Euro 2008: Confused? You will be...
I have to admit to feeling slightly confused. Some of yesterday's Euro 2008 qualifiers had an air of unrealism about them which has left me in an ever-so-slightly bewildered state. Let me explain...
First of all, England won convincingly. Yes I know - hard to believe, but at last we saw the sort of comfortable victory against a so-called lesser side that England fans haven't seen for a long time.
The absence of players like Rooney, Lampard, Beckham and Hargreaves appeared to give the green light to those individuals who seldom earn a place in the starting XI, or even in the squad. Heskey played with great maturity and experience, Barry played like a man insistent on being a regular, Wright-Philips played like a man given a sense of purpose and Micah Richards once again played like someone who could make Sol Campbell's return to fitness a redundant exercise.
Not quite the sort of thing you expect as a battle-weary English football supporter, but more confusion was to come. Wales played hosts to Germany in Group D. Here, the Germans won the game 2-0. So far, so unsurprising, but what I couldn't figure out for the life of me was why Wales didn't lose by more.
From what I saw of the game, the Welsh played with as much vigour and poise as a pensioner after his fifteenth cup of Horlicks. Germany should have been all over them and looking for a victory not dissimilar to their 13-0 beating of San Marino this time last year. What happened? Were they as disinterested as the Welsh last night?
Speaking of San Marino, their opponents yesterday were the Czech Republic. So let's set the scene: it's San Marino, going into the match with a record of seven defeats out of seven and one goal scored compared to 37 conceded, up against the Czechs who had lost only one of their previous seven qualifiers and had a goal difference of +11. That's the Czech Republic side currently ranked ninth in the world by FIFA and semi-finalists from Euro 2004.
So how did they do against San Marino (population: 29,000)? Did they win 5-0? 6-0? Surely 8-0? No - just a meagre 3-0 win for the mighty Czech Republic. Staggering. Surely the minnows of this world haven't suddenly become tactical supremos to deny such thrashings occurring, have they?
And what else left me perplexed? Northern Ireland lost to Latvia 1-0 but remained second in Group F because third-placed Spain could only draw 1-1 with Iceland. Somebody pinch me...
The Ukrainians, World Cup quarter-finalists last year, could only scrape a 1-1 draw against Georgia, Turkey could only draw 2-2 away to Malta, and here's the one that tops the lot - world Champions Italy remain third in Group B behind Scotland after a 0-0 draw against France. The Scots, to their credit, continued to show the sort of form which may very well see them qualify for the finals of Euro 2008 with a 3-1 win over Lithuania.
All in all then, I have the distinct feeling that nothing makes sense anymore. Maybe Wednesday night's games will restore some normality once again, but on the other hand, perhaps not...
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