Football: Italy won at Wembley through a resolute act of will and technical superiority

Tension can stunt a footballer, but evidence argues powerfully that experienced internationals are fully grown. To make the level at all, they first survive other tests of their skill and endurance. As they rise, pressure rises with them.

Pressure plays on them, but, in the imprecision of human behaviour, one can never anticipate how. Bobby Moore performed at his best when most was at issue. "The best defender I've ever played against," Pele said of him. Moore's attention often diffused over a long club season. Important games refocused it.

Manchester United's defeat of Juventus last week in the Champions' League resulted, in the main, from the sustained intensity of their teamwork. Much less was required to easily overcome Crystal Palace in a Premier League game at Old Trafford three days later. "You couldn't help feeling that some of the United players were bored," a Palace supporter said.

Put the fact of interrupted rhythm to coaches and they nod, curiously restrained. "I couldn't believe it," one recently said when referring to the sudden, mystifying collapse of a star player's form. "Our best man one week, our worst the the next. It can happen."

As Glenn Hoddle has grown to know, international football is a world apart, with its own set of imponderables. No matter how close the England coach's scrutiny, he cannot be sure that the men chosen to start against Italy on Saturday will be at their best mentally. A player can look great in rehearsals, but on the night he gives a poor performance.

The most successful of Hoddle's predecessors, Alf Ramsey, used to explain his position this way: "It's mostly about selection, not asking players to perform tasks that make them uncomfortable." Ramsey's great rival, Helmut Schon of West Germany, said: "You don't cling to outstanding players, they cling to you because of their intelligence and willingness to work for the team."

Hoddle was understandably encouraged by England's successful effort in the Tournoi de France, but a view held here is that too much was read into a victory over Italy that figures prominently in assessments of this week's proceedings.

A traditional feature of England's national team is to play flat out whatever the circumstances, their commitment as complete in friendly matches as World Cup ties. An impression gained from watching last summer's encounter on television was that England took it more seriously than their opponents.

In their dogged refusal to accept this, some pundits are as perilously placed as horse players blind to evidence of deliberate idleness in running.

Does the recent history of English football tell us anything more important than that Italy, through a resolute act of will and technical superiority, held their ground to win at Wembley? I don't think so.

Even with such notables as Franz Beckenbauer and Gunther Netzer in the team, West Germany gave themselves little chance of holding England at Wembley when attempting to qualify for the 1972 European Championship finals. "Even though we'd defeated them in the 1970 World Cup everything seemed against us," Beckenbauer said. "We were nervous in the dressing- room because England had many fine players and appeared very confident, but the breaks went our way and we surprised a lot of people including many of our supporters by winning 3-1."

No great significance should be attached to the fact that it is 36 years since England last succeeded on Italian soil, although Hoddle will welcome a repeat of the good fortune evident in reports of the 3-2 victory on 24 May 1961.

Doubtless people find it encouraging when somebody in Hoddle's position speaks about sending a team out to play positively but a pretty safe bet is that England, with the advantage of two options, will sensibly seek to establish a balance.

And while it is important today for a football coach to be well schooled in strategy and tactics, nothing matters more than individual ability. There has been enough evidence lately to suggest that English football has made technical advances. Enough to achieve victory in Rome? I doubt it.

house + home
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living