After witnessing two of the traditional football powerhouses collapse over the past several months, England and France, it was quite pleasing to see them rebound on Wednesday against the Balkans. While many will argue that France’s past year has not been as disastrous as England’s, their Euro 2008 and recent embarrassment at the hands of Austria beg to differ.
As we all know much pessimism and doubt preceded Wednesday’s games, Croatia vs. England & France vs. Serbia. A loss for England would quickly deem the “Capello experiment” as a failure and a France loss would result in the dismissal of boss Domenech. The latter having been under fire for a secure 2-0 win over Andorra the previous Saturday. However, that did not faze the English team one bit as they pulled off an unexpected 4-1 win over Croatia. Cynics will argue that the game was quite close until Kovac’s brutal aerial challenge on Joe Cole, which led to his early dismissal, yet I choose to look on the bright side, the emergence of Theo Walcott. I, being a lifelong Arsenal fan, am not too shocked by this masterful performance, as I have been aware of his burgeoning talent for some time now. I think that it was in last year’s Champions League return game between Arsenal and Liverpool that the world was first made aware of his limitless potential, I am not counting his shock inclusion in the 2006 World Cup squad for the obvious reason that he did not play a single minute. His Maradona-esque goal was his declaration to the world that he is ready to shine and his performance on Wednesday shows just how serious he is about performing at the highest level. His blazing runs on the wings were just what England needed, a spark of youth to invigorate the team as well as the fans, now they actually have something to cheer for. His performance was so good that he put an end to the question: will Beckham start on the right side?
Following England’s thrashing of Croatia; France was ready to kick off against Serbia. After France’s crushing defeat in Austria, Domenech was forced to make several changes to his squad, including the shock start of Yoann Gourcuff. Now, many people were aware of his potential, especially after signing with European giants AC Milan, but nobody and I mean nobody was expecting this kind of performance from him especially since talk of his great potential sizzled up after spending a few seasons warming the Milan bench before making a return to France in the form of a loan deal to Bordeaux. Well, not only did he bring it but he also stepped into, dare I say it……Zinedine Zidane’s shoes, which are some mighty big shoes to fill. He showed the composure of a 30 year old veteran with the vivacity of a 20 year old. He was the biggest reason for France’s convincing 2-1 win. And after all was said and done he left the field knowing that he now has an entire country at his knees.