 years since they played a part in one of the first FA Cup fixtures by holding the League Two side Aldershot to a draw. The Conference side Bath City also earned a replay after holding Dagenham & Redbridge. Five other non-league teams progressed, with the most remarkable scoreline occurring at the Testwood Stadium, where Southern League Premier side AFC Totton put eight goals past nine-man Bradford Park Avenue of the Northern League.

League Two Swindon Town claimed a significant victory, winning 4-1 against Huddersfield, who were unbeaten in their previous 42 league games.

Alan Gardner © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


England's young guns show stubborn desire to thwart Spain's wizards | Paul Hayward

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 00:12

Phil Jones personified England's desire not to be humiliated – and the result exceeded all expectations

Not unreasonably, Fabio Capello asked almost his entire team to report to central midfield when Spain had the ball. There was a little first-half difficulty called Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and David Silva, and the idea was to crowd, hustle, snatch, survive. No one dreamed it might yield a 1-0 victory.

Well, you have to have a plan against the world champions, don't you? But set pieces still work best. A Frank Lampard finish from a James Milner free-kick left Spain in the unlikely position of chasing the game against an experimental England side who offered a taste of the big time to Phil Jones, Jack Rodwell, Danny Welbeck and Kyle Walker. Capello may have missed his son's wedding but he made plenty of other parents happy.

Faced by Spain or Barcelona (largely the same thing), opposition managers must go through the ritual of devising a geometrical strategy, whether they believe in it or not. Capello left Darren Bent, the centre-forward, so lonely that he might have made a cigar ad. Field glasses were needed for Bent to see his closest team-mate as England formed a blockade of white shirts to stop Spain's infernal trio threading passes into the penalty area.

Moving an extra centre-back into midfield to deal with surely the best collection of centrocampistas in modern times seemed a good idea until you looked at Jones's birth certificate. Not in living memory has an English 19-year-old been handed such a daunting task in a largely alien position.

Capello has fallen for Jones, and rightly so, but there was a hint of the cavalier in the England coach's decision to assign the young Manchester United defender a senior screening role alongside Scott Parker. Capello's idea was doubtless that Jones would hound Spain's orchestrators with his enthusiasm and energy.

His first act was a foul on Alvaro Arbeloa. In the next breath he dispossessed Xavi. But as the game settled into a pattern of swarm and smother Jones endeavoured to impose himself with surging runs from a part of the pitch where Parker and Lampard huddled together for comfort.

This was an England side without John Terry, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand. It was the night of the thankless task, which some used to advertise ancient failings. When, under no pressure, Joe Hart belted a clearance aimlessly upfield, Stuart Pearce, Capello's No2, rose from his seat to tell him not to do it again. So Hart did it again.

Yet England found themselves in front against a side who have been known to switch off for friendlies. Realistically Capello's men were not going to turn overnight into a team capable of matching Spain's possession stats or their relentless use of the disguised pass. Quick, darting interventions were made on the edge of England's penalty area and then the ball was sprayed wide to Theo Walcott and Milner. Soon, though, the old inability to deliver concise pressure-relieving balls and keep possession higher up the pitch brought the crimson shirts back to their favoured hunting ground – in the danger zone in front of the opposition's back four.

Senior European managers will tell you that the only hope against the Spanish tyranny is to jump on it when the threat is most acute. Xavi and Silva must not be allowed to think, turn and unleash the killer angled pass. But these wizards have spent their whole professional lives dealing with such physical pressure and finding a way out. Silva, for example, is a brilliant shielder of the ball and Xavi simply responds by setting up another triangle.

Iker Casillas picked up his national record 126th cap without wear or tear to his gloves, a long-range Lampard shot being his only test. With no score, Spain rolled out the stiffs for the second-half (a joke – don't write in). Cesc Fábregas replaced Xavi and Chelsea's Juan Mata came on for Silva. The only disturbance was to Spain's goalkeeping, as Pepe Reina (on for Casillas) jumped too soon to counteract a Bent header that rebounded off his post for Lampard to nod in.

As the unthinkable loomed Spain sent on Fernando Torres to join Mata and Santiago Cazorla for Iniesta. Cazorla is yet another diminutive conjurer who refuses to deviate from the religion of hurtful passing. England responded with cup-tie fervour, trying to protect what they held with sliding tackles and all-round industry.

Statisticians said Spain touched the ball 348 times in England's half up to the interval while England had reached 75 by the same measure.

This overwhelming deficit was offset in part by England's stubbornness and disinclination to go home humiliated. It turned out much better than that because there are glimpses in the younger England players of a determination not to go through life expecting the worst.

