The Warm-Up: England's terrible World Cup qualification, Argentina on brink
Paper planes were more interesting than the fare on offer at Wembley, but at least England qualified, which is more than you can say for Argentina.
FRIDAY’S BIG HEADLINES
I fly like paper, get high like planes
Kane’s poacher’s finish from Kyle Walker’s superb cross ensured England’s 38th (!) unbeaten qualifier in a row at least delivered three points, but the scenes after the final whistle showed just how much Gareth Southgate still has to do to excite his public and produce a team actually capable of doing anything in Russia - “a hell of a lot,” according to the inspiring figurehead himself.
What a lap of honour. England may have qualified for the World Cup again but this was the true story of a night when England fans had to amuse themselves, and a match which hinted it will be a short visit to Russia, unless Southgate can oversee a remarkable transformation:
And finally, it turns out the real winner on the night was Philip Hammond.
Germany do the business
And now to a country unencumbered by a hobbled economy which requires their football team to do well to stagger through the summer: Germany! Whatever the opposite of a spirit animal is - that’s what Germany are to England. A team which has had as many bad World Cups as England has good ones, the reigning champions no less, beat England by the matter of a few minutes to become the second European team to qualify for the finals, after Belgium.
In the other group in action on Thursday night, Robert Lewandowski hit a hat-trick for Poland in their 6-1 win away at Armenia, becoming his country’s record goalscorer in the process with 50 goals in 90 games. Poland need only a point at home to Montenegro on Sunday to qualify now. Denmark are three points behind, but also three points ahead of Montenegro having beaten them last night.
Another fine mess for Argentina
Panic is officially setting in in Argentina, Adidas HQ and at FIFA too with the best player in the world now even closer to elimination with just one game remaining in South America. Overnight, Nicolas Otamendi’s Argentina managed to only draw 0-0 at home with Peru in their crucial qualifier at La Bombonera.
Worse still, Chile beat Ecuador 2-1 which means Argentina find themselves all the way down in sixth, with fourth automatically qualifying and fifth having to play-off against New Zealand. Argentina visit Ecuador on Tuesday and simply must win, while hoping that two of Chile, Colombia and Peru slip up - or one if they will settle for a play-off place - if the World Cup is not to be deprived of Lionel Messi.
HEROES AND ZEROES
Hero: Cesc Fabregas
After admitting to lobbing pizza in Sir Alex Ferguson’s face yesterday, now the Chelsea midfielder has come clean about more aggro behaviour to another Premier League grandee, Harry Redknapp. So much s***housery on display from such a young man, it’s great. We eagerly await tomorrow’s revelation about how he once told a your mum joke to Sam Allardyce.
Zeroes: Lionel Messi’s team-mates
Highlights can be deceptive; those cobbled together in such a way even more so. But you have to ask, if the world’s best player is doing all this, why aren’t Argentina winning any games?
IN THE CHANNELS
An empty Camp Nou was an eerie sight, but it did allow Movistar to show us what professional players really shout at each other during a match. And the results were pretty interesting - particularly around Luis Suarez’s yellow card for diving...
It's been a strange old international career for Lionel Messi - and here's how it all began, with a red card against Hungary all the way back in 2005, after just *30 seconds*.
It’s the turn of Wales and Ireland tonight. A Gareth Bale-less Wales visit Georgia at 5pm on Sky Sports knowing that they must win to have any hope of catching Serbia in top spot. Ireland are a point behind Wales, with the two sides facing off in Cardiff on the final day, and they are home to Moldova at 7:45pm. Spain will qualify with a point at home to Albania.
Let down by the rest of his inept team-mates, Adam Hurrey is the Lionel Messi of The Warm-Up and he will be soldiering on regardless on Monday.