Tag Internationals

Tag Internationals

International football is rubbish

September 7, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 26 comments

England’s turgid performance against Wales at Wembley on Tuesday night was simply the latest in a very long line of mediocrity from Fabio Capello’s side. Plus ça change, no matter the coach, of course. It is now so long since England put in a genuinely exciting performance that fans under the age of 20 are unlikely to remember it. (England 4-1 Holland, Wembley, 1996, for those who can’t).

Yet, it is not solely England that fails to thrill on the international stage, even if Capello’s men offer a particularly unique brand of insomnia-inducing fare. Indeed, international football is now such a poor cousin to the latter stages of the Champions League that it is genuinely hard to muster any excitement for the non-club game. Last summer’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa was a much discussed case in point, of course, with 64 matches of dull, uninspiring, negative and often disjointed football performed by shattered players.

Even the tournament’s deserved winners Spain, with a plethora of Barcelona-bred tika-taka stars, failed to truly spark into the thrilling brand of the game served up by the nation’s champion club. The final, which descended into a level of thuggery rarely witnessed at the game’s highest level, seemed a good précis for the tournament as a whole, where negativity was the dominant emotion.

Yet the World Cup finals tournament is by no means the worst of international football. That, seemingly, belongs to the European qualifying tournaments; a never-ending cycle of the depressingly familiar and homogeneous. Replete with the endlessly mediocre, Euro-zone qualification for European Nations Championships and World Cups now rarely delivers excellence.

Perhaps not helped by the vast expansion in teams from Eastern Europe, and the very real need to improve standards in some of Europe’s smaller nations, but there are now so few games of genuine quality during qualification that fans are deserting in droves. Wembley, more than 13,000 short of capacity for the international equivalent of a local derby, was one of the fuller European grounds this week.

Just 16,000 watched World champions Spain and there were only 8,000 for Italy;s match in Genoa. In Russia the giant Luzhniki remained half-full – or empty depending on your persuasion – for matches with Ireland and Macedonia. Only in Germany, where fans enjoy a buoyant national team and reasonable prices, was the ground bursting at the seams this week.

With mercy perhaps, the game’s club administrators have decided to put down the suffering beast. Well, end a third of meaningless international friendlies that have become a never-ending excuse for ‘experimentation’ that cheats supporters with a carousel of substitutions and disruption.

Manchester United chief executive David Gill, in his dual role both on the Football Association board and as a leading member of the European Club Association (ECA), led the charge this week in attempting to reduce international friendlies from 21 every two years to 14.

“These topics have been discussed at length,” said Gill, an ECA board member.

The ECA hopes to reduce the number of single dates and “end friendlies in August and June and reducing it to meaningful games plus the Euros and the World Cup. Ideally we would have six double dates over the period. That gives the right balance while being a reduction for the interests of the national teams against what the clubs want.

“Six games a year is the best from a club point of view. Before Euro 2012 we have to release players two weeks before the tournament and there is space for two or three friendly matches then.”

The proposed changes are born of club self-service but, if enacted,will have the positive effect of ensuring no future summer friendlies that add little to the calendar and increase the burden on the best players. Tournament football will remain unaffected, although the ECA is on an unwavering path to extract ever more compensation for the players used in international football.

None of this guarantees an increase in quality though and international managers may well be faced with even less time to construct fluid teams. Perhaps that is irrelevant. After all, Capello has largely wasted three years and £18 million in salary deploying the same failed strategy and players as his predecessors. The ‘golden generatio’n now an allegory for the handcuffs around each successive national team coach.

Indeed, on Tuesday against Wales Capello ignored calls to rely on the youthful zest of Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and others. Instead, back came 33-year-old Frank Lampard to anchor, alongside Gareth Barry and James Milner, one of the biggest-boned English midfields in recent times. No surprises in the glacial speed of England’s movement then, with 117 FIFA-ranked Wales genuinely unlucky not to snatch a late point.

England round off qualification against Montenegro in Podgorica next month before Capello embarks on an eight month farewell tour that is likely to take in a plethora of utterly meaningless friendlies before England bow out of Euro2012 in Poland and Ukraine at the first knock-out stage.

Mercifully, just in time some might say, there is United away at the Reebok this weekend to distract. And for once Sir Alex Ferguson may have escaped international fortnight with no fresh injuries.

