Sunday, November 18, 2007

Golan hits heights for Israel and England, but Tevez and Argentina show home nations how to play...

Going into the weekend's international fixtures many England fans will have been fearing the worst. We were told by the media that Steve McClaren and his team were done for. Not so, as Israel surprised many fans and the critics by beating Russia by the odd goal in three. Golan scored the winner on 90 minutes, in doing so ensuring England and their head coach were given a stay of execution until Wednesday when they face Croatia - a draw will be enough to secure a place in next summer's Euro 2008 finals.

How ironic it would be though if McClaren and his team go on to win the tournament. I'd love that to happen personally because I want to see McClaren's critics in the media eating their own bile.

The manager can only play with the hand that he's dealt with and England have suffered with a lot of injuries, worse still, England do not have an out and out striker, which is their single biggest problem - this is contrary to the views our agenda setting rabid press, who believe that getting rid of the coach is the answer to everything.

Let us not forget that is was the disgraceful News of the World who conspired to get shut of the last manager Sven. With such a spineless and weak FA, the press are the de facto rulers of the English game -bullying and constantly cajoling from the sidelines until they get what they want. So thank you to Golan and Israel for giving the coach and England the opportunity to turn the critics in the press into revisionists.

Meanwhile events north of the border saw Scotland conspire (aided by the officials and a wee Scotsman) to shoot themselves in the foot in the first and ninetieth minute as Italy broke the jocks hearts by winning 2-1.

It turned out to be a night of excuses which is often the case in the aftermath of important games. The opening goal came after the visitors took a quick throw-in on the left which eventually found Luca Toni whose speed of thought and movement ensured that he got to the ball first on the edge of the six-yard-box in doing so flicking it beyond Gordon.

Former Celtic star Charlie Nicolas and Sky pundit blamed the goal on 'multiball', saying 'a little Scotsman picked up the ball and threw it back into play before Scotland had time to get organised'. A life ban on the cards for the wee man?

Scotland battled hard from that point on and deservedly equalised in the second half when Barry Ferguson - who was clearly off-side - scrambled the ball over the line.

As in the Israel v Russia game, the decisive goal came in the 90th minute after the referee had made the wrong decision, instead of giving the home side a free-kick, Italy were given the award on the edge of Scotland's box, Panucci then somehow managed to chest the resulting cross ball into the net, in doing so killing the game and the Scots Euro 2008 hopes.

After the game Alex McLeish the Scotland manager blamed the defeat and the late winning goal at the doorstep of the referee, he went further by suggesting that in big games the decisions often go against the smaller nations.

McLeish chose to completely ignore the fact that Ferguson's goal was clearly offside and that Italy had themselves been on the wrong end of a bad decision when the ref chalked-off a good goal for offside. So in the big scheme of things Scotland had one really bad decision go against them to Italy's two...

With no club football on the box this weekend, it came as a somewhat pleasant surprise to learn that Argentina were set to take on Bolivia in Buenos Aires for a World Cup qualifier and the second half was live on Sky Sports one. A chance to see International football played as it should be was not going to be missed.

United's Carlos Tevez was on duty and he was his usual industrious self, but this game was like watching football from another planet compared to the fare served up at Hampden Park and what we see from England all too often.

Argentina have yet to concede a goal in the qualifying games so far, and their short accurate passing was a joy to watch. Every Argentina player including the defenders were comfortable in possession as time and time again they moved the ball quickly around the bemused Bolivians.

The pitch at the River Plate resembled a cabbage patch, it was full of ruts. Had England or Scotland been tasked with facing Argentina on this pitch, they both would no doubt have spent a week complaining about the state of the surface, in doing so, talking themselves into making mistakes. There was no need for excuses though as the home side thrashed the Bolivians three-nil, there was barely a misplaced pass that I can recall.

While offering support to under fire McClaren, I'm sure that all fans recognise that English players need to improve on technique which is a process that has to start at the grassroots. However, a good starting point for any player or coach, even the National team coach, would be to study the Argentinean's collective lesson in passing and movement against Bolivia which was on another level to anything that England have shown since 1970.

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