IT BEGAN WITH FIFA seeing red over poppies and ended with Sepp Blatter blushing red over racism. In between, England beat a team playing in red who are usually quite good. And Scotland won against Cyprus! World Cup 2014 here we come!
For those who don’t know, the row about the home nations playing with poppy emblems on Remembrance Sunday weekend was a consequence of FIFA’s rule that national team strips must not sport “political, religious or commercial messages”.
Prince William and David Cameron got stroppy over the poppy and eventually a compromise was reached: the national teams could wear black armbands with little red flowers on them. Phew, civilisation could continue.
Anyway, now there was some football to be played. Scotland travelled to Cyprus and decided, against all convention in away matches, to play a striker. That striker, Kenny Miller, scored a gobsmacker to give Scotland the lead; controlling a long ball brilliantly, he lobbed a doozy of a finish into the top left-hand corner.
The Scots’ recent going-over by Spain (which ended their Euro 2012 hopes) appeared to have rubbed off on them, for Jamie Mackie scored another quality individual effort; it took approximately 2.3 seconds for the first comparisons to be made with Archie Gemmill’s 1978 classic.
Scotland won 2-1 and actually played rather well, despite captain Darren Fletcher spending most of the match passing to the ball boys. Cyprus were at times unlucky (hitting the woodwork twice) and at others hopeless – oddly enough, this applies to Scotland most of the time as well.
Talking of hopeless, we had Estonia – who had somehow come second in their group – taking on the Republic of Ireland in a Euro 2012 qualifying play-off first leg. They were truly awful, going behind to Keith Andrews’ goal and then lacking any attacking ideas save for shooting any time they got within thirty yards of goal. It’s a wonder they didn’t score.
Estonia lost two men to red cards and then lost their heads in the last twenty minutes as Jonathan Walters and MLS-hotshot Robbie Keane (twice) put the tie out of sight.
Saturday saw Wales beat Norway 4-1 for their third consecutive win. They’re looking pretty hot for the future, now they’ve had their very own ‘Bale-out’.
This was all before we got to England against Spain. Optimistic England fans were hoping for a losing margin of five or less. So to say England winning 1-0 was unexpected is something of an understatement.
Spain, or ‘Sparcelona’ as they are commonly referred to as, again showed their lack of interest in winning friendly matches. They took Xavi off at half-time even though their dominance of possession had not yielded any goals. Going behind to Frank Lampard’s tap-in after Darren Bent hit the post, Spain effectively raised the white flag by bringing on Fernando Torres – Joe Hart knew his clean sheet was safe then.
England were lucky, yes (Cesc Fabregas’ long hair getting in his eyes as he spurned a number of chances), but they also deserve credit. Scott Parker kept up his recent Tottenham form and kept the Spanish at bay just long enough for England to complete their five-passes-and-give-it-away-again routine. The centre-backs – Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott – earned plenty of praise too.
England won again, against Sweden, with their 2000th all-time goal coming courtesy of a Daniel Majstorovic own-goal. Quite apt, really, as England have been shooting themselves in the foot for the last 45 years.
The Irish wrapped up qualification with a 1-1 home draw to spark celebrations and become the Scots’ favourite to beat the English next summer.
There was just enough time for FIFA President Blatter to manage another gaffe by suggesting on-pitch racial abuse could be sorted out by a handshake. The main problem with this idea (besides its obvious stupidity and offence caused) is that Luis Suarez will be using his hand to clear the ball off his goalline instead of sorting things out with Patrice Evra.