MONDAY'S BIG STORIES
With an hour gone, and with England only one goal up over plucky™ but lowly™ minnows™ Andorra, you started to wonder if something vaguely interesting might be about to happen. England have made themselves into a highly functional, incredibly boring qualifying machine over recent years, but even by those standards, a single-goal victory over the likes of Andorra™ would be pushing the principle of "job done" to its extreme.
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However, it turns out bringing on Harry Kane, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount is a pretty good way to turn one goal into four. With the sun shining, with crowds still glad to be back, and with England well in credit from the summer, the prospect of Wembley erupting into entitled booing was a distant one. But best to get things taken care of, just in case.
The odd paradox of mismatches like this one is that generally speaking, goals make games more interesting. But here, as the goals finally began to rattle in, what little intrigue there was drained from the occasion. Andorra escaping Wembley with just a 1-0 defeat would be a genuine achievement, given the disparity between the two nations; as recounted in Charlie Connelly's Stamping Grounds, Liechtenstein's playing squad once partied long into the night after keeping Spain to just two goals.
But England got their four, so the game drifted away into a cloud of vague positives and warm feelings. Jude Bellingham was excellent. Bukayo Saka was applauded onto the pitch and off it again, either side of his birthday goal. And Jesse Lingard reminded everybody that he is an extremely good footballer.
There is a strange gap in elite football, a mezzanine filled with players that are deemed not quite good enough for the very biggest and best, but haven't yet managed to escape them. The Lingard Zone, we're calling it, and we'll be trademarking that soon. Brilliant at West Ham, highly useful for England … fourth- or fifth-choice for Manchester United. The old joke about Miroslav Klose used to suggest that he had retired from club football to extend his international career. With Lingard, it's actually happening. Whether he wants it to or not.
And We're Off
If you were a maverick scientist trying to create the perfect big game for the first weekend of a football season, you'd come up with something dramatic. Something important. Something laden with so much narrative that it teetered on the point of collapse. And then your lab assistant would burst into the room and say "Sorry boss. Arsenal three, Chelsea two. The WSL has beaten us to it."
The defending champions beaten in their first game of the season! Arsenal's new boss winning his first game in charge! Beth Mead responding to all her new attacking colleagues with a brace! We've even got an argument about VAR despite VAR not being implemented: on the one hand, yes, somebody should be paying for it; on the other, Arsenal get to really enjoy that old-school joy of a victory both well-earned and slightly stolen.
And because this was the first game of the season, everybody gets to be happy with it. Arsenal get their three points, and also a performance that promises a title challenge. And Chelsea get to take comfort from the fact that they weren't at full strength and got done by the officials. Everybody wins. Well, no. Arsenal won. But everybody sort of wins.
Including, and most importantly, us. Because if this is anything to go by, the season's going to be great. And the reverse fixture should be an absolute belter.
Caught By The Fuzz
Football's capacity to surprise is infinite, and when it comes to anything involving CONMEBOL, you can double it. The Warm-Up, like many of you, sat down to watch Brazil vs. Argentina hoping to see something interesting, something intense, maybe even something we'd never seen before. Tick, tick, tick.
At this stage, it's a mystery why Brazil's health authorities waited until the game was actually in progress before they attempted to detain Argentina's Premier League players. (These days you get arrested and thrown in jail, just for playing in England.) One commentator, desperately trying to fill time over pictures of men in masks arguing with other men in masks, suggested that they'd been held up in the "famously bad" São Paulo traffic.
But as adorable a notion as that sounds, we can probably assume that the theatre of it — some people are on the pitch! they're trying to take Cristian Romero away! — was part of the point. That this poor innocent qualifying game has been dragged into wider national arguments about quarantine and lockdown, due process and border controls. Whatever FIFA might say, football makes for a very good political football.
The lack of football? It makes for very strange television. As it became clear that no game was coming, the Brazil team — ever the entertainers — got out the training bibs and began a two-touch kickabout. Good fun, particularly when intercut with the occasional glimpse backstage: men in suits closing doors importantly; Argentina's luggage being loaded back onto a lorry; Emi Martínez, dressed in a large trenchcoat and huge false moustache, skulking through the streets of São Paulo as the authorities close in.
And while an actual game of football might have been preferable, we all got to see Weverton, one of Brazil's reserve goalkeepers, put this past his colleague. So that's nice.
It seems inexplicable that four Premier League footballers, all of whom have recently appeared in international television playing football in England, might have written "England? Never heard of her" on a visa application form. But then we're already several inexplicable things into this story, so who honestly knows at this point. Practically the only certainty is there is about to be a furious row about who gets the points, or whether a rematch happens, and if so when. The calendar is already full past breaking point.
IN OTHER NEWS
You know what really makes this goal, and other goals like this? The perfect pingers, the traction engine leg comparators: they owe it all to the goal nets. Without them, this ball would eventually fall back into the arms of cruel, cold physics, and return to earth a quiet thing. But with the net where it is, we can imagine that this ball would just keep rising, forever and ever,
RETRO CORNER 1
Since we're talking about the surprise arrival of the authorities at the football, here's Enner Valencia — on a stretcher, injured, presumably in some pain — being pursued by the police. All it's missing is the Benny Hill music,.
It's the empty day in the middle of the international break, but never fear. Bolton Wanderers vs. Burton Albion will be here to see us through.
Assuming he can avoid the heavy mob from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Ben Snowball will be here tomorrow.
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