England’s tepid showing yesterday in a rare home nation’s International was hardly enough to send shivers down the spines of World and European Champions Spain, but it did go to underline their continued domination of British Football. Many will say that last night was demonstrative of England’d eternal footballing plateau and a rise in Wales’ fortunes, but the truth is that England were at their uninspiring worst yet they still beat a Wales side who played at something like their best. Though Wales should have equalised late on when Robert Earnshaw fluffed his lines England were just about the better team over the course of the game and Lampard missed almost as good a chance to put England 2-0 ahead.
This week has though has seen something of an epiphany in Welsh football and two very creditable performances later they should now be feeling much more positive ahead of next year’s World Cup qualification campaign. They have fought very hard and the win against Montenegro will have hugely boosted their hopes going into their narrow defeat to their neighbours. Though it is a shame they didn’t take home a point from Wembley, things under Gary Speed certainly seem to heading in the right direction.
Though it was a display lacking any real authority or class from England the result gained from it was a crucial one. Coupled with Friday night’s away day glory in Bulgaria this result has near enough ensured England’s place at next summer’s Euro’s and Fabio Capello’s first part of re-building after last Summer’s car crash in South Africa is nearly complete. Remember of course that England qualified strongly under Capello for their ill-fated World Cup campaign before it all went wrong, but taking inspiration from cheesy eighties pop act Yazz “The only way is up!” from that horror show. With a batch of talented youngsters emerging at each of last year’s top six Premier League sides there is reason for belief that England can this time give a better account of themselves off the back of a decent run in qualifying. I am in no way suggesting that England might win next year but a run to the Semi’s isn’t out of the question with the current squad.
The early-season International break has also offered hope to Scottish football. Though their failure to win both of their games this week has left them with only a slim chance of qualifying for next summer, they did at least show an enormous amount of character in both of their matches. Their draw with the Czechs provided a real test of character amidst the malaise caused by some outrageously poor refereeing and this was followed up with a tight but utterly essential win over Lithuania with a significantly weakened side. Craig Levein may be left to rue the aforementioned refereeing nightmare but all in all he should be proud of his side’s efforts over the past few days.
Completing the set for British football this week were Northern Ireland, and their week has been horrific. A narrow defeat at home to the dangerous Serbia over the weekend left a bitter taste in the mouth and this was not remedied by yesterday’s humiliating 4-1 defeat away to Estonia. This pair of results should be of huge concern to Nigel Worthington and the country’s football association, there is an awful lot for them to do in preparation for World Cup qualifying next year and this could signal the end Worthington’s tenure.
The displays of the home nations over the International break have shown signs of encouragement with the huge exception of Northern Ireland’s performances, and with the England and Wales going head-to-head thoughts of how a British Olympic football team would look were once again inspired.
The rules of Olympic football state that the squad must be made up of Under 23’s and with no more than three exceptions to this rule. With a long and rigorous domestic season in store and next summer’s Euro’s taking centre stage in the footballing world it must be assumed that at least the majority of England’s squad members for the Euro’s will be spared the extra exertions of playing in the Olympics. Another assumption is that the selectors will opt for an experienced figure-head who can Captain the side and act as an ambassador for British football and the Olympics, many think that this role will be taken by David Beckham and I would be surprised if he wasn’t involved.
Based upon these assumptions and an effort to include personnel from each of the home nations my proposed starting XI for Team GB would be as follows: (4-2-3-1)
GK: Joe Hart (Manchester City and England)
RB: Chris Smalling (Manchester United and England)
CB: Craig Cathcart (Blackpool and Northern Ireland)
CB: Phil Jones (Manchester United and England)
LB: Gareth Bale (Tottenham and Wales)
DCM: Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal and Wales)
DCM: Darren Fletcher (Manchester United and Scotland)
RAM: David Beckham (LA Galaxy and England) (C)
ACM: Jack Wilshere (Arsenal and England)
LAM: Craig Bellamy (Liverpool and Wales)
ST: Danny Wellbeck (Manchester United and England)
Close Calls: Alan McGregor, Wayne Hennessey, Craig Dawson, Johnny Evans, Corry Evans, Jordan Henderson, Chris Brunt, Steven Davis, Jack Rodwell, Barry Bannan, Charlie Adam, Tom Cleverley, Kenny Miller, Jordan Rhodes.
Given the requirements placed upon the modern day footballer, Britain’s lacking recent history of Olympic football, and the disputes going on between each of the home nations’ football associations it is almost impossible to predict the line-up for London 2012. However, it would be a surprise if not even a few of the above names got the call-up.