Britain’s Got Talent, The Iraq War and the wonderfully named Mothers, Murders and Mistresses were the alternative on offers last night for those who did not fancy witnessing England hobbling through another dire night.
Fittingly, one of the aforementioned shows thrives on contestants whose self-belief is only matched by their lack of talent – a trait shared by many of the players on show at Wembley last night.
Perhaps we shouldn’t judge England and Ireland too harshly. After all, scheduling a meaningless friendly after a season that has seen some footballers play almost 70 games was never going to be a recipe for entertaining football, particularly with a trip to Rio de Janeiro looming large in the minds of Rooney & Co.
Injuries restricted Roy Hodgson’s choices ahead of yesterday’s fixture, with Tom Cleverley, Andy Carroll and Steven Caulker chances of adding to their cap tally curtailed by fitness problems, with Daniel Sturridge now added to the list.
And yet, there was something so painfully dire and excruciatingly boring about England’s performance that one would have been forgiven for thinking that Wembley was hosting a friendly between two clubs inhabiting the bottom half of the Premier League table.
Having been treated to some dazzling football on Saturday night and some pulsating action for the playoff final on Monday afternoon, the national stadium seemed to carry the same attitude of a children going back to school – holidays are a great fun but eventually, invariably, reality hits home.
Wembley’s only happy corner was painted in green and Irish supporters could be forgiven for treating a draw in a friendly like a crucial away win on the road to the World Cup. Humbled at Euro 2012, the Republic suffered humiliation at the hands of Germany and conjured to drop points against Austria in Dublin, a result that has sensibly chastened their hopes of traveling to Brazil next summer.
Despite their relative poor form – during Trapattoni’s five-year reign, Ireland have never beaten an higher ranked team in a competitive match, nor lost to a lower-ranked one – the boys in green somewhat appeared to show more urgency.
Perhaps the thought of spoiling the celebration for the FA’s 150th anniversary proved to be a remarkable incentive or perhaps some of the Irish players saw yesterday’s game as an opportunity to secure a transfer in the coming months.
Whatever the motivation Ireland did, marginally, better than England who were crippled by the same familiar foes, as they lacked tempo and creativity.
“Don’t like England playing this system,” Gary Lineker wrote on Twitter. “So easy to play against. Brazil will thrash us if we line up the same way. Predictable and dated. It’s not about playing in straight lines, it’s about playing between the lines. Depth gives flexibility, passing alternatives, creativity.”
England have hardly set the world on fire throughout their qualifying campaign and friendlies’ reliability as term of paragon is somewhat relative, given the flurry of second half changes that characterise this sort of encounters.
Yesterday’s was no different. Frank Lampard confirmed to be in the form of his life, Glen Johnson, as Roy Keane duly pointed out, is better at attacking than defending, while Wayne Rooney continued his indifferent club form.
The only figure to emerge victorious from last night was the FA who, thanks to a meaningless friendly, boosted their cash income but Roy Hodgson faces an uphill task to ensure that part of that money will be spent on flying tickets to Brazil in 12 months time.