Tag: sport

Destination Russia

So it’s official- England will be at the 2018 World Cup finals. The next question is who will make the squad. Using the tabloids favourite cliche of airport terminology to illustrate who gets in the squad (or as they say who makes the plane) here’s a quick guide to who’s in, out and maybe

Boarding Pass for Moscow Domodedovo:

If you’re here then barring injury or a dramatic loss of form you will go to the World Cup with England;

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Jack Butland

Fullbacks: Kyle Walker

Centre backs: Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, John Stones

Central midfielders: Eric Dier

Attacking midfield/ wingers: Dele Alli, Adam Lallana,

Forwards: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Jamie Vardy

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Sat in the Terminal 5 Departure Lounge:

If you’re here you’re close to going- maybe one good appearance from boarding the plane or perhaps in a 50/50 battle with another player for your place- nobody wants to be 24th man for England- somebody on this list will be;

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Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Fraser Forster, Tom Heaton

Fullbacks: Nathaniel Clyne, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Ryan Bertrand, Luke Shaw

Centre backs: Michael Keane, Chris Smalling, Harry Maguire

Central midfielders: Nathaniel Chalobah, Jake Livermore, Fabian Delph, Harry Winks, Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson

Attacking midfield/ wingers: Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jesse Lingard, Ross Barkley

Forwards: Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe

Rushing for the Heathrow Express:

If you’re here you might go but you’ve got a lot of work to do. Maybe you’re a young player trying to break through or you’re settling at a new club or returning from injury- it’s a long time until the manager names his 23- at this point in the build up to Euro 2016 Marcus Rashford was still in the Man Utd youth team!

Goalkeepers: Freddie Woodman

Fullbacks: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Aaron Cresswell, Ryan Sessegnon, Ben Chilwell

Centre backs: Jamaal Lascelles, Alfie Mawson

Central midfielders: James Ward-Prowse, Danny Drinkwater, Tom Davies, Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Attacking midfield/ wingers: Theo Walcott, Nathan Redmond, Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Demarai Gray

Forwards: Tammy Abraham, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Dominic Solanke

Boarding the flight to Maui:

If you’re here you ain’t going to the World Cup (this time at least) perhaps you went before on those brief trips to Brazil or South Africa or you’re still young and may spend Christmas 2022 in Qatar. OK the vast majority of English footballers won’t be representing their country next summer in Russia. But if you’re like stars here you are a highly paid well known (and maybe even liked) footballer and Hawaii is lovely in June.

Goalkeepers: Ben Foster

Fullbacks: Glenn Johnson, Leighton Baines, Mason Holgate

Centre backs: Ben Mee, Rob Holding, Callum Chambers

Central midfielders: Lewis Cook, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Jonjo Shelvey, Tom Carroll

Attacking midfield/ wingers: Marc Albrighton, Ademola Lookman, Josh Onamah, Andros Townsend, Scott Sinclair

Forwards: Andy Carroll, Jay Rodriguez, Andre Gray. Saido Berahino

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World Cup qualifying- final round

Qualifying is almost done bar the playoffs. By Wednesday at least 22 teams will have secured their passage to Russia with only 6 playoff matches and a final round of games in Africa to play on November.

Who’s made it?- Russia, Belgium, Germany, England, Spain, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nigeria

What’s left to play for?

Europe:

Group A

France held their nerve to claim a vital win in Bulgaria and stay top with only a home win over Belarus required to go through. The big story however is Holland are almost out- after Sweden romped to an 8-0 win over Luxembourg and the Dutch narrowly won 3-1 in Belarus , they now need to beat Sweden by 6 goals to make the playoffs.

Group B

Switzerland and Portugal will square off for top spot in Portugal on Tuesday night. Saturday night saw the European Champions needing to bring Ronaldo off the bench to beat the mighty Andorra whilst the Swiss rolled Hungary 5-2. His royal CR7ness will need to come up with the goods on Tuesday if Portugal are to secure the win they need with Switzerland only needing a draw. Whoever loses out is guaranteed a play off spot,

Group C

Germany are through after their convincing win in Belfast and whilst Northern Ireland are guaranteed second place they require a result in Norway tonight to ensure they avoid the dreaded lowest placed runner up spot and miss the playoffs- a draw should be enough for Micheal O’Neill’s men.

