England’s Estonia win a stroll in the park…
It was billed as a goal-fest, a stroll in the park… and it was exactly that. England’s win against Estonia was secured so easily that you wondered whether our opponents even had their full team on the pitch. The only downer was the ankle injury sustained by Ashley Cole.
All three goals were particularly soft. First Sean Wright-Phillips managed to nutmeg both the defender and the keeper to score from an angle that a pub team would have been disappointed not to have kept out. Then Estonian defender Taavi Rahn managed to net a freak diving bullet header from outside his own box. And finally, Rooney’s weak shot took a big deflection and trickled implausibly over the line.
Still, job done, and now attention turns to the game that was always likely to be the clincher: away to Russia on an artificial pitch.
The England squad have been practicing on different surfaces, and Paul Robinson has packed his leggings. But playing on plastic is still likely to be an unknown quantity for most of the squad.
"The Russians will absolutely flood it with water before the game," warns Garry O’Connor, now of Birmingham City and formerly of Lokomotiv Moscow. "Your boots get completely soaked as soon as you go on to it – something you don't enjoy when the temperature plummets. The ball skids off the surface, so it becomes extremely hard to read where it is going to go."
Coach Steve McClaren, however, argues that players in England are used to a variety of conditions. "You can have it beautiful at the start of the season,” he says. “Then you come into autumn and it's windy and dry. In the winter it's snow and muddy. Then ice. Then it dries up and there's no grass on it. It's rock hard. Then at the end of the season you might get some grass and it might be OK."
Hmm. None of those are actually waterlogged plastic, though, are they?
(Image: from YouTube)