The World -Cup-slate has been wiped clean; players such as Emile Heskey have left England behind for good, and a new crop of fresh, exciting talent is coming through. It’s a new beginning for England and hopefully this means a new start for everyone: no moaning about Capello’s World Cup decisions (although the whole country including me stands firm on the ‘Joe Hart should’ve played’ point - I don‘t think that will be let go anytime soon) and no ‘Wayne Rooney is rubbish’ comments (rubbish being a lighter term that most fans have used recently). Just a fresh start. Starting with the Euro 2012 Qualifiers.
And that’s just what we got.
A new-look England team took centre stage on the new Wembley pitch last night and played out an impressive 4-0 victory. That ‘oh-so-awful’ Wayne Rooney set up three goals; Jermain Defoe got a well-deserved hat-trick; young Adam Johnson came on and got his first England goal; Joe Hart showed everyone why he should’ve been picked for the World Cup, no, he showed Fabio Capello that all managers get it wrong sometimes.. And all in all it was a great team performance. This new England, complete with new kit, that everyone had been asking for, was displayed last night.
Sure, the first half was less-than exciting, even after going 1-0 up courtesy of Defoe’s first on his way to a hat-trick. But the team looked calm, collated and in control. The second half was much better, and we won with not so much if an ease, but with a total team performance.
The defence looked solid (barring a Dawson slip and a Johnson near-own-goal) and Joe Hart was playing his game as he always does; like he’s playing in the park with his mates - he is without doubt one of the calmest players I’ve ever seen (again begging the question of the ‘how is he too inexperienced’ topic, but, moving on…).
Playing Steven Gerrard in the centre is what we had all been crying out for: and last night Fabio Capello played him in the centre and probably wondered why he didn’t during the World Cup. Him and Barry together were great. So great, that most of the time you don’t even notice that they are there, because they just do their job. And they’re so good at it. Simple but effective.
Admitting Milner was a great player when he played for Aston Villa, for me, was hard. I thought he was decent, but not World class. Since he’s gone to Manchester City, I don’t know if it’s because I’m actually now watching him play without a pillow or my hands in front of my eyes; but the man is a machine. Bombing down the wing is his specialty, and didn’t he do just that last night. The guy was brilliant. If I were wearing a hat I’d be taking it off to him. He’s fast, powerful and skillful, and he’s just what we need. Down the other wing were Theo Walcott and then Adam Johnson, who are both similar players; expect Walcott has speed as his asset and Johnson has shots as his. Walcott made way for Johnson and almost immediately he showed just why shooting is his specialty, chipping in with England’s third goal of the night for his first goal for England. The midfield was great last night, and it begs the question; Will Frank Lampard come straight in when he comes back from injury?
Playing Rooney just behind Defoe was a tactic that worked brilliantly; Rooney, although still to scoring as prolifically as we would like, set up three goals - two of them being Defoe’s - and he put in a much better shift than all four games at the World Cup combined. He is definitely regaining whatever he lost in the Summer, and hopefully very soon we will have the Wayne Rooney that we all know and love back.
That brings me onto Defoe. He was brilliant. He played his game; got into the right positions and the way he finished off his hat-trick was sublime. People describe ‘The Perfect Hat-trick’ as one with your left peg, one with your right, and one off your head - Defoe’s wasn’t 'the' perfect one, but it can be described as ‘A Perfect Hat-trick’ because it was.
There’s one last player I haven’t talked about in depth, and that’s Joe Hart. Being a fan of Joe doesn’t take much effort: he’s a grounded lad, a brilliant footballer and one of the nicest people I have ever met. What is not to like about him? Nothing, is the answer, if you didn’t sense that it was a rhetorical question.
What that man doesn’t know about keeping calm under pressure isn’t worth knowing. Last night he played his first competitive game for England and he looked like he’d been between those sticks for ages. The first save he had to make was from his own defender Glen Johnson, who tried and failed to clear the ball, sending it straight at Hart who, always ready, pounced on the ball just on the line. Now, most ‘keepers would get up and shout a bit, maybe tell Johnson off. Not Hart. Joe got up, turned around and was laughing. His own player had nearly scored an own goal, and he was laughing.
But that’s what he brings to a team, if nothing else - which we all know he brings plenty else, but for the sake of argument - he brings some kind of aura of happiness. To put it another way: he just loves to play football, and because of that he always has a smile on his face whilst doing so. In my opinion, that makes the rest of the team a little calmer. If you know your goalkeeper is that alright about everything that may be coming his way, you know he’s got confidence in abundance. And that’s what we’ve been searching for in a ‘keeper for a while now; and it seems like we’ve found the perfect one - or near as dammit.
He was also involved in the fourteen or so seconds that made the match. 1-0 up, and Bulgaria go on the attack; the ball is fired, straight at Joe Hart so it was a relatively easy save to make, but he made it all the same. Next thing you know, the ball is at the other end and Defoe is slotting it calmly into the net...
If Bulgaria would’ve scored, England might have had a torrid time of it. 1-1 and the fans get on your backs slightly; 2-0 and the game is over. And with help from Joe Hart; the game was over.
England showed promise last night, but we shouldn’t get too carried away. I think we’ve all learned our lesson now not to go too over the top after winning just one game - see 2010 World Cup qualifiers, and then 2010 World Cup... In fact, on second thoughts, I advise you not to relive that again…
It’s time to look to the future; and with exciting players such as Joe Hart, Adam Johnson and James Milner (the ‘Man City’ revolution) and more experienced players such as Steven Gerrard, Jermain Defoe and Wayne Rooney; England seem to have the solution to success. Or at least, it looks that way.