IT’S ALL HAPPENING
England played very well last week against San Marino, for 45 minutes, and were efficient if not exactly effervescent against Albania at the weekend. Nothing to worry about there, although exactly how much use it is to anyone in a world where Belgium’s second string are capable of walking in eight against Belarus, celebrating their goals with little more than an insouciant shrug, is a moot point. Belgium’s haul was one of several eye-catching scorelines in the Human Rights World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday, along with Gibraltar 0-0 Netherlands after 40 minutes and Luxembourg 1-0 Portugal after 44. If we could have blown the final whistle there and then, sat back, got out the popcorn and immersed ourselves in the lovely fallout, we would have, promise you.
As things transpired, the Dutch went on to rattle in seven, while Portugal turned things around easily enough on account of actually being awarded goals for shots that crossed the line this time. Even so, Luxembourg’s early success against the European champions will have made Stephen Kenny feel a little better about himself in the wake of that nul-points fiasco last Saturday. The beleaguered O’Ireland boss will also have experienced the strange other-worldly sensation of happiness when a lovely training-ground corner routine led to a goal for James McClean in their friendly draw against Qatar. At last, some proof that it is worth persevering with the implementation of a more expansive style! A little pushback against the blowhardista wing of the punditocracy, who think O’Irish fans should settle for hoof and hope until the rapture and be happy about it too.
It was also a good night for the Welsh, for whom things were looking grim until nine minutes from time, when Dan James, the Pocket Toshack, rose to claim the points against the Czech Republic with an unlikely header. That instantly upgraded their qualification status from Pipe Dream to In The Hunt, something Norn Iron and Scotland will also be hoping to achieve on Wednesday with home fixtures against, respectively, Bulgaria and the folk who chase Berti Vogts over broken glass in his dreams. All of which leaves us with England, who would have been hot favourites to beat a Poland side with Robert Lewandowski in it, and are hot favourites to beat a Poland side without Robert Lewandowski in it. Still, if things go wrong and the Poles best England for only the second time in their history, look on the bright side: at least the next time they meet, everyone should have finally stopped banging on about 197effing3.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE!
Join Scott Murray from 7.45pm BST for hot MBM coverage of England 2-1 Poland, while Paul Doyle will be on hand for the rest of the HRWC qualifiers.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I had to mark him a lot. Even when I tackled him, it was like: ‘Wow, I tackled Neymar!”” – Trevoh Chalobah gets his chat on with Jacob Steinberg and reveals the confidence-boosting upsides of being sent out on loan from Chelsea to Ligue Urrrrrrrn Lorient.
Look at his face! Just look at his face!
“I’m getting bored with the following usage: ‘O’Ireland’, ‘Tin’, ‘Queen’s Celtic’, ‘getting chat on’ and ‘knack’. Just so you know. Maybe time for a little creativity?” –
The Man Tim Lynch.
“A couple of weeks off from competitive football matches and this is what happens to US soccer news. Apropos of nothing, No 1 is apparently New York City FC coach Ronny Delia (there’s a blast from the past) who, let’s remember, quit the Queen’s Celtic back in 2016 due to his failure of only winning the league. Ah, them was the days” – Noble Francis.
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 … Noble Francis.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Chelsea are the first team to reach the last four of Women’s Big Cup after a smooth 3-0 win over Wolfsburg secured a 5-1 aggregate triumph. Manchester City, meanwhile, are taking on Barcelona now, now, now.
Arsenal Women are looking for a new manager to take the reins off Joe Montemurro, who is flamin’ well off at the end of the season. “I’m hugely grateful to the club for their unrelenting support during my time here and in understanding and respecting my decision,” he cheered.
Premier League clubs lined the pockets of Mr 20%s to the tune of £272m between 1 February 2020 and 1 February 2021, an annual increase of £9m despite the pandemic.
Adrian ‘Aidy’ Boothroyd has responded to criticism of his management of England U-21s in exactly the kind of defeatist manner that has been the hallmark of his side’s recent displays. “I think the job is the utterly impossible job,” he parped.
The FA is deploying psychological profiling to help Hege Riise select the player to replace Steph Houghton as England’s captain in friendlies against France and Canada but, as far as we’re aware, no crime has been committed.
Pep Guardiola has described Sergio Agüero as “irreplaceable” so he can rush to replace him at Manchester City with, most likely, Erling Braut Haaland.
Stand-in Wales boss Robert Page can’t get enough of his defensive troops for holding strong against the Czechs. “They would have enjoyed that little battle at the end: five minutes, ‘put your tin hat on, dig a trench, and rise to the challenge,’” he roared.
And under-fire Republic O’Ireland boss Stephen Kenny says sticks and stones may break his bones but words will never hurt him. “[Criticism after the 1-1 draw with Qatar] doesn’t hurt me because you know what? I don’t care,” he tooted. “I know what I’m doing, I’m very clear what I’m doing.”
STILL WANT MORE?
Producing serious flashbacks of being chased down the high street by harried Rumbelows staff at 4.30pm on a Saturday afternoon, courtesy of Steven Pye.
“We’re not little kids”: leading Mr 20%s are ready for war with Fifa over new rules, reports Ed Aarons.
Bob Lewandowski-less Poland are hoping for a repeat of 197effing3 against England, writes David Hytner.
What are football’s biggest wins or comebacks by teams with 10 men? The Knowledge knows.
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