Paul Hayward © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Leyton Orient 3-0 Bromley | FA Cup first-round match report

Sat, 11/12/2011 - 23:39

A trio of Bromley fans came to the Matchroom Stadium dressed in white robes and keffiyehs. "Every team needs a sheikh," was Rob Kivanc's irreverent reasoning for his costume.

Bromley may never attract such investors, yet at the helm they at least have a man whose passion for the game is deep – much deeper than his pockets ever were. Mark Goldberg frittered a personal fortune of £40m on Crystal Palace while he was their chairman between 1998 and 1999. It was an investment which dragged Palace to the brink of liquidation and caused Goldberg to file for bankruptcy.

The 48-year-old has long since been reinvigorated by his return to football as a manager and his non-league Bromley were highly creditable in defeat here. Their fervour and pertinacity unsettled Leyton Orient, yet by the time of Aaron Rhule's second-half red card for a spat with George Porter, Bromley had conceded twice and wasted all their own chances.

"I don't think that the game passed us by in the way that it did against Colchester [the last time Bromley reached the first round in 2009]", Goldberg said.

"We controlled a lot of the game, we restricted Orient to one or two shots from outside the box and we had some opportunities. I think the occasion just got the better of one or two of the players when they had an opportunity to strike on goal. In a normal situation they would have at least hit the target."

Of the chances Bromley wrought, several fell to or were created by the influential Gareth Williams, but more of his efforts went over the bar than under. For Orient, who took Arsenal to a fifth-round replay last year, it was the antithesis; chances were sporadic but finished with precision.

They led through Matthew Spring's seventh-minute goal – a controlled side-footed strike which flew from his left boot into the exact spot that he intended. The second goal, in the 57th minute, was equally well taken. Following a Bromley corner, Porter spurted from his own half into the opposition box and slotted a shot neatly inside the near post.

Porter might have been dismissed seven minutes later when he and Rhule clashed. Instead the referee and his assistant deemed the Bromley player to have been the primary aggressor and awarded Porter only a yellow.

Orient's third goal was inevitable as Bromley tired. When Moses Odubajo's shot rebounded off the post, Jimmy Smith was calm enough to ram the rebound past two scrambling defenders.

Bromley's players received a five-minute standing ovation from their supporters. And even if they will look back on this fixture with disappointment, Goldberg is surely better placed than any manager to lift them from defeat.

Jonny Weeks © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


England 1-0 Spain | International friendly match report

Sat, 11/12/2011 - 23:22

England 1-0 Spain
Lampard 49

At least Fabio Capello can stick out his chin and look his family in the eye. Missing his son's wedding because a misunderstanding over dates left him in charge of a ragbag of England reserves getting a footballing lesson from Spain would have been one thing, but this was nothing of the sort. When Capello belatedly joins the celebrations in Italy, he can take pride in explaining that the delay was due to defeating the world champions.

Perhaps that does not make England better than Spain, or even as good, but it was an outcome much improved on the grotesque mismatch many predicted. England defended well throughout, played the game at the slower tempo Spain prefer and prospered through the time-honoured old trick of putting away one of the very few chances that came their way. Just because putting crosses into the box has fallen out of favour in Spain does not mean the rest of the world must follow suit, and though Darren Bent may not be the silkiest of footballers – and had to play most of this match in virtual isolation from his attacking colleagues – there was nothing wrong with his reaction once he got a sniff near goal.

"When you lose the ball it is important to try and win it back within five seconds," Theo Walcott had helpfully explained in the match programme. Especially against Spain, who often seem capable of holding on to the ball for spells closer to five minutes. The opening stages of this game illustrated the difficulty England were facing so vividly that it was tempting to wonder whether they had heard Walcott's injunction all wrong. At first, the home side appeared incapable of keeping hold of the ball for five seconds, let alone winning it back in that time.

First Joleon Lescott coughed up possession by attempting to dribble his way out of defence, then, after Spain had linked about a dozen passes together, Ashley Cole intercepted and gave the ball away with almost the same touch. Phil Jones recovered possession on the other wing only to pass straight into touch, and though Scott Parker and Frank Lampard showed more poise and control in working the ball forward through the middle, they were only operating in the safe area of their own half. As soon as they attempted to cross halfway, the ball was lost.

Spain were not at their most urgent and incisive, however, and England survived these early mistakes, indeed, midway through the first half, Cole dispossessed a surprised Xavi with one of the cleanest challenges from behind you will see. No contact was involved, Cole just walked his opponent off the ball with the sort of precision and elegance we have come to expect from Spanish players, and in terms of playing the world champions at their own game that is definitely the way to go. The only problem is that England still cannot quite match the rest of Spain's game and, within another minute, David Villa was holding up the ball on the edge of the area, waiting for Jordi Alba to arrive on the overlap, and had the full-back's cut back from the by-line found David Silva a fraction more tidily, Joe Hart would at least have had a save to make.

