England powered past the minnows of Hungary as they looked to the future after the dismal World Cup in South Africa.
A surprisingly pleasant England performance meant that Fabio Capello’s side came away from Wembley with a 2-1 victory.
Two brilliant goals from captain Steven Gerrard cancelled out an own goal from Michael Dawson which looked to be unfairly ruled as over the goal line.
England were playing their first game after their dreary showing in South Africa where they were knocked out by Germany in the last-16 after Joachim Lowe’s side completely outclassed the English side.
After many called for Fabio Capello to give some of the younger English players a chance the Italian, who came under heavy pressure after the World Cup, originally selected three new faces for the 23-man squad. Bobby Zamora, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs were all chosen, along with the usual contingent of mediocre stars. Within days, though, talk of a crisis within the England camp had emerged. Goalkeeper Paul Robinson withdrew from the squad and retired from international football in what was an act of pettiness from the ‘keeper. Manchester United defender Wes Brown then did exactly the same only days later, while Birmingham City goalkeeper Ben Foster withdrew from the squad through injury. Watford and England Under-21 goalkeeper, Scott Loach, was called up to cover while Frankie Fielding, who has only made five appearances for England at youth level and is currently Blackburn’s number four goalkeeper, was also called up. Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott were also included in the squad after missing out on a World Cup place, while Phil Jagielka made a return after the torrid season he endured last term. The squad may have had some surprises; the actual first eleven did not.
The booing, which was predicted by Gerrard and Capello, was minimal before the game when the players came onto the pitch to warm up. The majority of fans were looking forward to seeing the young blood of English football being brought through into the senior side. Capello, though, decided to start with seven of the World Cup side. Dawson, Carlton Cole, Darren Bent and Zamora all played well last season, with the three strikers being among the best strikers in the country. None of these players started in the first half, though.
Capello started with Joe Hart in goal with the predictable back-line of Glen Johnson, John Terry, Jagielka and Ashley Cole. The midfield was the same-old Gareth Barry-Steven Gerrard-Frank Lampard combination, with Adam Johnson getting a chance to shine on the left of midfield and Walcott on the other side. Rooney was put up front on his own in what was a change in formation for England at a time when many fans wanted a change in personnel.
Hungary may not be the team they used to be (the 1954 World Cup runner-up side will forever remain in the memory of so many) but they certainly have some quality in their side. Sandor Egervari’s side, who are currently sixty-second in the FIFA world rankings, started with Zoltan Gera of Fulham playing just behind Genoa striker Gergely Rudolf. Gabor Kiraly, formerly of Crystal Palace and Burnley, started in goal while Zoltan Liptak, of Hungarian club side Videoton FC, made his debut for Hungary at centre-back.
In an interview that was shown before the match on ITV, Capello uncomfortably stated that he was thankful to David Beckham’s ‘help’ during the World Cup but the Italian ended by saying that the former Manchester United star would be ‘too old’ for the EURO 2012 tournament. Beckham has himself alleged that he wants to be involved in that tournament in a playing capacity. The comments made by Capello surely put an end to the thirty-five-year-old’s fantastic international career.
The days of enjoying an England performance were thought to be long gone after years of gruelling, hard-fought matches. The match against Hungary, though, couldn’t have been more different. The side played attacking football throughout and, with the formation being a 4-5-1 which then merged into 4-3-3, the quality of football was a delight to watch.
The side had clearly been sent out with the clear message to attack at will; Hungary had very little quality in their side and, as the Premier League season is only days away, England were clearly more match-fit than their opponents. A corner was swung in for England within two minutes and defender Jagielka came close to scoring his first international goal.
The idea of Manchester United striker Rooney not giving his all in a football match is almost unthinkable but the forward didn’t look interested in the World Cup. Rooney was certainly interested in this game, though, scoring within three minutes, only for the linesman to put his flag up for offside. Rooney had been supplied by Gerrard, who bossed the midfield all night long.
Hungary had very little going forward and it was a midfielder who had their first chance of the match. Akos Elec, though, could only manage a firm header straight at Hart. His opposite number, Jagielka, was again found in a position in front of goal but could only stab the ball into the side netting.
Walcott and right-back Johnson linked up well during the first half and, after a good pass from the Liverpool defender Walcott skipped past one Hungarian defender and played the ball across the box. Winger Johnson couldn’t believe his luck as the ball was put on a plate for the Manchester City midfielder. The twenty-three-year-old, though, placed the ball over the bar from ten yards.
