The Warm-Up: England sleepwalk to World Cup, Scotland scuppered by 'genetics'
Adam Hurrey wades through the permutations and screaming commentators to find the World Cup picture taking shape...
MONDAY’S BIG STORIES
England’s muted march to the World Cup
It wasn’t the blood, sweat and cheers of Rome in 1997, when England held Italy at arm’s length to reach the World Cup, nor the crossbar-rattling tension against Poland in Chorzow in 1989. England generally make tidy work of qualifying campaigns these days, and that may well be the problem.
Another 13-month stroll past the tediously familiar faces of Slovenia and Slovakia has served to prove nothing to nobody. Four points dropped and only three goals conceded have come at the expense of any semblance of attacking verve or authority.
Gareth Southgate is about as far from a tub-thumping, rabble-rousing England manager as it’s possible to get. He has acknowledged the scepticism of England fans and the press, but stopped short of promising to get them out of their seats.
Friendlies against Germany and Brazil next month are worth the risk of putting England firmly in their place, because an attention-grabbing win is sorely needed for this muddled generation of players. The hype train, meanwhile, is still firmly stationary at the depot.
Another pride of young lions suggest future is bright
Just when you thought the summer of international age-category tournaments was over, some more England youngsters go and pass-and-move their way past another opponent on the other side of the globe.
Steve Cooper’s Under-17s are in India for their World Cup, and began the group stage with an emphatic 4-0 win over Chile in Kolkata.
They also proved no exception from this accelerating new wave of canny, creative, ball players: if Angel Gomes (Manchester United), George McEachran (Chelsea) and Phil Foden (Manchester City) were the cake, Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho was the icing.
Mexico and Iraq await in the cavernous Salt Lake Stadium this week. Unlike the senior side, England’s youth teams are gathering a reputation as teams to fear on the tournament stage. That’s a useful habit to get into.
Scotland put themselves out of the equation
“Genetically, we are behind. We had to pick a team to combat their height and strength. It’s a problem for us because we have to work harder for every ball.”
From what we know of the barrel of established managerial excuses, Gordon Strachan must have been scraping around near the bottom. Scotland went to Slovenia needing a win – far from straightforward a task – edged themselves into a good position…and then wobbled.
Strachan, understandably, didn’t dwell in Ljubljana on the subject of his own future, but it would be a huge departure from the norm of the international football cycle if he stayed put. And who’s next? David Moyes? An exciting but vulnerable foreign manager? Meanwhile, the clock ticks over towards 20 years since they last took the decisive step to a major tournament.
IN OTHER NEWS
Dennis the Menace
What is a light-hearted, irreverent corner of a daily football round-up if it doesn’t feature an unfathomable miss from the lower echelons of a foreign league?
Exactly. So here’s Dennis van Duinen, of Dutch Derde Divisie side Harkemase Boys, doing exactly what it says on the tin. Please excuse your correspondent embedding his own tweet.
For extra context, Harkemase went on to lose 3-2 to VV Capelle, conceding the winner in the sixth minute of injury time.
Geometry and democracy
“The football shown on UK street signs (for football grounds) is made entirely of hexagons. But it is mathematically impossible to construct a ball using only hexagons. Changing this to the correct pattern of hexagons and pentagons would help raise public awareness and appreciation of geometry”
So declares an official online petition – with over 3,500 signatures and counting – which aims to right one of football’s (nay, society’s) most pressing wrongs.
IN THE CHANNELS
From moments of high international-level tension, come outbursts of extreme foreign commentary. Euro 2016 brought us Icelandic shrieking that only dogs could hear, but World Cup 2018 has the potential to cast the net even wider.
Exhibit A: The Costa Rican broadcast reacts to the 96th-minute equaliser against Honduras that secured their nation’s place at the top table next summer.
Exhibit B: Egypt – puzzlingly absent from World Cup since Italia ‘90 despite winning their continental title four times in the interim period – also needed some late heroics to rubber-stamp their place in the draw for Russia 2018.
Clive Tyldesley, Guy Mowbray and co: it’s time to let loose.
"The explosive partisanship of social media, and what that has meant for football fans’ senses of identity, was a long way off. Before the semi-final against Germany on 26 June 1996, the England fans at Wembley sang ‘You’ll never walk alone’. Today, when most club fans identify as such with every click and like, that would never be possible."
A double-helping from the international archives for you this morning.
First, let’s go back to 1999, when Holland were quite good and Brazil were even better. In Amsterdam, a Roberto Carlos own goal and a Boudewijn Zenden header put the Dutch two-nil to the good. Then the Brazilian full-backs took over…
Alternatively, here’s a nice autumnal scene from 1996, where Scotland kicked off against….well, nobody actually.
Hosts Estonia had refused to turn up in protest against a revised kick-off time. Even more bizarrely, Scotland went on to qualify for a major tournament at the end of it all.