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.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music

Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married in Venice yesterday
peopleAmal and George Clooney 'planning third celebration in England'
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley at the premiere of Laggie at Toronto Film Festival 2014
theatreActress 'to make Broadway debut'
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
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

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker