By Dermot Clarke
As far as Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales were concerned, the best footballing decision of the weekend was probably made by the Irish government. The refusal to issue visas to the Yugoslavs could work in favor of the Republic of Ireland in the long run. Dismal results for the other three — England 0-0 with Sweden at Wembley. Scotland were away with the Faroes and could only bring back a point, and Bobby Gould resigned as Welsh coach after his side were beaten, 4-0, by Italy.
Wembley Stadium offers no real home advantage to the England team. Kevin Keegan should take a leaf out of the Spanish book and take his team around the country to play internationals. Imagine England playing at Old Trafford with four of the local heroes on the pitch. OK, it may still end up 0-0, but at least we would have atmosphere. Even a trip a little further up to Newcastle, who knows, it might put a new spring in Alan Shearer’s step.
I paid $20 to watch England vs. Sweden on Saturday morning. They now join a list that includes Mike Tyson, World Wrestling Federation and the trucks with the big wheels as no-nos in my apartment henceforth as far as pay-per-view is concerned.
They started with Andy Cole and Alan Shearer up front. Cole seemed lost without Dwight Yorke and Shearer seemed lost without Cole. The other three United players? Well, Beckham wasted several free kicks, Scholes gave away several, left his mark on several Swedes and, not content with the booking that disqualified him from today’s game in Bulgaria, he had himself sent to the line for the last in a series of "miss-timed" tackles. Scholes, a short while back the hat-trick hero against Poland, became the villain of the piece on Saturday. Neville played well and I still think the team might have snatched a victory at Old Trafford.
The only excuse I can think of for Scholes’s display is that he may have been told by his boss that he was to be the man to fill the shoes of Paul Ince. The game had barely begun when Mild had to be stretchered off after receiving a gashed thigh courtesy of Scholes. This somehow went unnoticed by the referee, who, in fairness, is Spanish. The United midfielder should have realized that he got away extremely lightly and proceeded with caution thereafter, but a little later on he was booked for a foul on Stefan Schwartz and on 51 minutes he was sent off for his third bad foul of the day.
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Sweden had the better of the first half, chance-wise anyway. They could have gone in two up. The best chance fell to Henrik Larsson, who made a great run to meet the inch-perfect cross of Arsenal’s Fredrik Ljungberg, the Celt, though, couldn’t steer his header goalward, much to the relief of David Seaman, who was left rooted to the line. England, before the sending off looked uncomfortable. They seemed more at ease with 10 men, it was as if this gave them an excuse in the event of defeat for the media. A few minutes after the sending off it was evident that this game would end scoreless. Sweden had come for a draw and were satisfied with the way things were moving along nicely and England were without the resources needed to eke out a win in a man-down situation. There was some hope when Robbie Fowler took off his tracksuit top briefly, but then the hapless Beckham went down and Keegan, with only one throw of the dice remaining, had to replace him with another middle man in Ray Parlour.
The game did end 0-0 and now it looks like England will have to slug it out with Poland for a playoff spot; the group looks to be Sweden’s. England’s game against Bulgaria tonight won’t be easy, either. They could be without Shearer, Beckham and Le Saux, and Scholes is suspended. Michael Gray, who replaced the ill Le Saux on Saturday, could start. He was one of the few positives for England on Saturday. The Sunderland youngster could be around for a long time.
Bring on Macedonia
It looks like the Ireland-Macedonia game will go ahead. The Macedonians caused a minor shock by holding Croatia to a draw on Saturday. They are no pushovers. It looks like Alan Kelly will take over in goal for the injured Shay Given. Roy Keane is out: a big worry, of course, but I think we can win it, though. The friendly victory over Sweden should have proven that we have enough strength in reserve to cope with the likes of Macedonia.
It would be unfair to talk about our Celtic friends Scotland and Wales. They each had a bad weekend, so let’s leave it at that.
Mark Bosnich became the second Manchester United player to be arrested in the past month. Allegations of robbery were made by an agency photographer after Bosnich had left the Legs Eleven night club in Bermingham. It was Bosnich’s stag night and we can now only imagine what went on inside, unless, of course, the man gets his camera back.
Baffled over Bould
I’m having a lot of trouble with America on Line at the moment. It takes me ages to log on, even longer to log off and just last week on soccernet I read that Steve Bould was about to sign for Liverpool. I think it’s a hacker. Surely Gerard Houllier can’t be seriously thinking of signing the 36-year-old understudy. Perhaps he has the scoop on an upcoming over-40s European Cup or something. The man has me baffled at the moment, I have to say.