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.

News
people
Life and Style
healthMovember isn't about a moustache trend, it saves lives
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Extras
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities