No Challengers?

by Nathan Adams ©Nathan Adams (November 15th 2014)

Nathan Adams at Wembley

Centurions

Manchester Unitedʼs Wayne Rooney marked his 100th appearance with a real captainʼs performance, which anchored the Three Lions to a 3-1 win against Srečko Katanecʼs Slovenian side. Nearly 300 male players have reached that milestone – the most recent being the Republic of Irelandʼs John OʼShea yesterday. Two more are due to join the club tomorrow in the same match Italy v Croatia – Romaʼs one club defensive midfielder Daniele de Rossi and VfL Wolfsburgʼs Ivica Olić. But this evening was about Rooney.

They have a long way to go if they intend to catch the man with the most caps, Egyptian great Ahmed Hassan on 184. They certainly wonʼt match the most capped international footballer of all time, the USAʼs Kristine Lilly, who is a full 51 caps ahead of her nearest competitor. Lilly boasts an incredible 352 caps!

Captainʼs Performance

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After a goalless and rather drab first half, the match sprang to life when Slovenia took the lead through a Jordan Henderson own-goal from Milivoje Novakovićʼs cross. Almost straight from the kick-off England attacked. Sloveniaʼs captain Boštjan Cesar inexplicably upended Rooney in the box, earning a booking and conceding a penalty which Rooney dispatched to settle Englandʼs nerves and keep the over 80,000 crowd onside.

Slovenia Celebrate

Mariborʼs goalkeeper Samir Hanadanović got a hand to it, but could not deny Rooney his goal, which brought him level on Englandʼs all time list with the great Jimmy Greaves. Only Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby Charlton ahead of him – he could claim third place in his own right against Scotland on Tuesday night in Glasgow. With nerves settled the stage was set for Arsenalʼs Danny Welbeck to grab some headlines of his own, netting a brace.

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Handanović denied Liverpoolʼs Adam Lallana with his legs, but it was headed out carelessly by Mišo Brečko to Welbeck who scuffed his shot past the crestfallen keeper. A neat interchange of passes with Liverpoolʼs Raheem Sterling got the finish it deserved from Welbeck to give England their third and the former Manchester United Striker his second.

False Dawn?

Slovenia made their presence felt by throwing in some very physical challenges early on. Luckily no England players were hurt as a result of the crunching tactics begun by Aleš Mertelj in the first 5 minutes. Lallana was left in a crumpled heap. Portuguese referee Olegário Benquerença had a firm word with the Mariborʼs midfielder after another rustic challenge on Rooney after 12 minutes.

Ales Mertelj

But that was to be expected. Slovenia came to spoil and smash and grab. England had to outwit these tactics and in the first half they didnʼt have an answer. Throughout the first half England seemed to have no sense of direction in relation to their play and unaware of the movement of their own team players around them.

What seems to be definitely missing from the team is a strong play-maker in the centre of midfield. Having Rooney up front is all well and good, but a player with the same influence and respect from both team-mates and opposition is a must for midfield. Through out the first half I donʼt believe there was any direct play from the England team. Over 90 percent of the crosses were very poor quality and incomplete.

Positives

There was a marked improvement in the second half, which saw an injection of pace with Sterling playing in multiple positions sometimes in front of midfield and others deep in midfield and being the centre of movement within the team. Slovenia took a shock lead after 57 minutes due to Henderson’s header. Joe Hart had no chance.

Slovenia Celebrate

Thankfully, due to the new Captain Marvel, we didnʼt need to wait very long for a reply, as he won the penalty and converted it. After 58 minutes game on! England seemed to grow in confidence with direct passing and fluent movement. Sterling continued his runs from a forward position and then deep in midfield.

Despite being named Man of the Match it seemed as though Wilshere is not putting in as much work as Sterling in midfield. I thought that Sterling, rather than Wilshere should have had the award. Another positive was the performance of Southamptonʼs Nathaniel Clyne who had a decent game and grew from strength to strength as the match progressed. Overall a well deserved 3-1 win for England, which established a substantive six point lead at the top of the group after four matches.

England Celebrate Goal

Upset

During the press conference I had the pleasure of asking England manager Roy Hodgson about my personal view of the teamʼs performance. “Do you feel that the lack of awareness and link up play was an issue as players are unaware of team-mateʼs movement”. Hodgson was neither impressed nor amused. “No”, he replied tersely before rapidly moving on to the next question.

