We take a look at the mid-week international friendlies but with the World Cup less than four months away, did we really learn anything? [ad#as2]
Alex Michaels: I know it’s still early, even if there are less than 100 days to go before the World Cup begins, but I didn’t see too many warning signs from the latest round of friendly internationals. From an English perspective, Peter Crouch was the only player on the fringes to really stake his claim for a place, coming on as a substitute to score two goals in the 3-1 victory over African champions Egypt. Spain maintained their credentials as pre-tournament favourites and showed just why France are lucky to be going to South Africa with a 2-0 win in Paris, while ageing defending champions Italy look to be long-shots to maintain their title with a 0-0 draw at home to Cameroon. I guess the biggest worry was Argentina’s 1-0 win away in Germany, with Maradona boldly stating afterwards that his team “will be world champions”. I don’t know if that means the Argentines are genuine contenders or if the Germans really aren’t that good. I’m hoping for the latter.
Peter Howard: Perspective is key when looking at these friendlies, and I personally never take much stock in them. In fact, the only real news to seemingly ever come out of these matches is bad news, and that’s exactly what happened to the US as Houston and Bolton midfielder Stuart Holden went down with a fractured fibula. Listen, there’s no question it’s important to get the national teams together to play matches. With players scattered around the globe playing in various leagues, it’s good to get as much time together on the pitch as possible. And that’s all the more reason to read little to nothing into these results. How much time went into preparing for these matches? How many personnel and strategy decisions were made more to see how they played out rather than in an effort to secure the victory. They are good experiences, no doubt, but they are also meaningless. It’s hard to really put much value on a match that has no real value. Certainly teams can learn from them and find other benefits, but to try to gauge a side based on a friendly is a fool’s practice.
Greg Neville: Tell the fringe players, these games are meaningless. The performance of a non-certainty squad member could make or break their year. Crouch, who can’t get a regular run for the Spurs, has probably booked his ticket to South Africa with his double in the win over Egypt. In an Asian Cup qualifier, a domestic-league Australian outfit gave 18-year-old Tommy Oar a chance to shine and the midfielder proved he’s a star of the future and a likely bolter for the Socceroos. But I’d have to say these matches must be a coach’s worst nightmare – case in point, Germany and France. The French boss Raymond Domenech won over no new fans with his side’s first home loss to Spain in 42 years. In the battle of the unpopular coaches, Germany’s Joachim Loew came off second best to Argentina’s Diego Maradona. Call it a trial, but both losing mentors are on the chopping block. Meanwhile, South Africa are pressing in the media that they will be capable of staging the world’s greatest sporting event. I have no doubt about that but a 1-1 draw with neighbours Namibia shows to me that the hosts will be well and truly outclassed on the pitch. Depleted team, underdone preparation, experimenting tactics or not, no team likes to lose and some of the results are compounded by poor performances to teams that will take no part in South Africa. Denmark, Ghana, Greece and Honduras fall into that category – but that comes as no surprise to me as neither team will advance past the group stages.
Ron Patel: The big result for me was Argentina beating Germany. Friendly or no friendly, that was huge. It’s not often teams go to Germany and get a win. Given Argentina’s plight in qualifying, this will do a bunch of good for Diego and his troops. As for the Germans, well, they’ll be ready, as usual, when it’s crunch time. Call it a little blip. Maybe Marcello Lippi will be forced to pick a wildcard like Mario Balotelli or Antonio Cassano, two troublemakers, after the world champions failed to beat Cameroon. France, as we all know, aren’t that great, and Spain confirmed how good they are. Peter Crouch was almost a lock to make the England team prior to the Egypt game, and the big striker booked his spot with his convincing performance. Theo Walcott stuttered – no difference to his time at Arsenal.
Bring on the World Cup!
International Friendly Results for World Cup bound teams: Algeria 0-3 Serbia; Austria 2-1 Denmark; Bosnia-Hercegovina 2-1 Ghana; England 3-1 Egypt; France 0-2 Spain; Germany 0-1 Argentina; Greece 0-2 Senegal; Italy 0-0 Cameroon; Ivory Coast 0-2 South Korea; Netherlands 2-1 USA; Nigeria 5-2 Congo DR; Portugal 2-0 China PR; Slovenia 4-1 Qatar; South Africa 1-1 Namibia; Switzerland 1-3 Uruguay; Turkey 2-0 Honduras; Ireland 0-2 Brazil.
Asian Cup qualifying: Australia 2-0 Indonesia; Japan 2-0 Bahrain.