AOC Offers Promise For England & Other International Guff
The roles were reversed yesterday at Wembley. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was in the starting line-up and Theo Walcott warming his seat on the substitutes bench. When the halfway mark of the second half was reached, the two exchanged places and at full time both could be reasonably pleased with their contributions to England’s victory. The youngster was a nervous Wembley debutant, eager to please and little rushed in some of his distribution but overall offered a lot of promise. Certainly his energy and willingness to run at the Belgian defence was in marked contrast to the lethargy and ponderous nature of James Milner’s play on the right flank.
He made several good runs but also supported Ashley Cole at left back, far better than more experienced players have in the past. No matter what you may think of Cole – and he does not rate highly with me as a person – as a footballer he is still one of the best left backs in Europe. Coming towards his century of England caps, he has experience that Oxlade-Chamberlain can learn from which both club and country benefit from. He won’t be in the starting line-up against France in all likelihood; Roy Hodgson will, I think, approach that game as he would have were in he in charge of West Brom before a match against Arsenal. Stifle and then hit on the break. Despite probably being England’s most penatrative midfielder, it will in all likelihood be a tournament too soon for the youngster.
Theo Walcott offered an interessting cameo, sharply combining to set Defoe free twice. These contributions are being overlooked as the fawning over Ashley Young continues unabashed in the media. I am unconvinced by the United player’s performances centrally and believe he would be more effective on the flank with Walcott supporting the striker. Either way 23 minutes is a tough time limit from which to make much of an impact and I think Theo can be relatively pleased with his contribution.
If anyone expected more, they misunderstood the nature of the match yesterday. Belgium had a point to prove, seeing the occasion as a chance to live up to their burgeoning reputation. England? Well, it was a warm-up, a chance for players to prove to the manager that they deserve a second thought in his starting line-up. Above all else, avoid an injury that rules you out of the European Championships.
Gary Cahill can be forgiven for wondering this morning what time kick-off is, the shove in his back from Mertens was unecessary but also marked the young forward out as having the necessary spite to perhaps make it in the Premier League; the Dutch tend have that tetchy side to their game in England as Messrs Bergkamp and van Persie have shown. As it is, like Wayne Rooney, John Terry has let the nation down with his behaviour off the pitch and now proceeds to do so on it by picking up an avoidable injury. No surprise there.
As for Thomas Vermaelen, he had next to little or nothing to do with such was the dominance of Belgian possession; home from home in fact, pounding the opposition and the losing a goal to a sucker punch goal. Still, it won’t damage his confidence such is the normality of this.
Elsewhere Robin van Persie scored twice as the Dutch thrashed Northern Ireland which is still not enough to convince some of his countrymen that he should be their central striker. Would that England had the same problem, a selection headache of choosing between the top scorer in the Premier League or Bundesliga. Wojciech Szczesny has been keeping clean sheets for his country in recent games which will do his lack of confidence at Arsenal the world of good.