- Lifestyle & Sports
- 08 Oct 14
Ireland’s next two Euro qualifiers find us hosting Gibraltar before travelling to Germany. The world champions present a formidable challenge, but Ireland can feel cautiously optimistic...
Crunch time, then, as mighty Gibraltar visit these shores for a key six-pointer, followed three days later by Ireland’s return to Gelsenkirchen, graveyard of our Euro ’88 dreams. In terms of difficulty, the two fixtures could hardly be further removed.
Gibraltar’s presence in the Euro qualifiers at all seems likely, on the evidence of their 7-0 evisceration at home to Poland last month, to be a running black joke. With the exception of San Marino, the ‘no easy games in international football’ cliche is largely true up to a point. The likes of Andorra and Liechtenstein may have a woeful overall record in the points-gained department, but they can operate at a reasonable level of relative competence, effectively play offside and the like, and generally fulfil most of the requirements any self-respecting AUL or Leinster Senior League team would demand as part of their repertoire.
A little further up the ladder, your Faroe Islands and Kazakhstans kick off every campaign knowing they have no hope at all of making the cut, but over 90 minutes they can provide testing opposition, and you always have to work for the points.
Our old pals San Marino stand out a mile from the crowd in terms of pure incompetence: their goals-against record down the years is a terrifying vista, and the fact that Steve Staunton’s Ireland came within one minute of failing to beat them back in 2007 remains a definitive low-point in the history of the Ireland football team, that 6-1 shellacking at the hands of Germany included.
Ah yes, that 6-1 monstering at the Aviva two years ago, an occasion I’m sure you’ve done your level-best to exorcise from the memory banks. It may or may not be some consolation that Germany went on to win the World Cup in fine style, mercilessly massacring more heralded opponents than our good selves along the way. Look back at this summer: they walloped Portugal 4-0, and beat Brazil 7-fucking-1 on their own turf (while playing the entire second half in cruise-control mode) as well as accounting for France and Argentina. Viewed in that light, Ireland’s efforts against them in the qualifiers weren’t spectacularly awful, though I’d like to think we will offer considerably stiffer resistance this time.
It could be a very long evening, and if we emerge with so much as a point from the encounter, it should be cause for absolute rejoicing.
It might seem defeatist in the extreme to concede first place in the group to Germany with precisely 10% of the football played, but the overlords of world football are not exactly flattered by bookies’ odds of 1/10 that they will come out on top, and it is almost certain that we’re in a three-horse race with the Poles and the Scots for second spot.
Viewed in that overall context, our recent last-minute victory in Georgia was a hugely significant triumph of potentially vast significance this time next year when the final table takes shape.
Back in Blighty, the title race has been officially declared done and dusted, with mighty Chelsea running away with the thing. It is true that they look a formidable force indeed right now, but if we rewind exactly four years, they were also anointed as champions-elect in 2010/11 before September had run its course, and proceeded to hit a few bumps in the road.
Jose’s boys certainly look a lot more lethal in front of goal than was the case this time last year, almost entirely thanks to the addition of Diego Costa, but Foul Play would be more concerned about them at the other end of the park, where diamond geezer JT is showing signs of wear and tear: they’ve given away 5 goals in their 6 games to date, which while perfectly respectable, is a little more than Jose would like.
The recent heavyweight clash between City and Chelsea was an illuminating contrast of styles, City playing virtually all the football and having something like 70% of the possession, only to fall victim to a superbly-executed smash-and-grab sucker-punch which left Chelsea in the driving seat. As such, Frank Lampard’s equaliser was monumentally huge, at one fell swoop turning a frightening gap (eight points) into a manageable one (five points). There is a long, long way to go.
North of Hadrian’s Wall, Foul Play’s first love Hibs, now stuck in the primordial swamp of the Scottish First Division, are elevating football into a sublime mixture of black tragicomedy and performance art.
The last month has been one of truly unrelenting bleakness: losing to Hearts was painful enough, but it’s hardly a novelty, the men in maroon having held the whip-hand in the Edinburgh derby since time immemorial. More disturbing has been the meek defeats to such giants of the game as Alloa Athletic and Queen of the South; and even the season’s second victory (at home to Cowdenbeath) wasn’t an occasion to crack the champagne corks, Cowden having led 2-1 until a very late rally saved the day.
I write in advance of our Monday-night trek to the artists formerly known as Glasgow Rangers, and it’s possible that we will have pulled off a heroic raid by the time you read this, but right now optimism is in extremely short supply. Indeed, I have already banished any realistic notion of promotion (Hearts are ten points ahead of us) and started to view this season as a grim survival mission, with the magic 40-point target looming large as my one and only ambition for the season, and to hell with silverware. I expect to be rewarded in the next life.
But the season is young yet, and hope springs eternal. Germany, here we come.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Jan 18