Group D

It may be a fixture more famous for rugby than football but Ireland visit the Principality Stadium for the winner takes all (well more likely a playoff spot) game with Wales. Wales currently hold the edge but both need to win as a draw may see the Welsh finish as the lowest placed runner up. Serbia missed the chance to secure the group by losing in Austria this week but have a second chance at home to lowly Georgia on Monday night.

Group E

Poland will secure qualification with a draw at home this afternoon against third placed Montenegro, meanwhile resurgent Denmark will guarantee themselves a playoff berth with a home win over Romania.

Group F

Given England have scored 4 goals in injury time and Scotland 5 after the 84th minute we should have expected Harry Kane’s 93rd minute winner and Chris Martin (not the one from Coldplay) forcing an 87th minute Slovakian own goal. It all means England have qualified and Scotland will make the playoffs if they win in Slovenia tonight. A draw almost certainly won’t be enough for the Scots given third place Slovakia fave the open goal of a home game with Malta.

Group G

It’s done and dusted- Spain are there after Italy laughably failed to beat Macedonia at home. Italy have to make do with a playoff spot- needless to say they’ll be the team to avoid.

Group H

Belgium had already qualified but still provided some fun (Gareth Southgate take note) with a 4-3 win over Bosnia. Greece will finish second with a home win over Gibraltar but may need to top up their goal difference to avoid the lowest placed runner up spot and elimination.

Group I

Iceland will make their World Cup debut with a home win over last placed Kosovo on Monday night. Meanwhile Croatia travel to Kiev needing a point to secure second place- a win for Ukraine will see them leapfrog Croatia and claim a possible playoff.

South America

Argentina are in deep trouble- they lie sixth in the group and will be out if they don’t make it to at least fifth. The good news is they have their destiny in their own hands- a win and they will finish at least fifth, the bad news is the game is Ecuador away (at altitude) where they often struggle. Elsewhere Brazil qualified years ago and Uruguay are practically there due to their strong goal difference. Colombia face Peru with the winner guaranteed qualification meanwhile Chile need a result away to Brazil to make sure of a top 5 finish. Finally Paraguay’s late goals against Colombia gives them a shout of a playoff spot.

Africa

Congratulations to Nigeria who’ve secured qualification with a game to spare. Tunisia, Egypt and Senegal all look good to join them but will have to wait until November to make sure. The real intrigue is in Group C where the tradition African powerhouse Ivory Coast are a point behind Morocco with 1 game to play, and the last game is: Ivory Coast hosting Morocco. Watch this space.

Concaaf

The USA finally got going with a 4-1 home win over Panama which puts them on course to join Mexico and Costa Rica in the finals- a draw away to Trinidad & Tobago will be enough. Panama and Honduras meanwhile are level points for the playoff spot with Panama holding a stronger goal difference, they host Mexico and costs respectively on Wednesday when the group concludes.

Asia

Syria scraped a 1-1 Home draw (played in Malaysia) against Australia with the return leg in Sydney on Tuesday. The Socceroos will be hit favourites to progress and face the 4th place Concaaf team.

Oceania

This week New Zealand will finally discover which South American will knock them out, sorry lads.

England 1-0 Slovenia: Kane sends England stumbling to St Petersburg.

This was supposed to be a party- the moment Gareth Southgate’s England would play some flowing football and storm to Russia. But England qualifying games are rarely that simple. For those who’ve been living on Mars since Sunday night a win would take England through and a draw would be enough if Slovakia failed to beat Scotland.

England started confidently with Sterling in his revised number 10 role causing the Slovenians problems as England dominated possession without creating a clear cut chance. Then in the 8th minute Sterling gave the ball away in midfield and Slovenian danger man Ilicic broke into the England box and was clipped by Hart- fortunately for England the referee saw it as a collision rather than a foul- a let off.

The spanner it through in the works knocked England out of their stride and a loose period of play saw England continuously give the ball away and snuggle to regain their early composure.

As was the case last month against Slovakia it was Rashford who got England going again, a darting run down the left jangled Slovenian nerves and a neat cross almost put Cahill in. Then in the 20th minute the temperature raised after some agricultural defending from the Slovenians and England started to move up the gears. England’s first clear sight of goal came from Henderson in the 25th minute who broke into the box and hit an angled shot that drew a good save from Oblak.

