Enjoy The Playoffs, The Friendlies Will Be Painful

Before we take a look at tomorrow’s friendly against Spain, it’s worth a quick review of tonight’s playoffs for the last four places in Euro 2012.

The first thing that jumps out is the quality of the teams in the playoffs. Since Euro ’96 Croatia, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Turkey have all reached the knockout stages of at least one of the subsequent competitions with Portugal reaching the final in 2004. Or to put it another way: our record in the Euros since 1996 is the same as Croatia’s.

Ireland last qualified for the Euros in 1988 (and possibly the less said about that particular tournament the better) but what really stands out about the playoffs is that Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia and Montenegro deserve a chance to qualify.

This is easily Bosnia and Herzegovina’s best ever team: Edin Dzeko, Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and Rangers defender Sasa Papac are the players best known to British fans but with only one member of the current squad playing in the local league it’s fair to say that the ‘Dragons’ are a cosmopolitan bunch.

Montenegro are a team we’ve covered in the past so we’ll leave them alone for the time except to mention that their progress since 2007 has been frankly astonishing – according to the latest FIFA rankings there’s nothing between them and the Czechs.

As well as being arguably the weakest team currently left in the tournament, the Estonians are probably the least well known – Middlesbrough striker Tarmo Kink is hardly a household name outside Teeside – and although I’ve come across midfielder Sander Puri and striker Jarmo Ahjupera in my parallel career as a football punter, we’re generally looking at the obscure end of anyone’s knowledge of European football.

Good luck to Ireland, although you just know what’s going to happen if they qualify.

On to our game against Spain tomorrow, which has been dominated by alleged racial abuse by John Terry, the usual cretinous behaviour in Zurich (by both FIFA and the EDL) and the usual pointless speculation about Capello’s successor.

I’m not in the mood to dwell on the off field issues, especially as there are so many reasons to be pessimistic about our chances tomorrow.

We’ve lost three of our last four home games against Spain (the only win since April 1968 was in a friendly at Villa Park in February 2001) and we haven’t beaten the reigning World Cup winners at home since a 3-1 win over Argentina in May 1980. The last time we faced a team that had won the World Cup at Wembley was in February 1999 and we lost 2-0 to France: I watched the game in a pub in central Bristol in front a table full of French students who enjoyed it immensely.

Looking back at our last win over Spain, it’s interesting to see how the career paths of the players from both sides have developed. Five of the starting England XI are still playing (David James, Rio Ferdinand, David Beckham, Michael Owen and Nicky Barmby), one of the subs (Frank Lampard) will be captain tomorrow and Chris Powell will be taking charge of Charlton Athletic in their FA Cup game at FC Halifax on Sunday lunchtime.

On the other hand, only Iker Casillas remains a Spanish international, even though Manuel Pablo and Raul are still playing. Three starters in the Spanish XI that lost at Villa Park are now managers: Abelardo manages CD Tullia in the fourth tier of Spanish football, Luis Enrique is in charge of Roma and Pep Guardiola…well, if you don’t know what he’s up to these days then you probably shouldn’t be reading this.

All being well, I’ll be back either tomorrow night or on Sunday with a look at what happened this wekeend.

3 thoughts on “Enjoy The Playoffs, The Friendlies Will Be Painful

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