Hernández earns rest after Gold Cup glory

June 26, 2011 Tags: , , International, Opinion 3 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will surely greet Javier Hernández’ Gold Cup win with mixed feelings. Delight for a player who has burst onto the international scene as a genuine star; concern that the 22-year-old striker faces burn out after seven summer matches that crisscrossed North America and racked up more than 8,000 miles on the continent alone.

There will be relief then that Chicharito is set to miss Mexico’s invitational appearance at this summer’s Copa America, with El Tricolor set to field an experimental squad in Argentina. While Mexico’s status as an invited participant means head coach José Manuel de la Torre has no right under FIFA statutes to call up players not released by their clubs, Ferguson would hardly relish creating friction at this stage of Hernández’ Manchester United career.

On a personal level the summer could hardly have gone better for the United striker, who scored seven goals in as many games to fire Mexico to the gold medal. Hernández may not have scored in the final – a 4-2 win over the ‘home’ side USA in Pasadena on Saturday night – but the striker picked up the tournament’s Golden Boot award and its “Most Valuable Player” gong in any case.

Hernández’ summer feat takes his international total to 21 goals in 29 appearances, adding to the 20 goals the 22-year-old scored in all competitions last season. Far cry from thoughts of quitting the game as the Little Pea struggled to make the break through at Chivas Guadalajara two years ago. Such is the player’s rise to fame in the past year that Hernández could make almost any team in the world.

“I wasn’t playing the minutes that I wanted to at the time and the coach wasn’t playing me. I don’t know why that was, but I was frustrated,” Hernández said after joining United in April 2010.

“My confidence started to go down and I asked my father and my family whether I was still right to play football. The past is the past. I had a very different mind then.”

Confidence now flows through a player who has become Ferguson’s first choice striker at Old Trafford, displacing Premier League top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov in the Scot’s side during the business-end of last season.

Yet, truth be told, the 22-year-old didn’t have the finest of games on Saturday night, suffering from an unusual profligacy in front of goal as Mexico came back from 2-0 down inside half an hour to defeat their hosts 4-2 in normal time. Perhaps the pressure finally told. Played in Southern California the match was a home fixture in name alone with the majority of a partizan 94,000 crowd cheering for the men in green.

But Hernandez’ two assists in the final add to the feast of goals during the tournament, scored in a delightfully diverse fashion. The striker scored a hat-trick in Mexico’s 5–0 win against El Salvador – header, right-foot, cheeky penalty – a brace against Cuba and then the winner in a 2–1 win over Guatemala; a stunning back-heel at the near post. Showcasing’s the striker’s ability to score by whatever means, Hernández scored Mexico’s winning goal in the 99th minute – with his crotch – to beat Honduras 2-1 after extra time in the semi-final.

Hernández will now be given an extended summer break by Ferguson, with the striker unlikely to feature heavily, if at all, in United’s summer tour to the United States. Fear of burn out is real, despite the limited schedule faced at United last season. In truth Hernández is likely to play more than 40 times for the Reds in the coming season, with Berbatov relegated to third choice if the 30-year-old Bulgarian remains at the club beyond the transfer window.

The rest may mean disappointment for the growing army of United supporters in the states, where Ferguson’s side visits Boston, Seattle, Chicago, New York and then Washington during a two-week tour from 13 July. After all, pre-season training begins in just over a fortnight.

Yet, typical of the man, Hernández is focussed on banishing any thoughts of ‘second season syndrome’ rather than soaking up his new-found global fame.

“Success is written into the DNA of this club,” said the 22-year-old last week.

“I’m at the best club in the world. Everything is done to succeed and win titles. There is only the Champions League defeat that sticks in the throat. I am extremely happy with my season, but I do not rest on my laurels. I want to do even better next season. I want to help this club make history.”

United fans will sleep easy on that thought. Ferguson, meanwhile, has a delicate decision to make on Hernández’ eventual return to the United fold.

Javier Hernandez

Fergie’s right, friendlies worthless

March 28, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 15 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has again condemned international friendlies as a “worthless waste of time” in a week that England reserves play Ghana in front of more than 80,000 duped fans at Wembley. And the 69-year-old Scot surely has a point, with neither players, nor club coaches taking friendlies seriously – normally prompting a host of withdrawals and minor injuries. Although there is no little irony in Ferguson’s proclamation coming in the week that Manchester United announces another extensive tour of the US.

