Buy one, get one free for England; nothing spared for the Scots
The hype being drilled at the Israelis to gain something of a win or draw against Russia last night to aid the prospects of England qualifying for Euro2008 stunk. Who are we to demand anything from anyone, when our own players have the skill, structure, training, experience, influence to have made a better campaign of it in the first place? I wonder if the shoe was on the other foot would we have pushed for a result. Our chances hung on a proverbial thread as the Russians made us pay for not finishing the very game we needed to to gain qualification, not increase prospects. We held that game in Moscow and then it blew away under hurricane Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Former England player Ray Wilkins retaliated against claims the England players did not play with passion, saying the fans do not cheer the players as much as the Scotland fans do at Hampden Park. So there's passing the buck, and perhaps Mr Wilkins sees it from a player's POV. We see it from a fan's POV and it does look as if England play with approximately 70% efficiency every time. Calls have been made for a number of the constant starting players to be dropped. Justified? Perhaps, may even serve as a wake-up call to certain individuals. You want to REALLY play hard for England, take a drop, get up and learn from it.
We drew goalless against Macedonia, who we should have beaten. We went on to Zagreb, I think we were the better team going into the qualifier. Whatever the pitch, the fans, the ground, we were made to look lame and suffered a defeat. We then drew in Tel Aviv where we expected to win, considering ourselves technically better than Israel. So if during those three matches Mr Wilkins considers the players played with passion, he was mistaken. The second half against Andorra in Spain almost fuelled a rebellion onto the players and they got their act together. That serves, for me, a good indication that the players respond when under the cosh, so to speak. They wouldn't have if they cared none about the fans' reaction. I would have.
Having turned to the Israelis' and seen they had gotten the result we need them to, we dispel with them. Steve McClaren:
""I would like to pay tribute to Israel for the professional way they went about their job. They showed what a proud nation they are and they deserve a lot of praise for their efforts."
Israel is a proud nation regardless, would they have been if they had played the same yet lost? It is not for McClaren to praise anything about Israel, it is for their coach Dror Kashtan. McClaren is just happy the result gave England a chance. He is now being stated as being correct in saying the fate of England will rest in the final game. That was down to luck as we were fortunate. The Russians constantly came at Israel as much as they did to us but valient defending, goalkeeping, and the post kept them to one good goal from Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. Israel did us a favour by default, now it is presumed Croatia were not bothered why they lost in Skopje some time after. I guess we owe nothing to the Macedonians, then? They weren't considered to have performed a professional job, showing how proud they are and deserve praise because it was Macedonia, and they couldnt have beaten Croatia IF Croatia wanted to win!!
I can't imagine Croatia being content to qualify and forego an opportunity to top the group, preferring instead to have a face-off against England at New Wembley. If England were in Croatia's shoes and lost the game which would have definitely left them as group leaders, we would have been shot at dawn, media style. To infer Croatia laxed because the Tel Aviv result meant they qualified anyway is rubbish. Refer back a week or two when both Guus Hiddink and Slaven Bilic both indicated they had confidence their respective teams would get results in yesterday's games.
Croatia was expected to beat Macedonia because the media made no interest in that fixture, even though a Croatia defeat was just as instrumental to England. It was hoped, not expected or even believed, Israel would restrict Russia, probably because England did not restrict them. Israel's record thus far at home gave that hope otherwise we would have been crestfallen after the Moscow game. A lot of people, fans, do not believe anything can happen in football, they believe a lot in what is on paper. Saying that, it would be hard to push me to believe Andorra can actually get any point aganst Russia, but I always say anything can happen in football.
I want to write on England going into the game on Wednesday on the eve, if I have time, which I should. Hopefully. But the other important match last night for Britain was Scotland v Italy. I didnt see the match unfortunately but I'm damned for the Scots being so close. They damn well earned qualification in a group that even England would have found unsettling. Two victories over France, great James McFadden goal that will go down in the history of Scottish football as well as European, victory against the Ukraine. The hype was there again, as if a Scotland win would have gained them qualificiation. A Scotland win would have them top the group as Italy and France enter into their last respective games on Wednesday. Debatable whether those two teams would have not gotten wins, maybe a some likelihood of France being held in Kiev.
Scotland have been far more impressive during this campaign since Euro 96. The players have an added dimension to their game which has been allowed to interwine with the Scottish valour and defiance, more eagerness, spirit, and for me Lee McCullouch, Barry Ferguson, McFadden and new players in Alan Hutton and Scott Brown have been generally impressive. The task is now to build on that adrenalin and keep the level for the World Cup, which in turn aids Scottish football as well as propel their name higher globally. Go Scotland.
Northern Ireland boosted their qualifying hopes with a David Healy winner and their chances are unbelieveably thin yet they remain. If NI beat Spain, in their own garden, with Sweden losing to Lativa, NI qualify on the head-to-head ruling.