Friday 18 October 2019

Football returns after two-week layoff

For someone like me who complains that the football season comes around too early, and gripes on and on that we don't get a chance to miss it, to appreciate it, to feel proper anticipation - that one season merely blurs into the next - the international break, when there is no football of any interest over the course of a week, might seem welcome. 

But no, we have just had our second one of these, before even two months' domestic play of 2019-20, and this one was just as tedious as the last, depriving me of my right to catch the latest Premier League score on my phone (Prem, because that's where my teams plays) or hear a bit on the radio in between all the squabbling in my house, or at a wood. Not even England's defeat in the Czech Republic on Friday 11th could satisfy the yearning - although it did console me for a while.

Because England lost, I watched the highlights of the game in Prague, and learned that the 2-1 defeat was England's last qualifying reverse for either of the major tournaments in exactly ten years. I should countenance this with the fact that Clive "Anybody Arguing?" Tyldesley was delivering this information, and he has a history of inaccuracies, most famously from the Nou Camp in 1999 when he claimed that nobody cared where the Germans were when the Tyldesley-level popular Manchester United scored the last second winning goal in the Champions League Final against Bayern Munich.

The Czech game didn't matter, of course, because England could have lost to Bulgaria on Tuesday as well, and Kosovo in the match after, and still qualified for, er, everywhere, easily. We all know it is now harder not to qualify for the Euros or the World Cup than qualify. That a country who has only reached one Final in the history of the two big tournaments they can play are so unbeatable in qualifiers shows how meaningless the whole thing is.

Euro 2008 qualifying was much more like it (although I would say that, wouldn't I?). England, Russia and Croatia all in the same group, trying to get to a tournament holding 16 teams (one of those, or  sometimes two, being the hosts). England ultimately failed to qualify for Euro 2008 in 1973-like fashion against the Croats at Wembley (although similarities edge towards the home goalkeeping error rather than any frantic onslaught on the opposition goalmouth) but shouldn't have been embarrassed. Yes, there were memorable losses of dignity along the way, including another goalie blooper against Croatia in Zagreb, this time Paul Robinson miskicking a Gary Neville back pass to seal defeat. Some say Mclaren's Rihanna moment at Wembley was Brent-worthy cringe, though he cleverly overshadowed it a a couple of months later with a public crack at contemporary Dutch. Ah, he’s going through a breakdown, poor lamb. Let’s not mention again. 

The point is, that while both Croatia and Russia went through to Switzerland and Austia at England's expense,  those two nations progressed to the quarter-final and semi-final respectively, so there was no shame in England's 3rd place, and while the disappointment and scapegoating was plentiful, the competitive aspect was never in doubt. 

Both UEFA and FIFA have now ensured that this unsatisfactory state of affairs won't ever happen again.         

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