Something For The Weekend (224)
Three kings - but no aces: the Villa in Sevilla.
It certainly was a measure of Villa's improving status, to see three of Martin O'Neill's boys in the England team this week but it was just a pity they were up against the best team in Europe and there was little chance of them leaving us with any magic moments to treasure. It might have been four Villa men, if not for the fact that Capello decided he preferred Stewart Downing over Ashley Young.
Ashley Young's absence looked all the more glaring after Middlesbrough's want-away wideboy, had a typically subdued game but this means that the shirt is still up for grabs and Ashley can continue being brilliant for Villa, in the knowledge that he'll get his chance sooner, rather than later.
It was a less than thrilling game, as it became more and more clear that there is a gulf in technique between England and Spain - just in case anyone was in any doubt.
Capello's game plan to play two wide-men in an attempt to bypass Spain's extra numbers in midfield, looked like the problem as well as the solution, as Barry and Carrick struggled to create anything for the forwards, as they got bogged down in heavy Spanish midfield traffic and were never likely to get forward much themselves. This meant Gabby never got the sort of service which would have played to his strengths and on the rare occasions when he did get the right pass, they were usually badly over-hit.
In a game of tippy-tap, England were always going to lose, but if you discount the showy-offy stuff, which the Spanish are masters at, and count the chances, England were not so far away. It was the mistake-count which really separated the two sides and Phil Jagielka had to suffer the ignominy of being the architect of the first Spanish goal, while Terry and Upson combined to create the second. David James's fluff was just too bad to dwell upon and so I'll leave it with the rest of my England nightmares, and hope it gets lost amongst the multitude.
It was a difficult night for England's peripheral players and it seemed to be summed up by the look on Carlton Cole's face as he failed to convert the chance Beckham had put on a plate for him. As he looked for a hole in the ground that might swallow him up, he was obviously tortured by the thought that, he'd come to a crossroads in his career and taken the wrong turning.
It was obvious that he'd tried to be too sure and too certain to avoid the goalkeeper and it took him just that bit too wide, which allowed the defender to block his shot. It was tough on the lad and he looked gutted. But as it seems apparent that England are not over endowed with strikers, he'll certainly get his chance again, if his club form continues.
Certainly Peter Crouch looked like his game has fallen back to his Villa days, as his first touch looked as ropey as Portsmouth's recent form.
Mistakes notwithstanding England looked better once they decided to bypass the Spanish traffic-jam, and Beckham started to provide the sort of service to the forwards that had been lacking in the first half. Wright-Phillips got a chance, which looked better than Cole's, as he cut inside and had a good sight of goal. But it was Shaun's covering duties at left-back which earned him England's man of the match, in my book at least, even though most of the quality moments for England came from Beckham's, size 9, right boot.
But in the end, when the pundits get tired of telling us how good Spain were (not much doubt about that), the game could have been entirely different had the linesman made the correct call, in the early minutes, when Heskey was brought down, when through on goal. All the replays clearly showed he was not offside. It would be interesting to see at what point the linesman decided he was offside. It was a decision that ensured it was a friendly experience for the officials, as well as the players.
The only consolation for England's demonstration that they are possibly too error-prone, to play Capello's keep-ball tactics, was seeing Beckham look so niggled afterwards, when asked to delight us with a few ingratiating words about his record-equalling 108th cap. Say what you like about old golden bollocks, but there's no consoling him when he's lost. The referee's decision to placate his hosts, was probably the cause.
So it was not a great night for fantasists and dreamers (moi?) but the Villa contingent can take satisfaction in the fact that they were competent without being brilliant and not involved in any of the cock-ups, which made it an easy night for the Spanish. It was one of those nights when professionals can take pride in wearing the shirt, and the fact that they made decent contributions, in a depleted England side, against virtually the same team, who were simply sublime last summer. England were certainly no worse than runners-up Germany.
There's an air of invincibility surrounding Spain at the moment, and the ease of their victory, even if aided and abetted by England's errors, certainly whetted the appetite, as to their prospects in the World Cup, where they must prove they are the best in the world and not just Europe. Its a very tasty prospect for 2010.
Now after the tippy-tappy of International football, the Villa's internationals must adapt themselves to the likelihood of being kicked, elbowed and bitten by Tim Cahill and his brethren in blue, in Sunday's away adventure in FA cup football, at Goodison Park, where the ability to string twenty passes together will probably be less important, than taking the odd whack, as well as your chances.
Bring it on!