Results Show England Can Become European Champions – Even Without Rooney!

Well, I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t expecting England to beat Spain – earlier on today my brother in law sent me a text saying ‘Xabi Alonso 132 passes, Scott Parker 37 passes’ which made me laugh but before I replied with ‘Frank Lampard 1, Spain 0’ I decided to be a bit more magnanimous.

The Spanish press seemed to think we’d turned into the Italians (if that’s the case, it’s taken Fab nearly four years to complete his mission) which considering the Italian record over the last four decades isn’t the worst thing that could happen. Although the win came in a friendly, it’s the first time that we’ve beaten Spain at Wembley for years and is definitely a morale booster even though it’s hard to assess what victory might mean in the long term.

One of the more positive things that has been overlooked in the aftermath of the win over the reigning world champions is that we seem to have worked out how to keep clean sheets again – both Spain and Gary Speed’s resurgent Wales side failed to score at Wembley (thanks to Rob Earnshaw there) – and it’ll be a positive note to end the year on if we can stop Sweden scoring. It’s unlikely, but I’ll come to why that might be the case in a minute.

Sweden are a different kettle of herrings to Spain: the last time we beat them in England was in May 1968 (a month after we last beat Spain at Wembley and a week before Manchester United beat Benfica in the European Cup Final) and since then we’ve drawn all four games played here. So although it’s probably fair to say that we won’t lose, a win isn’t exactly a foregone conclusion. Our all time home record against Sweden is 2-4-1 which means another stalemate is a real possibility: that outcome looks even more likely when you remember that we’ve not managed to keep three clean sheets at home for four years and tomorrow’s opponents have scored in five of their seven visits to England.

Additionally, it’s not that hard to see why we’ve had so much trouble beating them over the years – Sweden has produced some outstanding players who have had success in the UK over the last two decades, although for every Anders Limpar, Freddy Ljungberg and Henrik Larsson there’s a Thomas Brolin. Four of the current squad are playing in Britain, although only Jonas Olsson of West Brom and Sebastian Larsson of Sunderland played in Friday’s 2-0 defeat in Denmark: Olaf Mellberg and Johan Elmander will also be familiar to most fans. And then there’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic: another reason why a clean sheet might be a challenge.

Sweden’s qualification record for major tournaments is eerily similar to ours – they’ve qualified for five of the last six European Championships and three of the last five World Cups; they’ve also reached the final of the World Cup that they hosted, although they lost to Brazil. Sweden avoided the Euro 2012 playoffs having qualified for the Euros as best ‘runners up’; they also ended the Dutch record of having been unbeaten in 17 qualifiers for both the World Cup and European Championships. However, the overall the impression is that although the Swedes are formidable at home, they aren’t as impressive on the road: having won all their home qualifiers, they were thrashed 4-1 in Holland and were beaten by a last minute goal in Budapest – which also shows how much the Hungarians have improved recently.

On to the first legs of the Euro play offs and barring unprecedented and monumental disasters for Croatia and Ireland then it looks as if they’ll be joining us in Poland and the Ukraine next summer.

Croatia were a goal up within five minutes on Friday night and had beaten Turkey by half time; having suffered World Cup playoff heartache a couple of years ago, things couldn’t have gone any better for Ireland in Tallinn: two red cards for Estonia, four goals for Ireland and one foot in Poland or the Ukraine next summer. Tomas Sivok’s injury time goal for the Czech Republic looks as if it ended any chance of Montenegro qualifying for the finals and although Portugal drew in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cristiano Ronaldo and company are favourites to qualify.

New Zealand & Japan Name Squads

While the coaches of the other 30 nations taking part in the World Cup next month are still mulling over their squads, New Zealand’s Ricki Herbert and Japan’s Takeshi Okada have already named their 23 man squads.

New Zealand’s All Whites contains six British based players: captain Ryan Nelsen (Blackburn Rovers), fellow defender Tommy Smith (Ipswich) and strikers Rory Fallon (Plymouth Argyle), Chris Killen (Middlesbrough) and Chris Wood (West Brom). Midfielder Michael McGlinchey plays for Motherwell in the Scottish Premier League.

Interestingly, Japan’s squad – which will be facing England in a couple of weeks so we’ll look at them in depth at that point – includes only four players based outside the J-League.

Quite a few friendlies featuring qualifiers this week: Mexico face Senegal at the Azteca in the early hours of tomorrow morning UK time; they also play Angola on Friday, the same day that Germany play Malta.

Stay tuned: tomorrow we’ll be looking at our 30 man squad whilst trying to watch the second leg of the Nottingham Forest v Blackpool play off semi final. At time of writing it looks as if it will include a middle aged man nicknamed ‘Calamity’ in goal, several injured centre backs and a German with a Canadian accent who has played about five minutes in the Premiership this season. Oh and I almost forgot: our talismanic striker has a groin strain.

It wouldn’t be the World Cup if everyone was fit though, would it?

By the way – Chelsea 8, Wigan 0? That’s a baseball score. Wigan should be ashamed of themselves.

Insane Finish To Angola v Mali

The hosts managed to blow a four goal lead in fifteen minutes to share a point with Mali; Angola were leading 4-1 with two minutes left, then Freddy Kanoute (Sevilla), Sadou Keita (Barcelona) and Mustapha Yatabare (Clermont Foot Auvergne 63 in France’s Ligue 2) scored to level the game, with the last two goals coming in four minutes of injury time.

Angola literally ran out of steam and had the game gone on any longer it’s likely Mali would have won.

Spurs 9, Wigan 1: Defoe Gets Five

1-0 at half time…9-1 after 90 minutes, with three of Jermain Defoe’s goals coming in seven minutes before the hour mark. I know it’s a while before Mr Capello announces the squad, but that’s exactly the kind of performance I’d want from one of my strikers.

The last FIFA rankings before the draw were published on Friday. If the groups were going to be decided purely on the rankings (and remember they won’t – has an extremely plausible theory here), here’s how the seeds would look:

1st ranked: Spain, Brazil, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Germany, France & Argentina

2nd ranked: England, Cameroon, Greece, USA, Mexico, Ivory Coast, Chile & Switzerland

3rd ranked: Uruguay, Serbia, Australia, Nigeria, Denmark, Algeria, Paraguay & Slovenia

4th ranked: Slovakia, Ghana, Honduras, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, North Korea & South Africa

Couple of things worth noting: South Africa are the lowest ranked team in the competition, so I would imagine that they would be automatically placed in Group 1 as team A1 so they can kick off their own tournament on June 11th at Soccer City in Johannesburg. I would also guess that because neither Holland & Portugal have ever won a major international tournament one of them might have to switch places with England. My guess would be Portugal, purely because they qualified via the playoffs, but FIFA are a law unto themselves and you never know what might happen.

We’ll definitely be covering the draw on 4th December via 11lionslive with instant reaction on twitter and analysis on the blog as soon as we’ve finished working out which teams will feature in next year’s Group Of Death.