England 6 Jamaica 0: Crouch ready to swap clowning for crowning glory in Germany
Monday 05 June 2006
Between dancing for the future king of England and incurring the wrath of the mildest manager in English football, Peter Crouch scored a hat-trick for his country on Saturday. And in the same stadium, in front of the same fans who booed his appearance as a substitute in October, he absurdly missed a penalty and yet no one shouted "freak" or any of the other unworthy insults he has had to endure.
Not your average week, Crouch will reflect, as he tucks those Crouch-sized feet under the seat in front of him on the flight to Germany this afternoon. As his side demolished Jamaica in the June sunshine at Old Trafford, Crouch seemed to be on his way to that peculiarly English status known as "national treasure" - part affectionate, part condescending. In fact, he is much more important than that.
Who could not fail to laugh at the luck of a man who gets caught on camera dancing like a robot, and then has the good humour to send himself up in a stadium of 55,000 fans, against Hungary last Tuesday? When he was then coerced this week into repeating the feat in a field in Manchester in front of Prince William it just became, in Crouch's words, "surreal". He looks strange, he dances funny, but Crouch is not a joke.
First of all he has the responsibility of replacing Wayne Rooney for now; secondly, he has five goals in three starts for England. He is a bright, good-natured chap, the son of an advertising agency executive, and would never have fallen into the role of court jester were it not for the fact that he is 6ft 7in and built like a rotary dryer. On Saturday, against Paraguay, his job will become very serious indeed, which he was reminded of by the England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, this weekend.
It was not so much the missing of the penalty, it was Crouch's nonchalant attempt to curl it into the top corner that so tried Eriksson's temper and, all around Old Trafford, fans held their head in their hands, wondering how they had ever been persuaded to believe in England's new No 9. The truth is somewhere in between. It was a daft thing to do, but one penalty ballooned into the Stretford End does not make Crouch a bad player.
"A golden opportunity to practise penalties and he joked about," was Eriksson's first assessment and this from a manager who has never criticised his players in public, let alone his hat-trick heroes. Then, sensing a controversy, Eriksson embarked on a backtracking exercise.
"I'm not angry. I can understand it, he was up in the clouds," Eriksson said. "Maybe he got a bit carried away and then it's important to come down to earth very quickly. I don't know if I criticised him. He was fantastic, but he shouldn't have taken the penalty like that. He knows that himself and I don't have to say any more."
Up in the clouds. Come down to earth. Wherever you look, even in an English speaker of Eriksson's moderate ability, there is a Crouch gag waiting to be made. How many England strikers in history have scored their first hat-trick and still had to apologise to the manager?
"I got caught up in the moment, it was just overconfidence, I think," Crouch said. "I don't think I'll be trying anything like that again. Thankfully, I got another chance for the hat-trick and I stuck that one away. That was a big relief, because I'd have felt pretty bad if I'd missed out on a hat-trick because of a stupid penalty."
His contrition only makes you like him more, but a lesson had been learnt. Crouch has been good-natured enough to play the fool this week, and at times he has just seemed glad to be there. He proved on Saturday that he no longer has to dance for his supper: one early piece of skill - the ball chested down and laid off to Joe Cole - showed that he belonged. Three goals, especially the third, cleared up the debate over who should partner Michael Owen against Paraguay.
It was hard to imagine a better World Cup finals send-off, and it was hard to think of more accommodating opposition than a Jamaica team who have treated their time in Manchester more like the first week of the holidays than the last of the season. John Terry and Ashley Cole have been passed fit after minor worries and Jermain Defoe is now Rooney's preferred deputy, although that is looking an increasingly unlikely option.
If there was a concern, it involved Owen who, despite scoring his first goal since 17 December still did not shine as he can. He played an important role for Crouch's hat-trick, laying a quick ball off, but he did not seem quite able to get on the dangerous side of defenders, or accelerate away from them. It was an act of generosity to give the penalty to Crouch, because had he scored it himself he would have travelled to Germany 13 short of breaking Sir Bobby Charlton's scoring record for England.
Frank Lampard and a Jermaine Taylor own goal put England two up within 17 minutes before an appalling piece of goalline defending by Omar Daley helped Crouch's volley over the line on 29 minutes. Then Owen sprang the offside trap and dribbled around Donovan Ricketts for the fourth. Sol Campbell replaced Terry and he too seemed unsure. Where he would once have eased past strikers to get the ball, the Arsenal defender now seems more often to foul them.
The fifth came in the 67th minute when Beckham picked out Crouch and his hat-trick goal was the best of the bunch. Stewart Downing played the ball into Owen and Crouch found the corner.
There was no appearance from Theo Walcott, but a special mention should be made of Aaron Lennon who made his full England debut on the right. There were none of the runs he showed against Belarus but this speedy player surely has a role to play in Germany.
And today, it is, as Eriksson said, "on with the Armani suit". The England team will meet local schoolchildren in their base town of Baden-Baden as well as the area's three mayors. The local dignitaries will meet some of the most famous footballers in the world, but after the week he has had, they should not expect Crouch to dance for them.
England (4-4-2): Robinson (Tottenham); Carragher (Liverpool), Ferdinand (Manchester United), Terry (Chelsea), A Cole (Arsenal); Beckham (Real Madrid), Gerrard (Liverpool), Lampard (Chelsea), J Cole (Chelsea); Owen (Newcastle), Crouch (Liverpool). Substitutes used: Campbell (Arsenal) for Terry (32); Bridge (Chelsea) for A Cole (36); James (Manchester City) for Robinson (h-t); Carrick (Tottenham) for Lampard (68); Lennon (Tottenham) for Beckham (68); Downing (Middlesbrough) for Gerrard (76).
Jamaica (4-4-2): Ricketts (Bradford City); Daley (Charleston Battery), Stewart (Harbour View), Claude Davis (Bolton Wanderers), Reid (Waterhouse); Campbell-Ryce (Colchester United), Taylor (Harbour View), Euell (Charlton Athletic), Hue (Kansas City Wizards); Fuller (Southampton), Shelton (Helsingborg). Substitutes used: Crawford (City Islanders) for Taylor (h-t); Burton (Sheffield Wednesday) for Shelton (48); Bennett (City Islanders) for Fuller (75); Stephenson (Gais) for Euell (78); Johnson (Tivoli Gardens) for Hue (84).
Referee: K Plautz (Austria).
Booked: Jamaica Taylor, Crawford.
Man of the match: Crouch.
Pele puzzled by 'unique' gamble to pick Walcott
Pele has expressed his surprise at Theo Walcott's inclusion in the England World Cup squad before the 17-year-old has played in the Premiership.
The Brazilian, three times a World Cup winner and still the youngest World Cup finalist, described Walcott's selection as "very difficult to understand", even though he won as a 17-year-old in 1958.
"Why somebody is selected for the national team without playing is very difficult to understand," Pele said. "But if he has the talent and is a good player he has got to have a good support from the team if he comes to the field, because it will be very tough for him.
"This is the first time in my life that a player has been selected for the national team without playing. It is unique."
He believes Eriksson's decision to sacrifice a forward in favour of Walcott could come back to haunt the Swede if the two teams meet in the tournament, but added: "Brazil has a better chance to win because we have better forwards than England - but in the last World Cup it was very even and I think it would be the same this time."
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