Good Weekend, Bad Weekend

There is an artificial feeling to this week’s weekend summary as we sit tentatively in the eye of the international storm, with the second round of World Cup qualifiers scheduled for Wednesday night. With only half the job done conclusions are not the easiest to draw, but by adopting the veil of ignorance of what will be in the future, we believe praise and condemnation can be dished out accordingly.

Good Weekend

John Barnes

For so long ridiculed for his management failures at Celtic (fully nine years ago!), his TV failures on Channel Five, and his stomach-turning choice of fashion, John Barnes finally ended his exile from the world of football last month by taking the seemingly thankless job of leading the Reggae Boyz. As fate would have have it, his first outing brought Barnes face-to-face with the most revered English manager of recent times, with Jamaica taking on Sven Goran Eriksson’s highly talented Mexicans. Yet against the odds, Barnes’ Caribbean outfit claimed their first win in the World Cup qualification versus the central-American powerhouse, fuelling confidence before the trip to Honduras on Wednesday.

Like John Candy in Cool Runnings, Barnes found himself in Jamaica trying to resurrect his career and reputation, against all the odds. So far, Barnes is making the doubters eat their words.

Fabio Capello

Don Fabio is still riding high off the back of navigating England’s triumphant night in Zagreb, so much so that with all the negativity swarming around the Three Lions after their win over Kazakhstan, the Italian with the designer glasses appears immune to any criticism.

The mafia metaphor – that you can criticise the family but not the boss – is too perfect to ignore, with Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard and even Rio Ferdinand having all been put on the chopping block in the last 24-hours, while Capello’s own personal success has swelled. He has even been praised for trying his hand at the Gerrard-Lampard partnership, even though it took us down the dark cul-de-sac which we all knew was waiting. Somehow Capello always seems to come up smelling like roses.

Go Fabio, go!

Lucas Podolski

While most hate international week with a passion, Lucas Podolski is the polar opposite. The Bayern Munich striker routinely fails to get playing time at the Allianz Arena, but for the national team he finds himself a first choice starter, and full of confidence.

In return Podolski continues to reward manager Jogi Low for his faith in him, chalking up his 31st goal in just 58 appearances for Germany in their 2-1 win over Russia on Saturday.

Surely it cannot be long before Podolski moves to find regular first team football.

Brazil & Argentina

South American qualification is usually much more laboured for the powerhouses Brazil and Argentina than it should be, and so it has proven in the current campaign. Heading into this weekend’s matches, Argentina’s coach Alfio Basile was faced with arresting a slide of six games without a win, while Dunga was aware that he still had the difficult task of convincing Brazil that, despite their recent upturn in terms of results, his team could offer the flamboyance and style so craved from the Samba Boys.

Argentina beat Uruguay 2-1 and Brazil hammered four past Venezuela, three-up in the first 19 minutes. Job done.

Raymond Domenech

Les Bleus’ coach Raymond Domenech has so many lives that he would put most felines to shame. Saturday’s visit to Sofia was to be the final nail in his coffin, with most of France debating not whether the manager should be fired, but rather which of Didier Deschamps, Laurent Blanc, Arsene Wenger and Gerard Houllier should be lined up to replace him.

And at kick-off Domenech looked have succumbed to the baying crowd, voluntarily hanging the noose around his own neck by keeping star-striker Karim Benzema left warming the bench (a mistake rectified after just 37 minutes), while leaving Philippe Mexes out from his starting line-up, opting instead for Eric Abidal (a left back) and Jean-Alain Boumsong (simply useless) at the heart of his defence.

After 20 minutes, two-down, Domenech must have been packing his bags. Yet, against all the odds France hit back, eventually drawing 2-2 and had several opportunity go on and win the game.

Earning a stay of execution, the French football federation reacted by saying “the federal council meeting is on the 15th (Wednesday) which is not too far away. We have to concentrate on Tuesday’s match against Tunisia. Then we will see the decisions the council will take.”

Domenech may still be considered a dead-man-walking, but nevertheless he is still walking.

Bad Weekend

Chris Iwelumo

The fairytale was there for the taking. Heading into his twilight years, the 30-year-old lower league journeyman got a surprise maiden call-up to Scotland, and with an hour gone on at Hampden Park, George Burley turned to the forward to see if he could find the breakthrough the Tartan Army so badly needed.

And as if touched by the gods, minutes after coming on from the bench, Iwelumo had the opportunity to go down in the history books for all the right reasons. James McFadden teed up the Wolves striker with an open goal, two yards out. He couldn’t miss, right?

Wrong.

Steven Gerrard

Arguably the best talent in England continues to underperform on the international stage, with the likelihood of Gerrard being dropped from the Three Lions now the obvious way forward. Like Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle, and Ian Wright (to name but a few), Gerrard seems cursed to produce his best form for club, and not country.

Ashley Cole

For a while there had been a lull in the “Cashly” bashing. Trophy wife Cheryl Tweedy had managed to forgive the left-back’s marital cheating in the tabloids, and people had even stopped talking about the fact that Cole believes that £55,000-a-week is considered a derisory salary. Yet that all changed at Wembley when the defender, head firmly pointed to the floor, dollied a pass to Zhambyl Kukeyev to slot home. The boo-boys had a new reason to jump on Cole’s back, and they lapped it up gleefully.

To cap it off, Cole then appeared to act like a cowardly schoolgirl, hiding behind Rio Ferdinand and Fabio Capello the verbal counter-punches from the England camp, who were left to defend the footballer’s honour. Obviously the best thing for Cole would have been to face the music straight after the final whistle, give a simple and short interview to the cameras, apologise for his moment of madness, and move on.

Thankfully, Cole rarely seems to do the right thing when it comes to his public perception.

Cuba

As one of the last remaining relics of Communism, and famously just ninety miles away from the shores of capitalist America, Cuba’s 6-1 drumming at the hands of the old enemy sucked worse than puffing away on a fake Cuban cigar. And if the defeat itself was not enough humiliation, Havana was further undermined by the news that two of the Cuban team, Pedro Faife and Reynier Alcantara, defected to the United States after disappearing from the team’s hotel prior to practice the day before the match.

Having seen another seven Cubans defect to the US during the Under-23 CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers in March of this year, that makes nine Cuban footballers who have now chosen to jump ship during 2008.

We excitedly await the “reflections” of Fidel Castro on his blog.


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