By now Rashford was enjoying himself and playing with the impudence of a schoolboy but the defensive problems continued as Slovenia consistently found gaps between England’s midfield and defence. in the 34th minute Sterling drew a poor challenge from holding midfielder Krhin just outside the box, bit despite the promising central position of the ensuing free kick England opted for the less than prolific Walker to take it, needless to say he blazed it over the bar. Before long Krhin was booked as Slovenia’s defending grew ever more clumsy, but England continued to labour. The last action of the first half inevitably centre on Rashford whose trickery drew a foul and he forced a smart save from Oblak with the ensuing free kick and then a flick on from Cahill with the ensuing corner but with no reward 0-0 at half time

Slovenia started the second half the sharper and Ilicic swung in a cross that left back Jokic headed tamely at Hart. But the game settled back into the pattern of the first half with Slovenia looking tidy with their limited possession and England slow and ponderous whilst keeping it for longer spells. The crowd became firstly bored and then restless as Walker gave away a needless chance and Slovenia again grew in ambition.

Finally on 62 minutes England showed some pace when a quick break from a Slovenia corner saw Sterling feed Rashford who tried to chip the keeper but didn’t get enough on the ball, minutes later another quick move down the left saw Sterling shoot from the centre of the box and force a desperate clearance from Cesar.

The introduction of Lingard for the ineffective Oxlade-Chamberlain gave England the impetus as he linked well with Sterling and Rashford to unsettle Slovenia’s defence and again down the left Rashford created a chance for Kane who’s angled shot flew wide.

But the drab shapeless look soon returned and on 82 minutes some awful officiating saw a foul on Lingard go unpunished then from the ensuing break an offside missed forcing Hart into an excellent double save.

The most entertainment in the closing stages looked like being provided by a paper aeroplane and a (fully clothed) pitch invader, until the 4th official weirdly found 6 minutes of injury time that initially sounded like a punishment for the crowd for laughing at the pitch invasion. But suddenly England found some thrust and the otherwise awful Walker pounced on a poor clearance and whipped in a cross which Kane toe-poked home 1-0 on 93 minutes, 5 minutes later England’s qualification was confirmed.

This game was like a visit to the dentist: awkward painful but with the necceasary work completed. Clearly there’s plenty to work on and the media bullsh$t started in earnest when Ian Wright pointed out how much harder Northern Ireland’s group is (that’s because England are ranked higher than Northern Ireland, Ian!) But the bare minimum requirement has been met and for the next 8 months that will have to do.

Player Ratings

Hart 7- Lucky not to concede a penalty in the early stages and had little to do until his brilliant double save.

Walker 5- Awful until injury time. Started brightly but quickly faded, gave away 2 good chances when he suffered brain farts both by knocking aimless balls into gaping holes in England’s defence. But made amends with his powerful runs in injury time and finally a great cross which Kane dispatched.

Bertrand 6- Solid in defence (as usual) and linked well with Rashford. Edging ever closer to being first choice left back.

Dier 5- Frankly awful, provided little defence stability and ponderous on the ball.

Cahill 6- Solid against nobody for the most part, occasionally threatening at the over end but little to write home about.

Stones 6- As above but little sign of his ball playing skills- his one forward thrust saw him miscontrol and pick up a booking.

Sterling 6- Some early incision and drew some fouls with his footwork but not comfortable as a number 10. Played far better in the final third of the game when played on the right.

Henderson 5- forced a good save from Oblak but like Dier provided neither defensive stability nor attacking incision, how is he in the running for the captaincy?

Kane 6- Had to feed off scraps as England struggled to create chances. Worked hard and took his chance when it finally arrived.

Rashford 8- Creative, quick and the best player in a white shirt by a long distance. One negative was his dodgy set piece delivery.

Oxlade-Chamberlain 5- Early zip quickly disintegrated. Hooked early in the second half. Will be dropped in Lithuania.

Subs

Lingard 7- Bright and linked well with Sterling and Rashford.

Keane n/a Touched the ball at some stage, I think.

 

 

 

World Cup Qualifying Part 2: All Around The World

Away from Europe qualifying is reaching its climax across the globe, so in brief who’s on their way to Russia?

Whose made it?

Brazil, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia & Iran

South America update:

With Brazil home and hosed Uruguay are the only other team who can guarantee a place this round with an away win at Venezuela. Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Chile are playing musical chairs with Colombia & Peru currently sat in the automatic qualifying places and Argentina in the playoff place whilst Confederation Champions Chile are currently set to miss out. Chile host Peru in the game of the week but this will go down to the final run off games next week but surely Messi won’t miss out will he?