The first shot of the game that actually required stopping came from Frank Lampard after 31 minutes, though it was an effort from distance that said more about the lack of options available to him than any real confidence in beating Iker Casillas. Spain's best chance of the first half followed shortly afterwards when, with more time than he probably realised, Sergio Busquets went for a first-time volley from Xabi Alonso's lofted diagonal pass and spooned the ball over the bar as well as over Hart. Tellingly, England had been opened up following a corner played not only short but initially away from the penalty area. Just like Barcelona against Manchester United here in May, Spain do not do anything as primitive as using their corners to bang crosses into the box.

Still, England could congratulate themselves on reaching half-time without conceding, even if there was a strong suspicion Spain were keeping plenty in reserve. Glen Johnson wrapped up the first period with a strong run into the area, gamely staying on his feet when he might have hit the floor in search of a penalty, though Sergio Ramos had actually pulled out of the tackle and had made no contact.

Capello sent on Stewart Downing for the second half, in place of the lively yet limited Walcott, while Spain withdrew Silva and Xavi for Juan Mata and Cesc Fàbregas. Silva had not looked in his best Manchester City form in the first half, his legitimate tag of best player in England appearing to weigh him down in the company of compatriots, though the most significant Spanish substitution was arguably allowing Pepe Reina to take over from Casillas in goal.

The Liverpool goalkeeper had still not touched the ball when England took the lead, four minutes after the restart, and was slightly slow to react when Bent headed downwards from a James Milner free-kick and struck Reina's left-hand upright. The ball bounced back across goal, where Lampard was able to touch it over the line for a gift score to celebrate his temporary elevation to the captaincy, though the most significant irony was that Spain had been undone by a form of the game they eschew. Milner had thought of nothing else but whipping over a cross from a free-kick awarded near the touchline and, once Bent's athleticism enabled him to beat Gerard Piqué in the air, the masters of possession football were at the mercy of a team willing to pump the ball into the area and take their chances.

Inevitably Spain had chances to equalise, Villa finding the side netting with one and, even more unluckily, striking the post with another, Fàbregas bringing a late save from Hart and missing the target with his next chance, and some of England's defending in the closing stages bordering on the desperate. Yet, still giving the ball away far too often for their own good, England survived, with Lescott, Parker and Phil Jagielka all outstanding at the back. Capello even found time to bring youngsters such as Jack Rodwell, Danny Welbeck and Kyle Walker into the action, and but for a timely intervention by Alba the first two might have produced a second goal. That really would have been flattering, but after all the fuss about poppies it was fitting England used the occasion to recover their pride.

Paul Wilson © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


England v Spain - as it happened | Scott Murray

Sat, 11/12/2011 - 23:09

Here comes Vicente del Bosque with his world champions! Ooh cripes. Oh lummee. Do Fabio Capello's England have any hope? There's always hope! Until 5.16pm at least.

Kick off: 5.15pm.

So then, del Bosque. There's a case to be made that the Spanish coach is the most under-rated manager of all time. He rarely gets a mention in the roll call of greats, yet look at his achievements. Real Madrid were a shambles when he took over at the Bernabeu from a well-past-his-prime John Toshack in November 1999. Almost immediately, he won the European Cup. In his first full season, he won the league. The following campaign, another European Cup. The season after that, another league. And then the sack, booted out of the door along with Claude Makelele. Well done, Real! Well done!

Los Merengues have since won a couple of leagues, but no European Cup, which is what they've been wasting all their money in pursuit of. Vicente, meanwhile, has serenely guided la Furia Roja to their first World Cup. So.

As for England, what chance against Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Alonso, Silva et al? It'll be a test all right, with Manchester United's immensely promising Phil Jones thrown into the middle of the park, in the hope he can somehow break up all that tiki-taka, and maybe make a few all-action English-style bursts forward himself. God speed, then, young Phil, because this is the sort of task which could easily break a man with more nous than a 19-year-old can reasonably be expected to have. (See Gareth Southgate against Germany in 2000.)

This is, incidentally, a bit of a no-win scenario for England. Mainly because "no win" is very much the likely outcome for them. But even if they do manage to defeat the world champions - who have admittedly gone down in three recent high-profile away friendlies, 4-1 in Argentina, 4-0 in Portugal, and 2-1 in Italy - the concomitant hubris would be certain to nip any English hopes for Euro 2012 in the bud. You know how the expectation cycle goes by now, no need for me to harp on.

