Tottenham Hotspur fans will be hoping that is the only last-minute winner Harry Kane needs to score at Wembley on a Thursday night this season. Tottenham might have made a flying start to their Champions League campaign, but England very much huffed and puffed their way to Russia 2018 qualification against Slovenia.
So much so, a conspiracy theory was starting to go round social media that England were trying to stick the knife into Scotland by not beating Slovenia, as a draw at Wembley would have made it impossible for Scotland to do the impossible, and actually qualify for a major tournament. Genuinely, I believe that if you asked 90% of the England team to place Scotland on a map they would struggle, let alone care about them that much that they would even think to knock them out in that manner. You’d hope England would prefer to do it the old-fashioned way, by having the better side and finishing higher in the group than the Auld Enemy. No, England were not being clever against Slovenia, they were just being not very good at football once more.
I felt for the full house at Wembley that felt even more obliged to attend, given that TfL had unhelpfully cancelled the tube strike that had been planned for that day.
Still, this is England and this is football. They have carefully navigated an incredibly easy group without setting the world on fire for one single moment. They might even look half decent against Germany and Brazil in the pre-Russia friendly matches that have now been confirmed. But when it comes down to it, we will soon learn once more that Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Brazil and probably even Iceland are better equipped to further in the tournament than us. On the plus side, at least we are not Dutch or Scottish hey?
Dick Advocaat’s response to a journalist suggesting the Dutch could be in even more danger of not qualifying if Sweden were to beat Luxembourg 8-0 was priceless. If I knew the Dutch word for “scoff”, that is exactly what Advocaat did. And guess what? The Swedes slipped eight past the hapless folk of Luxembourg. France had failed to score in both games against them and they are supposed to be one of the best sides in the world, right? England would have probably nicked it 1-0 with a late goal or something.
Scotland, having bought themselves a potentially winning ticket at the raffle then proceeded to take that ticket and burn it on the bonfire. Leading 1-0 on Sunday against Slovenia, the shop was there to be shut up and Scotland simply failed to do so.
Northern Ireland were the main beneficiaries of Scotland’s reluctance to be centre of the main stage, having their playoff spot confirmed before kicking off against Norway.
Wales were Bale-less in Georgia but Tom Lawrence scored the winner to make Monday’s showdown with the Republic of Ireland the biggest match of the weekend (if you were Welsh, Irish or very bored indeed). The only problem is, these games now get spread over five or six days rather than the good old method of Saturday and Tuesday. Modern football, eh? Makes life very difficult for us writers.