Although I love my international football, like Nick and I several others I have that longing for when Fulham will be back in action and we can catch up on the news from Craven Cottage. After what seems like an age, the international fixtures have been completed and we can look forward to the game against Wigan on Saturday.
I should start our international round-up with a few words on another impressive England win. It’s one thing beating a defensively-minded Israel at Wembley but defeating Hiddink’s Russia with such ease was outstanding. I’ve never been one of Emile Heskey’s biggest fans, but you have to give McClaren credit for calling him back into the squad for these two games. The warmest words of praise have to go to Gareth Barry, who turned in another immense performance in central midfield. He was everywhere – breaking up Russian attacks on the edge of and inside his own penalty area, crossing for Michael Owen’s well-taken first goal and playing as the anchor man in midfield allowing Steven Gerrard to get forward.
You’ve got to ask real questions about whether the likes of Rooney and Lampard deserve to be handed an automatic recall when they are fit again. Perhaps you could bring back Owen Hargreaves and shift Barry out to the left in place of the ineffectual Joe Cole. Perhaps David Beckham will be feeling a little better this morning as Shaun Wright-Phillips failed to replicate his brilliant performance against Israel. Whilst he has pace to burn and frightens full-backs, time and time again his final ball let England down: against the top sides that could well prove costly.
A quick word on an outstanding performance by Scotland in Paris that really throws that group open. Few expected Alex McGleish’s side to come away from the Parc des Princes with the draw they had targeted, even less the precious victory that puts them in pole position to qualify. It was the perfect smash and grab raid. Obstinate in defence (with Craig Gordon and Stephen McManus outstanding), soaking up plenty of French pressure and dangerous on the counter-attack. The sweetest of strikes from James McFadden (you should watch it here) capped a truly sensational evening.
Wales turned in the kind of performance that must really infuriate John Toshack. They looked so meek and submissive against the Germans on Saturday and then went and absolutely demolished Slovakia last night. Craig Bellamy was outstanding – scoring a couple of goals and making another – when he plays like that he’s virtually unstoppable. I was pleased to see our very own Simon Davies score the fifth goal to get on the scoresheet and would be delighted to see Simon banging them in for us from wide on the right. Sadly, such a majestic performance has been the exception to the rule recently for the Welsh and they face the start of another qualifying campaign before they can begin to contemplate reaching a major finals.
There was more bad news for Northern Ireland I’m afraid, following up a dismal performance in Latvia with the defeat in Iceland which just about ends their chances of reaching Austria and Switzerland next summer. For the life of me I can’t understand what Nigel Worthington was thinking of by tinkering with the defence that had served Lawrie Sanchez so well for these crunch matches. Some appalling defending gifted the Icelandics a couple of goals either side of a David Healy penalty that restored some belief. However, given the massive strides made by Northern Ireland over the last couple of years there’s absolutely no reason to be downcast.
In more directly Fulham-related news, the Daily Mail showcases Clint Dempsey’s rapping ability. Even I recknon they’ve gone a little too far in talking about the prospect of a Cup final single – and I’m one of the most optimistic Fulham fans I know. The same paper reckons that Shefki Kuqi is in line for his Fulham debut on Saturday, citing Healy’s calf injury as the reason why the Finn could be called into the starting line-up. There’s a nice interview with Alexei Smertin on the offal, with a good line about his deflected goals. Perhaps we should start calling him Frank.
I’ll be back with a Wigan preview soon.