By Dermot Clarke
Our boys open what could be a big season for them today, when they warm up for the forthcoming European championship game versus Macedonia with a home friendly against Paraguay. The game would probably have provided the type of test that Mick McCarthy would have liked, and a South American opposition are always likely to send the fans home happy, given the flamboyant style of approach often seen from the footballing folk from that region. But it seems the Paraguayans are sending a depleted squad to play the Republic.
We won’t be seeing the flamboyant Jose Luis Chilavert. The Paraguayan keeper is not only one of the best on the planet, but he is also the dead ball expert on the team. Somebody actually backed Chilavert to be top scorer in the World Cup — OK, fifty guarani isn’t a lot of money, but still the bet was struck. Jose Luis, not only takes the penalties, but he quite often manages to beat his opposite number with bending free-kicks for both club and country. It would have been nice to draw comparisons with Shay Given, but for whatever reason, the star attraction won’t be coming.
The Paraguayans, indeed, are quite like ourselves in many ways, a largely agricultural nation, with a similar population of five million plus (peace agreement taken into account) 90 percent being Roman Catholic, like ourselves (peace agreement not taken into account).
Their recent World Cup efforts would remind us a little of our own ventures also, a couple of stalemates, a surprise win, and a heart-breaking goal against the host nation that signals the end-ring a bell? Laurent Blanc’s golden goal put an end to Paraguay, the surprise package in last year’s World cup. On Monday the snow fell in Dublin, the afternoon training session was canceled as a result, Steve Staunton went home injured and the FAI started to panic. It’s beginning to look like what should have been a decent warm-up might turn into an ill-attended shambles.
Hoddle’s last straw
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Poor old Glenn Hoddle’s been given the boot and is no doubt drowning his sorrows with David Icke in a London hostelry as we speak. For those of you not familiar with David, he is a former professional goalkeeper who claimed he was "the savior returned," while he was gainfully employed as a snooker commentator by the British Broadcasting Corporation. "And on the seventh day he used the rest."
Hoddle’s final straw was his tenet that disabled people were being punished for the sins of a previous life. The irony here is that myself and many of my friends believe that being given the English coaching job was actually punishment for sins of a former life. Those of you who have seen the several pained expressions on Bobby Robson’s face during his tenure, and the almost rabid-like remonstrations of Graham Taylor on a Channel 4 documentary during his, will tend to agree with the beliefs of my acquaintances and mine.
Imagine though if Glenn had a point and we were punished, all of us for our sins of the past? What a team this might be Circa 2030 AD (3-4-3) Peter Schmeichel, Vinny Jones, Paul McGrath, Tony Adams, Paul Gascoigne, Paulo Di Canio, Dennis Wise, Eric Cantona. John Hartson, Alan Shearer, Stan Collymore (if absent revert to 3-5-3) with Roy Keane in midfield.
Coach: Glenn Hoddle. Faith Healer: Eileen Drewery. Physio: Not required. Alan Shearer gets in by virtue of the fact that the creator may not agree that you should be allowed kick an opposing player in the head just because you captain England. I don’t know what the team’s name would be, but Celtic would have great difficulty in wresting the Scottish title from them, that’s for sure.
Hammers nailed again
If Paul Simon hailed from the East End of London and was at this moment composing "El Condor Pasa," he would probably delete the line "I’d rather be a hammer than a nail." The Hammers are having a tough time of it at the moment. An embarrassing Cup defeat by Swansea a couple of weeks back only went to underline the fact that the team were performing below par. Then, on Saturday, they suffered the indignity of having Arsenal score their monthly ration against them in one 90-minute spell, the Gunners winning 4 nil.
Ole Gunnar Solskj’r needs only 10 minutes to score four goals apparently, in an amazing spell from minute 80 until the finish, the Norwegian, who had just come on as substitute, banged in four to double his team’s tally against Nottingham Forest to 8. Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke had earlier bagged two apiece with the lone reply for Forest coming from Rogers.
Liverpool and Chelsea both won but the Villa slide continued when they fell at home to Blackburn 3-1. Everton threw themselves into the relegation quagmire, when, after taking a 1-0 lead to the break, they allowed the opposition, Derby County, to take control and Deon Burton’s two goals gave the home team the points. If Everton continue in this fashion, the game will lose another piece of tradition, for next year anyway, the Mersey side Derby.
In Scotland it’s as you were, at least as far as the big guns are concerned, Celtic and Rangers both scoring 3-0 victories. The bhoys crept to within 10 points, briefly, when Henrik Larsson took his tally to an amazing 24 for the season with a hat trick that had coach Joe Venglos proclaim him as one of Europe’s best. The Rangers win wasn’t as facile as the scoreline suggests, but Sunday’s win took them 13 clear again a comfortable looking lead to say the least.
No real surprises in the FAI Cup, Shelbourne, Bray Wanderers, Derry City, Sligo Rovers, St. Patricks Athletic, Kilkenny City and Galway will be joined by either Finn Harps or Cork City in the final eight. And the draw for the quarterfinals sees Derry entertaining Shelbourne in the tie of the round, Kilkenny will host the winners of the Finn Harps-Cork City replay, St. Pat’s must travel to Galway and Sligo were drawn at home to Bray. The games will be played on the weekend of March 7.