Wednesday, June 11, 2008
England 1 - Spain 2
A More Splendid Life continues with the Guardian's coverage of Alternate Universe Euro 2008 now with 100% More England. The Match Report follows:
England 1 Cole 4'
Spain 2 Villa 53' 90'
Kevin McCarra at the Tivoli Neu Stadium
The Guardian, Wednesday June 11 2008
Steve McClaren's bemused smirk as David Villa's magically-worked strike from the edge of the penalty area flew past a forlorn David James in the second minute of extra time expressed the sentiment of a man who knew he'd been the subject of a prank. England's relatively bright start, which continued for a solid half hour following Joe Cole's volley in the fifth minute, amused a giddy McClaren with the hilarious prospect of a stolen victory from the heavily-favoured Spanish side, but it seemed at the last the punchline was still ahead of him.
All in all this was an odd match. Spain almost scored the fastest goal in European Championship history when Sergio Ramos cheekily struck for goal straight after kick-off as David James inexplicably ran toward the centre circle in the opening seconds. The first three minutes saw a cluster of chances for a very sleek and streamlined Spanish side, with David Villa hitting the bar after a wonderful set-up from an unselfish Fernando Torres who found himself one-on-one with James at the far edge of the box at the second minute. England as usual looked indecisive in the back third of the pitch, with an animated Ferdinand screaming almost on behalf of James who looked like he'd rather be with the WAGs in the executive suite.
Then in the fourth minute, Beckham found himself in good space at the right, crossing in to a Steven Gerrard who managed to head it back across the penalty area to a Jole Cole winding up for the volley. Cole, not one for sophisticated celebrations, crouched down with a look of complete amazement more than emotion: nothing is written it seems.
Until ten minutes before the end of the first period England could safely be described as the better team; Spain struggled to get a hold of the midfield as Carrick looked more than solid in the holding role, setting up three different chances, two for Rooney who almost managed to split the defense in the twenty-third minute as Pujol struggled to match the Manchester United striker for pace.
However, Spain started to press toward the end of the second half as Xavi and Silva managed to find their legs, the former drawing a commendable save from a sharp angled free-kick in the fortieth minute. When Villa equalized from an incredible chip over both Ashley Cole and David James in the 53rd, Spain's superior technical ability over all save Joe Cole was brutally apparent.
England were reduced to some scrappy tackling on the edge of the penalty area and Terry looked certain for a red after a horrific lunge on Cesc Fabregas a mere thirty seconds after the Arsenal player came on. All England seemed to manage was a Gerrard free-kick forcing a low save from Casillas and a half-baked penalty shout when the ball seemed to strike Ramos' forearm in the sixty-sixth minute over which Gareth Barry of all people, dreadfully anonymous for most of the match, argued himself in to the book.
Spain seemed to move about the last third of the pitch with great ease, passing around the England midfield like it wasn't there, Torres denied three headers at close range, Fabregas denied a low side-footed shot off from a marvelous low-cross from Xavi, David Villa managing to hit the bar in the seventieth minute after a lovely one-two with Torres through the centre of the English defense.
Aragones' side for all their beauty were on the verge of a draw until England's inevitable poorly cleared corner in extra time when the ball ended up at the feet of a scandalously unmarked Villa who managed to dance through three defenders only to lift the ball past James. McClaren at the last now seemed to get the joke: that a national team that plays this poorly at a major tournament will not get out of the group. Surely he knows unless a performance manages to materialize against the defense-minded Greeks this Saturday, his FA bosses will get the last laugh.