With only three tests remaining before the World Cup kicks off in earnest, so-called friendly encounters are becoming more meaningful. England travelled to Switzerland to take on Argentina, ranked second only to Brazil in the world by Fifa, on neutral territory. Ninety minutes after Swiss referee Philippe Leuba got the contest under way, Sven-Goran Eriksson was able to relax for the first time in many months. The spectators were treated to an enthralling match that ebbed and flowed as the beautiful game should. A full-strength England 11 twice drew level through the outstanding striking pair of Rooney and Owen after falling behind, before Owen again decided matters 3-2 in England’s favour as the final whistle was about to be blown. On this evidence, and provided that the returning Ashley Cole and Gary Neville can shore up the exposed left flank that leaked both Argentina strikes, England can do their fans’ expectations justice at next year’s tournament.
Elsewhere Scotland put in an improved second half to hold Germany-bound US 1-1, faltering giants France and Germany fought out a dour goalless draw, and Portugal looked impressive in dispatching fellow qualifiers Croatia 2-0 with strikes from Petit and Pauleta. Cristiano Ronaldo was once again the outstanding player on the pitch.
One of the favourites for Germany, Holland, were beaten 3-1 by Italy in Amsterdam. The Dutch were missing Robben, Van Bommel and Van Nistelrooy, all out injured. Other World Cup pointers saw South Korea draw 2-2 with Sweden, Romania loose 2-1 to the Ivory Coast, and Togo go down 4-2 in Paraguay. Lastly Iran were beaten 2-1 by Macedonia, and Tunisia’s encounter with the Congo was broken off in the 70th minute with the score tied at 2-2 – repeated pitch invasions led to the abortive action.