Powerhouses England, Spain and Argentina were shocked out of their summer slumbers on Wednesday, with all three sides impressively coming from behind to save face as a bumper night of friendly internationals kicked off World Cup season.
Jermain Defoe vindicated Fabio Capello’s decision to snub Michael Owen by scoring twice to earn England a 2-2 draw against the Netherlands, who have already qualified for the World Cup, in Amsterdam.
England were heading for only a third defeat in 16 games under Capello as Dirk Kuyt and Rafael van der Vaart punished careless mistakes from Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry to give the Dutch a two-goal lead at half-time.
But Capello sent on Defoe at the interval and he showed why the England coach believes the Tottenham star is currently a better option than Owen by producing two clinical finishes.
“It is preseason, it is possible to make some mistakes,” Capello said. “But we had 45 minutes to play and I was sure we would play better and they did.”
“For me it is just preseason. Players sometimes play a little bit tired, they are not 100 percent physically yet. When you are not in a good moment you can make these mistakes,” he said.
“They were two presents for Holland. But is a friendly game. I prefer to give a gift in a non-competitive game and not in the future,” Capello said.
In Skopje, European champions Spain scored three goals inside five second-half minutes to come from two goals down to defeat Macedonia 3-2.
Lazio’s Goran Pandev gave his side a 2-0 lead with goals in the seventh and 30th minutes.
Six minutes after the restart Liverpool striker Fernando Torres reduced the deficit with a header from a Xavi pass and after 54 minutes Barcelona’s former Manchester United man Gerard Pique leveled the encounter.
Two minutes later it was 3-2 to the visitors, Torres’ clubmate Albert Riera netting a left-footer to get on the scoresheet.
Italy, the world champions, were held to a 0-0 draw in Basel by Switzerland, who needed goalkeeper Diego Benaglio to pull off a string of fine saves.
“After a difficult June, we have started the season on a good note,” said Italy coach Marcello Lippi, whose side slumped out of the Confederations Cup in the first phase in South Africa.
“A win would have made the night sweeter, but we had an excellent match. I’m very satisfied,” Lippi said.
Five-time world champions Brazil warmed up for next month’s World Cup qualifier with Argentina with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Estonia in Tallinn, the first ever meeting between the two sides.
Sevilla striker Luis Fabiano grabbed the only goal.
Two-time world champions Argentina battled from a goal down to clinch a 3-2 win over Russia in Moscow.
Atletico Madrid marksman Sergio Aguero, Lyon striker Lisandro Lopez and Napoli midfielder Jesus Datolo were all on target for Diego Maradona’s side after Zenit St Petersburg’s Igor Semshov had put Russia into the lead.
Tottenham forward Roman Pavlyuchenko rounded off the scoring with a late consolation.
“Russia are among the strongest teams in the world but we looked very good against them. We scored three times and won. It’s a good result,” Maradona said.
In other matches, new Czech Republic coach Ivan Hasek saw his reign begin on a winning note with a 3-1 win over Belgium in Teplice with Roman Hubnik equalizing Jan Vertonghen’s opener before Milan Baros, with a penalty, and Michal Kadlec sealed victory.
Cameroon’s new boss Paul Le Guen was also a winner as the African side beat Austria 2-0.
Japanese couple Rikiya and Ayumi Kataoka had their honeymoon wrecked by the COVID-19 pandemic, but their resourcefulness in enforced exile in Cape Verde has won them appointments as ambassadors for its Olympic team. The Kataokas had completed a third of their round-the-world trip when a suspension in long-haul flights stranded them for five months in the archipelago of 10 tiny islands off the coast of West Africa. Unable to resume their journey to Europe and then home to Japan, and unwilling to head to the African mainland, where virus cases are spiking, they had to trade their skills with domestic businesses to
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