Five changes to the England team which sealed its place at Euro 2012 in Montenegro: Hart, Glen Johnson, Lescott, Jagielka, Cole, Walcott, Jones, Parker, Milner, Lampard, Bent.
Subs: Carson, Walker, Baines, Cahill, Terry, Barry, Rodwell, Adam Johnson, Downing, Zamora, Welbeck, Sturridge, Stockdale.

Spain, including five of the Barcelona side which rolled over Manchester United here in the Champions League final in May: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Busquets, Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta, Silva, Villa.
Subs: Valdes, Albiol, Puyol, Torres, Fabregas, Monreal, Mata, Llorente, Santi Cazorla, Jesus Navas, Reina.

Referee: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium)

Pre-match optimism, the English way, with Ian Copestake: "Here's hoping England suffer a high-scoring drubbing that paves the way for a national rethink in every aspect of the game, allowing hope to settle its ample behind on something more solid than the guff it usually sits on." Well, this Spain side are something else, while England are a work in progress at best. However, if the past is any guide, a high-scoring drubbing is still unlikely to occur. England have only been on the wrong end of a three-goal thrashing twice at Wembley: 6-3 in the Game of the Century against Hungary in 1953, 5-1 against the Scottish Wembley Wizards of 1928. If they do take a pelting today, it'll be a pretty seismic event.

The teams are out. They line up. Some gents wearing a lot of medals shake the players' hands. At a guess, they're something to do with the military. And then time for the national anthems. Spain's first. Their team looks bronzed, windswept and glamorous. Then a wee blast of God Save The Queen. The England team.

A minute of silence, impeccably observed, in memory of the fallen. You can buy a red poppy here. Or a white one here. Or both. Or neither, on account of this still being, just about, a free country.

And we're off! England in their crisp white shirts, and blue shorts. Spain in their furious red shirts, and dark blue shorts. This game has a classic look about it already, and we've only just kicked off. "The England line-up isn't even a work in progress," suggests Brendan Large. "They've probably had all of 20 minutes playing together in training. With two holding midfielders (one of which is out of position) and the far from spritely Lampard in there too, it looks like a damage limitation exercise even before it's started. Against a side like this it's soooo not going to work, but on the positive side, at least Messi isn't allowed to play with his mates today."

2 min: Milner swings a ball into the Spanish area from the left. Ramos heads clear. No real danger to Spain, but it's a decent enough start by England, who pressed their opponents into a misplaced pass. Here's Brendan Large correcting himself: "Just realised that Messi is being replaced by this season's best player in the Premier League. Not much of a positive then."

4 min: Iniesta is already seeing a lot of the ball in the middle. He combines with Alonso and nearly springs Silva clear down the right, but England are keeping it tight. Jones breaks up the play, but his long ball forward in the general direction of Bent flies out of play.

5 min: Silva hits a dropping ball on the volley from the edge of the area, just to the left of goal. Johnson gets his head in the way of a proper full-on hoof. That's brave defending. No idea whether the attempt was heading for the top-right corner, as intended, or Hangar Lane roundabout.

7 min: England can't keep hold of the ball when they have it, but in fairness, they're not seeing it much in the first place. Alonso, Iniesta and Silva are seeing an awful lot of it. Tiki, taka, tiki, taka, you know the drill. "Must disagree with Ian Copestake," writes Paul Taylor. "Hasn't England had enough drubbings over the last n years and subsequent calls for rethinks? It's well known what needs done: better talent recognition and then training from Day One. Although I wonder if our current crop of 'stars' would be significantly better, individually, had they had better/different training." It's still 0-0, I should stress.

9 min: Villa attempts to free Iniesta down the inside-right channel with a little dink from the edge of the English area. He's not on the same wavelength as his team-mate, and the ball sails through to Hart. Spain are sauntering around in the patient style, but England are keeping their shape well. Meanwhile Po' Ian Copestake's a cold. Here's someone else riffing on his pain. "He really is an optimist if he thinks a high scoring drubbing here would have the effect that the high scoring drubbing handed out by Germany only last year appears to have failed to achieve," notes Thomas Hopkins.

11 min: A bit of space for Johnson down the England right. He looks to drill a low ball into the Spanish area, but must make do with a corner. The set piece is wasted, but that's a wee bit of promise for the home side.

13 min: A corner for Spain now. Alonso frees Villa into the area down the inside-left channel, but he's well marshalled by Jagielka and Johnson. Some staunch work, there. The set piece is as inept as England's was.
Meantime, Peter McMurry would like to quibble with Brendan Large's statement that 'Messi is being replaced by this season's best player in the Premier League'. "Messi is being replaced by Robin van Persie?" asks McMurry.

