Six weeks after the World Cup and competetive International football is back. England started their 2016 qualifying campaign with the hardest of the group games they are likely to face. They were up against the mighty Switzerland, ten places above England in the FIFA rankings. Unlike England, Switzerland acquitted themselves reasonably well in the World Cup finals and didn't come back to a barrage of flak from the press. Many England fans approached the game with a bit of trepidation. England have a long record of performing extremely badly in matches in September. To be drawn away against your toughest opponents for the first game was not a gift from the footballing gods.
Whilst the results for England at the World cup were truly awful, I felt that this didn't tell the whole story. England played very well against Italy and were desperately unlucky to lose. Against Uruguay, they were undone by Louis Suarez, who is one of the very best strikers in the world. Having said that, results don't lie.
So it was with a feeling foreboding that the telly went on at 7.15pm for the match. There was a moment of comedy when the ITV pundit team of Hoddle, Wright and Dixon along with Adrian Chiles got soaked as they were commentating by the sprinkler system on the pitch. I wondered if this would be the highlight of the match. I must say that generally my view is that ITV pundits should be put on permanent ice bucket challenge. For some reason as soon as a pundit joins ITV they seem unable to utter a single intelligent word. Much as I may loath Gary Neville at Sky for his Manchester United connections, you can't deny he is an excellent pundit. Even my missus who hates football says he does a good job. Is it part of the ITV contract that you have to have a full frontal lobotomy?
So onto the game. It started fairly tepidly, with England having quite a lot of possession going nowhere. For some reason Jack Wilshire seemed unable or unwilling to try and find space in midfield, with the result that the diamond formation was as flat as a pancake. Delf seemed to be of the opinion that getting sent off in his full debut was the way to get a few headlines, seemingly haking down everyone in sight, earning a yellow card after about 15 mins, having given the ref no choice.
Every game has a critical moment and this games came from an unlikely combination. Joe Hart picked out Danny Welbeck on the left wing and Welbeck ran at the Swiss defence with great purpose. All of a sudden the Swiss defenders started to look rather scared. From that moment, England started to play with drive and purpose. Rooney was set up beautifully for a volley, but it seems he is lacking confidence and he took and extra touch and the chance was gone. Rooney doesn't look the player he was two years ago. He had a few decent touches, but doesn't look confident. Is the captaincy weighing heavily on him? Welbeck on the other hand was a revealation. Full of purposeful drive and running, he looked the real deal. His first goal was a shinned finish, but he was in the right place at the right time. Just before injury time Rooney was replaced by Ricky Lambert. With five minutes to see out, it seemed like a move to close out the game. Stick Lambert up front and use him to hold up play. In the event Stirling got hold of the ball, passed to Lambert who set up Welbeck for a glorious second goal. For a striker who is not meant to be able tpo score, he looked pretty good. Did United sell the wrong striker? Is it possible that the current situation at Utd is acting as a millstone on their players and suppressing their natural sparkle?
As to the rest of the team, Jones and Cahill had a solid game. Baines probably had his best game in an England shirt. Wilshire was a tad disappointing, not really showing the purposeful drive we've come to expect. Stirling had a quiet game, but played a part in both goals. Bizarrely the ITV commentators suggested that Joe Hart was the man of the match. Joe had a good solid game and is seemingly back to his best, but come on guys. Welbeck was the man.
This England team is an improvement on the World Cup effort. At no point did I think "We need a Gerrard or a Lampard in there". It is a work in progress, but there are green shoots. As an England fan, that is something to behold.