ST MARY’S, MOTHER OF GOD
Look at last night’s scorelines in the European qualifiers. 0-3. 1-5. 1-3. 4-2. 3-0. 0-4. What a load of lopsided nonsense. Not a whole lot of edge-of-the-seat fun to be had there. But though international football breaks are becoming an increasingly predictable chore, there’s always one exception that proves the life-sucking rule. Hats off to England, then, who aren’t going to win anything anytime soon, but at least we’ll have a bit of fun along the way.
Step forward Michael Keane, then. Any direction but bloody sideways. It was Keane’s clumsy pass towards fellow central defensive rock, Harry Maguire, that set up Valon Berisha for Kosovo’s opening goal last night after a mere 34 seconds. As early blows go, it was nothing compared to Davide Gualtieri, San Marino, all that. Even so, had Kosovo continued to score at the same rate for the rest of the match, they’d have won 158-0, according to our back-of-fag-packet calculations, knocking AS Adema’s 2002 world-record win of 149-0 over Madagascan rivals SO l’Emyrne into a cocked hat. That’s not taking any added time into account either. However you spin them, these are not European Championship winning numbers.
Thankfully England rallied quickly to pepper Kosovo’s goal, going in 5-1 up at the break. Fans began to dream dreamy dreams of matching, or even bettering, the Three Lions’ biggest ever win in a competitive match, the nine-goal thumpings of Luxembourg in 1960 and 1982. It felt legitimate to get carried away at the time, though of course in retrospect everyone should have known not to be so effing daft. In the second half, Berisha played Puskas to Jordan Henderson’s Billy Wright, Maguire slid through the penalty area with the poise and grace of a man who had just accidentally fallen backwards down a water chute with a beer in both hands, and ... well, if Kosovo had got another, we’d have had one hell of a finish.
After the trippy, psychedelic, positively acid-soaked event, Gareth Southgate tried hard to make sense of it all. “It was bizarre ... really uncomfortable ... ridiculous mistakes ... poor decisions ... we made some crazy errors,” he mumbled, wearing the disconnected, glazed and somewhat queasy expression of a man spiritually several thousand miles away, trying to work out whether he was about to embark on an enlightening journey via the doors of perception, or simply go on a massive whitey. In the end, he chose to concentrate on the fact that England are pretty darn good going forward, with Raheem Sterling particularly sensational. Probably best to leave the analysis at that, and hope the next round of qualifiers prove a more typically mundane trip.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“This is the clear and irrevocable proof that he is the best player in the world” – Portugal boss Fernando Santos, not normally known for his humour, reckons His four goals against international heavyweights Lithuania were all that He needed to put an end to the GOAT debate.
“During England’s highly entertaining if absolutely ridiculous match against Kosovo, at one point Clive Tyldesley remarked “who says international football is boring?” Well, plenty of us say that on a regular basis, because a lot of international football is quite dull, especially when the games involve England either rolling over inferior opposition or failing to beat inferior opposition. Because of this, games like last night’s stand out in stark contrast. I imagine similar things get said about Formula 1, a sport capable of producing some incredibly dramatic moments on occasion, but for the most part – especially at the front of the race – makes for soporific viewing. Earlier this week, there was a lot of noise on various social media disgraces praising Clive’s meticulous pre-match preparation (and handwriting); perhaps his next lot of notes could contain the definition of the phrase “the exception to the rule.” – Ed Taylor.
“More terrible pitches [Monday’s Fiver]. I grew up in a small mining town in the middle of the Australian desert. The school oval was dirt strewn with small pebbles (the town had no trees much less grass) upon which we played soccer (football), football (Australian Rules football), cricket and hockey. Additional hazards were provided by the concrete cricket pitch and a mound of excess unused concrete next to that pitch” – Noel Jugovac.
“As usual, not one mention in the whole article of Poor Wee Norn Iron who were only a dodgy striker away from beating the mighty Germans in Belfast” – Shane Lockhead, and nobody else.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of a signed copy of John Nicholson’s new book Can We Have Our Football Back? is … Ed Taylor.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Vincent Kompany is – you guessed it! – missing his own testimonial at Manchester City due to hamstring twang.
Police in the Brazilian state of São Paulo have indicted the woman who accused Neymar of rape, charging her with fraud, extortion and slander.
The State of Football dept, part I: Kevin-Prince Boateng is dismayed that German football authorities did not deal more firmly with the Schalke chief suit, Clemens Tönnies, after he made racist comments at a conference in August. “How can that be a slip-up?’ he said. “His three-month break, who does that help? No one.”
The State of Football dept, part II: Barcelona’s Arda Turan has been given a suspended jail sentence for firing a gun and fighting with a Turkish singer on a night out in Istanbul.
Just before a trip to the Camp Nou and their opening Big Cup group game (against Chelsea), Valencia have sent manager Marcelino careering through a door marked Do One, replacing him with Albert Celades. Good luck, lads!
Aleksandar Mitrovic’s move from Anderlecht to Newcastle is among those being investigated after two arrests were made in connection with an inquiry in Belgium into alleged fraud involving transfers.
The FA is urging fans to attend a women’s match at any level of the pyramid over its first Women’s Football Weekend on 16-17 November.
And Curzon Ashton defender Mohamud Ali, who is a driving instructor in Manchester, has explained how he had to put lessons on hold to help Somalia win their first ever World Cup qualifying match. “I told my students that I’d be going away to play international football [against Zimbabwe],” he said. “They wanted to continue their lessons but they were all absolutely delighted for me and I assured them I’d be back really soon.”
STILL WANT MORE?
It’s been a busy international week so you’ll need it digested into 10 talking points.
Jadon Sancho is breathing down Marcus Rashford’s neck for that first-choice England place after his two-goal salvo against Kosovo, writes Andy Hunter.
England fans! Don’t panic! Paul MacInnes has more.
What’s the shortest distance between two clubs playing a cross-border European tie? The Fiver hasn’t the foggiest but thankfully The Knowledge has taken a deep dive into this and other questions.
Steve Clarke has been left to survey the grim state of Scottish fitba after chastening Hampden defeats by Russia and Belgium, says Ewan Murray.
Emile Heskey gets his chat on with Jamie Jackson about homesickness in Liverpool, finding a decent barber and falling asleep in front of Gérard Houllier.
Richie Wellens has Swindon looking up in League Two, and he has Lord Ferg among others to thank. Ben Fisher meets him.
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