‘2014 World Cup’

Feature: Ferguson exit sparks England’s year of change

“The year had started in familiar fashion, with United romping to an unprecedented 20th league title, but at 09:17 on the morning of Wednesday, May 8, everything changed. A tweet published by the United press office confirmed the jaw-dropping rumours that had first emerged on the Daily Telegraph website the previous night: Ferguson, the father of the modern United, the most successful manager in British football history, was stepping down after 26 and a half record-breaking years.”

My AFP review of the year 2013 in English football can be found here.

Report: Mertesacker gives England sinking feeling

“London — Germany procured a smash-and-grab 1-0 victory over England in a friendly at Wembley on Tuesday, consigning their old rivals to successive home defeats for the first time since 1977.”

My AFP match report on England’s final game of 2013 can be found here.

Reaction: Hodgson values England gains above losses

Report: England caught cold by Sánchez and Chile

“London — England’s World Cup preparations began with a whimper on Friday as Alexis Sánchez scored twice to give Chile a 2-0 victory in a low-key friendly game at Wembley Stadium.”

My AFP report on a chastening night for Roy Hodgson’s experimental England side can be read here.

Reaction: Hodgson primes big guns after Chile setback

Report: Rooney, Gerrard send England to Brazil

“London (AFP) – England survived a night of tension to qualify for the World Cup after Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard secured a 2-0 win over Poland at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday.”

My AFP match report on the night England booked their ticket to Brazil can be read here.

Reaction: Hodgson frets over England World Cup picks

Report: Townsend strike tips England towards Brazil

“London — Tottenham Hotspur’s Andros Townsend crowned his international debut with a fine goal as England beat Montenegro 4-1 on Friday to close on a place at next year’s World Cup.”

My AFP match report on a night of English breakthroughs at Wembley can be read here.

Report: England stay on track despite Ukraine ordeal

“KIEV — England inched closer to qualifying for next year’s World Cup after surviving a number of scares to record a potentially crucial 0-0 draw against Ukraine in Kiev on Tuesday.”

My AFP match report on England’s laborious goalless draw in Ukraine can be read here.

Reaction: Hodgson defends lacklustre England
Related link: Joy, pain for Welbeck as England top group

Report: Latecomer Lambert quells Scottish uprising

“LONDON — Rickie Lambert scored with his first touch as an England player to earn a 3-2 win over old enemies Scotland in a gripping friendly game at Wembley on Wednesday.”

My AFP match report on an unexpectedly thrilling evening at Wembley can be read here.

Reaction: Lambert must build on dream debut – Hodgson

England lose perspective in pursuit of teenage kicks

The French may not have a direct equivalent to the word ‘teenager’ (there being no numerical suffix akin to ‘-teen’ in the language of Molière), but that doesn’t stop them remarking on the novelty when a player under the age of 20 is called up by the national team.

It happened twice earlier this month, when 19-year-olds Raphaël Varane and Paul Pogba were both included in Didier Deschamps’ squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Spain. Pogba rather spoilt the symmetry by turning 20 the following day, but it was such a rarity that L’Équipe marked the occasion with a photographic slideshow of the players to have graced the blue jersey while still awaiting the end of their second decade.

Varane and Pogba are exceptions. The expectation, in France, is that players will earn their spurs in the junior versions of the national team before eventually graduating to the senior side. France’s under-21 squad – known as les Espoirs (literally, ‘the hopes’) – brims with exciting players such as Milan striker M’Baye Niang and the Lyon pair of Clément Grenier and Alexandre Lacazette, but although they play for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, there is no clamour for them to be promoted to the senior squad before they are ready. That is partly down to the depth of talent already at Deschamps’ disposal, but it is also, partly, cultural.

Exceptional indeed is the player who is excused an apprenticeship in France’s representative youth teams. Despite Pogba’s widely acclaimed performances for Juventus this season, Deschamps has admitted to reluctance about allowing him to stroll straight into the first-team set-up. As recently as January, the former Marseille manager said the midfielder still needed “some carrot and stick” before he could be considered for selection. Both Pogba and Varane impressed on their debuts against Georgia on Friday, but afterwards the word on Deschamps’ lips was “potential”.

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Report: Slick England spoil Scolari’s Brazil return

“LONDON — England beat Brazil 2-1 on Wednesday to end a 23-year wait for victory over the five-time world champions and consign Luiz Felipe Scolari to defeat in the first game of his second spell as Brazil coach.”

My match report on England’s unexpectedly assured victory over Brazil at Wembley can be read here. There’s also a reaction piece here: Hodgson encouraged by England’s young lions.

Analysis: France firing blanks as Spain loom into view

“Karim Benzema is still to score in the [Didier] Deschamps era, but he and Franck Ribéry often appear the only players capable of making things happen in the final third. The Real Madrid striker could have scored three or four goals against Japan before being withdrawn at half-time, while Ribéry tested [Eiji] Kawashima twice within minutes of entering the fray as a 68th-minute substitute. As L’Equipe drily noted on Saturday, “without Benzema and Ribery, nothing much happens”.”

I’ve written a piece for AFP on France’s misfiring forwards, ahead of Tuesday’s pivotal World Cup qualifier with Spain in Madrid. You can read it here.

Heft and harmony at the heart of Deschamps’ France blueprint

Didier Deschamps may have been overlooked for the France job in both 2008 and 2010, but upon finally taking up the role in July this year, he found the problems facing the national coach had barely changed.

As in 2010 and, to a lesser extent, 2008, France emerged from this year’s major tournament chastened by sporting underachievement and embarrassed by reports of off-pitch turmoil. The fall-out from Euro 2012 was nowhere near as painful as it was after the rank humiliation of the 2010 World Cup, nor were the performances as poor as they were either in South Africa or at Euro 2008, but Deschamps knows that there is nonetheless, if not a full rebuilding process, then a period of recalibration to be undertaken.

For all the criticism of France’s conservative approach against Spain in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, and all the tales of changing-room unrest that abounded, Laurent Blanc clearly left the team in a far healthier state than he had found it. Three months after taking up the reins from his former international team-mate, Deschamps is already making his mark by attempting to create a side that packs more of a punch on the pitch, but generates fewer headlines off it.

In his first press conference after taking over, Deschamps said he wanted to build a side that “imposes itself on its opponents”, and the most striking thing about the teams that he has fielded in his three games so far has been their physicality.

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Report: France exorcise Belarus ghost to claim second win

“PARIS — France took control of their 2014 World Cup qualifying group by overcoming a second-half wobble to beat former bêtes noires Belarus 3-1 at Stade de France on Tuesday.”

My AFP match report on France’s victory over Belarus, which featured first international goals for Étienne Capoue and Christophe Jallet, as well as a man-of-the-match performance from Franck Ribéry, can be read here.

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