Argentina-AP

Asia Update:

The groups are finished and the 4 qualifiers confirmed, Now it’s down to the playoff between Australia and war torn Syria, with the Socceroos overwhelming favourites. Their reward will be a playoff with the 4th placed Concaaf side speaking of which…

Concaaf Update:

Costs Rica will join Mexico in the finals if they beat lowly Honduras this week. The real story here is the US who’ve endured a torrid campaign and currently sit in the playoff spot a point behind Panama who visit the States this week. The Americans need the win  and should have enough to push Panama down to the playoffs.

Oceania Update:

New Zealand trounced the Soloman Islands are now await the 5th place side from South America. Clearly the All Whites would prefer to play Peru to Argentina. But New Zealand go in on good form and won’t be the pushover some have predicated.

Africa Update:

The final round of African groups are only 6 games long meaning with 2 games to go a lot can change and nobody is secure yet. Tunisia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Egypt are all current group favourites. Group D remains the curious one with the romantics favourite Burkina Faso currently top on goal difference from the Cape Verde Islands whilst Senegal and South Africa have to replay their game from earlier this year after some suspicious refereeing.

World Cup Qualifying Round 9: The draw takes shape

World Cup qualifying Part 2: Rest of the World

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life after England

As Roy Hodgson prepares to re-enter the dugout with Crystal Palace how did his England predecessors get on when they left Wembley?

Bobby Robson

Unlike his successors Robson had already agreed to leave the England job before his last tournament at Italia 90.

Leaving England on a high Robson headed to PSV Eindhoven where he won back to back league titles.

He then took over at Sporting Lisbon where he employed a certain Jose Mourinho as his interpreter. Things didn’t work out between manager and chairman and Robson was fired in his second season.

Robson exacted revenge by joining rivals Porto and winning back to back league titles (again with the special one in tow).

From there this dynamic duo headed to the Nou Camp for the 96/97 season and won the Copa Del Rey & European Cup Winners Cup and finished runner up in La Liga. Barca then moved Robson to the boardroom to accommodate the more fashionable Louis Van Gaal (no really!)

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The now Sir Bobby Robson finally returned to England after a brief stint back at PSV with hometown club Newcastle United in 1999. He guided the Magpies from the foot of the table to Champions League qualification. In the process he revitalised Alan Shearer and signed smartly including a young Jermaine Jenas for £5million. Despite bringing a standard of football rarely witnessed on Tyneside and stability the club hasn’t known since. But we was bizarrely sacked in 2004 after a (relatively) poor start to the season and not being able to sign Wayne Rooney ahead of Man United (that obviously wasn’t a great career decision from Wayne.)

Robson’s truckload of trophies after England enhanced his reputation beyond measure, upon his death in 2009 Sir Bobby’s passing was mourned across European football.

Graham Taylor

Taylor left Lancaster Gate with his reputation in tatters and it didn’t improve on his return to club management with Wolves where he couldn’t orchestrate promotion to the Premier League and was fired after just one year.

in 1996 he returned to his spiritual home of Watford after his former chairman Elton John repurchased the club now in League One. Taylor restored his reputation with back to back promotions and put Watford in the Premier League for the first time. With limited resources the Hornets lasted just one season and Taylor retired in 2001.

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He then surprised everyone by going back to another old haunt- Aston Villa. He had one uneventful season under the moribund Doug Ellis regime before stepping away from management and eventually entering the Watford boardroom in 2009 and eventually became honory life president of the club.

Football mourned his passing earlier this year but nowhere was his loss more keenly felt than at Vicarage Road.

Terry Venables

Venables left Wembley on a footballing high after Euro ’96. But his legal troubles were mounting and shortly afterwards he was banned from being a company director.

On the pitch he took over the Australian national team job and things started well making the confederations cup final in 1997. He then guided the Socceroos to a World Cup playoff against Iran but 2 late goals conceded in Sydney saw the Australians miss out on away goals and that was that.

He then turned up at Crystal Palace where new owner Mark Goldberg promised a Venables/ Gazza dream team and delivered the first half of his promise. But things descended into chaos on and off the pitch and Venables only stayed 10 months.

Then in 2001 He moved into a co manangent arrangement at Middlesbrough with his former England assistant Bryan Robson. He helped the club avoid relegation and secure mid table stability, but El Tel didn’t fancy moving to Teesside so the arrangement was short lived.

