So that’s it then, a nation breathes a sigh of relief and ploughs on with their World Cup campaign. Mexico made it through to the Play-Offs courtesy of the USA beating Panama 3 – 2 in a result that beforehand was less believable than the script of The Magnificent Seven as a historically accurate masterpiece. An outcome less credible than the politicial leaders of the USA finding agreement and compromise over which pizza to order.
You thought I was going to talk about England’s performance. OK, I was. I still am but to wrap that first piece up, the Mexicans will face New Zealand whilst the Uruguayans will play Jordan for a place in the finals in a play-off system which is as loaded as their European counterparts. The politics of sport decree that seedings are used but there is little more than lip service to sporting integrity in their construct, designed as they are to make sure that the ‘big’ footballing nations consistently qualify for the following summer’s jamboree. Olivier Giroud and Nicklas Bendtner won’t mind as France and Denmark continue their quest for a South American package deal next month whilst others are involved in meaningless friendlies where injury is the only matter of interest to the Arsenal management.
Having celebrated his birthday with a goal for his country, Mesut Özil became the latest victim of the injury curse which seems to strike the club at this time of year, limping out of Germany’s game against Sweden. Reports suggest it is a bruised knee and more will become known later this week; perhaps the medical team need to fly over Ma Özil to speed up the recovery process – the special ‘Mum TLC’ always seems to help kids recover that bit quicker from similar knocks. In the media world, this equates to the tried and trusted formula of hysteria = hits. Santi Cazorla’s return to fitness might be more timely than originally seemed.
The German scored twice in two games, a feat that was bettered by Bendtner in one against Italy. Olivier Giroud is being credited with his third in two games in some places whilst others believe it to have been an own goal. Do UEFA have a dubious goals panel? Does anyone know? Does anyone care? Meanwhile Aaron Ramsey found the net for Wales and had he not missed a spot kick last week, he too would have been in two-goal club. As opposed to being in the club which seems to be a career choice in this neck of the woods.
Wembley was the key battleground, it had taken all the focus from an Arsenal perspective for off-the-field japes, antics and over-zealous analysis. Last night the action on it gave the talking points. It was the sort of night the new stadium needed. International atmospheres can leave a lot to be desired but last night was the opposite, perhaps the number of ‘visiting’ supporters helped to create a memorable night. It was a good game with Poland playing well on the counter-attack against it has to be said, a ropey England back four. Not that their Polish counterparts were any better and Wojciech Szczesny threatened to give the media another forty-year story. As it happened I don’t think he can be faulted for either goal, especially the opener which was a well-placed header. Rooney’s headband was kryptonite, his finishing was better for the minute or so that it was off than when he was wearing it.
There was something extraordinary, creditable in Szczesny’s behaviour. The heat of battle, a match in which pride was the sole outcome for he and his compatriots. Yet rather than leaving Rooney to pick up his headband from the turf after the opening goal, the Pole trudged across half the breadth of his penny area to return the appendage to his rival. The modern game and the Corinthian spirit meet and a sporting ethos wins. A moment of which play, country and club should be proud; sadly one that will be deemed to be nothing more than a fleeting sidebar to the main story.
For England, moments of promise. It seems Kieran Gibbs will have to wait a while or improve his crossing; Baines is far ahead of the Arsenal defender in that sense and with the dividends brought from the wide areas last night, that will stand the Everton defender at the top of the queue. Carl Jenkinson may not have to wait so long. Walker’s immaturity and Smalling’s performance mark neither out as spectacular in the right back role and a run in the Arsenal team could see the youngster sneak on board the plane next summer. Whether he gets that run depends on Bacary Sagna as much as his own form. Theo Walcott is an interesting case. With his return likely to be in good time for the November internationals, it gives the prospect of Townsend on the left and Walcott the other flank. Certainly the Tottenham winger was the brightest spark in the past week’s games and that double-prong of pace offers a different attacking prospect to those previously offered by the national side.
As it is, football focuses back on club matters from now on. Normality resumes.