Tale of two teams

I wrapped up my English class yesterday evening so that I could get back in time to watch the England v France clash. My class asked me which team I would be supporting. “The French” I replied and then I explained why.

I arrived home in time to watch the game. It unfolded pretty much as I anticipated. The French were tactically and technically superior in every position on the pitch as they outflanked, outmanoeuvred and out-thought their opponents. I accept that England had a number of sacred cows missing from their line up but their replacements did not herald a brighter footballing future as England succumbed to basic route one football.

The French delighted us with the excellence of their spritely passing, good use of possession, their control of and movement on the ball. In fact, the final scoreline of 1-2 flatters to deceive as France struggled to convert their dominance into goals. The reality was far more emphatic than the result suggests. On a personal note I was delighted to see a rejuvenated Gourcuff compliment the excellent play of Nasri, Benzema and Malouda.

Laurent Blanc’s French team demonstrated to the sold-out Wembley crowd that they’ve learned well the lessons from S Africa, underlining all too clearly that the English have not. Now you know why they had my support.

Twinkle, twinkle

Gratifyingly good performances from both England and France yesterday evening as they look to distance the disappointment of the World Cup in South Africa. For Capello it is business as usual, though injuries have prompted (forced) him to give opportunities to some promising players, notably Adam Johnson. Revelations about Wayne Rooney’s off field escapades have fortunately not affected his on-field form, quite the opposite. However, is it only me who thinks Capello might be better off leaving Lampard on the side-lines?  After two resounding wins, England top their Group.

Laurent Blanc has a much harder task with his “blanc piece of paper” but the signs are promising and, once many of his players return from injury and/or suspension, expect more score-lines like yesterday evening. Help may be at hand as I understand that Zinadine Zidane’s eldest is playing for Real Madrid’s youth squad. He’ll be 17 come the European Cup in 2012.

There may soon be a Gallic flavour at Villa Park. Rumour has it that Gerard Houllier is mulling over an offer to step into Martin O’Neill’s shoes. They have a potential banana skin away at Stoke this Sunday, after riding their luck to most recently scrape past Everton. They’ve been a bit of a curate’s egg and, with no additions to the squad following the sale of James Milner, will quickly need to bring on some of their promising youngsters.

OGCN are also playing on Sunday, when they’ll be home to Bordeaux now bereft of my favourite French player Yoann Gourcuff who’s hightailed it to Lyon. However, the first installment from the sale of Loic Remy has finally arrived into the OGCN coffers, allowing them to balance (cook?) the books. Nonetheless, OGCN have done their usual last minute shopping in football’s equivalent of Filene’s basement. Let’s hope they have unearthed some gems.

Weight of expectation

There’s been a collective weeping, wailing and beating of breasts in France today after their football team lost 2-0 to Mexico. Most have them on the plane home already. I’ve no idea what L’Equipe made of it as there were no copies available today in the local newsagents. Maybe, they decided not to publish in protest. The Nice Matin called it “Honteux” (disgraceful) and most players, with the exceptions of Lloris and Malouda, who both scored 5, were awarded less than 4. I think the manager was a definite “nul” points.

Still, that’s not been the only surprise. I watched a bit of the Spain v Switzerland game. The Spanish were passing the ball around beautifully while the Swiss employed that time honoured tactic of the underdog: 11 men behind the ball. It worked. Casillas, the Spanish goalkeeper, fell asleep from boredom  and let in a Swiss goal.

Germany, who started brightly by scoring 4 goals in their first match, lost Klose and went down 1-0 this afternoon to the Serbs.

England, meanwhile,  laboured against Algeria, a team you could buy with the sale proceeds of Emile Heskey and still have change over. We’ve maintained our unbeaten run, but I’m pretty sure this was not what Fabio Capello ordered as his birthday treat. At times there was more action from the bench than on the pitch as he agonised, grimaced and gesticulated over England’s performance.

While David James looked commanding in yellow, back in his rightful place between the goalposts, the same could not be said of many of his teammates. Rooney was rubbish, Lampard lacklustre and Gerrard, by his own admission, lacked courage. It’s still all to play for next Wednesday afternoon against Serbia, a team that has already beaten Algeria.

The pundits have worked out that if England draw 2-2 against Serbia, and USA draw 0-0 with Algeria, the winner will be decided by drawing lots. Given our luck with games of chance and penalties, we’ll be keeping France company on the plane back.

Farewell to Gareth Barry

I’m often asked what I miss about the UK usually in anticipation of me reciting a long list which includes family and friends, baked beans, Branston pickle or other such cherished culinary icons. I’m sure you can understand that my popularity quotient has risen immeasurably since my move from central London to the Cote d’Azur. I have a guest bedroom (just the one mind), so family and friends can come and visit. Because there’s a lot of Brits living here or who have second homes, most supermarkets have a UK section. Here you’ll be able to find Marmite, Wall’s sausages, baked beans, Branston pickle, Bird’s custard powder, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk etc etc However, I have no need to buy any of these products. Indeed, I never bought them when I lived in the UK.

No, I miss watching live Premiership football. Specifically, I miss watching my team: Aston Villa. I listen to their matches on the internet and watch them on satellite TV. But any sports fan will tell you, there’s no substitute for watching a live match, race, game, whatever. If you were to ask me to describe my perfect day it would most definitely include watching my team win LIVE.

Because this blog is largely about cycling, you might be forgiven for thinking it was my first love. But no, that’s football. My maternal grandfather was a Villa fan. My mother grew up a stone’s throw away from the ground. My father moved from Portsmouth to play for Villa’s youth squad. If you cut my arm off my blood would run “claret and blue”. My first date with my husband was a football match, which Villa won. He often jokes that when he married me he promised to “love, honour, obey and support Aston Villa”.

We were for many years Villa season ticket holders and we travelled all over the country watching them play, home and away. I now have a season ticket for my local team, OGC Nice, but I can’t work up quite the same passion and enthusiasm as I do for the Villains. You might be wondering what has occasioned this outpouring. It’s simple: today, it was confirmed that Gareth Barry has played his last match for Villa.

Gareth Barry
Gareth Barry

He’s moving to Manchester City; coincidentally, the subject of one of my favourite sporting books “Manchester United Ruined my Life” by Colin Schindler.

After 12 years of faithful service, Gareth is moving on and taking a bit of me with him. He’s not my favourite player ever, that’s Paul McGrath for whom the famous violinist Nigel Kennedy (yes, him of Four Season’s fame), penned “God is Paul McGrath”.  He’s not even a local, he was signed as a youth player from Brighton but he’s played 440 games in a Villa shirt and, as is right and proper, he’s (at long last – well done, Capello) regularly donning an England shirt. I wish him well and every success at Man City, but obviously not at the Villa’s expense.

Unfortunately, when you’re trying to break into the Big Four (Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea) and fail, you run the risk that all those players you’ve so cannily bought and/or developed will be cherry picked by those clubs with bigger wallets and/or more (recent) trophies in the cabinet.