The next move stunned football- he joined high flying Leeds in the summer of 2002. Unfortunately the club was drowning in a tsunami of debt and star man Rio Ferdinand was immediately sold. But Leeds still had a squad capable of competing and things got off to a promising start with an early season win over Ferdinand’s Manchester United and giving James Milner his league debut. But things soon went pear shaped and by Christmas the club were out of Europe and dropping down the league. In January Chairman ‘Publicity’ Peter Ridsdale began a fire-sale of the clubs top stars. But the team still fielded 11 internationals and the FA Cup offered a last chance of a trophy, until they crashed at local rivals Sheffield United in the quarter finals. Venables was fired but the financial mess at the club meant Venables escaped some of the blame.

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If Leeds was a shock move his next was Earth shattering- he rejoined England as Steve McClaren’s assistant. But things went wrong from the start and England suffered a miserable and ultimately failed qualifying campaign. Some (i.e. Jeff Powell) argued Venables had too little influence in the set up, but his finger prints were clearly on some of McClaren’s decisions- notably the switch to 3-5-2 for the awful performance in a 2-0 loss to Croatia.

Since then El Tel has returned to his adopted home of Spain where he owns a very nice hotel and restaurant where he presumably entertains guests with his Careoke machine.

Glenn Hoddle

Hoddle left the FA in late 1998 with a well earned reputation as a tactical innovator and tactless man. He returned to management a year later with Southampton where he started well and got the club clear of relegation. But 1 year later his dream job came up- Tottenham.

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After an acrimonious split with the Saints, Hoddle arrived at White Hart Lane in April 2001 where his first game was bizarelly the FA cup semi final against Arsenal, which ended in the then customary defeat. The following season started well and in September the visit of Manchester United saw Spurs 3-0 by half time, they then shipped 5 second half goals and went down 3-5. But Hoddle still guided them to the League Cup final where they were surprisingly beaten by Blackburn.

The next season saw an encouraging start quickly fly south and a disappointing 10th place finish, Hoddle was fired early into the 2003/04 season. He then masterminded 2 seasons of Wolves forever stay in the upper middle of the Championship.

Since then Hoddle has set up an academy for ex youth team players trying to restart their careers and become an ITV pundit. Strangely given his distinctly mixed record in club management plenty of ex players and football journalists (well Henry Winter) persistently campaign did his return to the England dugout.

Kevin Keegan

Keegan left England by his own admission because he wasn’t up to international football management. Just over a year later he returned to club management to retry is favourite trick- reviving a fallen giant. This time it was Manchester City, Keegan got them promoted at the first attempt with a typically cavalier brand of football inspired by playmakers Eyal Berkovic & Ali Bernabia.

Keegan largely bought name veterans notably Stuart Pearce & Peter Schmichael and this odd combination of entertainers and Dads Army secured a top hand finish, UEFA cup football via the fair play league and 4 points at the expense of United.

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Dads Army was reinforced by Robbie Fowler & Steve McManaman but the following season saw a 16th place finish.

Keegan stayed one last season before retiring and seeing City into their new home at Eastlands and a top half finish. Keegan announced his retirement from competitive management and set up a Soccer Circus- no really!

So it was to everyone’s surprise when in January 2008 Keegan reappeared at Newcastle. To Newcastle fans it was the second coming, to everyone else it was doomed to failure. Not that Keegan was a bad manager but only Newcastle would think conjuring up a Geordie Messiah from a Soccer Circus and think he would deliver a title challenge. With Mike Ashley now running the club it was always likely to end badly, particularly with Dennis Wise appointed Director of Football over Keegan’s head. After 9 months it was over and Keegan has stayed away from the frontline ever since. But Keegan has always done the unexpected so…

Sven-Goran Eriksson

Sven left the 2006 World Cup in apologetic mood after England’s early exit ,(back when the quarterfinals was considered early for England).

Most expected he’d return to Serie A where he’d enjoyed great success prior to his England stint. But he took a year to return to the game and when he did it was with Manchester City. City had just been taken over by Thai billionaire Thaskin Shinawatra.

Needing to overhaul a relegation candidate squad Sven signed a mass of players including Gelson Fernandes, Martin Petrov, Verdan Corluka & Geovanni with the need for quantity over quality.

Erikkson surprised everyone by making the early premier league running and scoring an early win over Ferguson’s United- revenge perhaps for all those England squad pullouts!