“I am all in favour of the competitions,” Ferguson told Sirius radio today.

“The players should play in the major competitions; the European Championship, the World Cup. But friendlies are a waste of time as far as I am concerned. It is understandable for the coach. They have the players for a period when they can influence them and can build and shape their team. I can understand that completely.

“But every time there are friendlies you get six or seven call offs. It is sometimes worthless for the manager to build on that because of the lack of players.”

Indeed, Ferguson has long-held international friendlies in contempt, with matches adding to his players’ fixture burden during the season and the risk of injuries high.Ferguson is increasingly not alone in this regard, with major European clubs all keen to end fixtures that are not FIFA sponsored qualifying or tournament matches.

Perhaps little surprise then that Fabio Capello released four key members of his squad this week, mindful that he must keep club managers on side. United’s Wayne Rooney joined new England captain John Terry, Michael Dawson, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Aaron Lennon in returning to their clubs.

Yet the withdrawals make a mockery of England’s fixture against the World Cup quarter-finalists, with an FA spokesperson today forced to spin the game as a good opportunity for some of Capello’s lesser-lights. Former Ghana captain Stephen Appiah came closer to the truth, branding the late withdrawals as “disrespectful”.

“A lot of Ghanaians have travelled from America, Canada, from around the world. It’s a dream come true. It’s huge, it’s big and Ghanaians are going to follow the match,” added the 30-year-old.

“Ghanaians are disappointed. They really wanted to see those players. The players wish they could play against JT. It’s their dream to play against Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and all these players. Maybe some of them will not play in that stadium again.”

In truth the FA, burdened with over whelming debt incurred during Wembley’s reconstruction, is forced to fill every date on the international calendar, no matter how pointless the game. And this is as pointless as international friendlies come, although presumably not to the sell out crowd, including 21,000 Ghanaian fans who might have expected a full-strength England team.

Still, Ferguson will remain open to charges of hypocrisy when he announces a money-spinning but lengthy five-date US tour on Tuesday. The Scot flew to the US to unveil the summer 2011 tour, which follows United’s trip to Canada, the US and Mexico in 2010. That tour earned the Reds more than £3 million in revenues, with large crowds at many venues including Houston where United beat an MLS All Stars team 5-2.

The club today pre-briefed media on the 2011 tour, which will include another fixture against the All-Stars, this time in New York. It’s a match so ‘friendly’ that it takes place against a team that is neither a regular club, nor owns a home ground. Meanwhile, the club’s fortnight-long tour will also take in Boston on 14 July before ending in Washington with a fixture against Barcelona on 30 July.

“We’re delighted to have been invited to play the MLS All-Star game for the second year running,” added Ferguson.

“Last year’s game was a special occasion in front of a noisy, passionate crowd. Obviously we’ll be looking to repeat the performance and the score line.”

… and raise revenues for much-needed summer replacements, the Scot could also have added.

It is, of course, a sign of the times, with profit now the primary consideration during the summer break and not players’ recuperation or preparation for the coming season. Indeed, it is more than a decade since United last remained in Europe during the summer, where trips to Scandinavia were once commonplace.Those were the days before United strove to ‘break America’, open new Asian markets or extend the club’s ‘brand value’.

Nostalgia perhaps. Not unlike recalling England’s distant international glories.

Chico scores in ‘crazy’ international week

February 10, 2011 Tags: International No comments

Sir Alex Ferguson called international week “crazy” and he may have a point with five key Manchester United players off on international duty this week. While Ferguson negotiated a week off for captain Nemanja Vidic, whose Serbia team beat Israel 2-0 in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night, many of the Scot’s players were called into action.

Ferguson’s coup in ensuring Vidic did not play in the Serb’s meaningless friendly suggests Rio Ferdinand is not fit to take part on Saturday lunch time. The Scot will no doubt take further pleasure from Jonny Evans’ and Chris Smalling’s absence from any form of international football in the past week.

Striker Javier Hernández played in Mexico’s 2-0 win over Bosnia-Hercegovina in Atlanta, Georgia. While Bosnia’s Miralem Pjanic was credited with a 48th minute own goal some observers awarded the United forward with the bizarre strike for new coach Jose Manuel del la Torre’s outfit. Hernández missed the second-half penalty but was involved as Pjanic appeared to bundle the ball into his own net.

