Club versus country - no contest

Posted by Kevin Hughes

With one round of World Cup qualifiers gone, and one more to come, it's been an excellent international break for Villa so far.

Villa as a club, that is, not necessarily Villa's players. Let's be honest here -- for all Premier League members who parted company with players a week or so ago, international fixtures mean just one thing; a heightened and increased risk of injury. Managers count down the days until the traveling group return, unscathed, and supporters are no different. Just get through the games, and report back for club duty, fit and ready to go. The club-vs.-country debate isn't even worth arguing any longer. There's no question where supporter priority lies.

In this regard, international football is a strange business. While there's a passionate strength of feeling among Villans that Fabian Delph, the club's Player of the Month for August and September, is deserving of a first England call-up -- and actually, he merits some recognition by Roy Hodgson, along with one or two others overlooked again for the latest squad -- there is also a sense of relief that the midfielder, instead, was given time off to rest and recover from an intense start to the league campaign. So too Gabby Agbonlahor.

It's a conundrum, all right: fans want to see players rewarded for doing well, but are aghast at the prospect of anything happening to the detriment of the football club. That also goes for those players, exposed to international football, who may just have their heads turned, or ambitions realigned, shall we say, after breaking into the national team set-up. Villa fans have a certain amount of distrust of all things England, having seen four important players move on reasonably swiftly after achieving international call-ups.

So yes -- an excellent international break for Villa thus far. Several of Paul Lambert's team were involved over the course of last weekend's games, all in a series of rather low-key performances. Captain Ron Vlaar was the only Villa player to start a qualifier, and play the full game, and it was hardly the most challenging of encounters. Vlaar's Holland crushed Hungary 8-1, with the central defender possibly not even required to break sweat or stride; a more gentle international match would be hard to find.

Aleksandar Tonev played a touch over half an hour, as a second half substitute, in Bulgaria's crazy 2-1 defeat at Armenia (Bulgaria had two men sent off), while Andreas Weimann saw even less action. The striker came on after 74 minutes of Austria's 2-1 defeat in Sweden. Given Weimann's contribution so far for Villa this season -- he has started every Premier League match -- and his high-tempo, non-stop running style, a cameo role for his country would be welcomed by Lambert.

Brad Guzan occupied the bench during the USA's 2-0 win over Jamaica, again required only as back-up for Tim Howard, who continues to be first choice as long as he remains fit. And neither Niclas Helenius, nor Libor Kozak, were called on at all by Denmark or the Czech Republic. Helenius, missing from Villa's 0-0 draw at Hull because of injury, was not a part of the Danish squad which drew 2-2 with Italy, while Kozak wasn't involved in the Czechs' 4-1 win in Malta.

The most welcome news of all, for Lambert and Villa fans everywhere, emanated from the Belgium camp. A 2-1 win over Croatia meant the Red Devils qualified for next summer's finals in Brazil, rendering their last game of the campaign, against Wales on Tuesday, effectively meaningless in terms of the importance of the result. Belgium can win, lose, or draw, and it makes no difference.

A great position for Belgium, but also for Villa: no need whatsoever for Christian Benteke to be rushed back into action, following the hip flexor injury which has kept him out several weeks. "At the moment, he is not ready to play," said Belgian coach Marc Wilmots, confirming what has been widely known at Villa Park for some time. 'And I will not take risks with him.'

Whatever else happens during the final round of World Cup qualifiers, there won't be a better result than that for Villa.


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