Avoiding Injuries Is The Aim For England

It's unlikley Peru will provide a similar test to Uruguay simply because they are from the same confederation, but the most important thing for England is to avoid costly injuries...

Last Updated: 30/05/14 at 15:44 Post Comment

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For football fans of a certain age, Peru throws up more childhood memories than Paddington Bear. Thirty-six years ago, at the last World Cup held in South America, it was Teofilo Cubillas and friends who shocked Ally McLeod's team, and the temporary Scots back home, in the Tartan Army's opening match in Argentina. You may think the misplaced arrogance of the Baden-Baden generation at the 2006 World Cup took some beating but without a doubt the greatest amount of hubris to accompany a team from these shores to a finals was decked in Tartan (and attempted to travel by submarine).

England's Friday night game is merely a friendly and surely cannot provoke the level of football trauma Peru managed with that 3-1 win, barring a crippling collision or three. But something along those lines did happen two years ago, of course, when Gary Cahill's Euro 2012 chances were ended by a double fracture of the jaw, courtesy of a shove from Belgium's Dries Mertens that caused the defender to collide with Joe Hart. Losing Cahill was bad enough but imagine a double knockout tonight.

While paper talk is of Roy Hodgson using this match "to cast off the shackles", and it would be highly enjoyable to see England take Paul Scholes' advice and play like Liverpool (without the slips), these matches are unreliable guides to future performance. Danny Welbeck's goal saw off Belgium; before the 2010 World Cup, Mexico were beaten 3-1 in the last home game; indeed you have to go back to a goalless draw against Saudi Arabia at the old Wembley in 1998 to find the last time England departed these shores without a win in their final home friendly.

The justification for playing Peru (and Ecuador in next Wednesday's Miami friendly) is of course the presence of Uruguay in Group D. But it is unclear how much a weakened Peru will compare to the 2010 semi-finalists and 2006's attempt to provide similar opposition to group opponents Trinidad & Tobago demonstrated the pitfalls. While it took an almighty struggle to beat T&T in Germany, Jamaica were brushed aside 6-0 at the City of Manchester Stadium in the friendly that a) gave birth to Peter Crouch's robot celebration and b) enabled him to register England's first penalty miss of the summer.

Still I will head to Wembley hoping for victory, looking for a performance that suggests an attacking fluidity that will cause concern to Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica. But if not then it will be time to remember my first such send-off, against one of these group opponents.

After the disastrous 1988 European Championship, in which Bobby Robson lost all three group games (a unique England disaster), the manager clung on to his job and embarked on a long unbeaten run, albeit with three goalless draws in the six World Cup qualifiers. A run of pre-tournament friendlies produced wins against Yugoslavia, Brazil, Czechoslovakia and Denmark and a draw with Italy. And then came the finale.

To give you an idea of how much football has changed, the attendance at the old Wembley on 22 May 1990 was 38,751, and this was pretty much as expected. And while we saw John Barnes score, Uruguay ran out 2-1 winners: England's last send-off defeat to date was followed by a far more worrying draw in Tunisia - and then the semi-final run that lifted the pall around the national game and brought blundering Bobby a knighthood.

Let's hope Peru is a game to remember but as long as Rooney, Gerrard and Sterling don't get carried off, let's not get carried away, whatever happens.

Philip Cornwall

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