“I didn’t know if it was my goal or if it was an own goal,” said Hernández, who has scored 11 times in 21 internationals.

“I celebrated with my team-mates and laughed because of the circumstances that arose. Scoring is always beautiful but it’s better to win. It does you no good if you score three goals and you don’t win.”

Meanwhile, over in Copenhagen Wayne Rooney played a somewhat inconspicuous 45 minutes for Fabio Capello’s England as the visitors rant out 2-1 winners. While Michael Carrick was not considered for Capello’s squad, new United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard sat on the bench as goals from Darren Bent and Ashley Young won England the tie.

In Paris France beat Brazil 1-0 thanks to a 54th minute Karim Benzema strike against the ten-man South Americans. Once again former United defender Laurent Blanc omitted Patrice Evra from the French squad but Anderson made the Brazil bench, although the 22-year-old did not feature in the match. Ferguson recently criticised Evra’s continuing omission, with Blanc coming under pressure from the FFF and French government to permanently exclude United’s 29-year-old left-back.

At Stade de Genève, Switzerland, Nani played for an hour as a Lionel Messi penalty sealed a 2-1 win for Argentina over Portugal. Former Red Cristiano Ronaldo also played as the Iberians suffered defeat. However, Carlos Tevez was omitted from Sergio Batista’s squad, with the new coach claiming the striker’s attitude was to blame for the absence.

In Dublin Darron Gibson scored a stunning 25-yard goal as the Republic beat Wales 3-0 in Gary Speed’s first game in charge of the Principality. The United midfielder, heavily criticised by some sections of the Old Trafford crowd this season, fired home from distance to score his first goal for his adopted country. Following the match manager Giovanni Trappatoni suggested Gibson leave United to seek more playing time – it’s not the first time the legendary Italian has made the call.

However, there was better news for Ferguson elsewhere, as several key squad members missed out on a game or were rested by their countries. Reserve goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszazck failed to make Poland’s squad for the 1-0 victory over Norway. Meanwhile, Park Ji-Sung’s recent international retirement means that the former South Korean captain missed his country’s draw with Turkey in Istanbul.

In a similar vein, Dimitar Berbatov did not play as Bulgaria drew 2-2 with Estonia in Tallinn on Wednesday night. The striker retired from international football last summer, prompting a resurgence in form for United. Meanwhile, Darren Fletcher and Jonny Evans both sat out Scotland’s 3-0 win in Belfast, no doubt at Ferguson’s suggestion.

Finally, at Under-21 level United’s Federico Macheda – currently on-loan at Sampdoria, scored a last-minute penalty to claim a 1-0 win for Italy over England’s age-group side. The striker claimed this week that he will return to England a better player next season.

“I’m looking forward very much to getting back to Manchester United but not the English weather,” said Macheda last night.

“You can get fish and chips there though and I like them. I was nearly 16 when I went to Manchester United and I do love it there. I’m almost English. My friends now say I speak better English than Italian. Of course I’m looking forward to going back. I’ve had a few injuries but I think things are getting better now.”

Scoring the winner over his adopted countrymen will only endear him to the Stretford End of course!

International round-up

October 12, 2010 Tags: Opinion 13 comments

Retired stars Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Edwin van der Sar and Dimitar Berbatov enjoyed a lengthy break away from football but around a dozen Manchester United players engaged in international fixtures this week. Euro 2012 qualifiers, the Under-21 championships and international friendlies were taking place in the past week.

There were mixed results for Old Trafford’s heroes, with Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney each starting in England’s bore draw with Montenegro at Wembley on Tuesday night.

Ferdinand, restored as England captain following a long-term knee injury, completed the full 90 minutes, while Rooney failed to find the net as England served up yet another mediocre display in London. The pair might wonder why they bother turning out for Fabio Capello’s side as boos rang out at Wembley.

Better news for England fans came in the Under-21s, where Chris Smalling stared as Stuart Pearce’s side beat Romania over two legs to qualify for the summer 2011 tournament, to be held in Denmark. The former Fulham defender scored as England pulled off a 2-1 aggregate win.

Over in Paris, France continued a post-World Cup rebuilding programme without Patrice Evra, who is still serving a five-match suspension for his part in the mutiny this summer. The United left back missed Les Bleus’ victories over Romania and Luxembourg to keep France in touch with Belarus in Group D.

