Sunday, 16 September 2007

England Struggle, Scotland Truimph

It’s international week again in the world of professional football, as Europe’s footballing nations once again take to the road that leads to the European Championships in 2008, in a weekend when new England boss Steve McClaren learned that some of the lesser lights are capable of putting up a good fight.

McClaren’s reign started with comfortable wins in the friendly against Greece and the opening match against minnows Andorra, followed by a somewhat strained draw against Macedonia. But just four weeks later. Macedonia came to fortress Old Trafford, one of England’s favourite grounds since their forced move from the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium.

The return of golden boy Wayne Rooney saw a wave of expectation sweep across the team, and not even the broken leg of Owen Hargreaves could dampen their enthusiasm. But when push came to shove, the side were left wanting as they drew 0-0.

Rooney is suffering a severe dip in form at the moment, a dip in form that has stretched all the way back to the World Cup, where, in the opinion of many fans and experts, he was rushed back too quickly from his broken foot by former boss Sven Goran Eriksson. The sending off while playing for Manchester United in the pre-season tournament in Holland, and the subsequent F.A. ban certainly did nothing for his confidence, and once again Rooney put in a sub-standard performance.

Meanwhile, his beanpole strike partner Peter Crouch proved to be one of the leading lights in the front-line. With a great scoring record for his country, Crouch continues to prove that he has what it takes in an England shirt. But the question is this - can he really form a fruitful scoring partnership with Rooney? I’m afraid the jury is still out on that one.

Rio Ferdinand’s late back injury saw Tottenham’s Ledley King drafted in as a late replacement, and although he started off slowly, he did well as John Terry’s partner in the centre of defence. However, there was another question mark in the form of Michael Carrick’s performance in the holding midfield role. Does the Manchester United star have what it takes to replace Owen Hargreaves? Again, the jury is still out.

Macedonia showed some good stuff during the game, and should be proud of the way they performed, but given the hype surrounding the new regime, can England be proud of their performance. Definitely not.

It’s the exact opposite with Scotland, who, against the odds, defeated World Cup finalists France by the solitary goal. Their performances under Walter Smith have shown one thing - that as far as British national football teams are concerned, perhaps it’s better for British manager to be in charge. Scotland really struggled when German Berti Vogts was in charge. Now they have a Scot back at the helm, they’re starting to show some fire in their bellies again.

As for Wales, they were thumped 5-1 at home to Slovakia, thanks to missing several key players. John Toschack hasn’t been helped in his cause by the international retirements of several key players, and once again it looks like they’re not going to sit at the table with the big boys in eighteen months time.

And that’s probably the case with Northern Ireland as well, despite Lawrie Sanchez leading them to an upset victory over Spain last month. The times when the British Isles could look forward to having three of their nations in a major championship are probably long gone.

So will England win in their next game, an away trip to Croatia? They’ll certainly need to play a lot better than they did against Macedonia, that’s for sure.