15 min: Jones romps forward into a large amount of space in the middle of the Spanish half. Spain hold their back line on the edge of the area, and when Jones slips the ball towards Bent down the inside-left channel, the striker's caught well offside. "Why do all the articles about Spain seem to point to a different way of thinking that exists there and nowhere else?" wonders Michael Minihan. "We had this fifteen years ago with Ajax and subsequently with France and their academy at Clairefontaine. Spain have been cleaning up in the underage competitions since the early nineties and before. It's not that they suddenly created a good youth system or a new way of coaching. I think we're looking at the greatest generation of Spanish players there ever was or possibly ever will be. All things must pass. Spain's domination will too."

17 min: Jones, Walcott, Milner, Lampard and Parker all see a bit of the ball as it's shuttled back and forth across the face of the Spanish box. It's not quite slick tiki taka, but it's decent enough. England can't work an opening, and eventually Walcott loses patience and concedes a foul.

20 min: Spain are being kept pretty quiet here. A lot of the ball, but they can't get it to feet in the danger areas in the middle. I doubt they'll be too concerned yet, but England are pressing well. "Glad to play the Fool to the FA's Lear," returns Ian Copestake. "I sat surrounded by Germans in Frankfurt as England were alas taken to the cleaners last time round. The wound was not as deep as a well nor as wide as barn door, but it served."

23 min: Silva and Iniesta combine down the inside-left channel, both taking turns to nearly break clear into the area. A suggestion that Spain have decided to take it up a gear, from first to a heady second. "Messi has been replaced by Andy Carroll?" wonders Niall Mullen, who is just causing trouble.

24 min: Villa holds the ball up down the left, before releasing the overlapping Alba, who once he's got to the byline pulls a low ball into the centre for Silva. It's a tad too far in front of the Manchester City player, and the danger is gone.

27 min: Tikky takky tippy tappy. A lull, albeit one with a nice metronomic beat.

29 min: Spain nearly out-England the English. Iniesta boots a long ball forward for Busquets, who is clear down the middle and onside. The hoof is a tad too heavy, though, and just evades the boot of Busquets as he looks to bring it down.

32 min: The first save of the match, and it's Iker Casillas who has to make it. It's an easy parry from a long-range Lampard rake. "I found Michael Minihan's email interesting and refreshing," begins Brad McMillan. "Once Spain's domination is over, the only era I'll have been sad to see pass was the Ajax one. I can't deny the effectiveness of Spain/Barcelona, but I just can't motivate myself to watch a full match involving either of them. I'm not sure they're boring, just... predictable. And I don't find it fun." Yes, Spain got the job done in South Africa, and it was technically very impressive, but nobody was under any obligation to be entertained by it. Germany were much better to watch.

34 min: Now Hart has to do something, though again it's not much. Silva has half a yard in the English area down the left, and attempts to beat his Manchester City team-mate at the near post with a cheeky snapshot. Hart is behind it all the way.

35 min: "Is it me or is this a bit dull?" asks Phil Sawyer. "The game, not my email. Although to be fair it's true of the latter as well." Aye. This is rubbish so far. No point pretending otherwise.

37 min: Xavi has a not-particularly-impressive dig from distance. Deflected. Corner. From which the ball drops to Busquets down the inside-left channel. He tries to guide it goalwards while spinning through the air, but can't manage to do anything constructive.

39 min: Alonso frees Silva down the middle with another long pass. His shot is saved by Hart, who kicks away, but none of it counts, the linesman's flag having gone up. "I suppose the 'Spain-are-boring' brigade are more likely to be outcome-driven, but it's worth noting that the boringness is at least as much a product of the way other teams choose to play against them as it is of their own qualities," writes Corley Miller. "When was the last time a side lined up against the Spanish as though they were anything other than Stoke in an away game?"

41 min: A bit of speed by Walcott down the right. He's body checked by Ramos. The crowd cheer. The free kick's wasted. This is dismal.

42 min: Milner is booked for scything through Ramos's ankles. He can have no complaints.

45 min: A brilliant run by Johnson, who taps the ball past a static Ramos down the inside-right channel and breaks clear into the area. Brilliant defending by Alba, who gets his body between Johnson and the ball to usher the latter lump out of play.

HALF TIME: England 0-0 Spain. Dear oh dear. "For Spain, the last pass has been poor," opines Joe Pearson. "For England, it's the first. This match is dreadful."


Something for everyone here from 1970. The gents are encouraged to "join the MEN in mining", while there's a plan to parcel the ladies off to "the wonderful women's world in Australia". Meanwhile, to entertain the kiddies, an animation of a child being run over by a car. Ah, the past.