Meanwhile, John O’Shea and Darron Gibson both featured in the Republic of Ireland’s fixtures with Russia and Slovakia. O’Shea started both matches at right-back, while Gibson made a second half appearance in the 3-2 home loss to Russia and then came on for Paul Green in the first half during Ireland’s 1-1 draw in Žilina. Giovanni Trapattoni’s men now lie third in Group B, two points behind Russia.

In Group C Nemanja Vidic started Serbia’s 3-1 loss to Estonia in Beograd last Friday, which put the Orlovi at risk of failing to qualify from Group C. Worse was to come with Serbia’s fixture against Italy in Genoa abandoned after rioting visiting fans forced the referee to order an end to proceedings. Vidic will be thankful he missed the match through suspension, with UEFA likely to award a 3-0 win to Italy.

Italy’s Under-21s crashed out though, with Federico Macheda an unused substitute as the Azzurri went down 3-0 after extra-time in the second-leg to Belarus. The Italians led 2-0 from the first leg last week.

Also in Group C Jonny and Corry Evans featured in Northern Ireland’s fixtures with Italy and the Faroe Islands. The joy of a Friday night scoreless draw with the Azzurri in Belfast wiped out by a lifeless draw away to the Islanders today. Evans started both matches at left-back, with brother Corry came on as a second half substitute in Svangaskarð.

In Group H, Nani excelled as Portugal beat Denmark 3-1 in Porto. The United winger scored twice and laid on a third for former Red Cristiano Ronaldo. It didn’t keep the former Sporting player in the Selecção though, with Nani starting the victory over Iceland in Reykjavík on the bench. Paulo Bento’s side remains behind Norway and Denmark at the top of the qualification table.

Finally in the Euro 2012 qualifiers Darren Fletcher captained Scotland as Craig Levein’s now infamous 4-6-0 formation lost 1-0 to the Czech Republic in Prague on Friday night and again against Spain back at Hampden on Tuesday. However, the Scots can be proud in narrowly losing 3-2 to the world champions. Former United defender Gerard Piqué scored an own goal to draw Scotland level at 2-2 but Fletcher’s side failed to hold out for the draw in Glasgow.

Outside of European qualifiers but still on the continent neither Anderson nor Rafael da Silva were selected for Brazil, who beat Ukraine 2-0 at Derby Country’s Pride Park on Monday night. Just 13,088 turned up to see the Seleção win with goals from Daniel Alves and Alexandre Pato.

Meanwhile in Asia, Park Ji-Sung missed South Korea’s scoreless draw with Japan today. The United winger pulled out of the match complaining of knee pain; the injury which kept the Korean captain on the sidelines at times last season.

The final fixture of the international calendar involving United’s players will see Javier Hernández feature for Mexico against Venezuela in Ciudad Juarez late tonight. The 22-year-old striker has scored 10 in 19 caps to date.

The longest week

October 11, 2010 Tags: Opinion 11 comments

Perhaps it’s the passing of time, or the perpetual failure of the national team but international football seems to hold little appeal for supporters of all club denominations. So much that the enforced two week break from the Premier League hurly burly is the entertainment equivalent of Japanese water torture.

Somehow it didn’t used to be this way, with the glamour of playing international football every schoolboy’s fantasy. Memories of the World Cup in far flung places, TV secretly on late at night, with crackling commentary and exotic fans abound.

Yet today, amid the globalised nature of the modern club game, with live matches available at the touch of a mouse almost round-the-clock, the international game takes a distinctly back seat. After all, if the world’s best habitually gravitate towards the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and increasingly the Bundesliga, what purpose does the international game truly serve?

In the Premier League, for example, just 37 per cent of players are English. That is not to evoke the now clichéd argument about England’s international demise but to emphasise the globalised nature of the domestic game. To all intents and purposes any meeting of the Premier League’s upper echelons is international football in a domestic setting.

Moreover, international football is now inferior in many ways to the fare served weekly in the Champions League, even if homogenised tactical patterns now universally dominate Europe’s premier competition. Tactically, technically and certainly in terms of entertainment, last season’s Champions League scored more highly than the World Cup in South Africa.

