Belarus 2 (Vasilyuk, Bliznyuk), Israel 1 (Gershon)
England also play Germany at The New Wembley. As an Arsenal fan, watching the national team lost any meaning it may once have had some time ago. Aside from the issue of quality, the fortunes of France, from whose shores most of our players seem to have arrived at the club, seem more directly linked to our own. Tonight the only appearance of any concern is our German goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann, who instantly catches the eye with his salacious warm up routine. It seems to have been adapted from one of the scenes in Oh Calcutta! that didn't make it past the censor, by way of a particularly provocative Christine Aguilera video. Buttocks clenched and pert, Jens performs what can only be described as a series of zigga-zigga-aaaahh-style pelvic gyrations into the submissive Wembley turf, presumably as some bizarre act of psycho-sexual retribution for the fire bombing of Dresden. It's not a particularly edifying sight - although it is at least preferable to being forced to watch either of the pair of blunders he committed in each of our opening Premier League games.
Aguilera: 4th in the Arsenal goalkeeping pecking order after Lehmann, Fabianski and Almunia...
Lord Reith's legacy may be hard to discern elsewhere on the Beeb these days, but at least the football coverage still strives to educate as well as entertain. We are treated to a bit of Elgar, for a start. And surely commentator John Motson, once an enthusiastic emblem of the game's youthful vigour, now stands as a sobering lesson to us all in the cruelties the passage of time can inflict. Hesitant, stumbling over words and prone to irrational outbursts aimed at no one in particular, he might have wandered into the commentary box from some harrowing documentary on the debilitating effects of a degenerative disease; Mark Lawrenson, peremptory and irrascible as ever, his long-suffering carer, too ground-down by the misery of it all to correct his aberrations or stop him wandering off on to the gantry muttering nonsense about Paul Peschisolido. He's a sorry shadow of the bright-voiced cub who features in the opening, Nimrod-themed montage of prior Wembley encounters between the two nations. His trademark "Rummenegge - Oh! It's there?!" is not out of place beside Coleman's monolithic "Hoeness - one nil" and Barry Davies austere "two nothing" in the pantheon of great goal pronouncements.
Motson and the horrors of degenerative illness: It's alright love, the elephant's got my tie rack and I'll leave your kippers under the fzzzznam fzzzznam gertcha Zimbabwe...."
Germany's 1966 world cup veteran Uwe Seeler (Selwyn Froggett) is presented to the players before the traditional booing of the national anthems. We're told by Motty that tonight's crowd won't quite reach the 90,000 capacity due to "segregation", the poor soul obviously having been transported back to the unforgiving streets of the Montgomery of the early 1960s. It's a wicked illness. England coach Steve McLaren, we are informed, wants to make Wembley a difficult place for teams to come and play football. The local traffic police have evidently been roped in to help achieve this laudable objective. The Germans find it so difficult even to find their way to the wretched stadium that they arrive late and the kick off is delayed.
While their anthem is being booed, the 6,000 or so German fans who have made the trip to see this historic fixture hold up what appear to be black, red and yellow bin liners, turning their corner of the ground into a vast teutonic tricolour. In response, the England supporters in the upper tier of one of the side stands hold up red and white cards in a similar fashion, spelling out the legend "fuck Euro 2008" - at least that's all I can make out as the camera hurtles by, presumably trying to get away from a miscreant, mumbling Motty. It certainly seems an apt encapsulation of the team's attitude towards next summer's tournament.
England have made rather a dog's dinner of the qualification process so far, losing to Croatia and drawing with Andorra - the footballing equivalent of Eric Bristow being uanble to beat a blind drunkard at darts. "It's a Big Issue," concurs the head coach in the pre-match interview and that's certainly what he'll be selling copies of outside his local supermarket if the papers have anything to do with it.
The game kicks off. "Strange to see the Germans wearing red..." pipes a clearly medicated Motty, sadly so hampered by his hideous degenerative disorder as to be unable to add "they normally wear grey..." England start brightly, aided by a German side who seem to be pursuing a bold tactical inversion of the received wisdom that it is better for your side to retain possession by passing the ball to players on the same team than to hand the ball to your opponents at every available opportunity. Thus gifted the ball, Micah Richards, who looks born to the position on his debut at right back, shimmies outside the German box before dinking a shrewd ball ahead of Frank Lampard. Despite, we are told by Motty, having followed through, Lampard retains enough grace under pressure to allow the ball to run onto his shooting foot and blast it high into Lehmann's goal before, presumably nipping off to change his shorts. One nil England, nine minutes played.
The Germans offer little of note in the next 15 minutes or so and then, in time-honoured fashion, proceed to score. A rousing chorus of "football's coming home" greets Kuranyi's tap in after Schneider's cross-cum-shot has surprised Robinson and elicited from him a slapstick resonse of which Lehmann watching from the opposite goal must have been deeply envious.
The game briefly sparks into life on the 40 minute mark. Lamm feeds Pander whose scorching drive from 25 yards puts the Germans two-one up sparks a frenzy of eats, shoots and leaves based punnery in the press box. Moments later, Michael Owen (an older David Healy) is put through only to see a sharp save from Lehmann push his header wide of the post.
England play some nice stuff in the second half, as Beckham's influence begins to fade. Shaun Wright-Phillips must surely be preferred to the waning Becks for the crucial games ahead. He combines well with England's best player on the night, Joe Cole and shows that there's more than a glimmer of hope for this team if they are allowed to play football that is based more on their collective speed and canniness of passing than on Beckham's 'get-it-in-the-mix-and-get-it-in-early" punting. Even Peter Crouch (Finchy from The Office) seems to add something to the team when they play like that, rather than as a sight for Beckhams's long range hoofing displays.
So, amid a flurry of substitutions, it ends 2-1 to Germany. We'll just have to hope that those steely Belarussians have softened up the Israelis a little before they come to play here next month.
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