Rooney struggled to create much in the game but other players around him were finding more joy. A run from left-back by Cole was brilliantly found by Gerrard, only for the Chelsea man to fire the ball across goal, eluding Rooney. Gerrard was beginning to get a foot-hold in the game and nearly scored a free kick from a difficult position, only for Kiraly to palm the ball over the bar.
Walcott has enjoyed a strong pre-season with Arsenal after a season full of injuries last term. The winger looked extremely quick and seems to have improved his final ball after many have criticised his lack of quality when it comes to crossing in good areas. The former Southampton man breezed past defenders on countless occasions and put some good balls into the area, only to be met by a clearance from the opposition as no one was making runs into the box. At half-time the teams were level, in terms of goals at least, and the distaste of this score was shown when the side were booed off by the England faithful. The first half was an impressive one that lacked goals. For the second half, though, Capello chose to ring the changes.
Walcott was brought off for Ashley Young with the view of better delivery of crosses, while Gibbs and Dawson were brought on for Ashley Cole and John Terry respectively. Striker Bobby Zamora was also brought on as he, Dawson and Gibbs made their first appearances for the senior English side. The Fulham striker was brought on for Lampard who struggled to do much in the game. The Chelsea midfielder was forced to play more of a conservative role as Gerrard pushed on to support Rooney. Zamora now partnered the Manchester United striker up front with Gerrard playing behind them and the reliable Gareth Barry holding it all together in the centre of midfield. Johnson switched to the right to allow Young to play in his favoured left-wing position.
The changes seemed to engulf the Hungarian side as a ball out wide by Rooney found Young, who was hugging the touchline. The Aston Villa midfielder hit a ball across the area, just missing the boot of Zamora. It was the Fulham man who was again in the thick of the action as he found himself on the edge of the area but, again, there was no in the box. Zamora did excellently well to hold the ball up and even managed to feed Rooney, who teed up Gerrard on the edge of the area. The Liverpool icon, though, fired over and fans began to get restless as the game began to get closer to the hour mark. A volley from midfielder Johnson went just over as England seemed to be in complete control.
For all England’s dominance, though, it was the opposition who opened the scoring. After Dawson was too quick to slide in Gera stormed away past the defender and played the ball to his teammate on the left who fired the ball towards goal from a tricky angle. Jagielka managed to decrease the pace of the shot by getting a foot on it but even the desperate attempts of Dawson couldn’t stop the referee from pointing towards the half-way line to signal for a goal. Television replays seemed to show the ball was not over the line and the incident is sure to provoke more discussion for the need of technology in football after Lampard’s infamous goal in the World Cup against Germany.
Nevertheless England were behind to a side that they should be beating with great ease. A disappointing Rooney was brought off for Milner which meant that the 4-5-1 formation was restored. As Rooney departed the pitch he was met by boos from the fans, with which the striker decided to give an ironic wave to all the fans. The smug grin on his face was not nice to see.
The return to the Chelsea-like system seemed to have a big impact on the team. With Zamora playing as the big striker up front and Gerrard playing off him, the two wingers on the pitch found it easier to get a firm grasp of the game. Gibbs and Young worked extremely well together down the left and it was the Arsenal defender who started the move for the equaliser.
After a strong run forward from Gibbs the young defender ran into trouble on the edge of the box. The ball rebounded to Gerrard who took a few touches forward and fired the ball into the top corner. The strike was oh-so-familiar to Gerrard in a Liverpool shirt but the midfielder has struggled to repeat the quality of his club performances for the national side. The screamer of an equaliser was soon followed by a goal of sheer quality. After more great work from Young on the wing Gerrard found himself in the area with his back to goal, with three defenders and a goalkeeper to get past. The midfielder stepped past all three defenders and somehow beat Kiraly to the ball and poked home from three yards. The England fans were certainly not booing now.
The fact that the three debutants and some of the less-experienced players performed well in the friendly will be a huge bonus to Capello and England. Gibbs already looks like a composed and solid defender while Dawson, even with the unfortunate own goal going against his name, played really well at centre-back alongside the impressive Jagielka. Zamora, who was making his debut at the age of thirty, also played a blinder and almost scored a cracker from twenty yards after chesting down a ball and volleying over the bar. The much-hyped Jack Wilshere, who has been tipped as the next big thing for England, struggled to make much of an impact but seemed to be comfortable in midfield. This season is definitely a big one for the Arsenal youngster.
