Early Doors

Ghana remind England that football can be fun

Early Doors

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England's friendly against Ghana last night was derided in all quarters as a pointless exercise. But sometimes things don't have to have a point - they can just be fun.

Much like playing Guitar Hero or watching a Jean Claude van Damme movie, the ding dong of a 1-1 draw at Wembley was just that: fun. It is an adjective which has been applicable to England all too rarely in recent times.

For all the (justifiable) pre-match complaints about fans being short-changed with a slew of stars allowed to leave the squad early by Fabio Capello, no one can have left the national stadium last night saying they did not get their money's worth.

Ghana must take a big slice of the credit for that. The Black Stars were England's party liaison, bringing the best out of their hosts both on and off the pitch.

Even with the party-pooping pre-match announcement that "musical instruments, including vuvuzelas, will not be permitted" inside the ground, the 21,000 visiting fans made a right din as their team played with the kind of joie de vivre so rarely seen in an international friendly beneath the arch.

It was no different in the press box as plenty of Ghanaian journalists sported their nation's shirts and scarves, raising the odd smile from the jaded British hacks as they struggled to contain their emotions.

Goran Stevanovic's side played with an exuberance matched by England's fringe men. With the home team full of players determined to prove a point and a visiting side displaying a genuine will to win, the occasion got off to a high-octane start and became even more fraught from then on.

Capello was for once willing to overlook his team allowing such an open game; the conservative Italian even seemed to enjoy himself.

"It was not a friendly game; there were two teams on the pitch playing well, strongly, with lots of tackles," he said. "Every tackle was a fight. The players played without fear and with confidence. Ghana are a really good team. It was an exciting game, a fast game, a really important game for the fans to know some players who never played.

"It was also interesting for me to know the value of these players playing here at Wembley."

It was enough to raise a lumbering, half-fit Andy Carroll into opening his England account at only the second time of asking. It is a fair bet that Carroll's Scottish club manager, Kenny Dalglish, has never been so happy to see an England goal - his £35 million signing drilled a clinical left-footed strike back across Richard Kingson to give England the lead just before half-time. It was a glimpse of what Carroll can achieve in an England shirt if he is kept on the straight and narrow and does not allow that huge price tag to weigh him down.

With eight games left of their season Liverpool still have an outside chance of a European place, and Carroll will be a step closer to full match fitness when the Reds travel to West Brom on Saturday.

That's right; the Premier League. You remember that, don't you? Well, it resumes this weekend - and Early Doors for one cannot wait to see Sunderland play Manchester city following Asamoah Gyan's late equaliser.

Gyan made monkeys of City quartet Joleon Lescott, James Milner, Gareth Barry and Joe Hart - but mostly Lescott - as he squirmed his way through on the edge of the box and fired in a great finish to send the away fans as mad as a box of frogs.

His admission afterwards that "I was twisting and turning, but honestly, I didn't know what I was doing, I was just trying to protect the ball" only enhances the pleasure derived from such a fitting end to a thoroughly enjoyable match.

In the cold light of day, England failed to win a home match against lower-ranked opposition after being ahead for so long - but there are plenty of positives to take home.

There was a second sparkling performance from Ashley Young in as many games, plus strong showings from Gary Cahill, Stewart Downing and, inevitably, Jack Wilshere, who Capello praised afterwards with the simple, knowing phrase: "He's a player."

But, perhaps more than any of that, it was just good to enjoy watching England again after the stale, moribund showing in South Africa which was so at odds with Ghana's own campaign.

England's next match is not for three months, and it is a qualifier against Switzerland for which all the big boys - except the suspended Wayne Rooney - will return. It will be nowhere near as enjoyable. So, until then, it's best just to bask in the enjoyment of a game of football which was fun for fun's sake.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "There will be 60,000 people coming down from Manchester - think about how much petrol is used for that? Think of the amount of people from the North-West driving down there." - Alex Ferguson slams the environmental impact of holding both FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley on the same day as Manchester United announce a carbon footprint-busting pre-season tour of America.

FOREIGN VIEW: "Drogba believed he was the star in the squad and I did have conflicts with him. He wanted to go to a hospital in Paris because of an injury but I said no. That was my first problem because Anelka did well in his absence and scored many goals. But when Drogba came back he wanted to go straight back into the team, but I refused. I wanted Robinho but it wasn't possible. I also wanted Abramovich to change Drogba for Adriano at Inter because he was easier to control than Drogba." - Former Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, who took charge of Corinthians in his homeland of Brazil last week, reveals some of the internal problems which led to his tenure at Stamford Bridge being curtailed after just seven months. Adriano easier to control than Drogba? Really?

COMING UP: The latest blogs from Jim White and Spanish correspondent Andy Mitten will be up later today, as will our latest Premier League Scouting Report, which this week focuses on Mario Balotelli.

But, before all that, there is the small matter of the Cricket World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan. To call it a grudge match would like describing Balotelli stable and balanced. Follow live coverage of the match in Mohali right here, right now.

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