Roundup of Gunners on International Duty
Yesterday night saw the last set of World Cup qualifiers take place as many teams fought tooth and nail to earn the right to be on a plane to Rio. There were also some teams that used the period to play some friendly games with other nations with nothing at stake.
Arsenal, like every other top European football club, had its own contingent that represented their respective nations in a series of qualifiers and friendly games and this article is focused on throwing some light on their performances as well as the general outcome of the results for that nation.
Starting with the friendlies, England was looking to bounce back from their home disappointment against an Alexis Sanchez-inspired Chile as they hosted proverbial rivals, Germany, at Wembley. With more high-octane games ongoing at the same period, I had half an eye on this fixture but the key moment of the game arrived in the second half as Germany’s captain of the night, Per Mertesacker, rose the highest against the likes of Chris Smalling and Tom Cleverley to head home a perfectly-timed cross to hand England their second consecutive home defeat in 36 years.
I read in an article that Tom Cleverly is actually meant to be spelt as ‘Tom Cleverle’ because the last letter on his surname is ‘totally redundant’ as the first thing anyone thinks when they see his name on a team sheet is “why?”.
It’s also worth noting in this friendly game that Arsenal’s midfield combination of Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil had deserved rest.
Elsewhere, Thomas Vermaelen and his high-flying Belgium side also suffered another shock home defeat following the loss to Colombia against the Blue Samurais of Japan. The Verm played all 90 minutes in the left back position but his team conceded three goals while the home side scored two.
Everton’s Kevin Mirallas opened the scoring for the home side but the lead was cancelled by Kakatani’s equalizer. CSKA Moscow’s midfield maestro, Keisuke Honda, made it 2-1 and the Japs extended their lead through Shinji Okazaki. All the home side could do was to muster a late goal from Atletico’s Toby Alderweireld.
With Belgium ranking very high in the FIFA World Rankings, one can only wonder if these strings of defeats would affect them.
Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal were also involved in Spain’s stunning loss to South Africa. The only goal of the game came through Bernard Parker but there was a moment of controversy when Spain wanted to bring Pepe Reina into the fray after they had made six substitutions already. It caused a bit of a racked and tempers were also flared.
At Under-21 level, Carl Jenkinson played all 90 minutes and even got on the scoring act as England Under – 21 a gazumped San Marino Under-21s with nine unreplied goals. Youngsters like Raheem Sterling, James Ward-Prowse, Thomas Ince, William Keane and Will Hughes enjoyed some target practice as the floodgates opened with consummate ease.
Moving over to more serious business, Olivier Giroud and Bacary Sagna watched from the dugout as France achieved a historic feat of coming back from a 2-0 deficit to win Ukraine with goals from an unlikely source, Mamadou Sakho, as well as an offside strike from Kazim Benzema.
From the onset the French team launched waves upon waves of attacks as the wing play from Franck Ribery on the left and Mathieu Valbuena the Hobbit from the right was downright awesome. In midfield, Yohan Cabaye put up a good show and there was time for Giroud and Sagna to get in on the act as they replaced Matt Debuchy and Benzema respectively.
Giroud’s aerial prowess was on show yet again and his hold up play in his cameo was superbly. Nerves tingled towards the end as a goal from Ukraine would have dashed France’s hopes but it was not to be and the wild celebrations afterwards showed how much qualification to the World Cup meant to the manager, players and fans alike.
With the international break done and dusted, it’s time to focus on the business ahead as the Gunners host a resurgent Southampton side that have over achieved this season.
At least, no bones were broken.