Young and Johnson, as well as Walcott in the first half, impressed on the wings; the problem-position of the left of midfield could well be over with Joe Cole also available in that position. A Zamora header was well saved after Young put in a corner to the back-post and, from the other side, Johnson very nearly scored a belter from thirty yards but the shot was sent for a corner by the ‘keeper.
England will look at this friendly, which has been dubbed by many as pointless due to the timing of the match with the new Premier League season starting this weekend, as a step in the right direction and Capello should be pleased with impact that the youngsters and debutants made. Rooney still doesn’t look like a particularly happy player; the striker hasn’t scored a competitive goal for club or country since the end of March. Gerrard’s quality and passion shown in this game is encouraging and a good performance from Hart will give the side great confidence going into the imminent EURO 2012 qualifiers. England should not get too carried away, though, as a 2-1 win against a team placed in the bottom half of the top one hundred teams is hardly the stuff of world-beaters.
How did England do?
Joe Hart – 8
The Manchester City goalkeeper could find it difficult to break into the first team this season with Shay Given seemingly in front of him in the pecking order. Hart, though, did himself no harm with a solid performance in goal with comfortable saves throughout. His distribution and communication with his defence is a massive asset to England.
Glen Johnson – 6
He continued his poor form from the World Cup into this game. The Liverpool right-back looked good going forward but was weak at the back and gave the ball away too much. The right-back position for England is a problem.
John Terry – 7
Terry was booed by some fans at Wembley but brushed that aside as he put in a solid performance at centre-back in the first half.
Phil Jagielka – 8
The Everton man was strong at the back and played well with both partners that he was given during the game. Jagielka will be glad to be back playing football after last season’s torrid time of injuries.
Ashley Cole – 7
Like Terry, Cole was also booed although that might not have anything to do with the World Cup. Cole was as firm as ever at left-back but was somewhat overshadowed by the emergence of Gibbs.
Theo Walcott – 8
The Arsenal winger looks fresh and raring to go ready for the new season and breezed past every Hungarian defender that came his way. If Walcott can improve his crossing further he could be a fantastic winger.
Gareth Barry – 7
Barry was strong in midfield, linking up well with whoever was on the pitch and bridged the gap well between the defence and attack. Barry is the perfect partner for Gerrard in the middle.
Frank Lampard – 6
The Chelsea man had a decent game but struggled to create much as he played a more unadventurous role. He was brought off for Zamora who gave the side something different.
Steven Gerrard – 9
The captain was superb in midfield, marshalling all areas of the pitch and aiding in every attack. He scored the goals, both of which were brilliant, and showed the passion that so many fans have been calling for.
Adam Johnson – 8
Johnson played better in the second half when he was switched over to the right side, enabling the Manchester City winger to cut inside. He missed a sitter in the first half but looks to be a great prospect for England.
Wayne Rooney – 7
Another game without a goal goes by for Rooney who seems to have got his desire back. Rooney struggled to create a lot but the wingers and Gerrard found it easier to play thanks to the space that Rooney created.
Michael Dawson – 8
He scored the own-goal but shouldn’t be remembered for that alone as the Tottenham defender played well at centre-back. He and Jagielka could well be the future for England.
Ashley Young – 8
Young was superb on a fantastic night for wingers. His crossing, pace and skill makes him one of the best wingers in the Premier League. It is only a matter of time before Young explodes onto the England scene once and for all.
Kieran Gibbs – 9
The Arsenal defender played absolutely brilliantly at left-back. The twenty-year-old didn’t have much to do in terms of defending and so enjoyed a lot of time in the opposition’s half. His link-up play with Young was also good to see.
Bobby Zamora – 8
The striker came on for Lampard at half-time and gave England something completely different. His height, power in the air and pace on the ground made him superior to Rooney in this game; the Fulham player also came close to scoring on his debut on a few occasions.
Jack Wilshere – 6
He didn’t really get much time to impress but a few good touches in the middle of the park show that Wilshere is comfortable on the ball. England fans will have to wait and see whether the excitement that has been created about the Arsenal man is worth it or not.
England 2 – 1 Hungary
Gerrard 69, 72 Jagielka (OG) 61