And we're off again! Some changes, as you'd expect in a friendly. Downing replaces Walcott for England, while Fabregas, Mata and Reina are on for Spanish team-mates Xavi, Silva and Casillas. "They got to half time at 0-0, that'll show 'em!" writes Francis Mead. "I've not seen the whole half, but I've seen beautiful, sharp movement and passing from Spain - and England really struggling. I think we CAN do better - so I'm not a long-term pessimist - but I'm annoyed that it's like watching a top Champions League side against a poor Conference side at the moment. And no, I don't agree: Spain are beautiful to watch."

48 min: GOAL!!! England 1-0 Spain. Milner is upended down the left. He gets up and swings a ball to the far post. Bent, eight yards out, leaps high and sends a header onto the right-hand post. With Reina all over the shop, the ball bounces back along the goalline, allowing Lampard to race in and head into an empty net from all of three inches. It's the least spectacular finish in the history of All Football, but who in England will care?

50 min: Well, well, well. Spain have had all of the possession, of course. But it should be noted that Hart has had bugger all to do. And that's not all. "The British ads are triumph of elegance and wit compared to the Spanish ads from the same era," reports Charles Antaki. "Take that, tiki-taka!"

52 min: Can England do a Switzerland? Are England as good as Switzerland? We'll soon find out. Spain are passing it around a lot in the English half, but going absolutely nowhere so far. A sense of higher Iberian urgency, mind.

54 min: Parker slides in on Mata down the left, flipping him into the air like an egg. Free kick. The set piece is confidently headed clear by Lampard. Darren Leathley has been spending the first few minutes of this half watching the ads: "I know TV Times only had the one channel to talk about then, but a fifty-six page souvenir pull-out for the third series of On The Buses? We didn't get that for any series of The Wire."

56 min: "Well there goes all hope of a face-saving draw or close defeat," sighs David Wall. "I don't think we'll like them when they're angry." And here we go. Villa suddenly breaks clear down the inside-right channel and into the area. He rounds Hart, but both the keeper and the chasing Jagielka push the striker wide right, and he can only find the side netting with the goal gaping.

58 min: Two more changes for England: Jones and the goalscoring hero Lampard off, Rodwell and Barry on.

59 min: Space for Rodwell down the left. He drops a shoulder and reaches the byline, but panics and shanks a cross, or was it a shot, into the stand behind. "I would love to see that supercharged West German team of 1974 (better still 1972) take on tiki-taki," writes Gary Naylor, a sucked-clean wishbone hanging out of his maw. "If advantaged by today's nutrition plans and training regimes, Netzer and co would be awesome in the true sense of the word and would surely run all over Spain 2011, if not Spain 2008 (which seems a much more effective side than the current one)."

60 min: Ramos is booked for a two-footed lunge on Bent. A few seconds later, Fabregas picks up a yellow card for clattering into the back of Jagielka as the pair go up to challenge for a high ball. No complaints for either caution. Interesting to note that Ramos could easily have been booked for his cynical check on Walcott in the first half.

63 min: Welbeck replaces Bent, while Torres - to a blast of pantomime boos - comes on for Busquets.

66 min: Rodwell exchanges quick passes with Welbeck down the inside-left channel. Lovely crisp, clean passing. He drifts inside, reaches the edge of the area, then miscontrols, allowing Alba to poke the ball back to Reina. The keeper is forced to parry the backpass clear, but Rodwell is pulled up for over-eagerness while bustling for the ball, and the danger is gone. "If On the Buses and The Wire were national football teams I think I know which of tonight's sides would feature Omar and which would have Blakey up front," writes Ian Copestake. Oh Ian! From William Shakespeare to Reg Varney in less than an hour.

69 min: Spain are currently struggling to string two passes together. To repeat: Spain are currently struggling to string two passes together.

71 min: Spain look very ordinary at the moment. Fernando Torres is wandering around looking totally uninterested, but since when has that been news. "I don't think Spain are boring," insists Brad McMillan. "I can't quite put my finger on it, but they make me feel a bit like when someone insists I watch a film they love, and it's rubbish, not because it's rubbish but because it's not as good as they said it would be. I'd take the Euro 2000 Italy side over Spain any day."

73 min: The cigarette papers between victories and losses. On the edge of the area, Villa latches onto a dropping ball - a poor clearance of a Fabregas crossfield pass by Johnson - just to the left of goal. He chests down, before scissoring a shot that beats Hart and clanks off the inside of the right-hand post. The ball flies away to safety.

75 min: A double change by Spain: Cazorla and Puyol on, Ramos and Iniesta off.

76 min: Adam Johnson comes on for Milner.

