Article from 13thAugust 2009, for my school newspaper (sincere apologies re: the awful pun in the headline… I was sixteen, alright?)
Jermain Defoe came off the bench to score two second-half goals for England at the Amsterdam Arena. Two defensive mistakes had gifted Holland two early goals, as Fabio Capello’s team warmed up for the World Cup Qualification match against Croatia next month, a match that would see England qualify for South Africa 2010.
Before the match there was an emotional tribute to former England manager Sir Bobby Robson, who tragically died last week after a long battle with cancer. The game itself has caused some controversy, with many managers questioning the point of an international friendly three days before the start of the Premier League season. The players were still in pre-season mode, and it showed for most of the match.
As early as the seventh minute, Glen Johnson passed back to Rio Ferdinand but a misunderstanding meant that ‘keeper Robert Green had to come out and clear, only just beating Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt to the ball. Two minutes later, the same thing happened with the same players. Ferdinand went to collect the ball from a Green goal kick, and the Manchester United centre-back, instead of turning on the ball and doing something useful, gave it to Johnson, immediately putting the new Liverpool right-back under pressure. Johnson attempted a pass to Green, but Kuyt stole in and, after rounding the ‘keeper, fired into the goal. Not even 10 minutes into the game and England had made two mistakes, one of them leading to a goal. Things needed to improve.
David Beckham, receiving his 113th England cap, started the match and the LA Galaxy midfielder had two early free kicks to test the Dutch defence. The first one was wasted but the second needed Dutch ‘keeper Martin Stekelenburg to get in front of the onrushing Frank Lampard. Beckham then had to work back well to stop Kuyt from creating another chance for Holland, who are ranked third in the world.
Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey started up front together: Capello seems to like the little-and-large option for a strike-force. Heskey didn’t really worry Holland’s defence, which boasted Ajax’s John Heitinga, Blackburn’s Andre Ooijer, Mathijsen and Braafheid. For most of the first half, Rooney was left without any support, and so very few England chances were created. However on the twenty-five minute mark Gareth Barry, after some good build-up play from England, got to the by-line and his backheel was blocked by fellow Manchester City midfielder Nigel de Jong. Replays show that the young midfielder could have blocked the ball with his arm. The referee didn’t see it though, and so play continued.
Ashley Young, making his first start for England with Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole out through injury, made a claim for the permanent left-wing position. The Aston Villa midfielder supplied quality crosses throughout the first half and, after Lampard had wasted a free kick, Young picked the ball up and went on a run around the edge of the area and fired straight at Stekelenburg. The winger terrified Heitinga with his pace and showed the quality that he could bring to England in South Africa.
England didn’t really create any clear-cut chances and in defence they were continuing to be sloppy. Ferdinand, again instead of doing something useful, gave the ball to Barry who decided not to turn on the ball, but to try and, blindly, pass to Chelsea left-back Ashley Cole. Cole’s former teammate, Arjen Robben, had other ideas though. The speedy winger nipped in front of Cole and went towards goal, only to be stopped by Green. The ball fell to Robben’s Real Madrid teammate, Rafael Van der Vaart, who made no mistake in finishing off. England were struggling badly, with most of their problems coming from their own players. Just before the half-time whistle, Robben attacked down the wing once again, giving the ball to Kuyt, who blazed over the bar. England went into the break 2-0 down, leaving a big mountain to climb.
Changes were made by both sides at half-time. Defoe came on for Heskey, Manchester City’s Shaun Wright-Phillips came on for Beckham and Manchester United’s Michael Carrick replaced Barry in the centre of midfield. For Holland, Real Madrid midfielder Wesley Sneijder and Liverpool midfielder Ryan Babel replaced Van der Vaart and Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie, who had a relatively quiet match. It was England who started the brightest, with Rooney and Wright-Phillips nearly combining to create a chance. After 50 minutes, though, England had got a goal back. A great chip from Lampard put Defoe through one-one-one with the ‘keeper. Defoe finished sublimely with his shot clipping the post on its way in. A great start from the former West Ham and Portsmouth striker, and his night was about to get even better. With Robben being replaced by Afellay, England began to create more chances down the wings. Wright-Phillips was menacing down the right-wing, and his low cross was blocked on the line by Ooijer.
The introduction of West Ham United’s Carlton Cole had a big impact for England. The big striker came on for Rooney on the hour mark and unlike Heskey, Cole was winning every ball, and after winning it, he would run on to help the attack. Cole’s speed was evident, and the two Dutch centre-backs were struggling with the former Chelsea striker. England, though, were beginning to get sloppy again, with both Sneijder and Babel going close.
