RULING THE ROAST
Following monotonously predictable defeats for the Republic of Ireland and Norn Iron last night, the time has come to direct the collective gaze towards England and Scotland. The only two home nations from this particular neck of the European woods that look likely to qualify for Euro 2024 in Germany, both are in action over the weekend. Scotland are in Larnaca to take on Cyprus this evening, while England travel to the Polish city of Wroclaw to face Ukraine tomorrow.
Top of Group A with four wins from four, Steve Clarke’s side find themselves in a position of such dominance over their rivals that not even they look likely to Scotland things up from here. Five points from their remaining four games will guarantee a spot at the Euros, although a win against the group’s bottom side could be enough to have John McGinn, Scott McTominay and chums dreaming of balmy evenings on the team hotel veranda guzzling deep-fried bratwurst, kartoffelpuffer and sauerkraut next summer, if results elsewhere in the coming days go their way.
Tonight, over 6,000 members of the Tartan Army have invaded Cyprus to neck the local hooch, get sunburnt, cool off in the local fountains and cheer their side on against a team that has yet to take a point from their opening three games, including a 3-0 defeat in Glasgow. “Always respect the opponent,” said Clarke, whose opposite number Temuri Ketsbaia is best known in the UK for giving an advertising hoarding a violent shoeing after scoring for Newcastle many years ago. “We expect a tough game. Those two late goals at Hampden probably put a little gloss on the scoreline,” Clarke added. “Conditions will be hot, but it was pretty hot in Norway when we went there in June. You just have to deal with the conditions whatever they are and get the result you want.”
England are also top of their group with a perfect record after four games, although this lofty position hasn’t stopped Gareth Southgate from receiving pelters for picking various players whose repeated inclusion in his squads suggest they may be in possession of a compromising video of the England manager doing a tour of the Glenfiddich distillery while draped in a saltire and drunkenly belting out Flower of Scotland. In an attempt to deflect some of the heat from their manager and his curious if ultimately irrelevant selections, England threw James Maddison to the press-pack wolves, knowing that the always interesting Tottenham playmaker would inevitably deliver some choice soundbites.
He didn’t disappoint. “I loved watching players who had a little bit of cheekiness about them; Gazza was a perfect example,” he said when asked about his own love of the limelight. “It’s not a conscious effort to try and be the showman. That’s just how I play football. That’s just how I am as a person. When I go for a roast dinner with my family, I like to be the main man.” While the PT Barnum of the pub carvery has enjoyed a dream start to his time at Tottenham, he has yet to establish himself as any kind of ringmaster in an England circus he has only performed in three times. “I think I’m probably too intelligent to think that I’m in and cemented,” said Maddison, who will get his chance to impress Southgate with virtuoso displays on the pitch and dining room over the coming days.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I’ve never been a shouter and screamer because my dad did it to me. I hated it. However, you learn to communicate differently as players today are very much a non-confrontational generation. They’d rather you texted or WhatsApped them” – Emma Hayes talks to Donald McRae about the World Cup fallout in Spain, how Lauren James will recover and coaching modern players.
There’s a live event on 26 September to mark the Football Weekly Book launch. More details and tickets are here. And then the pod goes on tour again in November: several dates are now sold out, but there are a few tickets still available elsewhere.
“After watching the highlights of Nottingham Forest’s win at Chelsea, I spotted the simple tactical piece of genius that got the unexpected three points. It was Steve Cooper’s choice of a 3-5-1-1 formation, which looks a bit like a … tree! Forest going back to their roots there. Bravo!” – Peter Oh.
“VAR and, to a lesser extent, goalline technology have been hugely entertaining (FD letters passim). Pundits, fans, managers and many players all cried out for this stuff for years. They all now have it and, what a surprise, not much has changed. They still have something to moan about and incidents from 20-odd games ago they can blame for their team’s relegation. Meanwhile those of us watching Football 1.0 with three subs and no technology can still live in the good old days, moaning about stuff in real time without having to rewatch in UHD later. Roots Hall doesn’t even have a working clock or scoreboard at the moment – presumably because we can’t afford it – so us Southend fans can’t even moan about added time” – Rick Webster.
“Some early contenders for whataboutery and pedantry of the season from Magnus Nell and Joe Pearson in yesterday’s mailbag” – Robert Graham.
Send your letters to [email protected]. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Rick Webster.