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The Slovenian team were also upset with the FA as they were advised that the team were not allowed to walk from the nearby Hilton Hotel to Wembley Stadium. They had wanted to savour every moment of the Wembley experience, although it later emerged that they didnʼt really think that they could or would get a result at Wembley. They came looking for a point. Perhaps the occasion finally got to them as both Mertelj and Chievoʼs winger Valter Birsa implied afterwards.

Valter Birsa

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The Battle of Seconds

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 12th 2014)

Victory

Fazio

Tottenham Hotspurʼs Federico Fazio was happy with the win if his Argentina team beaten a second string Croatia 2-1 at the Boleyn Ground – home of West Ham United. Croatiaʼs second-string – the regulars remained at home to prepare for this weekendʼs vital Euro2016 qualifier against Italy – took a shock and against the run of play 11th minute lead, courtesy of Anas Sharbiniʼs first goal for his country in only his second match. Interʼs Mateo Kovačić provided the assist.

Despite dominating the first half Argentina, captained by Lionel Messi, back to his mesmerising best, trailed to Sharbiniʼs strike. The move began on the right flank before working it inside to Kovačić, who beat Christian Ansaldi and found Sharbini on the left of the area. The mixed-race – Croatian and Palestinian – midfielder finished with aplomb across Sampdoriaʼs Sergio Romero from 10 yard out.

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Astonishing

Argentina created chance after chance. Sevillaʼs Ever Banega wasted a glorious opportunity created by the first of many mazy runs by Messi from the right wing into the left of the area. Banega missed after 5 minutes. The normally clinical Sergio Agüero had one shot well saved by Croatian goalkeeper for the night Lovre Kalinić, another volleyed straight at the keeper, failed to collect a Messi pass and prodded two shots wide from Messi passes after mazy runs all in the space of ten minutes without scoring.

Premier League defences had best savour the moment. Rarely has the in-form Kun proved so profligate. Messi was also denied. Another mazy run treading the same path as before, a one-two with Ansaldi, resulted in Messi shooting into the side-netting. He also hit the post in the second half with the keeper well beaten. However both Messi and Agüero would not be denied, albeit in controversial fashion for Kun.

Reward

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When Agüero got his goal only the eagle-eyed noticed it – well them and the replays. 3 minutes into the second half Ansaldiʼs fierce shot from just outside the area was deflected in past Kalinić by Agüero taking protective action. It went in off his arm with Kalinić stranded.

12 minutes into the second half Messi found Agüero on the left of the six yard box. Kalinić brought him down, conceding a penalty. Messi converted it. 

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Returning Idols

The Hammersʼ fans got to see the great Lionel Messi in the flesh, but by far the biggest cheers of the night greeted the return of 2007 West Ham hero Carlos Tévez. Will you please welcome Argentina and West Ham legend, Carlos Tévez”, as , the announcer said after 62 minutes as Agüero was replaced. Tévez received a standing and loud ovation despite the sparse crowd.

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But West Hamʼs former idol could not provide the fairytale goal despite a glorious chance made for him by Manchester Unitedʼs Ángel di María, which Tévez pulled just wide of the post. He also spurned another chance by heading Pablo Zabaletaʼs cross straight at Kalinić.

Midway through the second half the other Argentinian returning Hammer from the 2007 season Javier Mascherano, unleashed a pile-driver, which Kalinić saved. Five minutes earlier Barçelonaʼs defensive midfield enforcer inflicted a crunching shin high tackle on Tin Jedvaj. Not only did Mascherano not receive a card – friendly or not – but referee Lee Probert didnʼt even award the Roma defender currently on loan to Bayer Levekusen a free kick.

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Argentina got the win and Croatiaʼs second team showed spirit that pleased the President of Croatian Football Federation Davor Šuker. “[They] need to give back to Croatian national team and I think we have great performance”, Šuker said, “and we have great future in the Croatian football federation”. Croatia face Italy at the weekend and Argentina will face Cristiano Ronaldoʼs Portugal at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

Too Little, Too Late

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 25th 2014)

First Win

Safet Sušicʼs Bosnia-Herzegovina team claimed their first ever win in the World Cup Finals – a 3-1 win over Carlos Queirozʼ Iran. After his strong comments about Peter OʼLeary – the New Zealander who refereed their previous match against Nigeria – being the reason that they lost that match, Manchester Cityʼs Edin Džeko let his feet do the talking to great effect..

