England qualify, Heskey doesn't
And relax. England have made the World Cup. Not only that but they've qualified with two games to spare for the first time ever, while also winning eight games out of eight. Of course, this means we are DEFINITELY going to win the World Cup now, according to most pundits. We'll get the bunting out now shall we lads?
A tame and rushed shot at the keeper saw his first line fluffed before he went one better just before half time. Latching on to a Frank Lampard pass he not only miscontrolled the ball but then fell over AND failed to get a shot off at the same time. Quite some achievement. Had he missed the same glaring opportunities against Brazil in the World Cup quarter-final, one feels the fist pump he was offered by Fabio upon his substitution may have been replaced with a karate chop or Chinese burn.
Where's your Englishness gone?
It was always going to be a risky strategy but that didn't stop Croatia coach Slaven Bilic or the country's football supremo, Vlatko Markovic, launching barbs at England long before last night's do-or-die Group Six clash at Wembley. That they received a footballing lesson in return is no surprise.
According to Slaven, England had lost their "Englishness," while Markovic introduced a conspiracy theory that implicated Premier League stars in a plot to decapitate any Croatian player with an ounce of talent, just because Martin Taylor snapped Eduardo's leg like a Kit Kat 18 months ago and Luka Modric suffered a broken fibula at the hands of Lee Bowyer a few weeks back. Mind you, if England were going to do a hatchet job on Croatia's midfield spark, the choice of Bowyer would be inspired. Talk about a quadruple bluff.
But a 4-1 humbling in Zagreb, when Modric played 90 minutes, and a 5-1 thrashing at Wembley, with he who has a penchant for a pike in the penalty area playing most of the match, equals 9-2 on aggregate and plenty of egg on Croatian faces. See you in South Africa boys. Or maybe not.
Despite last night's 1-0 win in Hungary, Portugal are still far from certain to manufacture even a play-off place out of their dismal qualifying campaign, which is fitting given manager Carlos Quieroz is a complete imposter on the international management stage. It's good to see he's retained his impossible arrogance in the face of some stinking form, though.
It seems the players have retained their self-belief too, match winner Pepe saying after the game: "We showed we are better than our opponents. This result relaunches our campaign for the World Cup." Forgive me for pointing out Pepe that you are still third in your group, five points behind leaders Denmark, two behind Sweden in second and level on points with Hungary.
Of course, Quieroz's ineptitude could deprive a global audience of millions the chance to watch Cristiano Ronaldo on the biggest stage of all. Whatever you think of Ronaldo [insert expletive here] there's no doubt the World Cup is richer when it is packed full of the biggest names in the sport. If Queiroz can't manufacture a way past those aforementioned footballing powerhouses, Ronaldo should still be flown over, given a comedy beard and glasses as a disguise and license to pick the team he'd like to play for.
Mara gets Dona kebabed
Another galactico staring down the barrel of a barren summer in 2010 is Lionel Messi, after Argentina followed their lesson from Dunga's classy Brazilians with a limp defeat at Paraguay, who also tied up qualification for the big football party at the bottom of Africa next summer. Just like Queiroz, Maradona will take the blame if the little maestro is forced to watch the action from his sofa like the rest of us.
Diego has already suffered the ignominy of a 6-1 thrashing by Bolivia - Argentina's worst defeat in over 60 years - and Saturday's reverse was the first on home soil since 1993. Maybe the bad karma he is owed for his 'Hand of God' moment is finally catching up with him. I sincerely hope not, but as an Englishman I can't help but recall Mexico '86 without an involuntary grinding of the teeth.
With just two games left Argentina lie fifth, in the play-off spot. A home game with Peru would signal three comfortable points in the normal order of things, but with such an array of stars in such rotten form nothing can be taken for granted. An intimidating visit to Uruguay then falls on the final qualifying date. If Maradona fails to make it he'll be forced to watch the World Cup on the box too too. In the dole office.
Shut your Trapp, George
It was a particularly bad night for the other Home Nations in qualifying action on Wednesday night with only Northern Ireland still clinging to faint hopes of making the greatest show on earth (TM). They were beaten by Slovakia but can still progress with a win in their final game. Wales were also despatched coolly, by Russia, in front of 14 people at the Millennium Stadium.
As for Scotland there was to be no repeat of George Burley's running, skipping, air-punching fit of Saturday after Macedonia were vanquished. We all know George has had a tough time since taking on the impossible job, what with Booze-gate, Kris Boyd-gate, and Expletive-gate, but the last thing we needed was Excessive-celeb-gate. It was Macedonia for heaven's sake.
Last night George unveiled his repertoire of head-clutching, eye-rolling, rueful looks as Scotland put up a nearly-but-not quite showing against Holland. They may even have won too, if Kenny Miller had chosen to score from four yards instead of doing 'an Iwelumo.'
So, if Northern Ireland don't make it, that leaves Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic of Ireland to steal at least 5% of the excessive England coverage we can expect. It won't be easy for them though, even if the Trap manages to steer them to an epic victory over his home country Italy in their next match. A play-off place is the likely outcome with the likes of France and possibly Portugal lurking. Now who would you rather see at the World Cup? Ronaldo, or Keith Andrews?