Plenty of Olympic spirit but passion is in short supply as England defeat Italy

 

The Wankdorf Stadium

Football should change to reflect the edifying attitude evidenced at London 2012, but England's friendly against Italy last night should be a warning not to over-sanitise a game built on tribalism and passion.

Anodyne friendlies are nothing new, especially at this time of the season when players have one eye on the return of domestic football. But throw in experimental line-ups, the timing – sandwiched in the midst of the comedown from an all-time Olympic high and the build-up to the Most Hyped League Ever ™ – and a neutral location, and this match never had a chance of being anything more than a glorified training game.

Still, England fans travelled in decent numbers. Comedian Frank Skinner once reflected on their dedication by claiming, "If the World Cup was held on Jupiter, somehow 40,000 England fans would turn up."

Around 1,300 made the considerably easier trip to Berne, even if it probably amounts to about the same price as for a local train ride. No-one could suggest that their patriotism had evaporated in a post-Olympic hangover, as the band did their best to create something akin to an atmosphere in the Wankdorf Stadium (stop sniggering at the back).

However, the difference here is that whereas the locals turned out in droves to support the gold-medal action in their backyard, this encounter passed largely unnoticed in Switzerland. Perhaps those "Plastic Brits" that largely disappeared from London fancied the tax breaks on offer here. There weren't even any volunteers with big foamy fingers directed the crowds; how inconsiderate.

And what of the players? There has been plenty written about the lessons football should learn from sport fiercely contested yet retaining purity and integrity. Remember, that's not the Olympic spirit that saw an Algerian runner give up in the 800m before winning the 1500m, or badminton players deliberately try to lose matches, but the one where competitors are pure and inspiring.

Comparing the best of the Olympics and the worst of football has been an easy framework to beat the national sport with this week. The acts of diving, swearing and hounding officials are always the primary targets, but none were on show here.

The two bad tackles in the game came from Daniele De Rossi on Tom Cleverley and a cruncher from Federico Peluso on James Milner, but both were incidents in a game that lacked anything approaching the intensity required to create controversy. Only one yellow card – for Diego Fabbrini – was shown.

Mind you, the Italians have an excuse for not embracing the Olympic spirit – their football team failed to qualify for London 2012 altogether.

There was plenty of generosity in England's defence as De Rossi was afforded the freedom of this beautiful city to head home Alessandro Diamanti's 15th-minute corner. The Italians displayed a spirit or reciprocity as Phil Jagielka headed home Frank Lampard's corner to give England parity.

Stratford had fireworks, but this game had Jermain Defoe's firecracker that handed England victory. Goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu could only get fingertips to the Tottenham striker's blistering effort. After that, the game drifted along with players content to avoid injury.

The acid test as to whether football can stamp out its ugly side will come when desire is at its highest. Still, let's not forget that the beautiful game at its best fuses power and passion; take away too much and you'll be left with too many occasions like this.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Life and Style
i100

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week