Iain Macintosh determines who deserves praise and punishment in the first week of the international break in this edition of Heroes and Villains.
A fine goal for Harry Kane and a very appropriate one too, given the way that his turn evoked memories of a certain Johan Cruyff. Kane worked hard all night for England, doing all of the dirty jobs like holding up the ball and dragging markers out of position. He is intelligent, tireless and powerful. He links up superbly with his teammates, the outstanding Dele Alli, in particular. So if Kane ends up on the bench this summer because Wayne Rooney is fit again, you’d be well advised to step away from your laptop because English Twitter will melt the screen with its fury.
But while England fans might hope that their veteran striker stays on the sidelines, Germany’s Mario Gomez might just be working his way back into contention. The 30-year-old target man is back in the squad after an outstanding season in Turkey with Besiktas and he nodded home his first international goal since Euro 2012. Given Joachim Low’s enduring disregard for Stefan Kiessling (not to mention Kiessling’s poorest goal tally in more than a decade), that might be enough to earn Gomez a ticket to Euro 2016.
A new formation for Italy and a very positive performance as well. The Azzurri drew 1-1 with Spain on Friday and it was a good night’s work for outgoing manager Antonio Conte. Not least because Chelsea eyes were upon him throughout. Conte is widely expected to sign a three-year deal with the Blues this summer and the sight of Chelsea’s player-liaison officer Gary Staker, deep in conversation with Conte’s brother Daniele, who acts as his agent, will have done nothing to quell those rumours. Italy gave Spain a real test and Conte is confident he can sign off with a flourish. Roman Abramovich will approve.
You have to go all the way back to November 2014 to find the last time that Turkey lost a game. Fatih Terim’s side extended their unbeaten run to 12 games this week, beating Sweden 2-1 courtesy of two goals from Cenk Tosun. The 24-year-old was born in Germany and represented them at U-21 level, but he has struggled to live up to his potential since switching allegiances. Nevertheless, he clearly has the physique and the ability to cause some serious headaches in France this summer.
There are certain things you expect of hulking centre-forwards. On only his second appearance for Spain, and at the age of 35, Aritz Aduriz delivered them. When Gianluigi Buffon spilled Alvaro Morata’s header, Aduriz followed up, tucked the ball home from close range and ran headlong into the far post. And he barely even celebrated. That is how to lead the line. Aduriz, now the oldest player ever to represent Spain, has scored freely for Athletic Bilbao for four straight seasons. He may have done enough here to earn himself a place in the squad.
Speaking of expectations, the fixtures between Germany and England come with their own, too. England play in simple white or red, Germany play in simple white or green and then Germany win on penalties. No longer. Now, for reasons that can only be driven by the expectations of marketing men, Germany play at home in what looks like a paramilitary sleeping bag and England wear the leotards of a 1980s regional television fitness instructor. The kit manufacturers should be ashamed of themselves. Though we suspect the bit about penalties is still true.
These are worrying times for the Czech Republic. Having finished at the top of a tough qualifying group, above Netherlands, Turkey and Iceland, defeat at home to Scotland means that they’ve now lost two friendlies on the spin. Manager Pavel Vrba was desperate to get back on track after losing to Poland in November, but while his team dominated the opening exchanges, they were denied by Allan McGregor and then caught with a sucker punch by Ikechi Anya. “They got a goal from the one chance they had and we had three or four but couldn’t finish,” he groaned afterward. They need a result against Sweden on Tuesday.
Cristiano Ronaldo once famously said that he’d be more comfortable on international duty, “if there were two or three Cristiano Ronaldos in the team,” so it’s hard to imagine that he’s a popular dressing room figure. He’ll be even less popular after he missed a penalty, his fourth spot kick miss of the season, in Portugal’s surprise defeat to Bulgaria. At 31, time is running out for Ronaldo to win his first international honour. Unless Portugal improve soon, it’s hard to see him breaking that duck this summer.
At the halfway stage of the CONCACAF fifth round of qualifying, the United States are outside the qualification places, thanks to a shocking defeat to Guatemala. Jurgen Klinsmann had some serious questions to answer, though given that his initial answers pushed the blame onto his players, this may get worse before it gets better. Klinsmann made puzzling selections and his defence looked highly unstable. There is an immediate chance for redemption when Guatemala come to the U.S. on Tuesday, but if they play this badly again and lose, Klinsmann could be in serious trouble.
After 24 minutes against Uruguay, Brazil were flying. Two goals to the good and ready to lift themselves out of an unseemly and unpredictable melee in South America’s World Cup qualifying campaign. But visits from Uruguay always generate anxiety, the legacy of the humiliation of 1950, and another embarrassment, albeit somewhat smaller in scale, was in the post. Defensively, the Selecao looked wobbly. Oscar Tabarez’s side responded, they drew themselves level with goals from Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. And now Brazil face Paraguay knowing that anything less than a win will put them right back in the mess.