Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Home Nations need Reality Check

Two years ago, during European Championships qualification, Scotland scored two late goals to overcome Liechtenstein 2-1 at Hampden Park, a result that kept their flickering qualification hopes alive  - barely.

This week, a fellow British team pulled respect from the jaws of defeat as Northern Ireland scored late on to draw 1-1 with the Azerbaijan, with old boy, David Healy, coming up trumps.

In both games the home crowds went wild – more out of relief than delight of beating a major rival. The apparent embarrassment of losing to such lowly footballing nations would have left Northern Ireland the laughing stock of Group F had they fallen to Azerbaijan at home.

Yet should we still expect our home nations to ‘perform’ on the international stage? When Scotland beat Liechtenstein, back in September 2010, there was a feeling around Hampden that they deserved victory before kick off, such is the history of football in Scotland and their domestic league strength compared to Liechtenstein.

It is a feeling many England fans and Betfair football pundits voiced when playing Macedonia and, recently, Moldova: ‘Why should we play these small teams in qualifying, let them play each other so we can get on with it.’

This unfortunate attitude is very dangerous for the greater good of football that does not focus solely on the home nations. For none of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales have any divine right to overturn international opponents, despite the history and development apparently in our domestic leagues.

International football has grown since these four were even remotely powerhouses in the game and we can now expect ‘smaller’ nations, such as Azerbaijan, Macedonia, and Moldova, to put up a fight against our national teams.

It may be embarrassing to draw or lose to such lowly opposition, but they nevertheless have as much right to play international football as we do and fans must realise this before they criticise their teams for apparent underachievement.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Forster eyes World Cup place

Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster says he’s now aiming to seal his place in the England squad for the 2014 World Cup following his recent heroics against Barcelona.

The 24-year-old has been earning rave reviews since moving to the Bhoys on loan in 2010 and his performances in last season’s title winning campaign persuaded the Glasgow giants to pay Newcastle £2.5million for his permanent signature in the summer.

He has once again impressed so far this term, helping Celtic to some impressive live scores         
, and after years of taking the plaudits in Scotland, he finally earned some recognition south of the border, as he was called up to the England squad for the recent World Cup qualifiers.

Following his match winning performance in Celtic’s Champions League win over Barcelona, as result that stunned punters gambling online,  he was once again included in the party for Wednesday’s friendly with Sweden.

Despite being yet to make his debut, Forster is being tipped to earn his first cap in Stockholm and is seen by many as current incumbent Joe Hart’s biggest long-term competition for the Three Lions number one jersey.

The ambitious stopper is understandably pleased with his form and is now eyeing a place in the 23-man squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"I was in the England squad for the last World Cup qualifiers and I'm in again this time which is great," Forster said. "England is something I've been aiming for and I enjoyed getting to work with Joe Hart when we met up with the last squad. He's a great guy as is the goalkeeping coach Dave Watson.

"That fortnight was an important experience for me and, having watched the last World Cup on TV, I've got to be aiming to get to Brazil with England for the next one."

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Hodgson Aiming to Put the Pride Back into the Three Lions

Roy Hodgson may not have stepped into the England manager’s role with quite the same reputation as some of his recent predecessors, but what he lacks in top level success he is certainly making up for in enthusiasm.
Over recent years players seem to have grown to consider playing for England as a burden, an inconvenience that they could do without. After watching squad after squad filled with players who could win the Champions league at club level but fail to make any impression in major international tournaments, it seems that Roy Hodgson has had enough apart from just improving England’s results and scores he also wants to restore pride in the shirt.
 "When people are called up I expect them to come running, get on a bicycle and cycle to the training session if they have to, then they shake hands with everyone and tell everyone how happy they are to be there” he told news sport reporters.
Since becoming England manager it seems that Hodgson has had to endure more than his fair share of disruption caused by withdrawals from his squad. His message to those players who regularly pull out of squads for no good reason seems be simple- if you aren’t interested in playing for England then we aren’t interested in you.
"It is very simple for me: to be asked to play for England is a major honour and a major feather in people's caps," said Hodgson. "I am not interested in people who are deciding whether England is where they want to be or whether they want to be somewhere else.”
After the apathy of the Eriksson, McClaren and Capello eras, Roy Hodgson’s pride and belief in the England squad and what it means to play for England is a real breath of fresh air. If Roy can pass his enthusiasm on to his young charges then all might not be lost for England just yet.