One week down, one more to go. Keep those mails coming to email@example.com…
England as a feeder club
Given the antipathy of the players’ performance last night, are we now in a situation where a performance for England will affect your position within your club?
Traditionally, rising through the echelons of the leagues and your club has resulted in an England place – the pinnacle of status in the game. For while now, it seems this is no longer the case, and is bordering on the reverse. Are England becoming a feeder club?
The Ox starting for England, but can’t get a game for Liverpool? Winks being called up, despite just making a claim for a starting spot in a competitive Spurs midfield? Both could lay a claim to getting more game time if they perform. In the Ox’s cause – let’s highlight ‘if’.
Could Joe Hart be thinking: ‘If I perform for England, maybe Man City will want me back’?
If the senior men’s side showed the same grit and determination as the U20s, U21s and Ladies teams, perhaps we’d be heading to Russia with love for the team (Apologies – I’m sure that’s already been and will be rolled out ad nauseum over the next year).
For now, get some of the players showing fight and passion from the youth teams into the senior setup. Who knows, it could be the stepping stone to landing a regular starting spot for their club, or the chance for a high-profile move the Premiership. Oh, and the chance to win the World Cup.
Andy from ‘ull
A fine email on Scotland’s campaign
Reading the fallout from England’s game last night, it struck me just how far apart expectations are for our teams these days. I get that it reflects recent norms but my word, how we’d love to be qualifying with a game to spare; I’m 29 next week and have fond memories of enjoying Scotland’s last major tournament… as a 9 year old.
And yet! Here we are, in second place, knowing that a win in Slovenia should be enough to secure a playoff place. We’ve been in similar situations in recent campaigns and fallen painfully short but this time feels different, namely because of where we were after four games and what has happened since.
After opening with a win against group minnows Malta we proceeded to draw at home to Lithuania and lose 3-0 away to both Slovakia and England. Four games, four points. Shite, as per. Then we played Slovenia at home and, 0-0 after 87 minutes, it was another campaign in the bin. Until big Chris Martin rolled the dice, felt the fear in his enemy’s eyes and stuck home a late winner. Since then we’re unbeaten in five with an aggregate score of 9-2 and four clean sheets. Quite the turnaround. And the best bit is how it’s happened…
If every game this campaign had stopped after 85 minutes we’d have 9 points. Instead, we’re on 17 points with one game remaining having scored 5 times in the dying minutes of games to turn losses into draws and draws into wins. It’s been utterly nerve-shredding but bloody hell, it’s exciting.
Obviously we might yet steal glorious failure from the jaws of victory. Slovenia away is no easy game, and even after a win there will be a playoff to overcome. But the manager and team have found this stubborn, patient will to keep going and to find a way. On which, there are two managers that deserve credit.
Strachan’s character and motivational skills were never in question but he was under fire and nearly out of the job after some insipid performances and results. However, he kept at it, showed some overdue flexibility in his system and it’s paid enormous dividends. A lot of that flexibility has manifested itself in filling the team with Celtic players who, under Brendan Rogers, were/are on a ridiculous unbeaten domestic streak and seem to have developed that beautiful inability to comprehend losing.
That being said, the whole squad has performed brilliantly when called upon. Last night Barry Bannan and Darren Fletcher stepped in for Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong and were, for most of the game, up to the task of containing Hamsik and friends who, even down to 10 men, looked very dangerous on the counter.
And on that last point, yes Slovakia were down to 10 for much of the game. See if we care. We’ve had our share of baws luck over the years (f**k you Chiellini) and we’ll take everything we get.
So there’s a wee update on a mighty fun campaign that isn’t getting too much coverage elsewhere. Here’s to it all going tits up at the last.
Doug (a glorious failure since 1988) Glasgow
We totally agree with this
Isn’t it a little bit unfair that the playoffs are seeded?
The fact that the groups are seeded gives the top seeds the best chance to qualify, so if Portugal can’t top their group then why should they be given another leg up by being given a seeding in the playoffs? No doubt the answer is because FIFA want the historically prestige teams in the finals, but should Northern Ireland finished 2nd surely they deserve as much a level playing field in the playoffs as everyone else, likewise Scotland, or Republic of Ireland or Wales should they get there.
This seeding is exacerbated by the fact I’m guessing the seeded side play home second leg. Surely when you get to that stage anything goes. For example, what would be a better spectacle Portugal v Northern Ireland and Italy v Republic of Ireland, or, Portugal v Italy and Northern Ireland v Republic of Ireland. I know which fixtures I’d prefer to watch.
By the way, the match last night was so boring if you Google England v Slovenia it’s currently showing the result was 0-0.
Chris ITFC, Liverpool
Two important lessons learned by England
Even an awful performance like that can help England learn something. There are two really big lessons staring Gareth in the face from last night (and, to be fair, from the previous double header). They both assume we’re sticking with 4-2-3-1 as our Plan A.
First, having two defensive minded players in front of the back four isn’t working. Whichever two we pick out of Henderson, Dier and Livermore, it’s like being a man down. It’s great to have someone sitting back there who can switch play from side to side but it doesn’t take two people. So let’s just pick one of them and partner him with someone that can play more of an attacking role. This could be Wilshere or maybe even a deep-lying Lallana.
