The skilful and hugely talented trio of Yoann Gourcuff, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri showed that the rebellious old guard of Nicolas Anelka, Patrice Evra and Thierry Henry will not be missed. The front three, coupled with the ever impressive Florent Malouda, effortlessly passed and probed their way around the England penalty area. They made England look every bit as clueless and lethargic as they played and some observers even commented it was like watching Barcelona which somewhat makes a mockery of the FIFA rankings.
Here is a team who is ranked 21st in the World and finished bottom of their group at the World Cup, compared to England who are 6th. You wouldn’t have been able to guess which team was which yesterday.
Like Capello’s young side, France’s starting line up bore little resemblance to the one which suffered humiliation at the World Cup. However, if this was the new French generation, Les Bleus fans have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of England. It is poignant to remember that injuries robbed them of Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Ashley Cole amongst others; however the result of their absences was clear for everyone to see. Are the younger players coming through really good enough to replace the likes of Terry, Ferdinand and Lampard when they retire? Do they possess the core technique and quality on the ball which you need at the very top to win major tournaments? Certainly, England fans are entitled to be very doubtful.
Hoofing the ball from defence to the striker can certainly work against lower standard opposition, however doing it against the Spains and Brazils of this world is surely footballing suicide. It was the same against France, once England lost the ball, the French showed their superior technique to keep possession and make England chase shadows for 15 minutes at a time.
Make no mistake; it was refreshing to see Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson given their chance in a non competitive match. Both have been excellent all season and last night Carroll particularly, enhanced his claim to a regular place as England’s number 9. He led the line with minimal fuss and did what he is good at, winning headers and posing defenders problems with his physicality. Charging runs towards the box and a few quality knock downs, including one to Gerrard which the Liverpool man then blazed over, showed that on his day he can be a handful for any centre back in the world.
Henderson on the other hand, may have been overawed slightly and was overrun by France’s rampant midfield. He showed some nice touches and has proved that he can play against top class opposition, as he did at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. However holding midfield is certainly not his role and Capello should be to blame for stationing him there. It should also be pointed out that the Sunderland youngster was given little or notable help from the ever-declining Gareth Barry. Barry’s time in the England team is fast running out and Lampard’s return, as well as Jack Wilshere and Jack Rodwell’s emergence, should soon put paid to the once-reliable Barry if he continues to show his lack of speed and sluggishness.
Another question which can be asked in the aftermath of last night’s somewhat flattering 1-2 defeat is where were the other England players who deserved a call up? Nedum Onuoha has showed in recent weeks for Sunderland that he is as good at defending as he is at Messi-like dribbling. His superb shackling of Gareth Bale at White Hart Lane was followed up by the outstanding performance at Chelsea and he has looked good all season. It was certainly a mistake by Manchester City to loan him out.
Matt Jarvis is another who has played with increased intensity in recent weeks, showing pace, dribbling and a quality final ball. Excellent performances against the big four have seen calls for an international call up, yet these have fallen on deaf ears. England insiders may deny it, but playing for a so-called ‘unfashionable’ club struggling at the bottom of the league may have had a lot to do with that.
Scott Parker and Kevin Davies can also feel hard done by, especially the Bolton Skipper. The decision to call up Carlton Cole ahead of Davies was a joke by Capello. A few days after his debut against Montenegro at Wembley, he scored a brace against Tottenham in a man of the match performance at the Reebok. What more does he have to prove?
On last night’s evidence, it is clear that England will be extremely pleased that their experienced players will be back for the friendly against Argentina in February. It is also evident that Capello needs them and they will all slot straight back into the team. Cynics have put forward the notion that Capello doesn’t care much about youth as his contract only runs until the end of Euro 2012. If he doesn’t help blood more youngsters and keeps playing the likes of Gareth Barry, the future could be a bleak one. The call up for Jay Bothroyd has shown that the cupboards are looking bare.