Indeed, the international game – and especially the World Cup this summer – for the first time has suffered from homogeneity. The clash of cultures once associated with South American, Asian, and African football – as opposed to European – gave way to the preponderance of the 4-2-3-1 system and defensive possession-based tactics in South Africa. Without its distinctness the international game serves as little more than an exercise in patriotism.

If international football is at threat from a lack of diversity and globalised media coverasge, then increasingly club sides are waging a war on their big brother too. Witness recent changes to the international calendar in the move to a Friday-Tuesday double header that is designed solely to assuage club managers.

Then there is also an ongoing case in which Europe’s leading clubs seek to extract greater compensation from international associations for injured players. Soon leading players from smaller associations may – literally – be priced out of international fixtures for fear of injury.

Powerful club sides are also seeking the end to both June and August international friendlies. Within five years it is not unreasonable to assume the only international football available will be competitive, further reducing the diversity in the international game.

Perhaps fans too have become tired even of live international football, with less than 50,000 tickets reportedly sold for tomorrow night’s Euro2014 England qualifier against Montenegro. With a catchment area of 45 million potential fans, the national team – let alone Wembley’s permanently worrisome bean-counters – should expect better.

Certainly the England team’s connection with supporters outside the capital is not aided by the FA’s permanent marriage to Wembey but increasingly the governing body has resorted to cheap ticket offers to fill Wembley’s vast array of seats.

If the traditional England support has come from the lower-leagues, then for Premier League club fans such as those at Manchester United international week is an additionally painful period. England’s match on Tuesday night will feature just two United players – Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand – with the best outcome no further injury to either player.

Of course, United fans’ relationship with the national team is hardly helped by the antipathy with which the club’s players are often received. The mindless reaction of England fans to David Beckham’s red card in 1998, for example, was compounded by the lack of support show for Rooney after his disappointing World Cup this summer.

Instead, United supporters will nerdily check on the club’s players in matches around the globe. This is merely feeding on scraps though, with the real feast returning when United take on West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford next Saturday.

Reds World Cup round-up

October 11, 2009 Tags: International No comments

Manchester United’s players are off on international duty this week, with many facing crucial World Cup 2010 qualifying matches. Indeed, while the English contingent has already qualified, Patrice Evra, Nani, John O’Shea and Antonio Valencia face make-or-break fixtures over the next few days.

Group 1 has become one of the Europe’s tightest races for a play-off spot. Nani’s Portugal has brought itself back into the mix with a 3-0 win over rivals Hungary. The victory, where the United winger featured as a first half substitute for the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, leaves Portugal second with a single point advantage over Sweden. With runaway leaders Denmark already qualified, Portugal will secure a spot in the play-offs with a victory over Malta in Lisbon on Wednesday.

Johnny Evans’ Northern Ireland travel to Prague for their last Group 3 match against the Czech Republic on Wednesday. Evans’ team still harbours a faint chance of making the finals via a playoff spot but will have to beat the home side, hope that Slovenia lose in San Marino and turn around a seven goal difference. With San Marino yet to score a point in this qualification campaign, Evans is likely to enjoy a long summer break.

In Group 6 Ukraine  beat leaders England 1-0 by in Dnepropetrovsk. England, already qualified for the finals in South Africa next year, included United’s Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney in a starting eleven that slipped to its first defeat of the qualifying campaign. Fabio Capello’s side completes its group programme at home to Belarus this week. It’s a match for which under-fire Ben Foster returned to the squad having recovered from bruised ribs.

There was a better result for Nemanja Vidic’s Serbia in Group 7. Vidic’s team  locked up qualification with a thumping 5-0 win over Romania in Belgrade. The win consigns Patrice Evra’s France to the play-offs, although almost inconceivably United’s outstanding left-back continues to be left out of Raymond Domenech’s stuttering side. The French beat the Faroe Islands by a similar score in Guingamp.

John O’Shea played at right-back for Giovanni Trapatoni’s Republic of Ireland in Dublin. The home side twice took the lead against World Champions Italy in Group 8, but were pegged back to 2-2 in the last minute of the match. The result means that Ireland will have to qualify for the finals in South Africa via the play-offs. Dimitar Berbatov’s Bulgaria, beaten heavily in Cyprus, has no chance of qualification. The United forward scored on the stroke of half-time.