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However they couldn’t retain their brilliant start and started to slide down the table. Then February 2008 brought the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster and unbelievably the fixture computer through out City at United for that weekend. The teams played in their 50s strips in tribute and City fans impeccably observed the minutes silence with some attributing this to the calming influence of their manager. A game that was supposed to be about United’s past ended up hinting at City’s future and a shock win, it was the first double City had scored over United in the Premier League era. City finished the season with their joint Premier League points record and UEFA cup football but a final day 8-1 drubbing persuaded Shinawatra to fire Eriksson.

City fans were outraged and Noel Gallagher offered to give Sven a ‘big kiss’ for turning the club around, its a what might have been for Sven had he survived another year- the following summer the Abu Dhabi billions rocked up in Manchester.

The next step was a move back to international football with Mexico but things quickly fell apart and the World Cup qualification campaign dropped off a cliff and Sven was sacked at the mid way point.

His next move was a return to England as director of Football at Notts County but the backers pulled out within weeks and Sven left in a hurry with the cls debts mounting.

Sven did however make it to the 2010 World Cup with Ivory Coast. The draw was awful (Portugal & Brazil) and an injury to Didier Drogba didn’t help and the Ivorians departed in the group phase.

A few months later he was back in England with Championship strugglers Leicester, Sven got them out of trouble but couldn’t push them beyond mid table so it was another short stay although he did sign Kasper Schmichael.

Since then Sven had been in the mega bucks Chinese Super League where he still quietly presides the touch line.

Steve McClaren

McClaren exited Soho Square to a flurry of kicks and punches (not literally). Given in England he was associated with umbrellas and failure like no man since Neville Chamberlain, the only real option was to look abroad.

In in the summer of 2008 he pitched up at Dutch side FC Twente. Things didn’t start well- he decided to give his first press conference in Dutch. The only problem being he didn’t speak Dutch so he just did a bit of schpeaking like thish. HE described his side as ‘masshive underdogsch.’

But Schteve (that’s the last one I promish) had the last laugh guiding Twente to 2nd place in Holland in his first season. Despite the sale of star forward Marko Arnautovic, McClaren bought well with Bryan Luiz & Miroslav Stoch. Twente stormed up the table on the back of a near perfect home record. Twente came out on top of a tight title race and won their first Eredivisie title with McClaren named manager of the year- redemption!

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McClaren decided to twist rather than stick and continued his continental odyssey in the summer of 2010 with German side Wolfsburg. But despite a decent start things quickly went downhill and McClaren was fired after only 9 months in charge.

He then returned to England with Nottingham Forest but that only lasted 10 games and by 2012 he was back at Twente without his earlier success.

In the summer of 2013 He joined QPR as a coach but in September McClaren returned to Derby where he’d served as both a player and coach. McClaren enjoyed an excellent season finishing third- had he been there from the start they might have got automatic promotion but they had to make do with the playoffs.

After beating Brighton, Derby secured a place in the final ironically against QPR. In the build up McClaren pointed out he ‘wouldn’t be taking a bloody brolly’. Derby dominated the game but lost to late Bobby Zamora goal.

Derby entered the 2014/15 season as promotion favourites and remained in the automatic promotion places but a dramatic late season collapse saw Derby miss out on even a playoff spot and McClaren was fired again.

In the summer of 2015 McClaren finally got back to the Premier League with Newcastle. McClaren became the only manager to persuade Mike Ashley to loosen the purse strings and signed Georgino Wijnaldum & Akexsander Mitrovic. Predictably Mitrovic got an early red card and lengthy suspension and the season spiralled into relegation trouble with McClaren getting fired in March and The Toon relegated 2 months later.

The Newcastle affair sent McClaren back to square one and Steve is now at Maccabi Tel Aviv as a consultant.

Fabio Capello

Had Capello left England just before the 2010 World Cup (when Inter were sniffing around) he’d have had his pick of top club jobs. However by the time he left England in early 2012 he was damaged goods.

Eventually he settled on the Russia national job. His first task was to qualify for the 2014 World Cup- something he comfortably managed.

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The finals group looked passable with Belgium, Algeria & South Korea. But a disappointing draw with South Korea put pressure on the Russians going into the headline encounter with Belgium. The Russians were resolute and tough but eventually succumbed to a late Divock Origi strike.

