More used to surfing into major tournaments on a wave of good performances, excellent results, ultimately misguided optimism and upbeat chat about who they’d rather face in the first knockout round after topping their group, it will be a different England who travel to the Human Rights World Cup in November. Having reached the semi-finals at Russia 2018 and the final of Euro Not 2020, Gareth Southgate has taken the sensible step of quelling optimism by masterminding England’s worst run of results since 1992, overseeing six consecutive games without a win and getting them relegated from the top tier of the Nations League in the process. That HRWC group draw assorted pundits described as being “favourable” back in April continues to look a good one, particularly if you’re fans of Wales, Iran or Team USA! USA!! USA!!!
Once described as the second most important job in the UK after that of prime minister, such is the nationwide bin-fire that has been lit and continues to be vigorously stoked by feckless recent occupants of 10 Downing Street and their deviant cohorts, that the role of England manager is now undeniably the highest office in the land. And with Liz Truss set to increase the collective misery, it is to the statesmanlike Gareth and his players that England fans will turn for much-needed succour as they sit skint and huddled around a candle for warmth in their freezing homes, planning to possibly even light it for a few minutes as a special treat in the event of a few England victories.
While there were several positives to be taken from Monday’s 3-3 draw against Germany, there remains one omnipresent negative in the form of the luckless Harry Maguire. Already under the microscope following a wretched run of form that has seen him lose his place in the Manchester United team, the England centre-back was left clutching his famously slab-like head in his hands on two occasions after gifting Germany two of their goals. In the face of mounting criticism for his unwavering loyalty to Maguire, Southgate has repeatedly justified the player’s inclusion in his starting line-up on the grounds that he has “never let me down”. After being let down in almost comical style twice at Wembley, the England manager has a big decision to make.
You would need a heart of flint not to sympathise with Maguire, whose performance was rivalled only by that of the pound and it might not be a stretch to suggest that even the player himself might welcome a spell out of the firing line, given the poor sod can’t seem to do right for doing wrong on both the international and domestic front. With United due to visit their noisy neighbours on Sunday, Maguire is likely to be spared further embarrassment, although given his recent luck, one or both of Lisandro Martínez and Raphaël Varane will almost certainly succumb to knack in the interim. Damned if he doesn’t play and even more damned when he does, Maguire’s England place looks in unprecedented jeopardy. “I have to accept there’s going to be a huge amount of noise,” tooted Southgate. “There has been around individual and team selections. But if I’m going to be wishy-washy, change my mind and not give us the best chance of winning, then it’s pointless me doing it.” In the meantime, fan opprobrium will rain down on his centre-half until morale improves.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Close your eyes and feel the breath on the back of your neck of every man, woman and child in this land. That’s the people of Wales, your people. Feel their breath quickening. Hear their blood drumming in your ears. Pounding through your heart. Bursting in your chest. That’s the blood of Wales. That’s your blood. Red as the ancient book of dreams. Red as the rising flag of Merthyr. Red as the great wall of Gwalia. Because that’s what you carry with you boys, across 64 years, across half the span of the world!” – Michael Sheen sees good on his promise to give a rousing speech to the Wales team – and finds new and interesting things to roar at them in the hope they will be inspired by his words at the HR World Cup.
— Wales 🏴 (@Cymru) September 26, 2022
Jack Leslie was a true football pioneer, being called up by England in 1925 and then cruelly overlooked. Let David Squires tell you more.
“Re: plans to build a ‘hub of football for the north of England’, whereby ‘the hope is that big teams from the south, abroad, That London, etc, will fly into Doncaster Sheffield airport when playing up north and pitch camp with them’ (Friday’s Fiver). Now, on Big Website: ‘Doncaster Sheffield airport is to close later this year, its owners have confirmed’. It was a good plan while it lasted” – Ed Coutts.
“Yesterday showed once again that Harry Maguire needs to not fall over when trying to prevent people going past him. Help is now at hand – just arrange to play all future fixtures aboard the plane flying at 20,230 feet and zero gravity will keep him upright. It’s a clumsy and undignified spectacle, to be sure, so he should feel quite at home” – Charles Antaki.
“According to the internet, the lifespan of a hornet is 12-22 days. This may explain Watford’s approach to their manager recruitment” – John De la Cruz.
“I was greatly troubled by the claim from Turkish paper Fanatik that ‘there are more goats than people on that island’, in reference to their country’s defeat to the Faroes (yesterday’s News, Bits and Bobs). Firstly, how does the goat:human ratio influence a nation’s footballing ability? Secondly, which of the 16 islands in the archipelago were they referring to? And, perhaps most importantly, aren’t the Faroes more famous for their sheep, to the extent that the name actually means ‘sheep island’?” – Tim Woods.
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