In the absence of the radio show over the next month or so you can no longer hear my thoughts on the week’s footballing action. However you can now read about it so this week I’ll be talking all about the internationals that have taken place over the past few days. Before you ask I am well aware that there were games in League One and Two this weekend but don’t fear Alex Bartlett has got it covered in his Football League Team of the Week feature at the end. Anyway, lets get on with the football.
Defoe fires England past Lithuania
Basked in the sunshine at Wembley, England beat Lithuania 2-0 on Sunday thanks to goals from veteran strikers Jermain Defoe and Jamie Vardy. Anything less than a convincing victory would have been a massive disappointment for the Three Lions who have not lost a qualifier since 2009. The game as expected was pretty turgid and dull, and mostly consisted of England camped outside the Lithuanian box. The away side had one or two chances, with Joe Hart giving us all a Euro 2016 flashback with his error, but ultimately the win was never in doubt.
Recent call-up Ben Gibson did not get a game but Stones and Keane were pretty impressive in defence, which was set up in a traditional back four. For me the highlight was the multiple plays of ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ by The Verve and the undoubted lowlight was Clive Tyldesley and Glenn Hoddle’s commentary, it made me want ITV to bring back Andy Townsend, it was that bad.
Ireland v Wales overshadowed by Coleman leg break, Northern Ireland and Scotland clinch vital home victories
Ireland v Wales was a pretty unremarkable from a glance, a 0-0 draw that puts Ireland joint top on 11 points and Wales third on 7 points in Group D, but Seamus Coleman was on the end of a leg-breaking tackle from Neil Taylor. The scenes were too graphic to show on TV and Taylor was immediately dismissed. There were happier times for Northern Ireland who defeated Norway in Group C to move into second on 10 points in Group C. Germany still top the group with 15 points however.
Scottish fans finally have something to shout about as Chris Martin sent them to paradise (sorry had to make the joke) with a late winner against Slovenia. This puts the Scots on 7 points in Group F, still 6 points of group leaders England, who they play in June.
Rest of Europe Review
Lets take a quick sojourn around Europe, as article 50 has not been triggered quite yet, and see how the other groups are moving along. We have covered Groups C, D and F and things are looking pretty comfortable for Poland in Group E who are six points ahead of nearest rivals Montenegro and Denmark at the halfway stage. France lead the way in Group A with 13 points while the Dutch are trying their best to screw things up again as they set in fourth with 7 points, 6 behind the French. The Dutch could not qualify for the Euro’s and their World Cup chances are not looking great either. To make matters worse they’ve sacked their manager as well.
Group B looks quite exciting as well, with Switzerland over-preforming having gathered five straight wins so far. One of those wins was against European Champions Portugal who look to have gotten over their post-tournament hangover and find themselves in second on 12 points. Group G is perhaps even more delicately poised as Spain and Italy find themselves on 13 points a piece. Only one team gets through automatically so one of the two will have to win a play off.
Onto the final two groups and Group H is tight with Belgium, Greece and Bosnia-Hercegovina all within three points of each other. Belgium and their manager, the luckiest manager in football, Roberto Martinez could only muster a 1-1 draw against second place Greece at the weekend. From consistent under-achievers to consistent over-achievers Iceland are only three points off Group I leaders Croatia, while Ukraine and Turkey lag behind.
Around the World
The World rather bizarrely features countries from all around the world, so lets have a look what’s going on in these far flung places. The 1o South American countries all play each other twice in a 10 team super group, with the top 4 automatically qualifying while fifth has to go through a play-off. Brazil are currently way out in front after 13 games while it is tight between Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Ecuador and Chile. Copa America winners Chile in particular need to get their act together as a loss to Argentina has put them in 6th place, outside the qualifying positions. I’m sure Alexis Sanchez will take missing out on the World Cup very well.
Over in Oceania we are in the third stage of qualifying with New Zealand and Tahiti topping their groups. These nations have played more games than their rivals however as thing stand these teams go into a play off with one another to determine who goes to Russia next year.
In North America we are somehow on the fifth round of qualification and down to just six teams. The top three of Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama are set to go through as it stands but the USA are clipping their heels in 4th place, which currently only gives them a play-off spot. Still plenty of football to be played in this confederation.
Over in the Asian qualifiers we are also into the third round, which has divided the remaining teams into 2 groups of 6. Iran, South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia are leading proceedings after 6 games but with still 4 more to go Australia and Uzbekistan will be looking to catch up. Also a special mention to Syria, who have made it to the final stage in qualifying and are only 2 points off qualification.
In Africa we are into the third round of qualification there with the remaining 20 teams divided into five groups of 4 with only the winner of each group going through. There are still a lot of games to be played with only 2 out of 6 matches completed. As it stands DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Egypt are going to Russia.
Football League Catch Up
Despite the international break life goes on in League One and League Two as we get perilously close to the end of the season. In League One it seems pretty apparent that Sheffield United and Bolton Wanderers will clinch the automatic spots as they are 10 and 6 points clear of 3rd place Fleetwood respectively. With just 6 games to go the play-off race is hotting up as is the relegation battle. Coventry and Chesterfield look as good as down but its very tight between Swindon, Port Vale and Shrewsbury.
Down in League Two Donny and Plymouth both look set for a return to the third tier, as do Portsmouth who are 6 points ahead of 4th place Stevenage. They are certainly not promoted yet but Pompey fans might finally have something to shout about. The play-off race is exceedingly tight (more on that in a bit) while Leyton Orient and Newport County look doomed down at the bottom.
Football League Team of the Week: Exeter City by Alex Bartlett
Now we all know great comebacks, From Istanbul (Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan) right the way through to Goodistambul last season (Everton 2-3 West Ham.) This weekend Exeter city pulled off their own version. Trailing 3-0 in the 88th minute Exeter miraculously managed to steal a point, leaving friend of the show Max Cohen’s Yeovil Town shell shocked. The madness was started by David Wheeler and finished by Reuben Reid. What was more surprising about this game was it took Yeovil 60 minutes to break the deadlock. This was a crucial point for Exeter as they look to push for a place in the playoffs. Hope you all enjoy the Easter break.