International friendlies tend to be the bane of a football fan’s existence, beside a watery Bovril and a dodgy pie. Games you feel you should care about, but ultimately don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, unless your team sneaks a victory against a big nation (witness Don Hutchison’s winning goal against Germany in that fetching pink strip in 1999 for Scotland). I present Scotland’s recent friendly against Brazil, and the first Scotland game I went to, a crushing 3-1 win over the mighty Canada, as evidence for the prosecution.
Which is why I was surprised and delighted by last night’s England v Ghana match. I’d missed the first half, but saw Carroll’s impressive goal at half time. Reports suggested there would be 20,000 Ghana supporters at Wembley – the noise they made it could have easily been double. They booed when Welbeck came on (he’d been hastily called up after Ghana had approached him earlier in the week); they got ridiculously excited every time Ghana came forward.
And they did come forward rather often. It was, to use that football cliche, end to end stuff, with each side doing its best to take the game to the other. Capello was clearly keen to keep sampling the 4-3-3 which had worked well, particularly in the opening 20 minutes, against Wales. The Ghanaians used a similar system, with Asamoah Gyan providing the creative and attacking hub.
And provide it he certainly did. Ironing one’s shirts is certainly made an awful lot less dull with a goal of the quality Gyan provided at about 90:17 in last night’s match. He picked up the ball on the edge of the area, turned beautifully, skipped inside another couple of loose England challenges, including one from the never knowingly mobile Joleon Lescott, before curling an exquisite left footed finish outside of Joe Hart and inside the far post.
It was a fitting end to the game; Ghana certainly deserved their goal (a point that was surprisingly magnanimously made by Clive Tyldesley in commentary). Just because their away strip looks a bit like a Partick Thistle home shirt, they certainly don’t play like them. Ghana for me represent everything that’s good about African football at the moment: strong, athletic players with no lack of skill, good organisation and most importantly, wonderful supporters who back their team to the hilt and provide a whole new dimension to the game (Pot Man in the World Cup was a highlight). With Michael Essien still to return, Ghana can surely only go forward towards the next World Cup; one wonders if any African side can join them in doing so and providing us at last with an African semi-finalist, or even finalist. The game was a joy to watch, and I agreed with the commentators’ assertion that another 30 minutes wouldn’t have been a bad move.
Not to make this totally Ghana-centric, a special mention is deserved for Matt Jarvis of Wolves who made his international debut in the match. He’s had an excellent season for Wolves, and he seemed to fit into things rather nicely – certainly a good option for Capello to have going forward.