TUESDAY’S BIG STORIES

Happy double figures day!

Want to spice up qualification? Easy. The football superpowers just need to each host a charity raffle before every qualifying campaign, with the top prize seeing the winner named on the bench against the worst team in the group. As soon as it hits 3-0, they are immediately chucked on up front.
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Because that’s the issue with these games. You – yes literally you – could have played any position on the pitch for England last night and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Gareth Southgate could have swapped his goalkeeper for Brenda, a wobbly sight-impaired pensioner who needs a nap every half hour, and San Marino still would have lost. They might not have scored.
It was a lesson in self-destruction from San Marino, one of just three nations* in the world to be entirely landlocked by one other country. Two handballs in the penalty area – including a contender for worst ever – a red card and the meekest of own goals contributed to a 10-goal devastation. Only two very questionable referee calls to disallow more goals kept it at the respectable end of double figures.
It’s all left us feeling a bit torn at Warm-Up HQ. On the one hand, what on earth was the point of this game? On the other, it was much more entertaining than most matches against middling teams – we would rather see 10-0 v San Marino than 4-0 v Hungary. There’s something quite amusing about seeing Harry Kane supercharge up the all-time goal charts while you just know Rooney, Charlton and Lineker are silently fuming at home.
The main problem with these games is you’re only watching to see one thing: double figures. Seven or eight just doesn’t cut it against this level of opposition; even 9-0 feels like a wasted evening. And yet, when the 10th goal goes in, the nectar doesn’t actually taste that sweet. Like taking control of the opposition on FIFA to score own goals, or joining rival clubs on Football Manager to poach their best players, the excitement quickly shifts to apathy. Or as a motivational poster once declared in our university halls, it’s not the destination but the journey.
Then again, all this nonsense about it being damaging for San Marino’s players is madness. If we were a terrible footballer (we are) from San Marino (sadly not) and we got to play against England, France and Germany during our career, do you think we would be weeping? Give us all the 10-0 pumpings you want, it’s still an incredible experience.
On balance, we still think San Marino can stay – mainly because there’s nothing quite like seeing the scoreboard struggle to squeeze in two digits and a striker demanding a VAR check after having the 11th goal chalked off.
*Vatican City is another, Lesotho is the pointless answer

So what can England actually do in Qatar?

It’ll be 56 years (and four months) of hurt when England get their campaign underway in Qatar next autumn. And while we will continue to quibble that the pain shouldn’t really have set in the week after winning the 1966 World Cup – 1970 feels a fairer start point for misery – it’s been a really long time since the Three Lions took that final step.
Gareth Southgate’s side have bounced back magnificently from the worst double substitution in football history – that one at Wembley just a few months ago – and look to have earned their tag as third favourites behind France and Brazil.
But this is where we need to be realistic. Firstly, there’s the heat, which is expected to be anywhere between 24°C and 30°C and we all know British people start malfunctioning above 20°C. Secondly, there’s the fact that it’s England and they always find a way to let you down.
But their main issue is that everyone, except maybe Keiran Trippier, will have ONE WEEK to switch from club football to World Cup mode. No warm-up games, just a plane ride with name stickers, a quick round of two-touch, then boom, they’re 3-0 down inside five minutes to a team that was allowed to prepare properly.
Anyway, enough with the pessimism. Pack the alcohol-free booze and Amnesty International handbook, England are World Cup bound!

Arrivederci Italy?

It seems deeply unfair that while England were racking up a cricket score, Italy completed an unbeaten campaign that saw them concede just two goals and still finish in the play-offs.
With just three of the 12 teams in the European play-offs progressing to Qatar, there is a very real chance they don’t make it – especially since Portugal also messed up and could yet block their path.

IN OTHER NEWS

Reading are now the proud owners of the worst two £35 million signings in history: Andy Carroll and Danny Drinkwater.

HEROES AND ZEROES

Hero: LVG

The Dutchman is wheelchair bound after suffering a hip injury in a bike accident, so squeezed into a golf buggy to take Netherlands training on Monday.

Zero: Zlatan

What do you gain from doing this?!
A one-match suspension from a crucial World Cup play-off, that’s what.

RETRO CORNER

Throwback to the greatest World Cup qualifying moment in history, when a revved-up ball boy helped Panama reach the 2018 World Cup in style.

COMING UP

The spiciest of finales in Group G between the Netherlands, Turkey and Norway. One is off to Qatar, one is off to the play-offs, one will be spending December with the family next year. Hopefully there's space for a golf buggy at home if it all goes wrong for the Dutch.
Elsewhere, France have already wrapped up Group D and face a Finland side hoping to make the play-offs, with Ukraine still hoping to catch them, and Wales host Belgium needing a victory to guarantee a seed spot in the play-offs.
Marcus Foley and I once lost 11-0 to Greg Rusedski in a game of table tennis live on Facebook, so don't worry about a thing San Marino...
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