Second, we only have five players that can fit into those three attacking roles behind Kane. They are Ali, Lallana, Rashford, Sterling and Welbeck. As long as we have any there of those I’m happy. But last night only two of the five were available.
We’ve tried using the Ox and Lingard to make up the numbers but they were found wanting. What we need to do if only two are available is pick a third centre-back instead and let the full backs roam forward. We tried that only a few internationals ago (when the f365 World Cup ladder started including five or six CBs) – it works.
The problem lies in the instruction
Henderson is a good midfielder. He has the ability to pick a good pass, to recycle possession quickly and to harass opposition effectively. It feels odd typing this after what I’ve seen from Henderson this season but that player is in there somewhere and occasionally we see a glimpse of him shining through.
However the point of this ramble is not to defend the Liverpool captain. It is to ask “what if he is actually carrying out his instructions perfectly”?
Receive the ball, take your time (if you can). Pop your head up, look for movement and unless you are 100% sure you can pick out a pass just knock it safely to an unmarked player (sideways or backwards). Would it really be a surprise if this is what the main tactical guidance within the England camp has become? Is Henderson guaranteeing his place in the first 11 by dependably executing his instructions?
I’ve intentionally used Henderson because he frustrated me more than any other player during last night’s turgid attempt at football. He has been mostly under par this season, definitely below the levels we’ve seen him previously; but I don’t believe dropping him will see a different result. Every player on the pitch (bar possibly Rashford) seemed to be sticking to the instruction “play it safe and wait for a chance”.
The players were uninspiring and the game was incredibly dull. Qualification was earned, the KPI was met and England have limped through a weak group in the least glorious manner imaginable. However I bet Southgate has given himself a little pat on the back. Phase 1 complete. The blueprint won’t change as it has yielded the correct result and England will continue to be coached into being the dullest team imaginable. Henderson will pass sideways after looking around the pitch for a key pass he can never really deliver. Movement will be limited and passes will be backwards. The perfect execution of a flawed tactic.
On Ronaldo vs Andorra
Interesting to see Ronaldo tagged as part of the “one-on-one battle to watch” in Big Weekend. This has been something that the Swiss media has been very focused on during the week. The context is that Switzerland currently top the group, and all eyes are on next Tuesdays clash with Portugal as the decider in who qualifies and who faces the lottery of a playoff (albeit a playoff in which either team would likely be seeded.)
The main thrust of the Swiss coverage has been that Ronaldo is currently one yellow card away from a one match suspension, and the question being asked is whether he will be dropped against Andorra, in order to ensure he is available for the crunch clash on the Tuesday. You have to presume that even the Portuguese second string should be good enough to put Andorra to the sword – but is that a risk the coach is willing to take? Or does he play his talisman, knowing that one badly timed challenge or dive could see him suspended for the following match?
As Big Weekend notes, when he missed the previous game through injury, Switzerland won 2-0 on home soil. It’s hard to see a repeat of that being likely in Lisbon on Tuesday, with or without Ronaldo – but that task would definitely be made much easier for the Swiss if Ronaldo were to play and be booked against Andorra.
Terry Hall, Switzerland (wer nit gumpet isch kei Schwiizer!)
India getting excited about the Under-17 World Cup
As the international break continues to suck the life out of football fans in general, we, in India, are the most excited about a football tournament that we’ve ever been in our lives.
For the first time in history, an Indian team is going to play in a World Cup! Although we qualified based on the fact that we are hosts, the team is actually pretty good, holding its own against good opposition.
We’re all buzzing here, hoping to see the future superstars of world football in action (hopefully! Vinicius Jr. was denied permission by Flamengo to join the team).
And more importantly, we get to cheer for our national team in the World Cup for the first time, rather than, say Brazil, Argentina or rather tragically, even England ( Such has been state of affairs in Indian Football since, uhm, forever.)
World qualifying, please
Looking for an antidote to the poor entertainment of the qualifying, I´ve come up with a world qualifying group, rather than the current continental one.
So as well as one or two (seeded) european teams in England´s next World Cup qualifying group we would also have to play home and away against a South American team and an African team, as would all the other top European seeds, while the lesser seeds played a European only group. Perhaps Asiana could also intermix with North and central America to spice things up in other continents too. Only with modern jet travel and growing world interest in travelling to see games could this be workable.
Our group might be Cameroon, Peru, Austria, England and Norway for example. seeing these teams at Wembley would be a different challenge and the away games, on a weekend, would benefit both the FA´s of the countries in question and enrich the travelling fans view of world football culture. Over a 3 day visit (to Peru /Cameroon) a fan could catch the under 20´s, the senior team and the under 21´s, plus the women´s team where possible.
Finally when England don´t then qualify it´ll still seem like the qualifying experience was much more intriguing.
Peter. (Rafa for England) Andalucia.
A lovely sticker story from Spain
After reading this week’s love letter, for those of you getting nostalgic about swap shops / meet-ups, go to Urgell district in Barcelona on a Saturday morning, there is a whole street where young and old meet up to trade stickers, hundreds turn up, Jordi Alba even turned up on one of the weekends!