The first half approach by England was surely a deep embarrassment to any objective watcher. Nine men behind the ball against a Spanish team which weaved patterns around them but were desperately prevented from scoring.
Darren Bent at centre forward and Theo Walcott on the right wing, abandoned in far from splendid isolation. There was some criticism of Walcott’s supposedly same old same old display but to me it seemed wholly unjustified. Not until near the end of the first half did he get a decent ball, and then he promptly whizzed past his full back and threatened to beat the next man too, only to be brought down. As for poor Bent, he might just as well have stayed in the dressing room, that first half. The goal would come.
England you might say began with an inferiority complex, a dismal defeatism, which condemned them to a siege mentality. That they eventually scored emphasised the fact that football is not so much a funny game but a sublimely irrational one. They were never going to score from anything but a set piece, and so it proved. And two fierce attempts by Cesc Fabregas, a luxury of a substitute, in the 90th minute came desperately close to giving Spain the equaliser they surely deserved.
Before the game, there had in some quarters been logical criticism of a current tendency to push defenders into central midfield. On this occasion it was the young Phil Jones, essentially a promising centre back who made a not wholly successfully debut in Montenegro – a penalty he might have conceded, an anxious moment or two in the first half – at right back.
Alex Ferguson has we know occasionally used Jones in midfield himself. He certainly didn’t play badly against Spain, using the ball thoughtfully if not, from such deep positions, incisively, but given the way Capello set out his stall and his own defensive propensities, you knew he was never going to break forward. Everton’s Rodwell, a far more natural all round midfielder, who came on in the second half would always have been a more logical choice.
And Rooney? He could perfectly well have been deployed, given that his three match international suspension involved the European tournament alone and if Capello’s pseudo logic was that he wanted to give his potential Euro team the experience of playing without Rooney, using a depleted and negative formation of this kind was never going to be remotely productive.
Meanwhile, those, like Gareth Southgate, who should surely know better, who eulogised Capello’s dismal tactics were barking loudly up the wrong tree. The win was a massive fluke against a hugely superior team and should objectively be seen for what it was.
Wales’ performance against Norway in Cardiff, though, alas it is far too late for them to be going to the Euros, was a far more inspiring event, showing that, after an uneasy beginning, Gary Speed has fashioned his Welsh team into a lively force. As indeed we saw when they should, even without the exceptional Craig Bellamy – ebullient against Norway – have drawn with England at Wembley.
Gareth Bale is one of the outstanding footballers at the moment, Aaron Ramsey has blessedly and impressively recovered from the horrific injury and long absence inflicted on him by Stoke’s Shawcross. And all credit to Trapattoni’s Irish for their convincing exploit in Estonia. Plenty of brio up front and a glorious veteran keeper in Shay Given.