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30 stats for Messi's 30th birthday


Diego spoils Beckham's fairytale return

It was the classic return of a prodigal son.

David Beckham, cast out by Steve McClaren after the 2006 World Cup, made his return to the international stage in style at Wembley. The first major international, albeit a friendly, to be held at the new arena in front of the full 90,000 capacity, and the spectacle didn't disappoint.

So much has been written about Beckham's return, one felt that it was a lose-lose situation for the manager. If Beckham played well, people would ask why he had been dropped in the first place; if he played badly, questions would be raised over his inclusion.

Thankfully for England, it was the former that occurred as he delivered a peach of a free-kick to the head of John Terry for England's goal. Even if McClaren is castigated for his decision to drop Beckham from the side, he can be relatively happy with the result, if not the way that his side gave away their lead.

England had only beaten Brazil three times in 21 attempts and even before the game it was clear that they lacked imagination compared to their Brazilian counterparts.

If anything typifies the way the two teams operate, it is the way they train. While the England team were waving their legs around warming up, the Brazilians were playing a game of five-on-five in a small coned-off area. Tricks, nutmegs and fun. Typical Brazil.

The pitch though, looked the worse for wear, especially after a few Alan Smith slide tackles and it was not immediately clear what benefit the monotonous England drills had been.

Brazil coach Dunga had criticised the surface a day earlier, claiming that a new stadium's pitch should not lose its grass so quickly and his words rang true as groundsmen were furiously treading down the turf just minutes before kick-off.

The welcome for the players, when it came, was deafening. And on such a stage, the crowd did not disappoint, even after the final whistle. The returning Beckham and Michael Owen were given a rapturous reception, although notably the only boos of the evening came in Frank Lampard's direction; before he'd even set foot on the pitch.

Many would have thought Steve McClaren would have taken the opportunity of a friendly to drop the Chelsea midfielder after a series of below-par performances in international matches. Not so. McClaren kept faith with the Gerrard-Lampard axis, yet at times it looked as if Gerrard was doing the work of two.

First surging forward to create an opportunity for Beckham via a free-kick, and then tracking the run of Kaka beautifully before dispossessing the Milan forward with a perfectly timed slide tackle. If any of the England players can truly call themselves 'world class' it is the Liverpool skipper.

Brazil, full of their own world-class players in the form of Kaka and Ronaldinho, were the ones creating all the attacking impetus in the first half. With their usual flair, the South Americans poured forward at every opportunity and it was only the excellent defensive work done by Gerrard in the centre of midfield that meant the score was goalless going in to half-time.

Worryingly, England's only attacking impulses came through Beckham and the effervescent Joe Cole. The former skipper buzzed around all over the park and nearly created an opening for Owen early on, before sending in a trademark cross for the Newcastle striker to head just over. There was precious little else to keep the fans entertained.

The LA-bound midfielder was at the hub of England's play and often drifted inside to pick up possession, where Lampard should have been pulling the strings. Indeed, the Chelsea man went missing for large parts of the game, yet it was the troublesome Cole and the ineffectual Smith who were withdrawn in favour of Stuart Downing and Kieron Dyer.

Without Smith, England stopped looking for the long ball up the middle and began to trouble Brazil in the wide areas. In the past, McClaren has played Aaron Lennon on the left and Gerrard on the right, simply to accommodate them; but with Beckham's recall, he has been forced into using wingers in their proper positions.

Stuart Downing's arrival on the left gave the side balance, and it was from a wide area where Beckham would make his mark on the game. A trademark free-kick, a powerful header from the man who stripped him of the captaincy, John Terry, and for a brief moment, everything was perfect.

Arise, Sir David. And for those of you who may consider that a joke, it has been rumoured that Beckham is on the next honours list for a knighthood.

The star of the show was soon withdrawn, given a standing ovation for his part in the game. Brazil though, would not lie down. England failed to kill off the game, wasting various opportunities to grab their first win at the new stadium and in the final minute, they were punished by Diego. The diminutive Werder Bremen star has been in impressive form in the Bundesliga, but surely nobody expected him to score with his head.

Yet from Gilberto Silva's cross, he did just that, and in doing so, ruined David Beckham's perfect return, England's first match at Wembley and gave Steve McClaren a few more nightmares to keep him awake.

MAN OF THE MATCH: David Beckham. You can't keep a good man down and Beckham was all over the pitch, causing the Brazilian defence constant woe. His trademark free-kicks were full of quality and he has surely earned himself a place in the Euro 2008 squad (qualification allowing) with this performance.

Spare a thought for Steven Gerrard though, who was the actual MOTM and had to drag Frank Lampard around the pitch until the 88th minute saw the Chelsea man was replaced.

MOAN OF THE MATCH: Either the pitch, which by half-time looked like a herd of buffalo had wandered through it, or Paul Robinson's kicking. The Spurs stopper showed against Croatia that he has a propensity to mis-kick, and did so too many times, nearly letting Wagner Love in twice.

NICE DAY FOR A WHITE WEDDING: 90,000 people turned up at Wembley for possibly the biggest stag-party in existence. Reading's Nicky Shorey is getting married on Saturday, and his first England cap (becoming the first Royals player to represent his country in over 100 years), along with a solid performance at left-back will make a nice wedding present.

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