78 min: Spain are stepping it up, piling a bit of pressure on. But the final ball is constantly lacking. Fabregas has a chance to release Mata down the inside-right channel, but hesitates and the opportunity is gone.

79 min: Torres has finally decided to get involved. First he causes a bit of bother under a high ball near the right-hand post, then he bursts into some space down the right wing and delivers a tasty cross into the area, but there's nobody busting a leg to get on the end of it.

81 min: Mata suddenly has space in the English area, albeit wide on the right. He reaches the byline and dinks a lovely ball back down the inside-right channel for - of all people - Arbeloa, who can't quite adjust his stride to meet it.

82 min: Now it's Fabregas in space down the inside-right channel. He should take a whack at goal, but elects to find Pique in the middle with a low, square pass. Parker slides in to deflect the ball away from danger.

83 min: Fabregas is bundled over down the right, just inside the area. No idea as to whether it was a penalty shout or not, as British television, which routinely complains about ludicrous bias in the coverage by broadcasters from other nations, doesn't bother showing it again.

85 min: Cutting in from the left, Cazorla has a shot from distance. Low and hard, it's deflected out for a corner on the right. Spain overpass, and overthink, the set piece. They have been very poor tonight. Parker, meanwhile, is replaced by Kyle Walker.

88 min: At high speed, and with great skill, Torres takes down a high ball down the right. He whips a ball into the middle, Fabregas taking a shot from the edge of the box. It's deflected towards the bottom-right corner, but doesn't beat Hart.

89 min: Spain should have equalised here. Villa breaks clear down the inside-left channel and cuts the ball back for Fabregas, who is free, eight yards out. His sidefooted effort flies just wide right of goal. Very close, but nevertheless very poor.

90 min: There will be three added minutes of this.

90 min +1: Should they see this out, it'll be the first time they've beaten the reigning world champions since besting Argentina 3-1 in 1980.

90 min +2: Spain have given this up. "Sorry to be so pedantic," apologises Paul Connelly, "but Ian Copestake is being Edgar, not the Fool, to the FA's Lear."

ENGLAND BEAT THE WORLD CHAMPIONS!!! England 1-0 Spain. And that's that. Not much of a match, and Spain were dreadful, but England saw their plan out brilliantly, doing what they had to do. Honk honk! What's that coming over the horizon this way? It's HMS Hubris!

And sure enough, it begins already. "That makes England world champions by our reckoning," half-quips Adrian Chiles on ITV. Only a half-quip, you'll note. Less than a minute, that took. Is it worth pointing out that beating world champions Argentina did Scotland a fat lot of good in 1990? Probably not. The last, tinder-dry, word to Jonathan Francis: "Are you going to be covering the trophy presentation?"

Scott Murray © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


FA Cup first round: your thoughts

Sat, 11/12/2011 - 21:39

Swindon Town, AFC Totton, Stourbridge FC and Redbridge FC all had notable results in the FA Cup first round

All of the day's first round results and scores

• "I would only put Manchester City down as playing better than them at the moment," was how the in no way hyperbolic Swindon Town manager Paolo Di Canio described Huddersfield Town before their visit to the County Ground. But despite having only two fit strikers, Swindon Town took the game to a re-jigged Terriers side, impressively running out 4-1 victors. Aden Flint, Raffaele De Vita, Mehdi Kerrouche and Simon Ferry scored the goals for the Robins. It all goes to show that while they may be unbeaten in approximately 758 league games (well, aside from the League One play-off final), Huddersfield's cup form is altogether less impressive. Before Di Canio's Robins struck, Cardiff City had knocked Lee Clark's men out of the League Cup, while Bradford City dumped them out of the JPT.

• AFC Totton against Bradford Park Avenue gave the FA Cup first round draw a pleasingly quirky Victorian twinge. But Richard Marshall's sending off after 11 minutes was as disastrous to the Yorkshiremen's life chances as Oscar Wilde's decision to sue the Marquess of Queensbury, and Totton went on to win 8-1. It's the first time a non-league side has scored eight goals in a 'proper' round of the FA Cup since 1945.

• Despite Onismor Bhasera's late equaliser, Southern League side Stourbridge FC will surely be knocking back their specially brewed Up for the Cup ale after their 3-3 draw with what journalists are contractually obliged to describe as the league's 'basement club' Plymouth Argyle. Goals from Aaron Drake and Ryan Rowe put the Glassboys ahead before Pilgrims player-manager Carl Fletcher equalised. A Sean Gebbis penalty on 82 minutes looked to have sealed victory for the three times Worcestershire Senior Cup winners until Bhasera's late leveller.

