To those of you that say that there are no competitive matches at international level anymore… God. Although it was a terrible performance from Andorra, I suppose you could argue that it was a decent enough performance from England. They looked a bit more balanced, and had a bit more shape in midfield. Defoe looked sharp. Robinson (indeed, Brown and Ferdinand as well) were mere spectators, and the lack of any Andorran attacking ability whatsoever meant that Ashley Cole was able to play more-or-less as a winger. They even allowed themselves to shut up shop with twenty-five minutes left to play and still didn’t look like conceding a goal. However, even the trip to Macedonia on Wednesday night will be a considerably greater test for England than this was, and, in spite of the rest of the country’s belief that England should stroll to the top of this group with some ease, I’m less than convinced. Russia and Croatia could both be very stern tests for England, and Israel might well prove to less than push-overs. So… I’m going to stick my neck on the line, and say that England might well not qualify for Euro 2008. There. I said it. England, it has to be remembered, do occasionally miss out on major tournaments. Euro 84 and USA 94, on top of the World Cup twice in the 1970s. I just have this feeling that they might not make it this time.
The other home nations, as they are wont to do, had mixed results. Scotland’s 6-0 win against the Faroe Islands was little more than a practice match, whilst Wales lost to a late and controversial goal against the Czech Republic – cue much coughing and spluttering from John Toshack, who singularly failed to remember that Wales had only drawn level through an own goal five minutes earlier in the first place. Northern Ireland, who had seemed to be on something of an upward curve, took two steps back in getting beaten 3-0 at home by Iceland, a result that seems to prove a long-held physics equation of mine: that any team coached by Lawrie Sanchez, though it might flatter to deceive for a certain amount of time, will always turn out to be rubbish.
There were several other curious results across the continent. Italy, the Brand New Sparkly World Champions, were held 1-1 at home by Lithuania – a result that does them no good whatsoever, considering that France are in their group. Likewise, Holland huffed and puffed far more than they should have done to beat Luxembourg 1-0. Interestingly (and, for Liverpool supporters at least, potentially worryingly), Dirk Kuyt looked particularly out of sorts. Finally, Poland, who always seem to make the finals of major tournaments, no matter how poor they are, were beaten 3-1 at home by Finland. There’s a long way to go, obviously, but it’s great start for Finland, who’ve not (as far as I can remember, at least) made the finals of a major tournament in recent times. Finally, Brazil brushed asides Argentina with consumate ease at Ashburton Grove yesterday afternoon. It’s probably the only time this season that the place will hear any significant noise.