Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked a little out of his depth as he chugged across the 17th fairway of the Grove Hotel's championship golf course in a buggy in search of a lost ball last Wednesday. Your correspondent sensed a result when something white and spherical glinted in the general vicinity – but not the Arsenal player's ball, it transpired. "Sorry Alex," the conversation wound up. "My fault for shanking it," he replied.
Back down the course at England's pre-Euro base in Hertfordshire, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard were pinging their tee shots formidably, though Oxlade-Chamberlain's sense of adventure against Belgium on Saturday, taken with his sang-froid, suggested he may be first among equals soon enough. The lost footing which left the 18-year-old on the seat of his pants and shooting high into the seats was one of a few erratic moments on his full debut, but the overall impression was of a player more willing to gamble and operate between the lines than anyone else in white.
He is struggling to take all of this in. The season before last Oxlade-Chamberlain was running out for Southampton at Carlisle, Yeovil and Exeter. And this time two years ago he was watching England's World Cup campaign with friends at his local in Southsea. "I went home the other day to see my friends," he said. "We drove past the pub where we watched the England v Germany game when [Frank] Lampard scored the goal which was disallowed. It's been an amazing journey." He was due to jet out to Marbella with his friends on Friday. "They've gone. I cancelled," he said.
Manager Roy Hodgson did not disagree that Oxlade-Chamberlain was slightly "over-excitable" at times on Saturday. "It is a good fault though, isn't it?" he shot back. "We have been trying to encourage that a little bit. We have got quick players but I don't think we have got into [unexpected positions] as much as I would have liked. We will do a lot more work on that. But the good thing is that if we could get into those areas, the players we have got there, with their pace and ability, can cause problems.
"Our message to the players has been that they have to be brave and show some courage. They have to try it on. If it doesn't work, we will take the responsibility. We would rather they take it on than play the ball back again because you are worried that if you... lose it everyone is going to criticise you. He took that message very much on board."
Belgian who ended Cahill's dream 'sorry'
The Belgium forward Dries Mertens, who shoved Gary Cahill into Joe Hart on Saturday and inadvertently caused the broken jaw that means the defender will miss Euro 2012 has "sincerely" apologised for his actions.
The PSV Eindhoven winger, who was booked for the offence, tweeted: "in the heat of the moment, you often don't think about the consequences. I sincerely apologize for the harm I've cost to Cahill. I hope he recovers well!"
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