It would all come down to a final showdown with Algeria- who’d given Capello’s England a tough time in 2010. Russia got a dream start through Alex Kokorin’s 6th minute strike. Russia controlled the first half but Islam Slimani struck with a close range header (something Leicester fans have rarely seen), Russia couldn’t summon a response and were out in Round 1. Financial problems at the Russian FA saw Capello’s hefty salary delayed and Euro 2016 qualifying got off to a ropey start and Capello was sacked.

For the last year Fabio has been enjoying footballs highest paid retirement home of the Chinese Super League where he and Sven can compare bank balances.

Malta 0-4 England 3 points and not much else.

These are the least fun internationals to watch, it’s literally a Premier a league club playing a full strength aside away to Crawley Town.

Gareth Southgate sought to even the odds by selecting Joe Hart in goal. Southgate made the point that this doesn’t mean Hart is guaranteed to start going forward and 3 Premier League games isn’t enough of a sample size to judge his goalkeepers form.

Within a minute Raheem Sterling got a clear sight of goal but mis-controlled. Two minutes later Harry Kane forgot it’s no longer August and hit a point blank header straight at the keeper.

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As the opening period pressed on the selection of Phil Jones & Gary Cahill at centre back whilst the more natural ball playing Stones, Keane & Maguire sat bored looked odd as did picking Jake Livermore who did ensure any hard Maltese tackling was met with greater force but whose passing has all the range of an 8 year old throwing the shot putt.

As a result the remainder of the first half was drab as England were pedestrian whilst Malta played a back 7. The delivery on the flanks and 6 first half corners was awful.

Unsurprisingly Marcus Rashford was introduced for the second half at the expense of Sterling. Within 2 minutes he’d shown more endeavour than Sterling had managed in 45, gliding past the Maltese right back with his pace.

The breakthrough finally arrived on 52 minutes with Livermore looping in a cross which Alli held and a neat reverse picked out Kane who fired home 0-1.

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It sparked Malta into sporadic attacks going close on 58 minutes.

Jamie Vardy came on after 70 minutes and within 3 minutes nipped in behind and forced a decent save from the keeper.

The pace slowed in the final 15 minutes but on 85 minutes Ryan Bertrand made sure of the win with a long range effort that bounced in front of Hogg 0-2.

Rashford continued to impress and a beautiful flick sent Walker away but he shot instead of laying on a tap in for Vardy.

The floodgates belatedly opened and a fine Kane cross was flicked home by late sub Danny Welbeck 0-3 on 90 minutes.

Rashford crossed and Kane smashed home with the final kick of the game for 0-4.

Ultimately England made heavy weather of their night in the Mediterranean sun although the result rarely looked in doubt.

Slovakia will offer a far sterner test but England should benefit from playing opponents more willing to attack rather than packing their own 18 yard line.

Rashford will surely start and I’d expect Dier to replace Livermore. But given England’s lack of creativity in central midfield I’d like to see Keane or Stones play given their ability to bring the ball out from defence.

Win on Monday and England are virtually home and that’s about all Southgate could gain from this game.

Player Ratings

Hart 6- did nothing wrong and a first clean sheet of the season!

Walker 5- Solid but poor control in key situations. It’s fortunate for him Trippier is injured.

Bertrand 6- not great crossing but got his first England goal. Danny Rose & Luke Shaw won’t be quaking in their boots

Cahill 7- showed calm authority cleaning up the odd Maltese break

Jones 6- never looked entirely comfortable but did little wrong.

Livermore 5- a steely presence in a game that was never going to need it. Created nothing and gave away a coupe of free kicks.

Henderson 7- the captain for the night started brightly but faded.

Oxlade-Chamberlain 6- direct and pacey but inconsistent in quality, in other news water’s wet.

Alli 6- still looking for that signature game for England but ticking along for now, nice assist for the opener.

Sterling 4- awful, missed a decent chance in the first minute and then made the Malta right back look like Bonucci.

Kane 8- unlucky with an early header but confidence grew after the opener. It’s now 5 goals in his last 3 internationals.

Subs

Rashford 7- excellent, showed pace and penetration, will start on Monday night.

Vardy 6- showed his usual pace and unlucky not to score

Welbeck 6- late sub showed plenty of energy and nicked a late goal.

6 England Squad Takeaways

The most fitting adjective I can think of for Gareth Southgate’s squad is sensible, I’d have preferred scintillating but sensible will have to do for now. With such exciting prospects at youth level ‘doing for now’ seems to be where England are right now. There were few surprises so what can be read into this selection?

