2010/11: ECQ Group G – England v Switzerland (Wembley)

Sometimes you just know with England that it is not going to be easy. You get that sick feeling in the gut. A leisurely late afternoon on a sunny Saturday sat on the sofa in front of the television should have ensued for me as England took on Switzerland at Wembley, but it just wasn’t to be. Yet again it was one of those occasions when watching the national team is a disappointment.

After the tempo England displayed in their last fixtures against Ghana and Wales, you hoped that a ‘same again’ approach would be evident in securing the three points. However, it was obvious from the opening exchanges that this was not to be. The young Swiss team buzzed around and the English played short passes to each other, often without pace and usually in a backward direction. My stomach ached after 32 minutes as a floated free-kick from Barnetta eluded first Ferdinand and left Hart diving in vain as the ball crept in. A knife was twisted further into the gut just three minutes later as the two-man wall of Walcott and Wilshere parted to allow another Barnetta free-kick to embarrass Hart at his near post. A crazy five minutes was completed when Wilshire driving forward, was brought down by Djourou. Lampard put in the resulting penalty to become England’s leading scorer from the spot and put the Lions back in the game. 2-1 down at half-time, things could only get better – couldn’t they?

Well it all started so well. Ashley Young replaced Lampard for the second half and within six minutes the Villa man had levelled with a crisp finish. However, that really was about it for England. Having got back into the game, the fizz went out of the home team and they reverted to the lacklustre display of the first half. Having said that, Darren Bent had a fantastic chance to win the game but lazily blazed over the bar. As the final ten minutes were played out, the Swiss kept hold of the ball and England looked devoid of ideas once more. In the final minute of time added on Downing had a chance to win it, but only found the side netting. In truth that would have been cruel on Switzerland. England now look nervously to the evening game in Montenegro, where if the home team beat Bulgaria they will lead Group G by two points and leave England once more having work to do to qualify for the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament.

As if the 2-2 draw wasn’t enough to endure, there was then the post match Capello interview. Three years of the Italian and interviews which are still senseless and on the occasions of a poor result, full of excuses. Gabriel Clarke pounced on the limp offering from Capello that the England players were tired, with a riposte that the Swiss players didn’t looked tired and that if we qualify, twelve months hence the issue of “tiredness” does not bode well for England. As ever, more incomprehensible words from the England manager and the moment was gone. On the box, “Britain’s Got Talent” Final was up next. What had gone before had shown, England currently doesn’t have talent.

2010/11: ECQ Group G – Wales v England (Cardiff)

If I’m watching England, then to be honest it is usually a nerve-wracking experience. However on Saturday I have to say that just didn’t happen. Wales losing Gareth Bale from a side lacking top class players helped England’s cause and probably helped ease my mind. Despite all the passion of the home fans in Cardiff, there didn’t appear to be a whiff of an upset as the Welsh team belted out their anthem and the English, mumbled or ignored theirs.

Yes, two goals in the first fifteen minutes effectively killed off the game and thereafter England were pretty comfortable throughout the ninety minutes. The reality is though that England were up against the side bottom of the Qualifying Group, who had lost their previous three fixtures. A couple of things made me chuckle though during the game. Both the individuals concerned continue to demonstrate their complete lack of intelligence on a football field. Step forward Craig Bellamy of Wales, who was obviously attempting to rewrite Shakespeare’s Henry IV with a poor impersonation of Owen Glendower, by snapping at everything in a white shirt, but to little effect. Equally clueless was England’s very own court jester, Rooney, who with the game won, carried out not one but two unnecessary tackles in less than a minute, to earn himself a booking. Plus ça change.

So the half-way mark of the Qualifiers and England sit top of the class with the other Group leaders, Germany, Slovakia, Italy, France, Netherlands, Greece, Norway and Spain. Wales under new head-boy Gary Speed (what were the Welsh FA thinking when they appointed him), sit in the corner with the dunces hat and bottom of the class with other Group basement dwellers, Kazakhstan, Andorra, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, San Marino, Malta, Iceland and Liechtenstein, with a collective total of 3 points between them all. The Welsh dragon is a creature currently unable to breath fire and in reality gasping for breath. John Charles must be spinning in his grave.