FRIDAY’S BIG HEADLINES
Memphis bleak for Northern Ireland
For five sensational minutes last night, football’s world order was turned on its head. When Josh Magennis scored after 75 minutes of an engrossing battle in Rotterdam, Northern Ireland were heading to the top of Group C in Euro 2020 qualifying, ahead of German and Netherlands.
Five minutes later, Memphis Depay equalised with a smart finish inside the box, and somehow by the end of injury time two more had been added for the Dutch: Luuk de Jong scoring after coming off the bench and Memphis adding the third for his fifth goal of qualification. From occupying a position where Euro 2020 qualification looked a tantalising possibility, Northern Ireland are now facing likely elimination. Level on 12 points with Germany and Netherlands, who both have a game in hand, their final two matches come against the pre-eminent powers in Group C.
It was fun while it lasted.
Not that having fun was on the mind of manager Michael O’Neill as he digested a traumatic turnaround.
“We’re devastated by the result,” O’Neill said. “It was very hard on us to lose two goals so late in the game, having defended for so long and gone ahead in the game. It was a combination of fatigue on our part and the quality of the opposition. They were able to make substitutions that strengthened them and that ultimately proved to be the difference.
They bring on players like Malen and De Jong and Van de Beek who has been courted by clubs all over Europe, and we brought on two lads who play in League One. Hopefully people recognise that. It was a fantastic performance but ultimately one that was disappointing in the end. They are devastated in the dressing room. We knew the significance of a point here, we knew the significance of three points but to come away with nothing, we have to look to the final two games. You don’t need to be a mathematician to see we need six points and it’s going to be very difficult.
In truth, the cream is rising to the top of Group C. The Dutch need to be back in a major finals. That's just a fact.
A 'shameful' night for Scotland
Players of Scotland react
Image credit: Getty Images
How low can Scotland go? That was the question invited by manager Steve Clarke after an embarrassing 4-0 rout in Russia last night which extinguished their hopes of automatically qualifying for Euro 2020.
Scotland still have the Plan B of a play-off place after topping their Nations League group (remember all that nonsense??) but sitting below Cyprus and Kazakhstan in the qualifying group isn’t going to endow a team with a great deal of confidence, especially following back-to-back 4-0 defeats in qualification.
Scotland have been miserable for a number of years now - is this really the depths of their ineptitude? Tune in next year!
"The players seem to lose heart very quickly, which is unfortunate because we had done OK up to that point,” said Clarke.
“We can't keep conceding goals. You have to give a nod to the quality of opposition we've played recently, but for us, it's to try and make sure this is the very, very bottom of the lowest and we build from here and make sure that come March, we are able to be very, very competitive and get through the play-offs."
Rounding off an ultimately disappointing evening for the UK teams, Wales let a lead slip away at Slovakia, drawing 1-1 to leave themselves with a fair amount of work to do. Ryan Giggs’ side trail Slovakia by three points, with a game in hand, and take on leaders Croatia in Cardiff on Sunday.
The unlikely hero of the piece was Wigan striker Kieffer Moore, who scored on his competitive debut when getting on the end of a lovely cross from Daniel James. “Kieffer was a handful all night,” said Giggs. “He occupies centre-halves and gives us an option. He took a few knocks tonight. We could have won, we could have lost, but overall I'm happy with the draw.”
Image credit: Getty Images
Elsehwere in Euro 2020 qualifying, Belgium became the first team to secure their place at the finals with a 9-0 hammering of San Marino, in which Romelu Lukaku scored twice to go past 50 international goals.
And Robert Lewandowski scored a hat-trick as Poland won 3-0 away in Latvia - taking his tally for the season for club and country to a barely believable 19 goals in 14 games.
IN OTHER NEWS
The GOAT debate has been settled once and for all. Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo might have inspired his team to an international trophy and won Champions Leagues and league titles with multiple clubs and in multiple countries, but has he ever had a Cirque du Soleil show created in his honour???
And to be honest, the last thing this brand wants is to be associated with a club where the manager is “at the wheel” and presiding over a slow-motion car crash of a season.
WAG WAR UPDATE
Still reeling from the Wagatha Christie shenanigans on Wednesday? The Warm-Up has got another dose of WAG wars for you today. Danielle Lloyd was asked onto This Morning to discuss the sensational accusations made by Coleen Rooney that fake stories she planted on her Instagram account were leaked to The Sun by....... Rebekah Vardy’s account.
Vardy, who maintains her innocence in the affair, wasn’t massively impressed by Lloyd’s take on the affair.
To which, of course, there was a response.
Presumably this will all end soon and we can all go back to our normal lives as soon as possible.
It’s easy to get distracted when it’s all popping off on Twitter but England have a Euro 2020 qualifier tonight and will qualify with a victory away at Czech Republic. The big team news is that Chelsea’s Mason Mount is expected to come into midfield in a more advanced role, pushing up to make something reminiscent of a 4-2-3-1, with Mount flanked by Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho and supporting Harry Kane.
That decision will likely come at the expense of Chelsea team-mate Ross Barkley.
Gareth Southgate’s brave boys go away to Czech Republic seeking the win which will confirm their place at Euro 2020. Spoiler alert: it’ll be 3-0.
Read Marcus Foley's 5,000-word oral history on the great WAG feud of 2019 exclusively in Monday's Warm-Up.