Romaʼs Miralem Pjanić put Džeko through midway into Iranʼs half. After beating Amir Hossein Saghedi, Džeko shot from 25 yards out. His placement was excellent. Alireza Haghighi stood no chance. Džekoʼs shot to his left went in off the post to give him his first goal in the competition and Bosnia the lead.

Sušicʼs team kept the lead until half-time. They doubled their lead after 58 minutes through a deft finish by Pjanić. After a build up of Iranian pressure Jalal Hosseini gave possession away. Džeko passed to Safet Sušicʼs nephew Tino-Sven Sušic. The Hajduk Split midfielder put Pjanić through to score – a goal that left Iran with a mountain to climb. Queirozʼ team had to win to progress and then needed a favour from Argentina.

Hopes Dashed

With less than ten minutes of normal time remaining Reza Ghoochennejhad gave Iran hope with a tap-in from Javad Nekounamʼs pass. Bosnia had themselves to blame. Defensively they conceded corners and failed to clear decisively. The ping pong eventually found its way to Nekounam, who squared for an easy goal.

Not even Asmir Begović could prevent that, but no sooner had Iran forced the door slightly ajar than an irritated Bosnia struck back with a sweeping move down the right flank. Avdija Vršajević latched onto to Sejad Salihovićʼs pass and struck it sweetly off the far post – Haghighi had no chance.

Strange Effort

While Bosnia played for pride and restored honour, Iranʼs tactics were baffling Bosnia with little to play for dominated possession and played like the team that needed a win to progress, while Iran seemed strangely disinterested. Argentina did them the necessary favour, but Quierozʼ team failed to do themselves justice.

Shortly after Bosnia took the lead Fulhamʼs Ashkan Dejagah put Massoud Shojaei through on the right of the area. Shojaei shot powerfully from 15 yards out, but hit the crossbar. The rebound fell to Ghoochennejhad, but he fluffed the chance badly. Fortunately for him he was penalised correctly for offside. That summed up Iranʼs evening and Carlos Queiroz resigned.

 

Super-Eagles Soar Again

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 21st 2014)

Resurrected

African Champions Nigeria resurrected their hopes of qualification with an impressive performance against World Cup Finals débutants Bosnia-Herzegovina. Stoke Cityʼs Peter Odemwingie scored the matchʼs only goal, although Manchester Cityʼs Edin Džeko had a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside.

Replays proved that the officials led by New Zealander Peter OʼLeary were wrong. Both the referee and his assistant were in perfectly good position to see that Džekoʼs goal should have stood – yet another poor decision by the officials.

As the match was drawing to a close Džeko, who had been profligate, especially by his high standards, turned and shot. Lilleʼs Vincent Enyeama saved with his leg onto his post. Replays established that OʼLeary had missed a blatant hand ball by Džeko to control it when turning to shoot. It was a bookable offence.

Historic

Nigeriaʼs victory was their first at this stage for 16 years and its was deserved – they were by far the better team. Emmanuel Emenike – anonymous against Iran was galvanised to justify his tag as potential star of the tournament. Targeting Bosnian captain Emir Spahić, Emenike out-muscled the Bayer Leverkusen defender and pulled it back for Odemwingie to shoot between Asmir Begovićʼs legs for the only goal of the match – the one that condemns Bosnia-Herzegovina to elimination at the group stage.

While Begović excelled and Romaʼs Miralem Pjanić pulled strings to supply Džeko, the Manchester City forward found Enyeama equal to his efforts. Musa was denied by Begović twice and John Mikel Obi hit the side-netting from 20 yards out. Pjanić brought a smart save from Enyeama.

Meanwhile, Spahić was proving to be a liability. His dreadful pass after just 6 minutes gave possession to CSKA Moscowʼs Ahmed Musa. Haris Medunjanin was booked for hauling Musa back. Odemwingieʼs free-kick went close, but a clear deflection for a corner was missed by the officials. Spahić would later be out-muscled by Emenike for the goal.

Nigeria in particular chased more with efforts by Emenike, Michel Babatunde and Lazioʼs Ogenyi Onaze thwarted by Begović. Enyeama proved to be an effective final barrier too with his second clean sheet afte, r denying Pjanić and Džeko after the break. Only a Iranian victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina can deny the Super-Eagles a place in the last 16. With a likely clash against a rampant France in store for the second placed team in Group F, Stephen Keshi knows that a victory over group favourites Argentina would be welcome, providing an extra incentive if one were needed not to settle for a draw.