Tottenham, Real Madrid and Rangers players in the spotlight for Euro 2016 qualifiers
Rejoice, football lovers, for when the sun is settling down and the wind shooting through Wembley stadium this Friday evening, you’ll at least be in the company of ONE OF YOUR OWN. Harry Kane, that lad at school who treated his Adidas ‘preds’ better than you did your girlfriend. Harry Kane, who of course skipped class to watch Sven’s men in a Chingford pub called the Sirloin. Harry Kane, not just boyhood Spurs (oops) but ‘patriotic England fan . . . sang God Save the Queen with pride, always do.’ One of us. One of us.
Yes, international week, where European football comes to die, has rolled round once more. First to discuss is England vs Lithuania, a match Roy Hodgson’s players – debut-ready Kane excepted – care so little about that they’re not even bothering to watch the individually-tailored videos that their manager has so painstakingly put together in advance. Not that it would make much difference, the squad being what it is.
England win 1/10
Lithuania win 18/1
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
A flurry of injuries means that Rob Green, as sharp as a bag of wet mice to paraphrase the real star of Sunday’s Clasico, deputises for Joe Hart. Andros Townsend, to Arjen Robben what Hugo is to Bart, covers for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. And so worried is Hodgson by the threat of Saulius Mikoliunas, the Lithuanian winger formerly of Hearts and now at Belarusian club Shakhtyor Soligorsk, that he has called up three left-backs in Leighton Baines, Kieran Gibbs, and Danny Rose.
Expect a drab England win in the manner of every England win: 0-0 at the hour; a twitchy Andy Townsend, Clive; a cheap penalty for 1-0 and a deflected free kick to seal it. But do enjoy Harry Kane, the everyman with the remarkable ability to leave supporters even more open-mouthed than he is.
Israel vs Wales
Wales, the only home nation to play away from home, will leave Europe behind for the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa. The long trip to Israel, however, will not worry them so much as the form of their opponents. Wales (333/100 with Intertops.eu) have been solid, with two wins and two draws from their opening matches; Israel (5/6) have been perfect, their 100% record comprising an especially impressive 3-0 defeat of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Facing the twin-hindrance of tough opponents and the management of Chris Coleman, that Wales are even in with a chance here tells you something about the talent in their starting eleven. Exhibit A: Britain’s best midfield, lovely little Joe Allen and the now sadly bearded Aaron Ramsey supplemented by the even beardier Joe Ledley. And Exhibit B: It’s Gareth Bale, taking some time off from making Cristiano cry to chill with Hal Robson-Kanu. Granted, not enough to win a match all by themselves, but probably enough to give Tal Ben-Haim a good working over.
This, though, is not the time for rational analysis. With Wales teasing a first major tournament appearance in nearly 60 years, it’s time to stop what you’re doing, stand up, and listen to Paul Robeson belt out Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. Imma let you finish, Harry Kane, but Wales got one of the best anthems of all time.
Scotland vs Gibraltar
Scotland’s squad, meanwhile, are ‘not special yet,’ assistant manager Mark McGhee helpfully pointed out this week. Beat Gibraltar, who boast four losses from four, a goal difference of -21, and 13 players from the almost certainly fictional Lincoln Red Imps F.C., and they’re one step closer. The whole world is watching. And a 6-0 home win is shorter odds than smaller margins of victory.
Northern Ireland vs Finland
Off the back of a friendly against Scotland, Northern Ireland face Finland knowing that a win could put them a massive five points clear of third place with half of the campaign gone. This is wonderful news for the neutral, Norn Iron suddenly emerging as the most don’t-give-a-damn of all the home nations.
First there was January’s Ballon d’Or boycott, the Irish Football Association – alone among peers – failing to send their voting ballots back to FIFA on time. In any case, manager Michael O’Neill didn’t deem Lionel Messi to be one of the world’s best three players; Ronaldo, Philipp Lahm, and Thomas Mueller would, save for the IFA’s incompetency, have been his preferred choices. There’s also Jonny Evans, eligible for this match despite having eyeballed and spat at a man lying on the floor, before then going on to brazenly deny the subsequent FA charge. And what about the call-up for Shane Ferguson, coming as a great surprise to loan club Rangers who were told that he would be injured for the rest of the season?
No matches played, but a strong year so far for the Northern Irish – and with 43 in the world rankings coming up against 78 on Sunday, it might well be that they take that scintillating off-field form on to the pitch and cap an unusually exciting international break.
Betting Instinct tip – Northern Ireland to keep up their unlikely run with a win is 17/10 with Intertops.eu
KIERAN DODDS is a masters student and writer. He has written about sport, politics and current affairs for the Guardian, the Huffington Post, Africa is a Country, When Saturday Comes, IBWM and others. Follow Kieran on Twitter.