Club vs. Country: England's Failure to Prepare
Championship 2000 Teams' Preparatory Matches
Following the draws for
Cup 2002 qualification and the
Championship 2000 final tournament, the Football Association is finalizing
friendly fixtures which will serve as preparatory matches for the European
finals in June. While the fixtures have not been officially confirmed yet,
England reportedly will play Brazil on Saturday, May 27 at Wembley Stadium and
Malta away on Saturday, June 3. Negotiations are underway for a Wembley
friendly against either Croatia or Denmark on Wednesday, May 31.
The May 31 match against either Croatia or
Denmark apparently will be England's last match at Wembley Stadium before it is
torn down and replaced with a new stadium. Holland had been brooked as
possible opposition, but reportedly already have another opponent scheduled for May 31.
Earlier this year, the F.A. began preliminary plans for a last Wembley match in August, 2000, with Scotland and Germany
both mentioned as possible opponents. But that was before England drew
Scotland as opposition for the Euro 2000 qualification playoff and Germany as
opposition in both the Euro 2000 finals and World Cup 2002 qualification.
It now appears the last match plans for August have been scrapped. The
F.A. will allow Wembley, and all it stands for in English football, to be
consigned to history with no more ceremony than a friendly match against Croatia
The Malta match will celebrate the Malta
Football Association's centenary year. England apparently will fly
directly from Malta to their Euro 2000 base. Since unlimited substitutions
apparently will be allowed, the F.A. is defending the Malta match as similar to the
friendly manager Glenn Hoddle arranged for England against an FC Caen XI just before the World Cup
1998 finals. However, that match was played behind closed doors near
England's base in the very country that was hosting the tournament, and it was not an official international
the opposition was a club side. The real reason the F.A. is willing to
send England off to Malta
a week before the Euro 2000 finals start is that it hopes to win Malta's vote in
support of its
World Cup 2006 bid.
After the February 27 match against
Argentina at Wembley, England have open dates for international matches on March
29 and April 26, but the F.A. apparently plans to leave these dates unfilled. England
manager Kevin Keegan and the F.A. began deriding friendlies as
"meaningless" last year in the wake of Premier League club complaints
about fixture congestion, which effectively
England's preparations for the crucial Euro 2000 qualifiers against Sweden
and Bulgaria last June.
If the March and April international dates are
left unfilled, England will go more than six months while only playing once,
from the second playoff match against Scotland on November 17, 1999 until the
match against Brazil on May 27, 2000. Furthermore, they will go three months without any
match during the critical period immediately before the Euro 2000 finals, from February 27 until
May 27, which is just two weeks and two days shy of England's first Euro 2000 match
against Portugal on June 12 .
Keegan recently complained that England
were unable to string together more than one pass. Indeed, an inability to
play as a team marked England's entire Euro 2000 qualifying campaign.
Short of sparing us the spectacle of watching a team that do not play as a team,
a six-month-plus stretch in which England play only once is no remedy and a
singularly peculiar way to prepare for the Euro 2000 finals.
Needless to say, there will be no vacant international dates and no last-minute trips to Malta or its like for
Germany, England's second opponent in Euro 2000 group play in June.
Germany, which, like England, have had a difficult time of late, have arranged a full international schedule leading up to the Euro 2000
finals. They will play friendly matches against Holland in Amsterdam on February 23,
Croatia in Zagreb on March 29, Switzerland in Kaiserslautern on April 26, an
undetermined opponent at an undetermined venue on June 3 and Liechtenstein in
Freiburg on June 8.
Apart from their semi-final appearance on
home soil in 1996, when they were allowed to play all their matches at Wembley
and eventually went out to Germany on penalty kicks, England's best showing in the European
Championship came 32 years ago, when they lost to Yugoslavia in the semi-finals
in Italy and won the third place match against the USSR. The saddening
fact is that England have
won only four of their 16 matches in European Championship final tournaments since
they first entered the competition in 1964. Their automatic qualification
in 1996 aside, they have
failed to qualify for the final tournament as often as
they have reached it. Germany have reached the final match five times, have won the championship
three times, have 15 wins in 26 matches and have only failed to reach the final
tournament once, the first time they entered the competition in 1968.
Meanwhile, Keegan and his
F.A. supporters claim England have nothing to fear from Germany, and, as things
stand now, will leave England's match preparations until the last two weeks before the
competition. That England may have nothing to fear from Germany ought not
to be taken as meaning England have nothing to learn from them.