International breaks are invariably shit. But you know what? This one has actually been one with a fair few talking points and some very entertaining games. These are my top topics for the terraces this weekend.
There will be some very notable absentees from next year’s World Cup finals in Russia: none more so than Gianluigi Buffon and, indeed, Italy, who have not failed to reach the final stages of the tournament since 1958.
The prospect of the absence of Buffon and his stalwart Italian defence consisting of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli was made even worse by the nature of their defeat. The San Siro home crowd witnessed a pitiless goalless draw against Sweden which meant the only goal from Jakob Johansson in the first leg saw the away side through.
Just three weeks after being named the best goalkeeper in the world at FIFA’s ‘The Best’ awards in London, Buffon was crying like a girl on national television having realised that far from retiring after the World Cup next year – as he had said he would – he will now be watching it like a proper retiree: on his sofa, in his pants, with a can of Carling and the curtains drawn.
I think the problem with Italy is that they just haven’t had enough practise at watching their national team be properly shit. And they romanticise everything. I mean yes, Buffon is an absolute legend and a god of Italian football, but crying on TV? What’s that about?
There will probably be a huge inquest by the Italian Football Federation into how Italy’s capitulation came to fruition, and in fact manager Gian Piero Ventura was yesterday given an offer he couldn’t refuse and sacked after 16 months in charge.
But imagine having that every other year. Without fail.
I mean, just last summer, England were busy getting beaten 2-1 in the Euros by a bunch of semi-pro footballers and their supporting horde of clapping Vikings. And just eight years before that we didn’t even qualify. But did we go crying on TV? I don’t think so. The players just sheepishly shuffled away to the sound of a familiar groan of “Oh for goodness sake.”
It isn’t surprising that there’s a sense of quiet optimism around the England team at the moment either. It’s always the same. Oh we kept a clean sheet against Brazil, we could probably nick a goal against them if you threw them our way in the semis next year! We’re playing fresh, young players! What a great time to be an England fan.
What a load of bollocks, more like. I’m just looking forward to seeing the inventive new way England can find to inevitably let us all down next summer during this inexorably endless cycle of hope followed by crushing disappointment.
Have a good day everybody.
Panama Visits the Valleys
On Tuesday night, the Cardiff City Stadium hosted a World Cup warm-up fixture between a plucky, small nation side who have become known as a team who perform above their level… and Wales.
Yes, it’s been a disappointing few weeks for Chris Coleman’s side. The players who made it against all odds to the semi-final of the Euros in France last summer failed to qualify behind Serbia and the Republic of Ireland after losing at home to the latter last month.
With no more competitive qualification football to play, Wales were consigned to the drivel of international friendlies. They lost in France on Friday night, before facing everybody’s favourite offshore tax haven on Tuesday.
Coleman named a fresh, young side for the match. With an average age of just 13, four substitute players were given their international debuts in the second half, while a fifth was forced to remain home grounded.
Ethan Ampadu, Ben Woodburn and exciting Sheffield United midfielder David ‘Judas’ Brooks (who has played for England at youth level, but whose great-aunt’s second-cousin’s nephew’s pet hamster being bought from a Pets At Home in Swansea qualifies him for the Welsh national team) were also given their first international starts.
Chris Gunter, captaining the home side on Tuesday night for the first time, was playing in his 85th game for Wales, equalling the record set by the late Gary Speed as their most capped outfield player.
Having not yet scored a goal for his country, Gunter had said before the game that he would not want to take a penalty in this landmark appearance to avoid turning the friendly into a “farce”. As it happened, he probably would’ve done better than Sam Vokes. His mediocre first-half penalty was saved by Panama keeper Jaime Penedo, whose goalkeeper training at Mossack Fonseca has evidently honed his talents in handling the efforts of wealthy, white Westerners (but don’t tell anybody).
That was possibly the most exciting moment of a first half which was, unbelievably, for an international friendly between Wales and Panama, pretty boring. It wasn’t until there was only 15 minutes to play that Tom Lawrence cut in from the left wing and drilled home a powerful shot to give Wales the lead. But there were audible groans of “Tidy”, “Tha’s lush that is” and other stock stereotypical Welsh phrases when Armando Cooper locked onto a pass that cut through the Wales defence like the Panama Canal for a stoppage time equaliser for the side in cheap suits suspiciously shaking hands with inner city bankers.
As it turned out, the game itself was a bit of a sideshow to the really entertaining game of trying to read Chris Coleman’s face and decide what’s going to happen when his contract expires at the end of the month. Welsh fans were doing their fair share of arse-kissing, practically begging him to stay with chants from the stands. But the Wales manager remains unsure about where he sees his future heading.
Feet up on a beach somewhere in Central America, maybe?