If the Republic O’Ireland’s weekend defeat at the hands of Luxembourg was an FA Cup giant-killing, it would be classed as more of a noteworthy surprise than a particularly seismic shock. Granted, the presence of both national teams in the draw for the Grand Old Competition would initially raise eyebrows, but in terms of David slaying Goliath, Luxembourg’s victory ought to generate no more surprise than maybe a high end League Two side travelling to the home of mid-table opposition in the division above and securing a late and not entirely undeserved win.
While O’Ireland’s footballers, their manager and fans have every right to feel embarrassed by losing to a country whose biggest claim to fame is not actually having any claims to fame, nobody who has had the misfortune to sit through pretty much every single game O’Ireland have played in the past five years will have been particularly shocked to see them lose. Indeed if anything sums up the inherent Luxembourgness of Luxembourg in a nutshell, it’s the fact that arguably the greatest triumph in their football history turns out not to have been a particularly big deal.
Having mastered the art of looking sheepish and telling fans what he thinks they want to hear during years of post-match interviews in his role as Everton captain, Séamus Coleman didn’t mince his words following O’Ireland’s defeat. “We should be embarrassed,” he said. “As players we need to have a good hard look at ourselves. You need people demanding the ball out there and I don’t think we did that enough. If we were building up on one side then you need people to want it out the other side. I don’t think we heard enough voices. I’ve got to come out here and do an interview but there are no words for that,” he added, having just used 75 of them to sum his side’s performance up quite succinctly.
O’Ireland’s latest reverse means that their manager, Stephen Kenny, has now masterminded victory in precisely none of his opening 10 games in charge, a dismal record that has prompted many of his compatriots who didn’t consider him worthy of consideration for the role in the first place to call for his head. Unable to afford to replace him even if they wanted to, assorted Football Association of O’Ireland bigwigs have said they expect him to remain in charge. Having become the first “major” football nation to show their determination to boycott what promises to be a controversial World Cup in Qatar, O’Ireland must now prepare for more potential embarrassment on Tuesday night. Their next opponents? None other than Qatar.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“We’re in dreamland” – Hornchurch boss Mark Stimson, whose Isthmian Premier Division season was abandoned on 3 November, is still trying to get his head round how his side fought back from going behind to Notts County three times before winning 5-4 on penalties to make it to the FA Trophy final.
Get your ears round the latest Football Weekly podcast here.
“So much for Stephen Kenny’s Republic O’Ireland coming-out party (Friday’s Fiver). I don’t know if Bossman Steo actually does smiling, in any case. As for The Fiver’s Eurovision comparison, this is the FAI we’re talking about here, so there’s zero chance that O’Ireland’s nul points represents Kenny’s Waterloo” – Justin Kavanagh.
“In the 62nd minute of Romania 0-1 Germany, the camera flashed to the suave German coach sitting in a padded Covid-restricted ‘Do Not Sit Here’ seat in his nice knitted sweater and matching overcoat. Is he a Löw unto himself?” – Steve Lewis.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Steve Lewis.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Gareth Bale has backed the idea of a mass social media boycott to tackle online abuse. “If it was a campaign where a lot of influential people in sport and other forms of life [boycotted it] to make a statement then I think it could help,” said Bale, whose Wales teammates Ben Cabango and Rabbi Matondo were abused over the weekend.
Hal Robson-Kanu, Matondo and Tyler Roberts have been sent home from the Wales camp after “breaching FAW protocol”. An official statement confirmed that all three players will miss Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Czech Republic.
The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, is hopeful crowds of more than 10,000 fans may be able to attend some matches at Euro Not 2020, with the semi-finals and final to be played at Wembley. “I’m very hopeful and optimistic that we will get many, many more people in for the later stage games,” Dowden roared.
Aidy Boothroyd is trying to stay optimistic with his England Under-21s facing an early exit from the Euros after a limp defeat to Portugal. “It’s still mathematically possible, we have to go out and get a good result [against Croatia]” mused Boothroyd, who is set for (presumably brief) contract talks this summer.
Gareth Southgate is channelling Liberty X and asking his England players to give him just a little bit more. “I’m pushing for a bit more because I think that’s the standard we’ve got to set if we want to be a really top team,” Southgate crooned.
Meanwhile, that distant cheering you can hear is Harry Maguire and John Stones digesting news that Robert Lewandowski’s knee-knack has ruled him out of Poland’s World Cup qualifier with England.
And referee Danny Makkelie has held his hands up after Portugal were denied a legitimate winning goal against Serbia. “I apologised to the Portuguese team and coach for what happened,” Makkelie told A Bola after his team of officials failed to spot that Cristiano Ronaldo’s shot had crossed the line. “When [referees] are in the news in this manner, it doesn’t make us happy at all.”
STILL WANT MORE?
Get your WSL talking points, right here!
San Marino don’t deserve derision but perhaps a pre-qualifying tournament would offer a better pathway to improvement, writes Barry Glendenning.
Greg Wood on how Football Index dangerously blurred the lines between betting and investment, leading to a collapse that has cost its customers millions.
England cannot simply cram all their attacking talent into the same team, so Gareth Southgate is right to be pragmatic, notes Jacob Steinberg. Plus: player ratings from England’s victory in Albania.
Go, go power rankings!
Arsenal’s hipster full-back Héctor Bellerín has fallen in love with photography during lockdown. He gets his chat on with Nick Ames here.
Fancy a thousand words on England v Poland in 1973 from floating-football-brain-in-a-jar Jonathan Wilson? Of course you do.
Doink! The latest Joy of Six offers up half-a-dozen great toe-poke finishes from football and futsal, with an emphasis on Brazilian flair.
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