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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Wembley Stadium

England and Australia play out a mere footnote to their great sporting rivalry

England 1 Watkins 57

Australia 0

Wembley staged one of those nights when the football struggled to feel relevant - and seemed destined to fade from memory even before the 90 minutes were up.

The pre-match build-up had amounted to discussions about why the FA had failed to light up the arch in the colours of the Israeli flag in the way it had done after terrorists atrocities in Paris and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The heavy rain that fell on a hushed stadium paying its very minimum silent respects before the start to mark the atrocities in the Middle East seemed to capture the feeling that this was an event way too trivial to deflect from the grim thoughts that have preoccupied the minds of most this week.

The night's ever-plunging temperature also added to the feeling that this was a Friday night few would be recalling with great fondness in years to come.

Beforehand, there was passing mention of the fact a woman was selected to officiate in an England international for the first time - Stephanie Frappart of France entrusted with the whistle - and a vague question of whether an essentially B-string line-up might forward the case for any of the players to be involved in Tuesday's altogether more significant Euro qualifier against Italy.

But none of it seemed to matter that much.

Jordan Henderson - once seen as the dependable moral heartbeat of the squad - was booed by a section of fans for his well-publicised defection to Saudi Arabia. But even that felt listless.

The Nations League was supposed to eliminate meaningless friendlies like this and this particular match-up had played its part in discrediting such matches back in the days before subs were restricted to six per team.

When England met Australia at Upton Park several moons ago, Sven Goran Eriksson changed his entire starting XI at half time as the Aussies won 3-1. Spectators paying good money for "total crap," as Gerald Ratner, seller of cheap jewellery might have said. It prompted an outcry and the subsequent rule change.

There is actually no such thing as a friendly for Australia, who pride themselves on treating every sporting event as though their lives depend on it. And that is particularly true when it comes to facing the old enemy, England. Their fans packed a corner of a stadium in which 81,116 attended.

It was feisty enough for there to be bookings - the robust, high-pressing Aussies seemingly intent on recovering the diminished status of their national teams following the first-ever pool stage rugby World Cup elimination and two crushing defeats at the start of the Cricket World Cup.

London was well represented, with James Maddison conducting, Jarrod Bowen almost setting up an early goal and Chelsea pair Levi Colwill (earning his first cap) and Conor Gallagher doing their best to enjoy the evening. Palace stopper Sam Johnstone earned his fourth cap.

Later on, Eddie Nketiah came on for his debut - a good moment for the Arsenal striker. But on a night when many families with young children left early to beat the rush, there was little stardust on show.

Ollie Watkins' close-range poke home at the far post just before the hour was enough to see England home. The former Brentford striker is having a great season at Aston Villa and he, at least, will have taken something from the occasion.


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