England labelled ‘poor’ & ‘lacklustre’, Monaco court Mancini with £170m kitty, Spurs eye Benteke & Ince, Chelsea target Bony

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “If, as a result of our performances, we are second in our group then we will worry about the team we have to face in the play-offs. We’re a couple of points down on what we’d have liked and nobody wants to be in the play-offs But the fact is that, in the World Cup qualifiers, only one team goes straight through. In the play-offs it’s going to be a good team because, in every group, there are at least two good teams. In fact, I would suggest there are more than two good teams in some of the groups. I will worry about the play-offs when the play-offs come around.” – Roy Hodgson.

Runner-up: “We still have matches left to fix the situation and to try to meet our objectives. It is logical that people talk because the situation has not been as it should be, but the players and club in general have to ensure that doesn’t affect us. We have to use our energy for the matches. If you are thinking of what people are saying, you are wasting that energy. You have to concentrate on the next match. Every fixture now is a final we have to win. That has to be our mentality. I am sure we will put it right.” – Nacho Monreal.

The England Post-Mortems

The only teams England have beaten are San Marino and Moldova. That isn’t transition. That’s just poor (Martin Samuel, Mail) England must now win four games straight to be certain of reaching Brazil, three of them against teams they have already played, without victory… Hodgson’s England are hacking away at thorns with increasing desperation. The only teams they have beaten are San Marino and Moldova. That isn’t transition. That’s just poor. English football could not think on its feet as Montenegro piled forward in Podgorica. Hodgson remained glued to his seat, the players struggled to cope. It was like watching the worst of a mesmerised Eriksson. Why should this be?

Where now for England after escaping with a point from nation with population of Sheffield? (Martin Lipton, Mirror) England’s World Cup qualifying pattern – win one, draw one – does not mean crisis. Yet. But it DOES mean concern, growing concern, with the prospect of a play-off lottery – would you back them over two legs against France or Belgium (see How It Works below)? – concentrating minds… The homeland of the world’s wealthiest football league should not be sending out a team happy to escape with a point from a nation with the same population as Sheffield.

Steven Gerrard’s stark admission shows how lowly players value international game (James Lawton, Independent) There is a deeper question running beyond England’s appalling nose-dive and their manager’s lacklustre response. It is the one that asks: does international football matter any more? Does it really figure so highly in the minds of all those players who are routinely told where the money is and where their main loyalty should lie? Another question: would England’s captain, Steven Gerrard, have been so free with his embarrassing confession, “We stopped playing”, had he been discussing not a World Cup qualifier deep in the Balkans but a European club game or something of importance in the Premier League? At places like Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Anfield there would surely have been hell to pay for such a captain’s admission.

Roy Hodgson’s problem is that this England are stuck between eras (Sam Wallace, Independent) Even when Hodgson took over in difficult circumstances last May, you felt that he was inheriting an England team caught between two epochs. One that still relied to a large extent on Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney and, back then, John Terry, while it waited for the next generation to establish themselves. It showed on Tuesday night when Gerrard had one of his poorer games, to the extent that you wondered whether Frank Lampard might have been a better option… England are turning to the same old faces, but those faces are not what they once were.

Resurgent Spain

France play the fall guys as pragmatic Spain come back from the brink (Sid Lowe, Guardian) Spain deserved this victory. Xavi Hernández put the ball over from a couple of yards and Pedro should have had a penalty. Luck plays a part, always. But Spain have now won 21 and drawn two of their last 23 qualifying games. More than that: when it matters, they respond. There is talent but temperament too, a competitive edge rarely highlighted and the intelligence to read a game, to manage it. Plus the technical ability to make it work and a conviction that the approach is the right one.

Are Uzbekistan really going to the World Cup? 

Uzbekistan on the brink (Alex Kay, Mail) Uzbekistan are one win away from going to their first World Cup. The world’s 59th-ranked team, whose players grace the Uzbek, South Korean, Russian, Chinese and Kazakh leagues, have to beat Qatar at home or South Korea away to reach Brazil. Up until now, Uzbekistan’s biggest achievement is finishing fourth in the 2011 Asia Cup. Still, with a population of 29.5million, they really should be making waves.