Another England debutant came on in the 67th minute, with Aston Villa’s James Milner replacing his club teammate Ashley Young. The former Leeds and Newcastle winger went out on to the left and put in many great balls for Cole, Defoe and Wright-Phillips to contend for. Milner’s crosses were creating chances, but no-one, it seemed, could beat the Dutch defence. Cole went close with twenty minutes left after some great footwork on the edge of the area. Cole went left, then right and then left again, and then volleyed goalwards. The strike went just wide of the Dutch goal; England were getting closer.
With fourteen minutes to go, Milner brilliantly received the ball after Cole played a cross-field ball to the winger and Milner put a great low ball in, straight across the six-yard box, with Wright-Phillips and Defoe both stretching to get there. It was Defoe who got there, meaning that England were all-level. Holland, going for the winner, put Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on for Kuyt, while England put Manchester City left-back Wayne Bridge on for Cole. The mentality of the two managers was obvious. It was England, though, who had the better chances late on, with Cole going close after being put in by Lampard. Cole, who worked his socks off for the half-hour that he was on the pitch, deserved a goal. He came close again when Milner whipped in a cross, only for the ball to be met by an orange shirt.
Liverpool left-back Johnson must have been fed up with his club teammate Ryan Babel by the end of the match. The winger gave Johnson a torrid time in the second-half, and, with two minutes to go, the former-Portsmouth player foolishly brought down Babel on the edge of the area. From the resulting free kick, John Terry blocked Sneijder’s shot and, from the corner, Babel went close with a volley. England were still pressing at the end of the game, which will have pleased Capello. He will not be so pleased, however, with the ridiculous mistakes made by Ferdinand, Johnson and Barry in the first half. This game was only a friendly and, admittedly, none of the players will have wanted to strain themselves too much, but those sort of mistakes cannot happen in international football. On the whole it was a good performance from England, especially from the players that came on in the second-half.
How they did… /10
Robert Green 8
Good, solid performance from the West Ham goalkeeper. Staked a real claim for the number one jersey for South Africa.
Glen Johnson 5
Sloppy in clearing the ball and was partly at fault for the first goal. Was beaten by Babel too many times down the wing. Not a good performance from the man that Liverpool have paid £17.5 million for this summer.
Rio Ferdinand 4
Still in pre-season mode. At fault for the first goal, partly at fault for the second and didn’t look particularly confident at all throughout the game.
John Terry 7
Solid performance and couldn’t do anything about either goal. As always, a strong showing from the captain.
Ashley Cole 6
Beaten by Robben too many times down the wing, but a decent performance. Not bad, but not particularly good.
David Beckham 6
Committed, as always, but not a great performance. Wasted a few free-kicks, but tried hard for his country. Can he really still play for England when he plays for LA Galaxy?
Frank Lampard 7
Not a great first half, but improved in the second. Did well in setting up Defoe for his first goal.
Gareth Barry 4
Poor performance from the Manchester City midfielder. At fault for the second goal and didn’t really contribute greatly. The usually confident midfielder couldn’t handle Van der Vaart.
Ashley Young 7
Strong performance from the winger who has now got one foot in the door to that left midfield position. He can cross, shoot, pass and take set-pieces. And he’s pretty quick- terrifying for a defender.
Wayne Rooney 6
Committed as ever but didn’t really get the chance to develop in the game. Was in the middle of some great team play, but struggled to play up front as, basically, a lone-striker.
Emile Heskey 6
Was selected to give some height and muscle up front for England. He got out jumped and outmuscled on many occasions by Ooijer and Mathijsen.
Jermain Defoe 9
Scored both goals and was named Man of the Match. Great finish for the first and in the right place at the right time for the second. Good performance.
Shaun Wright-Phillips 8
Terrified the Dutch defence in the second half with his speed. Good performance from the Manchester City midfielder.
Michael Carrick 8
Strong performance from the Manchester United midfielder, much more confident than Barry. Sprayed balls cross-field for the whole of the second-half and made no mistakes.
Carlton Cole 9
Worked his socks off for his country. Many have questioned Capello’s decision to keep selecting him but Cole showed them why. Deserved a goal for his hard work. My man of the match.
James Milner 9
Like Cole, worked really hard. A good debut for the 24 year old. Whipped in great crosses from the left on his right foot. Maybe needs to learn to use his left foot.