That’s a lot of players

28 in total! The message is clear if you didn’t get in and you’re not in an England youth squad, injured/ short of fitness or suffering transferitus then you’ve got a lot to do if you want to go to the World Cup.  Only 2 players have been dropped Ben Gibson (now of the Championship) & Fraser Forster (England’s number 5!) Forster’s Southampton teammates Nathan Redmond & James Ward-Prowse are amongst the few who might have been expecting the call and didn’t get one, must do better lads!

That’s a lot of goalkeepers

Southgate’s insistence on picking 4 keepers is on the face of it odd. But there is some logic to this, for the first time I can remember the England Goalkeeping jersey is up for grabs. Previously it’s been a case of 2 similar level goalkeepers fighting for the gloves; Seaman & Woods, Seaman & Martyn, Green & James and hmm Carson & Robinson. This time it’s anybody’s to claim, Jack Butland is favourite but Jordan Pickford is rapidly improving. Joe Hart’s still around and officially number 1 making Tom Heaton the fourth man.

My suspicion is if Hart doesn’t get picked for any of the next 4 England games he’ll announce his international retirement, I just can’t see him wanting to travel to a World Cup as third choice a role I could see Heaton filling. Much of next week’s back pages will be dominated by this issue as we wait to see who’s wearing the number 1 shirt in Valetta next Friday.

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New boys added

Only 2 new call ups; Harry Maguire & Nathaniel Chalobah. Maguire was a surprise to some but his early season form has been great. He’s clearly got a range of passing and composure on the ball that Southgate wants- bad news if you’re Chris Smalling and perhaps explaining the exclusion of Swansea’s Alfie Mawson. With Maguire following Michael Keane into the squad England suddenly don’t look so dependant on John Stones converting promise into performance as a ball playing centre back.

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Chalobah’s call up was widely predicted. 18 months ago it looked like the precocious midfielder would suffer the same fate as Josh McEachran- endlessly miles on the Chelsea loan treadmill followed by a career in the Championship.  But Chalobah has finally made it to Premier League regular with a move to Watford. If he continues to develop I suspect Vicarage Road will only be stepping stone to a bigger club but for now he’s playing well and likely to win his first senior cap to go with the 97 he has at junior level.

Midfield worries

Whether it’s 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1 the central midfield pair is England’s biggest problem. Chalobah’s call up means we have 3  holding midfielders (Chalobah, Livermore & Dier) and Jordan Henderson, if Henderson’s unavailable who comes in? Against Scotland the midfield was too cautious and lacking creativity because we had 2 holding midfielders against a side happy to defend, these 2 qualifiers will provide a similar challenge.

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There are extenuating circumstances with Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley & Danny Drinkwater all currently unavailable whilst this World Cup will probably come too soon for the likes of Lewis Cook, Harry Winks & Tom Davies, we’ll just have to make do for now.

World Cup Winners kept back

Nobody from England’s victorious Under 20- World Cup side has been promoted to the senior side, but 13 of that squad have been selected for the Under 21s. It’s a smart move from Southgate, keeping a winning group together (for now) and letting them develop at the next level of the international pyramid.

Previous England managers would have picked Dominic Calvert-Lewin straight away, but that’d have been short sighted. Had he been picked he’d have sat on the bench and maybe got 15 minutes for his debut, whereas now he’s likely to play twice for the Under 21’s- the first a tough away qualifier in Holland, which will he get the most from? Exactly.

Welcoming back the Welbler

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Danny Welbeck is back- 18 months and a major injury recurrence on from his last cap. Welbeck was a favourite of Roy Hodgson due to his versatility, he may well have a roll to play next week, particularly if England go 3-4-3: where he fits anywhere across the frontline.

Welbeck needs to make an impression next week, he’s got Lacazette & Giroud ahead of him in the Arsenal striker pecking order and his recent run in the side has been largely due to the absence of the returning Alexis Sanchez. Might he need excusing from England training to finalise a late move to Everton or if desperate Newcastle?

Was Rooney called up?

Gareth seemed a lot less sure than Wayne that he’d have been recalled. Rooney claimed the manager was going to pick him on announcing his retirement. Southgate meanwhile side stepped the question saying he was under consideration. He went to hail Rooney a legend and state he would ask him to come back if needed, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.