Monaco Want Mancini

Break the bank in Monte Carlo: Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini offered £170m transfer kitty by Monaco (Neil McLeman, Mirror) Roberto Mancini has been offered a £170m transfer fund to take a gamble and move to Monaco next season. Russian billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev tried to lure the Manchester City boss to the Cote d’Azur last year. Now, the man ranked the 97th richest in the world by Forbes has returned with a stunning new offer of that vast kitty for signings, plus a three-year deal worth £22m in wages.

West Sam United

Allardyce on brink of £9m three-year deal to build dream team (Laurie Whithell, Mail_ Sam Allardyce is ready to sign a three-year contract worth close to £9million that will see him among the Premier League’s top earners. The West Ham manager yesterday confirmed Sportsmail’s exclusive that negotiations over a new deal have begun, ending speculation about his future at the club. It is understood that talks have progressed to the point where only the fine details need ironing out, giving Allardyce a salary package approaching £3million.

Birmingham: Are They Broke?

Birmingham City face questions as emails show Pannu’s demands for cash (David Conn, Guardian) Birmingham City, in financial difficulties due to the imminent trial of their chairman Carson Yeung for alleged money-laundering, face further serious questions about the club’s governance and transparency, based on internal information seen by the Guardian. Major concerns are prompted about what appears the total power wielded by Peter Pannu, appointed acting chairman while Yeung is absent, and the way Pannu and other Hong Kong-based individuals have been paid large amounts of money by the club. Lawyers acting on behalf of Pannu and Yeung made clear that their clients had “absolutely nothing to hide”.

Is Luis Suarez Getting Banned For Punching Jara

Suarez punch escape (Phil Thomas, Sun) Luis Suarez looks set to escape a World Cup ban for his latest bust-up. Liverpool’s Uruguay hitman was caught on camera jabbing Chile defender Gonzalo Jara in the face 33 minutes into Tuesday night’s qualifier. Suarez reacted by swinging his right hand after Nottingham Forest full-back Jara, on loan from West Brom, tried to block him as they waited for a corner. Yet because Argentine referee Nestor Pitana took no action — clearly having not seen the incident — FIFA sources have hinted that it is highly unlikely to be included in his official report.

Suarez waiting to hear from FIFA over potential punishment for punching Jara (Dominic King, Mail) If found guilty of violent conduct, Suarez would face a suspension but FIFA will not make any decisions until they have received all the necessary paperwork… Suarez is already facing an international suspension after he was booked late in the game against Chile for dissent. He will miss Urugay’s next qualifier against Venezuela in June, which works in Liverpool’s favour as he will be able to have a proper break before pre-season training in July.

Transfer Lies

Tottenham lead the chase for Benteke but face competition from City and Inter (Mail) Tottenham are among the clubs chasing Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke. Inter Milan and Manchester City have also declared an interest in the coveted Belgian.

Tottenham plotting to beat Liverpool to £8m man Thomas Ince (Star) Spurs made late  enquiries about the Blackpool winger when he was set for a return to the Reds in January… Spurs hope their track record of success with players from the Championship will persuade Ince to reject a switch to his former club in favour of joining them.

Bony idol on Roman’s radar (Sun) Chelsea are planning to hijack West Ham’s £12million move for goal-ace Wilfried Bony… The Blues have a good relationship with Vitesse, with seven Chelsea youngsters having gone there on loan in the past two seasons.

Arsenal plan to sell Gervinho to Galatasaray for £12m… and then make a move for Liverpool keeper Reina (Mail) The Turkish side are keen after seeing the 25-year-old impress during the African Nations Cup with Ivory Coast. Arsenal have shown interest in Galatasaray’s highly-rated goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, 26, but Liverpool’s Pepe Reina remains their preferred choice. FK Khazar Lankaran coach John Toshack wants to take Andrey Arshavin to Azerbaijan but Arshavin, 31, would rather stay in London.

Fulham eye move for Crystal Palace goal machine Glenn Murray (Mirror) Crystal Palace star Glenn Murray is a target for Fulham. The Cottagers are among several clubs monitoring the striker, who has smashed 30 goals for the Championship club this season. Palace have offered Murray a new three-year deal worth £1million a year in a bid to hang onto him.