Plus: Ivan Ferguson impresses for the Republic of Ireland, while Northern Ireland suffer an abysmal defeat to Kazakhstan in a European Championship qualifier.
23:56, UK, Monday 19 June 2023
A sensational colleague has had an amazing season
At the end of a marathon season, in his 58th appearance for club and country, Bukayo Saga produced his best performance and scored his first senior hat-trick and did so in stunning fashion.
His goals represent the ruthless efficiency the 21-year-old has added to his game. First, a razor-sharp twist and angle to the catastrophic finish. A second, even better effort, thundered home from outside the box from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s pass.
Those strikes underlined Saga’s spectacularity and passion for his ball-striking ability, but the third was quieter when he latched on to Harry Kane’s pass and slotted home with the much older player’s unfailing coolness.
It is, in part, his age that makes performances like this, for his country and his club, so thrilling. This season, Sakha has hit double figures for Arsenal with two goals and an assist, while Gareth Southgate has become one of the most important players.
In fact, he’s just getting started. His post-match TV interview after the game was a reminder of his boyhood charm, and with three months shy of his 22nd birthday, an already world-class player will only get better.
What a difference a year makes – but the next 12 months are huge for Southgate and England
Compare and contrast. England finished 4-0 last season – or should that be shame? — In the hands of Hungary. Supporters inside Molineux chanted for Gareth Southgate to be sacked. Twelve months later, the England boss and his players celebrated a 7-0 thrashing of North Macedonia with fans at Old Trafford.
It was a display that showcased all the attacking potential of these talented players and England are well placed to qualify for Euro 2024 in Germany. Southgate will head into his summer break in much better spirits this time around.
But there’s no escaping the mounting pressure and anticipation as the next big tournament approaches over the next 12 months. Last winter’s World Cup – and France’s all-too-familiar quarter-final exit – felt like a missed opportunity. England can’t afford the next one to pass them by.
The upcoming Euros are set to be the tournament that will finally define the legacy of Southgate and most of this generation of players on the international stage.
Taking the positives from the last two qualifiers against North Macedonia and Malta and applying them to the tough tests ahead, fans are right to be hopeful and expectant. But that summer of chaos at home to Hungary didn’t dictate what happened in Qatar, so this final flourish to 2023/24 is just a stepping stone towards next summer.
Questions still need to be answered, from midfield make-ups to how to tactically field the best managers in the game. Those are challenges that can be overcome at least with a positive mindset.
Wales’ qualification hopes drift into the Black Sea
Automatic qualification for Germany slips through Robert Page’s fingers. After back-to-back defeats this June, Wales have now won just one of their last 12 games in all competitions, while they have lost four of their last five.
Wales are assured of a play-off spot in their Nations League standings, but the flaws of Monday’s 2-0 defeat to Turkey at the end have been two years in the making and the Welsh FA must now decide if Page is. The right person to find the necessary solutions.
Umut Nair and Arda Guler both scored their first goals for Turkey from the bench, while Page had very little rotation after Joe Morale’s somewhat harsh dismissal.
Wales have now had a player sent off in successive games since Kiefer Moore against Armenia. Given the expected period following Gareth Bale’s retirement, it could not have come at a more challenging time for Page, who was unable to rewrite the defensive frailty exposed by the world number 97 last Friday.
Ben Kapango was called up to replace Brennan Johnson as he returned to a reduced pack of five. A draw was a signal to their adversaries that this was the height of their ambition. Harry Wilson’s free-kick could have brought about an unlikely victory and despite Danny Ward’s penalty heroics, the eventual penalty felt inevitable.
Former striker Rob Earnshaw said Sky Sports: „It turned out to be a must-win because Armenia beat Latvia to put pressure on them. To be honest, I didn’t see Wales’ reaction. That’s the worrying part. It gives them a lot to learn. It’s a very poor Wales camp.
„When I was in the team when I took over from Gary Speed and Chris Colemans, changes were made because we needed to be better. Now, because our game is so similar, I struggle to see where we are progressing. We are being punished for it.
„Page called on his players to produce a performance the fans could be proud of and they didn’t produce it. It could have been 2-0, it could have been 3-0 or 4-0. Defensively, Wales are very open. .”
There was no reaction to the defeat of Armenia. Wales’ Euro 2024 qualification hopes are in serious jeopardy. In the historic port city of Samsun on the Black Sea, those aspirations are sinking without a trace.
Ferguson and Johnston provide much-needed Irish inspiration
Given his side’s back-to-back defeats at the start of the Euro 2024 qualifiers, Stephen Kenny must have been very grateful to see Gibraltar next on the Republic of Ireland’s fixture list.
Gibraltar’s arrival is as close to a Kim as possible in international football, as they have lost every qualifier they’ve played, which makes Kenny’s decision to line up with three centre-backs a little curious.
Although Ireland labored in the first half, the manager deserves credit for realizing his mistake at half-time and cheering on Michael Johnston in the second half.
The winger, who joined Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes on loan from Scotland earlier this year, has brought much-needed spark to Ireland’s previously lackluster performance.
Equally impressive was Ivan Ferguson, who led the line effectively and ensured he signed off his breakthrough season with another well-deserved goal.
Ireland may be outsiders to make it out of Group B and Kenny will have to do more than lead his side to victory over Gibraltar to convince doubters that he is the right man to lead his country, but Ferguson and Johnston should give supporters hope. the future.
Northern Ireland’s hopes hang by a thread
Northern Ireland have a reputation for punching above their weight on the international stage. Their appearance at Euro 2016 built on that. But that popularity is waning.
Michael O’Neill’s return to the national team hot-seat heralded a resilient Northern Ireland comeback, but they have fallen far short of those expectations, leaving their Euro 2024 hopes hanging by a thread.
An expectant crowd came to Windsor Park for Monday’s qualifier against Kazakhstan, 50 places below them in the FIFA rankings, but they were given a reality check on Northern Ireland’s recent progress, or lack thereof.
As Kazakhstan secured their third win from their Group H games to further strengthen their claim to a first major tournament appearance, Northern Ireland tasted their third defeat of the campaign, the only win coming against minnows San Marino.
The boos that rang around Windsor Park at the full-time whistle told their own story, realizing that another match may have already passed the Green and White Army.
„Całkowity introwertyk. Nieprzejednany specjalista od sieci. Przyjazny fanatyk bekonu. Student ekstremalnych. Miłośnik piwa. Organizator.”