England not hampered by Owen injury and a lesson for Walcott
First things first, Walcott. The England U21s' played Bulgaria last night from their group for the Euro2009 tournament. The Bulgarians could have been three up by half-time but England took the lead with James Milner crossing from the left for Gabriel Agbonlahor glancing another header past the keeper following on from his match-winning touch on Sunday. Theo Walcott took the ball on 80mins and ran at the Bulgarian defence, almost being tripped in the box and then going down after the keeper's challenge. Penalty was given and then Walcott went and retrieved the ball, with Milner straight away reminding him that coach Stuart Pearce had allocated Milner as the spot-kick taker. Walcott was not to be denied and went on to place the ball on the spot to take the kick. Milner waited and then intervened again, and then orders were passed from PEarce towards Walcott for Milner to take the kick. Walcott walked away and then shouted 'F*** You', towards the England bench.
Pearce was then seen to turn away and walk back to the bench, with a little nod as if to say 'You see that?' Milner stepped up to just glance the ball past the keeper's stetched out right-hand. Walcott then jogged over with others to congratulate Milner. So much is spoken of Walcott, where I wonder if he would have been spoken of if he had joined another Premier League club. His attitude then was not expected nor was it warranted, for he considered his own desires ahead of that for his team. Pearce conveyed the orders and for Walcott to suddenly go against them seemed uncharacteristic. Given that David Bentley was booed yesterday when he came on, does Walcott's attitude need to be called into question? It certaily did not look good on live TV.
Now, many seem to have been saying it was pointless to have an international friendly yesterday. I don't see why not, where some nations are due to play on Saturday and Wednesday, we have an extra match of our own. I was surprised that despite Paul Robinson being replaced by Scott Carson, that there were not other changes considering it was a friendly. So with Michael Owen pulling up with a thigh injury that rules him out of the Croatia match, you can imagine Newcastle United fans and management being quite fuming. At this rate, as much as Owen loves to play for England, Sam Allardyce will include another clause in any extension to forbid Owen from international matches!
Peter Crouch played well enough yesterday in a atch that had as much enthusiasm from Austria as there was from England, particularly in the first half. The second half was no better. I felt Carson came over confident, alert, and unfazed. Frank Lampard had something of a better match, Steven Gerrard hardly put a foot wrong though knowing that he relished the armband, his zing and zip was still restricted. Our defence came under good pressure to keep them lively but David Beckham's contributions left us wanting. His first two corners were not of the renowned quality but he did provide other crosses which were defended out. Jermaine Defoe came on for Owen, another player who has been bursting at the vessels to play and given the chance hasn't light up the pitch as we would expect.
Come the Croatia game, Crouch and Defoe would appear to be the first choice. We are not hampered by Owen's absence, we can deal with it, he is not the only player who can score for us, Gerrard, Lampard, J Cole, Crouch can do that. Defoe should step up and do it. The England team Croatia met in Zagreb over 12 months ago will be a changed side come Wednesday. Robinson, G Neville, Ferdinand, Terry, Carragher, Carrick, Parker, Lampard, J Cole, Rooney, Crouch played a crumbling 3-5-2 amongst a rough pitch. This time it's New Wembley against potentially Robinson, Richards, Lescott, Campbell, Bridge, Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, J Cole, Crouch, Defoe, an alternatively swifter England with strong, attacking full-backs, a keener hungrier Crouch and a hopefully just as keen Defoe.