FACTS CAN PROVE ANYTHING
Scotland contested their first-ever penalty shootout on Thursday night. So did Norn Iron. Both teams won, which means that, if The Fiver’s maths is correct, both countries now have a 100% success record in competitive combat from the spot. England by contrast can only boast a 30% winning ratio in shootouts, having lost seven out of 10, so hats off to the Scots and the Irish, on account of being significantly better, and therefore at the same time much less useless, than their English pals. Admittedly, England’s poor total is a function of their regularly getting to the latter stages of major tournaments, and facing damn sight better opposition than Israel and Bosnia-Herzegovina, but these are the bare facts, there’s no getting around them, sometimes you just have to hold your hands up.
A historic night, then, although we’d really be testing your patience by claiming it was a memorable one. At an unusually rowdy Hampden – where a handful of people pierced the night air with songs, whoops and hollers, a stark contrast to the usual low-level rumble of 30,000 paying spectators seething silently, occasionally clacking their tongue and breathing out very slowly through their nose – Scotland and Israel mustered a grand total of one shot on target in 120 minutes of action. We’re not sure whether the fact the teams managed a healthy enough 28 off-target attempts makes things sound better or even worse. And having been the only player to work the keeper during the match, it was naturally written that Eran Zahavi would be the only one to miss his penalty. It was that sort of night all round.
The result means Scotland travel to Serbia next month to play for a place at 2021’s Euro 2020. “It’s a big chance,” says manager Steve Clarke, and we know how Scotland traditionally grasp those. Norn Iron, meanwhile, displayed great moxie in coming from behind to overcome Bosnia-Herzegovina on their own patch. Ian Baraclough’s brave decision to send on penalty specialists Liam Boyce and Conor Washington in the 120th minute proved inspired, as both scored in the shootout, while Steven Davis broke the legendary Pat Jennings’ caps record on his 120th appearance, and we can’t be the only ones hoping he reaches 147 before retiring immediately.
Sadly there won’t be an all-Irish showdown for the finals, as Slovakia defeated the Republic O’Ireland in yet another shootout, and they’ll travel to Belfast instead. The only scrap of comfort for O’Ireland is our old friend the shootout win ratio. Having beaten Romania at the 1990 World Cup, but lost to Spain in 2002, they’re now only one for three. But while that’s far from ideal, they’re still a whopping 3.3% better off than the English. The usual caveats apply, of course, but facts are facts, and you’ve got to celebrate these small victories while you can.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Those days were very difficult. I cried because of what I was having to go through [at Barcelona]. The worst thing was going to training and being sent to a different group from everyone else because I was not allowed to play in practice matches” – Luis Suárez plays his tiny violin furiously while on international duty with Uruguay.
“There was an interesting contrast in yesterday’s Fiver: on the one hand, there was Frank de Boer, the walking, talking definition of ‘just because you were a talented player it doesn’t mean you’ll be a talented coach’; on the other, there was Adrian ‘Aidy’ Boothroyd, a prime example of how not every undistinguished player blossoms into an exceptional coach” – Ed Taylor.
“Thanks Josh Lustig (yesterday’s Fiver letters). I’ve been waiting for The Fiver to revive the footballer/TV combo. All I can come up with though is Anthony Martial Arts and its follow-up, Anthony Martial Law. The former has the French forward learning the basics of karate, the latter could go any number of ways. Would the Beeb be interested?” – Luke McLean.
“As Mesut Özil has stepped in to pay the stipend of Gunnersaurus (Fiver passim), perhaps he also has an eye on that job himself? At least his ‘pounds per minutes on the pitch’ would increase” – Andrew Want.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’the day is … Ed Taylor, who wins the final copy of Football’s Black Pioneers: the Stories of the First Black Players to Represent the 92 League Clubs [postage available to UK only, sorry – Fiver Postal Ed].
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Premier League suits have agreed a new deal to show all its fixtures live on British TV, but fans will have to pay an extra £14.95 for the privilege – shamefully, even if they’ve already paid for a season ticket.
Aston Villa’s next two WSL fixtures have been postponed after a player tested positive for coronavirus.
Paul Pogba has put his Mr 20% on standby and redefined the art of amour. “Of course, every footballer would love to play for Real Madrid and would dream about that,” he cooed. “It’s a dream of mine, so why not one day? But I’m at Manchester United and I love my club.”
Gareth Southgate has warned his regulars they are not guaranteed a place in his squad after an experimental England side shone against Wales in a game played with all the intensity of Weird Uncle Fiver doing housework. “When you’ve got the shirt … you don’t want to allow other people the opportunity to take it,” he blathered.
Light entertainment’s Kepa Arrizabalaga may be back in goal for Chelsea against Southampton after Edouard Mendy suffered thigh-knack on duty with Senegal.
And Chile took their 2-1 added-time defeat by Uruguay in the World Cup qualifiers as well as you’d expect. “I’m saying nothing so I don’t get into trouble,” fumed knacked captain Gary Medel. “But that was terrible [refereeing].”
STILL WANT MORE?
“Even if you accept the essentially ephemeral, cobbled-together, Conor-Coady-as-captain feel to this contest, there was still plenty here to catch the eye.” Jonathan Liew on England’s productive attacking experiments against Wales.
As England prepare to face Belgium at an empty Wembley, Steven Pye recalls the ugly scenes when the sides met at Euro 1980.
Ewan Murray takes heart from Scotland’s spirit and resolve, if not much else.
Arsenal’s Jill Roord gets her chat on with Suzanne Wrack about a flying start with the Gunners, arguments with dad and why it’s more fun at Meadow Park than at Bayern.
Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!