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Arsenal’s Theo Walcott struggling to keep pace with Spurs’ Aaron Lennon in sprint for World Cup glory

He went to the World Cup as a fresh-faced 17-year-old in 2006, and after a stellar evening in Zagreb was expected to be the main man for England in South Africa this summer. But injuries, and a failure to develop as expected, have seen Theo Walcott lose his international place to a club rival who has no intention of giving it back…

Brothers in arms: But Walcott and Lennon might find come June they are fighting for just one spot on the plane to South Africa

Eighteen games, three goals, eight assists.

Eight games, one goal, one assist.

That’s the difference in statistics in the Premier League this season between the impressive Aaron Lennon and his fellow England winger, Theo Walcott.

While Lennon has drawn plaudits for his performances for Tottenham Hotspur this season, 20-year-old Walcott has struggled for both form and fitness for London rivals Arsenal — to such an extent that he is in real danger of losing his once-secure England place.

The Arsenal man may have provided one of the most memorable moments of England’s successful World Cup qualification with his hat-trick against Croatia in Zagreb, but it is Lennon who — after starring in the return fixture with Slaven Bilic’s men that finally secured England’s World Cup berth — is starting to look the front-runner for the right-wing position in Fabio Capello’s side. Continue reading

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January 29, 2010 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the big stage, Thierry Henry failed to handle the high standards his career demanded

He’s always presented himself as the gentleman of world football, despite a couple of previously unsavoury episodes. But after manhandling Ireland out of the World Cup, will Thierry Henry ever again be able to match up to the standards demanded of great players?

Villain of the piece: Henry (c) will forever be remembered for events at Stade de France

It wasn’t the way to win a place at the World Cup, never mind lose one.

Nevertheless, Thierry Henry’s illegal intervention during a closely-fought World Cup play-off between France and Ireland was the decisive act in a tie that deserved much better.

From the player to the referee and even the sport, few came away from the night with any credit.

The valiant Irish players can hold their heads high—but that will be scant consolation considering the devastating manner of their defeat.

It was worse that the pivotal moment came in extra-time, after Robbie Keane had clawed Ireland back onto level terms after an admirable team performance.

With questions of offside in the build up to a free-kick being delivered into the box, Henry looked to have misjudged the ball’s flight—before his hands came to the rescue.

The first contact looked instinctive, with the French No. 12 arguably knowing little about it on a conscious level.

But the second touch with his still-outstretched left arm was clearly deliberate, and set the ball perfectly for him to then slip the ball past the onrushing Shay Given with the outside of his right boot.

William Gallas, barely a yard out, had the simplest of jobs in nodding the ball into the open net.

For some, the fact Henry wheeled away and celebrated the goal was the most distasteful aspect of the whole scenario.

If the incident itself suggested the Barcelona forward was a cheat, then the public way he enjoyed the moment certainly confirmed it.

With referee Martin Hansson turning down Irish players’ prolonged appeals for hand-ball, the goal stood and France held on to book their place in South Africa next summer.

After the game, unsurprisingly all discussion was focused on Henry. Continue reading

November 23, 2009 Posted by | Comment, World Football | , , , | Leave a comment

David Beckham deserves 1000 caps if brings the World Cup back to England

Ever since he relinquished the captain’s armband  — and arguably even before then — David Beckham has been a divisive figure for observers of the England national team. Yet as his playing days draw to close, the current Los Angeles Galaxy star has the chance to achieve something no English footballer has ever managed…

Still the main man: Beckham's influence extends far beyond the football pitch

As happens without fail every four years, World Cup talk is dominating English football.

For the players in and around manager Fabio Capello’s national squad, the focus is on making the plane for South Africa next summer.

For those lucky enough to be all but guaranteed their seat — and there are a few — the focus is on launching a bid to win the big prize on the horizon.

For the Football Association, the situation is slightly different.

While the directors of English football’s governing body are still devoting considerable resources to give  Capello everything he needs to launch a strong challenge next summer, they are also focusing equal attention on launching a successful World Cup bid of their own.

Instead of 2010, the FA is looking to 2018, when they hope they can bring the World Cup back to England for the first time in 52 years.

When England hosted that last tournament, in 1966, Bobby Moore famously lead the Three Lions to their solitary triumph in the game’s biggest tournament.

And hopes are high that, after so many years of hurt, a return of the final to a new Wembley might yield the same famous old result.

That long wait to host, as well as England’s self-proclaimed status as the ‘home of football’ (something that has been deliberately underplayed during campaigning so as not to offend) would seem to give the bid more weight than that of its rivals.

Couple that with the fact it has an unrivalled collection of world-class stadiums and infrastructure to call upon, and, on paper at least, any bid from the sceptred isle would appear to be a winner.

But in many respects, England and the wider United Kingdom is not currently in the best of health. While many other European and world nations are slowly steering their ship clear of recession, the United Kingdom is still waging a seemingly losing battle with high unemployment and floundering industry. Continue reading

November 23, 2009 Posted by | Comment, Sport, World Football | , , , | Leave a comment