England's new era begins with defeat as the Aussies sweep to victory....
England's new era begins with defeat as the Aussies sweep to a 3-1 victory at the Boleyn Ground...Kewell is the star...Jeffers gets a debut goal...
England 1-3 Australia
The Boleyn Ground, Upton Park, West Ham United FC
Wednesday 12th February, 8pm kick off
"It's the Upton Park jinx," commented a wag in the crowd as the final whistle blew. Maybe we should have known.
Sven's bright new era got off to a rather average start tonight as Frank Farina's side overwhelmed England with a forceful performance that will have brought joy to Socceroo fans all over the world.
It was not a night of joy for Three Lions fans though the seeds that Sven planted may yet blossom in years to come.
It had actually started pretty well. England were into their stride swiftly from the whistle, with Michael Owen in particular seeming to relish the challenge of international football during a what is a sticky period for him and Liverpool in the Premier League at the moment.
His combination with Beattie looked promising too and Michael only just failed to latch onto the Southampton man's intelligent and audacious sixth minute back-heel.
The early sparring saw both sides go near. No sooner had Becks and Sol nearly re-created the goal against Sweden on ten minutes, than Harry Kewell marched straight down the other end to lash in a viciously swerving effort that David James kept out only with his fingertips.
In the event it was the visitors, to the delight of their sizeable and vociferous band of supporters, who struck the first heavy blow.Lazaridis swung in a deep free-kick from the right and the Crystal Palace centre-half, Tony Popovic, rose powerfully at the far post to head home.
It was a sizeable setback but England responded quickly. Becks' sumptuous cross field ball instigated a scything move down the left involving Dyer and Owen and it was only the muscular nature of Beattie's challenge for the resulting centre to which the referee took exception.
That Scholes was, as ever, there to direct the loose ball into the net was only a frustrating irrelevance.At this stage the game could still have gone either way and England certainly had their chances. After Owen had frightened the life out of Schwarzer by dispossessing him and firing into the side-netting on 20 minutes, it was once again Scholes who created a clear-cut opportunity for himself, swivelling on the edge of the box before snapping a shot across the goal.
Farina's side, though, were impressive for both their resistance and their offensive style. Kewell's dancing feet soon created enough space for a Viduka header which brought a fabulous tip over from David James on his home patch.
That was in the 28th minute and, from that moment until half time, Australia claimed both the ascendancy and a vital second strike. Even before he notched their second goal, Kewell had two clear opportunities to double the lead. His stabbed near post effort on 31 minutes was certainly within range, and, when he found himself unmarked from the resulting corner, his header, which flashed high over the bar, could only be described as wayward.
Though second best at this stage, England always possessed the threat of Owen upfront and, when he latched onto Dyer's astute flick on just after the half hour, even the Australians were expecting an equaliser. Michael's left foot strike went the wrong side of the post though.
The cost of that miss was to become apparent ten minutes later when Kewell first won a physical battle with his former Leeds team-mate Rio Ferdinand and then lazily drifted around James to score Australia's second.In his programme notes, Sven admitted his secret wish that Kewell was among those he could call on to play for England and the Leeds man justified that compliment by providing a consistent threat all night. He was truly the game's outstanding player and it was difficult to deny that both individually and collectively, Australia were worth their two-goal advantage.
Suffice to say the Sven's team needed some words of calm and encouragement from their coach at half-time. The manager himself thought change could be the answer and introduced an entirely new team for the second half. It almost worked.England's future took the stage for the second forty five and, irrespective of tonight's result, where there is Rooney, Brown, Robinson and Jenas, there is also hope.Within two minutes of his arrival, Rooney spun out to the left and delivered an inch-perfect ball to Vassell at the far post. The Villa man's angled strike forced Schwarzer to fly low to his left to keep the ball out. It was game on.Four minutes later Rooney had already fired in his first shot on goal for England - this boy is not in the habit of hanging around.
As a follower of football you find yourself feeling protective of this seventeen year-old, wanting to shield him from the pressure that is being heaped on his young, if amazingly broad, shoulders. But as a fan, you just want to set him free on the opposition and see what havoc his bewildering talents can wreak. Two years ago this week, Rooney was lining up for the England Under-15 team. Frightening.
Similarly it was only last summer that Jermaine Jenas was captaining the England Under-19 team. Tonight, he looked a class act for the Seniors. It was his penetrating run down the flank that opened the door for England's goal - the highlight of the night for the home side.
The Newcastle man got free and provided a Beckhamesque centre which Francis Jeffers made his with a super flicked header that arrowed past Schwarzer into the bottom corner.The Arsenal front-man has amazing record at Under-21 level, having scored twelve goals in twelve games. He now has one in one for the Seniors.
On Tuesday, he told TheFA.com that he knows full well he will be judged on his goalscoring. On this evidence, and looking at Sven's delight when the goal went in, he will be judged generously.Less generous, one suspects, will be the media's verdict after Brett Emerton's 84th minute strike made the game safe for the Aussies.
John Aloisi's run took the ball deep into England territory and, when it rebounded to the Feyenord man, he opened up his body beautifully to slide the ball home left-footed under Paul Robinson.It was harsh on the second half line-up. Their industry and courage had been refreshing and messrs Jenas, Hargreaves, Jeffers and Brown all look good value for a place in Sven's next squad but, at 3-1, it was pretty much game over. We couldn't even hope for rain and a draw to halt the Aussies' march to victory.
The effort may have been there for England tonight, but, above all, we were missing cohesion and fluidity. Sven, of course, has a strong argument in the paucity of time he gets to spend with his players. But the triumphant Australians might also politely point out that the last time they all played together was in the World Cup play-off against Uruguay some eighteen months ago.No one likes defeat, least of all Sven and we should remember that tonight's game was about the future as much as the present.
There will, of course, be no such extenuating circumstances against Liechtenstein and Turkey next month.
1 David James (Robinson, 45), 2 Gary Neville (Mills, 45), 3 Ashley Cole (Konchesky, 45), 4 Frank Lampard (Hargreaves, 45), 5 Rio Ferdinand (King, 45), 6 Sol Campbell (Brown, 45), 7 David Beckham (c) (Murphy, 45), 8 Paul Scholes (Jenas, 45), 9 James Beattie (Vassell, 45), 10 Michael Owen (Jeffers, 45), 11 Kieron Dyer (Rooney, 45)
1 Mark Schwarzer, 15 Lucas Neill, 3 Craig Moore, 4 Paul Okon (c) (Muscat, 87), 16 Scott Chipperfield (Crella, 76), 6 Tony Popovic (Vidmar, 70), 7 Brett Emerton, 8 Josip Skoko (Bresciano, 45), 9 Mark Viduka (Sterjovski, 85), 10 Harry Kewell (Aloisi, 56), 11 Stan Lazaridis
Officials (from Spain)
Referee: Manuel Enrique Mejuto
Assistants: Oscar David Martinez and Carmelo Miramon Moreno
4th Official: Eddie Wolstenholme (England)