European World Cup qualification. There is a fresh and horrific unknowingness one experiences when their international side embarks on a qualification journey. Pitted against the best of European soccer, it is a slog that is rarely easy.
Last night the three home nations in Britain drew, with Wales taking a harsh lesson from Serbia, 6-1.
With only two qualification games gone, some unfaithful, hyperbolic press men are consigning campaigns to the annals of failure. After Scotland’s second draw at home, a 1-1 stalemate with Macedonia, one journalist observed that the nation’s sporting follow up to Andy Murray’s US Open victory was “less Flushing Meadows, more flushing toilet.”
Manager Craig Levein is being publicly called out for his continuously negative tactics.
In England there were mixed and rather confusing signals. After captain Steven Gerrard received two justifiable yellow cards, and a corresponding red, his side salvaged a 1-1 draw with an sprightly Ukraine.
Manager Roy Hodgson implied that you could not say it was a good result, but many pundits were declaring this a showing of England’s true weaknesses. With England being sloppy at the back and limp at the front, officials were left having to claim a late penalty equalizer from Frank Lampard was a great result.
Largely outplayed and bereft of creativity from the middle of the park, England had to rely on the ball falling to them, rather than taking it and placing it. Gerrard looked to continue his slow decline and England looked like yelping with demand for a front man.
John Dillon of England’s Daily Express felt compelled to say, “Make no mistake, though, the World Cup qualifying campaign is already on the rocks.” After two games the exaggeration is rife.
Of course, draws are hard to be obsequious about. Look at Northern Ireland. At home against Luxembourg, the Ulstermen were bushwhacked with a late equalizer to make it 1-1. An own goal rendered the side having to fight for the rest of their campaign, having lost to Russia 2-0 last week.
As for Wales? Well, after conceding eight goals in their first two qualification games, manager Chris Coleman is right to call his side’s defending “criminal.”
England next play San Marino in October, and should take maximum points. Northern Ireland next play Portugal and should continue the dreary run. As for Wales and Scotland, they face each other. It is a game that both managers must attack.