This weekend I turned my back on the honest toil of non-league football to visit Wembley for an England match for the first time. Swapping Barrow for Spain was a hardship, granted, but here’s what I learned.
1. Fabio Capello needs to credit Ottmar Hitzfeld and Switzerland for inspiring England’s victory.
I bet that during his preparation for this game Fabio watched a tape of Spain’s famous defeat to Switzerland in the group stage of the last World Cup, because the tactics were identical. For most of the game England played a nine man defence with Darren Bent or his replacement Danny Welbeck the only man permitted to be away from the penalty box when Spain had the ball. Spain were free to play their tiki-taka passing game in two thirds of the pitch, until they reached the final third when whatever they tried would get shut down. David Villa is good, but not good enough to deal with a defence of those kind of numbers. Neither was Fernando Torres when he was brought on later in the game to bolster Spain’s striking options.
Some have moaned about the way England played, notably Cesc Fabregas, but England did exactly what they had to do to beat Spain. Frustrate, defend in numbers and hope for a goal on the counter attack or from a set piece. Teams who play open football against Spain or Barcelona, who contributed five of the starting eleven, get destroyed.
Of course, Switzerland went out in the group stage of the World Cup, while Spain won it. Read nothing into this result.
2. The gap between top level international football and the Blue Square Premier is unbelievably huge.
There are some things you can only appreciate when you see a game in person, and the difference in skill between non-league football and the best team in the world is one of them. Watching Spain stroke the ball around, directly to feet, often without even looking I realised how bad Lincoln’s level of football actually is. They may as well be playing completely different sports, such is the gap.
3. Spain need a Messi.
Barcelona play teams that play like England did every week. The difference between Barca and Spain is that Leo Messi can unlock the most stubborn of defences while his clubmate David Villa plainly can’t.
4. Wembley’s unoccupied corporate seats are an embarrassment.
Walking down Wembley Way it was hard to ignore the flashing signs saying “MATCH SOLD OUT”. And it was. Not everyone who had a ticket turned up, however. Many of the stadium’s corporate boxes were empty and lots of the seats in the middle tier ‘Club Wembley’ section were unoccupied. The official attendance was 87,189, significantly down on Wembley’s official capacity of 90,000. If England v the World Champions doesn’t pack the place out, what will?
5. Leaving Wembley is a nightmare.
We left the game in the 88th minute, thousands did the same. A stadium that forces you to leave before the event you came for is over if you want to get home at a reasonable time is a badly planned, badly situated stadium.
Man of the Match: The sponsors gave this to Scott Parker, but I have to disagree. Joleon Lescott was titanic at the back and never looked in danger.
Moment of the Match: The goal. Absolutely absurd, completely against the run of play and oh so satisfying.
Bizarre ‘really?’ moment of the match: The booing of Fernando Torres when he came on. Is the guy English football’s pantomime villan now?