England’s victory over Montenegro last night ensured that the midweek spat has been glossed over, not so much swept under the carpet but locked in the cupboard with the key stored in its own case marked, “Smash When Jack Wilshere Is Naughty Again“. Qualification for Brazil is in their own hands, beat Poland on Tuesday at Wembley and they are there. I have already lost count of the comments about that night in 1973 already and Roy Hodgson will be keen to avoid a similar fate to Sir Alf. It must be something in the national psyche – or in the media at least – that feels the need to hark back to an inglorious failure and overlook the six wins in competitive home matches England have enjoyed over the Poles subsequently. Or that it is the only occasion the visitors have not been beaten at Wembley. I understand why they would look back and celebrate the result, the beginning of a golden era for them but England? Use it as a warning to guard against complacency but nonetheless don’t overplay it.
Roy Hodgson knows anything other than qualification for the World Cup finals will cost him his job but if the current crop of players make it, frankly it is making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. England have struggled to reach the summit of an average group and should they make it to Brazil, will have one huge advantage over their predecessors; the absence of any media-led over-expectations. If they reach the Quarter-Finals, they will have done well. The same might be said if they reach the finals without needing to venture into the murky world of the play-offs. It was interesting to see Uefa’s plans for a Nations League (or League of Nations?) to replace international friendlies. Nine groups of six teams each seems workable although resistance is expected from the bigger nations who need to fit in big revenue matches against the best of South America but England were suggested in Group One with Spain, Germany, Italy, Holland and Portugal. With relegation and promotion involved to keep interest in the competition, there is merit although how the press would react to England being caught in an annual relegation battle, is not hard to imagine.
As it is, Hodgson will have to do without Kyle Walker for the Poland match. ITVs commentators pontificated whether Smalling or Jones would play there without looking down to the Under-21s where a specialist right back is wondering whether there is an outside chance of him making the leap into the senior squad. Frankly, Carl Jenkinson has nothing to worry about in that respect. As soon as he claims the Arsenal shirt he will be an automatic selection for England. How Kyle Walker is considered anything beyond average escapes me. Fortunately for him, his transgression has been overlooked in the clamour to hand Andy Townsend all the plaudits he deserves. It was an interesting experiment by the broadcaster to have a player acting as a co-commentator although awarding himself Man of the Match does not seem the done thing if you ask me.
It was a good night for Arsenal players in their international ventures. Even Nicklas Bendtner scored. Twice. With the same goal. And earned himself a well-deserved rest by being booked for celebrating his second. Or was it his first, I can’t tell. It’s a useful addition to have for Arsenal, a Plan B to sling the ball over to the far post for a tall forward to head the ball. I wonder if it is a tactic that might catch on in England? Olivier Giroud wasn’t to be outdone, with two goals signalling his form for this season. The first was the eye-catching moment, a Bergkamp-esque chip over the goalkeeper whilst the second was the more important, the routine striker’s finish. Whilst the first is a goal he will no doubt treasure, the second keeps the momentum going, a poachers goal. When confidence isn’t there, finding that space can be difficult and last night underlines there is nothing wrong with Giroud’s at the moment. An Arsenal striker with unpuncturable confidence. Hmmm. Mesut Özil ensured that everyone kept talking about him, scoring Germany’s third in their win over Ireland.
The only one who had mixed feelings about the night seems to be Aaron Ramsey. It’s football folklore that the Manager of the Month will see his side struggle in the games following receiving the award, is the same true for the Player of the Month? I’ve never taken notice before but if Ramsey missing a penalty for his country is the price paid for his consistency being recognised, it isn’t too bad a price to play as they won anyway.
Oh, and Robin, you may top the charts but you’ll never score a goal this good…