• It's been 140 years since Maidenhead hosted Marlow in one of the first four FA Cup fixtures ever played but, until today's visit of League Two neighbours Aldershot, the Magpies had never hosted a professional side. A bumper York Road crowd saw Anthony Thomas spectacularly curl the struggling Conference South side ahead after seven minutes but a second-half Michael Rankine equaliser took the tie to a replay. In other notable non-league/league encounters, big-spending Fleetwood Town recorded a 2-0 win over former semi-finalists Wycombe Wanderers, while under pressure Gary Johnson saw his Northampton Town side lose 1-0 to local non-league rivals Luton Town.

• Isthmian League Division One North side Redbridge FC, the lowest-ranked team in the first round of the competition, drew 0-0 with Southern Premier League Oxford City. Formed from the wreckage of old works team Ford United, among Redbridge's 'stars' are James Robinson, Jimmy Greaves's 28-year-old grandson, and Tony Adams's nephew Adam Rafis. Oxford City will be equally pleased to go into the second round draw after city rivals United lost 3-0 to Sheffield United.

Scott Anthony © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


England v Spain – in pictures | Tom Jenkins

Sat, 11/12/2011 - 21:30

Our award-winning photographer with the best images from the world champions' trip to Wembley

Tom Jenkins


Wales 4-1 Norway | International friendly match report

Sat, 11/12/2011 - 21:29

• Wales 4 (Bale 11, Bellamy 16, Vokes 88, 89)
• Norway 1 (Huseklepp 61)

An afternoon that got off to an inauspicious start, when stewards confiscated a banner protesting against Welsh involvement in Team GB at the Olympic Games, ended on a much happier note, as Gary Speed celebrated another highly impressive performance from a side who are growing in confidence with every game. This was a fourth win in five matches for a resurgent Wales team whose attacking talent was far too much for a Norway side 21 places above them in the Fifa rankings.

Gareth Bale's seventh goal in nine appearances for club and country set the tone for a sparkling first-half display that also included a wonderful individual strike from the outstanding Craig Bellamy.

It was the Liverpool forward's 19th international goal and his first since he scored in a 5-1 win over Luxembourg 15 months ago, back in the days when John Toshack was in charge and Wales were about to start a Euro 2012 qualifying campaign that began with four straight defeats.

How times have changed. This 4-1 scoreline might have flattered Wales – the substitute Sam Vokes scored twice in the last two minutes – but the win was thoroughly deserved and highlighted just how far a group of players who were drained of belief 12 months ago have come under Speed's tutelage.

Some of the sharp, incisive football in the opening 20 minutes was a joy to behold. "That was the best we have played," Speed said, alluding to the period when Bale and Bellamy struck.

Norway never recovered from that early double setback, and although Erik Huseklepp halved the deficit just after the hour mark, the Portsmouth forward's goal owed more to a dreadful handling error from Wayne Hennessey than the visitors' good play.

Wales continued to push forward and gained reward late on when Vokes applied the finishing touch to a flowing move involving Bellamy and Bale. An 18-yard drive from the same player 60 seconds later applied the coup de grace.

"We have got so much going forward that we can always create and score goals," Speed said, reflecting on a third straight win – the first time Wales have achieved that feat since the start of 2008. "I thought we took our foot off the pedal after the first 20 minutes and became a bit complacent – that's a lesson we have to learn. We gave away a bad goal, but we kept our shape and were solid. When you are as good as us going forward, you have always got a chance. I don't think it was a 4-1 [scoreline] but we still deserved to win the game."

Bale's opener was a cracker. After drifting inside and using his chest to lay the ball off for Steve Morison, the winger immediately looked for the return pass that the Norwich forward promptly delivered, the ball sitting up invitingly for Bale to dispatch an emphatic volley inside Rune Almenning Jarstein's near post. Bellamy's goal was every bit as special, the forward accepting the invitation to cut inside, after Adam Matthews's overlapping run served as a decoy, before arrowing a superb 20-yard drive into the far corner.

Hennessey's mistake – he dropped the ball and it bounced off Andrew Crofts and into the path of Huseklepp – gave Norway some hope, but that was extinguished when Vokes grabbed the first of his two goals. Bale and Bellamy exchanged passes before the former skidded a low centre across the six-yard box, imploring Vokes to tap in. "Craig's intelligence as a footballer made that goal. I can't speak highly enough of him," Speed said.

Vokes, striding forward before unleashing a low shot that crept inside the near upright, completed the scoring on a day when the opposition manager could look on only with admiration. "I was very impressed with Wales," Egil Olsen, the Norway manager said. "They have high-class players in Bellamy, Bale and Ramsey. They're a very good team and they should be optimistic for the future."

Stuart James © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds