Forget Murray and Wiggins – it's back to the football flops

Sep 12, 2012
Bill Mann

Not one British team manages a win in last night's World Cup qualifiers – and England are awful

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BRITAIN'S footballers brought the country back down to earth last night with a series of slovenly displays that served to remind the nation that while Andy Murray and our Olympians and Paralympians have performed heroically, the nation's footballers remain a laughing stock.

After 'Super Saturday' and 'Magic Monday' it was 'Tragic Tuesday' as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all failed to win their World Cup qualifiers.

Wales performed the worst, receiving a 6-1 thrashing from the Serbs that was their heaviest defeat since 1996. Scotland were held 1-1 at home by Macedonia, ranked 97th in the world, the same scoreline Northern Ireland managed against Luxembourg.

As for England, after Friday's 5-0 victory over Moldova the more excitable elements within the Fourth Estate had used the weekend to talk us into believing the Three Lions were actually shaping up to be a force in international football.

But at Wembley last night, Ukraine soon disabused us of that idea, holding England to a 1-1 draw.

England were poor for all but the last 15 minutes and the eastern Europeans deserved their share of the points. Admittedly Tom Cleverley missed an absolute sitter in the first half, and Jermain Defoe had a goal disallowed, but the Ukranians created plenty of chances on a night when England lacked energy and ideas.

The visitors took the lead on 39 minutes when Yevhen Konoplyanka curled a delightful shot past Joe Hart from outside the penalty area and 1-0 was how it remained until three minutes from time.

Danny Welbeck, whose appearance from the bench in the last quarter added some much needed urgency to England's game, won a penalty when his shot was blocked by the arm of Yevgeni Khacheridi, and Frank Lampard made no mistake with his spot-kick.

But there was to be no stirring late winner from England. Instead Steven Gerrard was sent off for his second bookable offence – a wild lunge on Denys Garmash to follow a vicious elbow on Rotan that another ref might have rewarded with a straight red.

England will point to the number of players they were missing through injury but that's no excuse for what Wembley witnessed last night. It wasn't just the skills that was missing, it was the effort, the application that the likes of Wiggins, Murray, Simmonds and Ennis always bring to their performances.

Nevertheless if talking guff was an Olympic sport, Roy Hodgson would surely take gold. His post-match analysis was a gem, with the England manager asserting that after a shaky first 15 minutes, "the next 75 minutes we dominated the game totally [and] we created chances throughout".

Asked if he was being serious, Hodgson declared: "I am very happy with what happened out there… I was very pleased with the way the players went about their task. I leave Wembley tonight a lot more confident that we have a squad that will take us to Rio in 2014."

Even England should manage to make it to Rio – after all, they play San Marino next – but, on the evidence of last night, what will happen to them once they reach Brazil doesn't bear thinking about.

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