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Germany calling

As Ireland and England start out on the potentially rocky road to Germany 2006 Tony Cascarino reads the signs from this week’s first round skirmishes.

Tony Cascarino, 10 Sep 2004

Having seen Saturday’s games in our World Cup qualifying group, all I can say is, “Bring on Les Bleus!”

People talk about France being the Arsenal of national sides, but minus the retired Ziddane, Lizarasu and Thuram, they don’t have the kind of players that Henry has around him at Highbury. Like everybody else, he needs service and the fast, counter-attacking supply line he’s used to in the Premiership was absent against Israel.

Originally I thought we were staring at two defeats, but now I’m confident that if we frustrate their midfield, we can beat France at Lansdowne and then nick a point in Paris.

While Cyprus looked like a poor quality Division Two side – sorry, but I can’t be having with this ‘Championship’ nonsense! – we did what we had to do with a fluency that was missing at the end of Mick McCarthy’s period in charge.

As impressive as his work-rate and the way he took his goal were, I think Kevin Moran’s overdoing it a bit when he describes Andy Reid as “the new Liam Brady”. Liam was probably a yard quicker, which enabled him to glide past people. That said, the poor man’s Liam Brady is still a quality player who’s got better and better in his last half-a-dozen games. Just how good he is we’ll probably find out against France who, even stuttering, are far superior to any side Andy Reid would’ve encountered playing for Nottingham Forest. I’m one of the few people who wasn’t surprised that no Premiership club came in for him before the transfer deadline, because managers aren’t prepared to risk £5 million on a player who’s unproven at the highest level. What was the better deal for the buyers – Bobby Zamora going from Brighton to Spurs for £1.5 million or Ray Parlour going from Arsenal to Middlesbrough for about the same money?

José Mourinho watching in the stands would have been reasonably impressed with Damien Duff who showed what’s best about his game with the run that earned us the penalty. The most important thing is that he seems to have recovered from his dislocated shoulder, an injury which can be a bugger to shake off. From what my Chelsea contacts have told me, it’s doubts about his fitness rather than his ability which have kept Damien out of their starting line-up this season. Back to full sharpness, and there’s no question for me that he’s the best left-sided player in England.

He made a hell of a rash challenge in one part of the game, but otherwise John O’Shea was solid without looking the exceptional talent he was back in the 2002/3 season. Alex Ferguson moving him around from the centre of midfield to left-back has obviously dented his confidence and he’s not making the surging runs into the penalty-box which we know he’s capable of.

There’s been sniping about Graham Kavanagh making up numbers, but he showed again on Saturday that he’s a no nonsense midfield-player who’s better on the ball than people give him credit for. Come January, he’d be a good buy for a team like Norwich or Crystal Palace who are going to need battlers in their fight to stay up.

While I’m not sure that having a go at Brian Kerr in print did him any favours, I can understand Richard Dunne being upset that he was left out of the squad. I’ve seen Manchester City four or five times recently, and consistently he’s been one of their best players. There’s this perception of Richard being a bit of a Tellytubby, but when he’s not carrying surplus weight he’s a fine athlete.

I’m writing this before the Poland game so I could be wrong, but I don’t think Sven Goran Eriksson has the balls to drop England’s poorest performers against Austria, i.e. David Beckham, Michael Owen and David James, who must be on his eighth last-chance at the moment. What did Sven say after seeing his keeper make three hideous second-half mistakes? “Mentally he’s strong”. If that’s mental strength, I’d hate to see an England player with weaknesses! To be blunt about it, David James as he’s playing at the moment is a liability who, like Barthez a couple of seasons ago at United, is sapping the confidence of the defenders in front of him. As for Owen, he’s not good enough to hold down a first-team place at Real Madrid and should be behind Jermaine Defoe in the England pecking order. If Sven can’t see that, he’s obviously not up to the job.

A team with serious aspirations of winning championships shouldn’t be relying on an 18-year-old, but Rooney returning should give England enough of a boost to go on and win their group comfortably. I just hope that having moved to Man U, Wayne learns quickly and doesn’t go down the same route as George Best and Paul Gascoigne, players who had huge talent but blew it at an early age. If he doesn’t get streetwise about the modern game, he’s going to be taken advantage of and eaten alive by the papers who all have teams assigned to watching his every move, on and off the pitch. Any more trips to the brothel and Coleen’s going to know about it courtesy of some kind journalist knocking on her door. Avoid those sort of pitfalls, though, and the sky’s the limit.

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