Outside of Europe, Antonio Valencia scored in Ecuador’s 2-1 home loss to Uruguay in Quito. The defeat in the penultimate South American match-day puts Ecuador’s place in serious jeopardy. Valencia’s side travel to Santiago for the last game against qualifiers Chile needing a win. Valencia must also hope that other results goes his way to make the finals , probably via the South American play-off.

International round-up

September 6, 2009 Tags: Opinion 10 comments

Manchester United have 16 senior players plus several juniors out on international duty this week, leaving Sir Alex Ferguson with time to attend the Elite Coaches forum in Nyon, Switzerland and the old guard holding the fort at Carrington. While Messrs. Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have time to take it easy this week, then most of United’s squad is off fighting for World Cup spots.

Ben Foster, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Wes Brown are with the England squad this week. Firstly for Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Slovenia and then for the Group 6 World Cup tie at home to Croatia on Wednesday. While Foster sat on the bench, Ferdinand will not play with a thigh injury and Brown not picked. Carrick meanwhile had a half against the Slovenian’s in the centre of midfield, while Rooney was at the heart of the action for 80 minutes.

Typically Rooney was at the heart of both the action and headlines after being felled for a controversial 31st minute penalty. Running into the box, Rooney tussled for a loose ball only to go down under a shirt pull. The Slovenian’s cried ‘dive’. It wasn’t but the penalty was certainly soft.

In Scotland Darren Fletcher captained George Burley’s team to a 2-0 victory over Macedonia at Hampden Park in European Group 9. The win keeps Scotland’s World Cup hopes alive until they are soundly beaten by the Dutch on Wednesday and dumped out of the competition. Rest easy next summer, Darren.

Meanwhile, John O’Shea played for the Republic of Ireland in the nation’s fortunate 2-1 victory over minnows Cyprus in European Group 8. The late Robbie Keane winner in Nicosia saved the Republic’s blushes and keeps open the country’s hopes for a spot in South Africa next year. Ireland sit second in the table behind Italy but several points clear of Bulgaria, who are in third place. The green army is likely to finish second and be forced to qualify via a playoff after Wednesday’s qualifier in Turin. Darron Gibson was an unused substitute.

In the same group Dimitar Berbatov scored from the spot in Bulgaria’s 4-1 win over Montenegro. The United striker scored Bulgaria’s third in the win, although his team are five points behind Ireland in the chase for second spot.

In Group 3 Jonny Evans delayed an ankle operation to play at the heart of Northern Ireland’s central defence in their 1-1 draw away to Poland. It was a huge result for the Northern Irish who still hold hopes of securing second place in the group and therefore a play-off spot. The Irish next face group leaders Slovakia followed by a crucial away fixture in the Czech Republic.

Portugal’s increasingly forlorn hope of qualifying for the World Cup took another blow as they drew with Group 1 leaders Denmark. Nani came on as a second half substitute in the 1-1 draw in Copenhagen in which Cristiano Ronaldo also played. Carlos Queiroz’ fate is likely to be sealed with two matches against second placed Hungary on Wednesday and then in October.

Elsewhere Patrice Evra played for France in their 1-1 draw with Romania. France, who are second behind Nemanja Vidic’s Serbia in Group 7, could still qualify automatically but face a crucial match against Serbia on Wednesday in Belgrade. Zoran Tosic also features in the Serbian squad.

Finally in Europe Ritchie de Laet made Belgium’s squad but mercifully didn’t figure in the country’s 5-0 defeat to Spain. Belgium have no chance of qualifying.

Outisde of Europe Park Ji-Sung set up South Korea’s final goal in their 3-1 win over Australia. Both Korea and the Australians have already qualified for the finals next year.

Luis Valencia wasn’t so lucky as his Ecuador side lost 2-0 against fith placed Colombia in Medellin. Ecuador still have a chance of qualifying however, as fourth placed Argentina are only two points ahead.

Anderson didn’t make the Brazil squad, as the World Cup favourites beat Argentian 3-1 on their own turf in Rosario.

Outside of the of the seniors United sent 11 juniors to under-21, under-19 and under-17 squads this week. Man United youth report far better than we can:

England U21 – Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley
Italy U21 – Federico Macheda
Northern Ireland U21 – Craig Cathcart
Scotland U21 – David Gray
Serbia U21 – Adem Ljajić
England U19 – Reece Brown, Cameron Stewart, Matt James
Ireland U19 – Robbie Brady
Ireland U17 – Sean McGinty