Euro 2012 – Ukraine and Poland

March 26, 2005

No more excuses, England

Filed under: EURO 2004 — Ivan @ 5:06 am

The News Review:

* Ferdinand ready to deliver | FOOTBALL | SPORT | tvnz.co.nz
* High-tempo, pressing game just the ticket
* Of course, we are able to even the World Cup odds
* No more excuses, England
* Money and drugs loom over soccer matches
* Beginning of the end for Eriksson as his leading ally decides to quit
* Rooney given the all-clear
* BBC SPORT | Football | Internationals | Gerrard issues England…
* It’s time for England to win World Cup, says Ferdinand
* FIFA World Cup – News & Features
* Euro big guns aim to book ticket to Germany
* Soccer: Becks backing Cole to seize England chance
* Italy v Scotland: Preview
* France v Switzerland: Preview
* McNamara relishing chance to play role on big stage
* No lifeline in sight as Scots plunge to new depths
* England expected to win big
* UEFA European U-17 C’Ship: Nations gather for EURO reunion
* Choc full of goodness

Ferdinand ready to deliver | FOOTBALL | SPORT | tvnz.co.nz
TVNZ – Mar 25, 2005
England’squalifying bid continues on Saturday against Northern Ireland atOld Trafford, where the Group Six leaders should move a step closerto the finals. ForFerdinand, who missed their run to the Euro 2004 quarter-finals dueto an eight-month suspension, England have what it takes to liftthe game’s biggest prize in Germany. “As ateam, it’s time to fulfil our potential,” he told reporters onThursday. “We’ve gotplayers who have been to two or three tournaments and there areyoung players coming into the team who have got good experiencewith their clubs. “We’ve gotto put it in to practice now. “We knowwe’ve got the individuals, but it’s obvious that you don’t winanything just with individuals… “I don’tthink a manager has had a better squad of players to pick from,” hesaid. “If we can get the balance right, we’ve got a good chance ofdoing something with this team. Despitethe talent available in every department, Ferdinand is not fussyabout how they grind out results. “If I winthe World Cup and we play rubbish in every game you won’t betalking about us playing rubbish in 30 years’ time – you’ll betalking about us having won,” he said. “Winningthe World Cup or any tournament means too much to talk about teamor individual performances. Results mean more than anythingelse. Goodresults Goodresults have not always been delivered at club level this seasonwith United, despite Ferdinand being at the top of his game sincereturning from suspension.

High-tempo, pressing game just the ticket
Telegraph.co.uk – Mar 26, 2005
In my view, it’s absolutely essential that they play a high-tempo pressing game high up the pitch. We can’t play any other way; we’ve shown that in friendlies. When we’re not committed, when we’re not closing people down, when we’re not harrying people, we’re not as good. Chelsea have proved that. They play that way, and it works. In fact, it works for most English teams… That happened on more than one occasion last summer in the finals of Euro 2004. We’re a much better side when we are positive and aggressive, just go at teams and take a few chances. We can’t just sit back: we’re hopeless at it. The back-to-back games against Northern Ireland and Ajerbaijan are not the best events to assess where we’re placed, because they are games we should win comfortably. But if we’re going to have any real chance in the World Cup, I’d like England to commit to a real high-tempo pressing game.

Of course, we are able to even the World Cup odds
Sunday Times – The Sunday Times – Mar 26, 2005
There are other words that do the same work but more subtly. The best is “of course”. The appearance of this expression may not lead the reader to toss the offending article straight into the dustbin, but with a few strategic “of courses” you can quickly find yourself with no readers left. I mean, either something is “of course” true, in which case it doesn’t need saying at all, or it isn’t, in which case you shouldn’t claim that it is. All of which gives the Fink Tank a bit of a problem. Almost every week I think something is “of course” true, while others are convinced it isn’t true at all. Take England’s chances in international competitions… But don’t attack Sven-Göran Eriksson. England are actually far better than they should be for a nation with such a small population. So they had a 2 per cent chance of winning Euro 2004 — and they didn’t.

No more excuses, England
manchesteronline.co.uk – Mar 26, 2005
Absolutely “I hope we can play good football but of course I hope we win the game, because three points are absolutely necessary in qualifictaion games for the World Cup,” said Eriksson. “I don’t agree that our performance against Holland was the awful rubbish that some people have said, but of course I want to send our fans home happy. “No-one wants to see a 0-0 draw in a friendly, but for me it was not as bad as some thought. Eriksson has been subjected to consistent criticism that he is not extracting the maximum from the talent at his disposal, and that his demure approach has failed to light a flame under England players who have traditionally played with passion. One critic suggested that the last time his England side showed that heart was in the Euro qualifier against Turkey in 2003 – which was 23 games ago. Naturally, he disagrees with the assessment: “Many, many times in my 49 games in charge I have gone away thinking the team has played to its potential. “We have played good football in many of our tournament qualifying games, and in the tournaments themselves… “We have played good football in many of our tournament qualifying games, and in the tournaments themselves. “You don’t qualify for tournaments or win them without playing good football – it is impossible to win the World Cup by playing bad football. It was pointed out to Eriksson that Greece won Euro 2004 with a group of workaday players who stuck to a rigid team discipline, guided by coach Otto Rehhagel and played with doggedness and fervour to see off more illustrious opponents. Would he like to see England take a similar route? “As a professional coach I admired Greece. “They don’t play spectacular football but did what they had to do with the players they have. “As a manager you have to admire that and you can’t argue with the fact that they won the European Championship. “It wasn’t total football, as Holland played in the 70s, but they didn’t have the players to do that.

Money and drugs loom over soccer matches
International Herald Tribune – Mar 25, 2005
Carraro was in denial this week that he ever said any player who refused to give urine or blood samples would not be called up to the Azzurri. Reminded that he did indeed say that, in January 2003, Carraro was then quoted as telling the Italian media that his words covered only the Euro 2004 tournament. This misunderstanding was heightened at the beginning of the week when, with the Azzurri encamped near Milan, Gianni Petrucci who presides over Italy's supreme sporting body the Italian Olympic Committee denounced as "morally regrettable" Gattuso and his fellow AC Milan player Giuseppe Pancaro for declining to submit a sample of blood to the testers last Sunday. The pair had been selected, at random, after Milan beat Roma, 2-0,in the Olympic Stadium in Rome. "We are not animals!" Gattuso said later. "For months no blood samples are taken, then it is sprung upon us… The pair had been selected, at random, after Milan beat Roma, 2-0,in the Olympic Stadium in Rome. "We are not animals!" Gattuso said later. "For months no blood samples are taken, then it is sprung upon us. When I went into the antidoping room in the Olimpico, it was 11:30 at night and I was stressed out from the match. "There were 10 people there and plenty of confusion, and sealed syringes thrown to one side. " Gattuso, who is an executive member of the Italian soccer players' association which agreed the testing procedures, knew his rights. Urine samples are compulsory, giving blood is by voluntary agreement.

Beginning of the end for Eriksson as his leading ally decides to quit
Telegraph.co.uk – Mar 24, 2005
Last night Davies denied that his departure would effect Eriksson’s desire for the job. “Sven has a contract to 2008,” Davies insisted. “It is my decision to leave in 2006, and it is not related to his position. I don’t flatter myself. Everyone says I’m an ally of Sven, and of course I am. But Sven has other allies here at the FA, as the board meeting showed… Eriksson would be guaranteed a huge turn-out of smiling faces only if he announced a leaving-do. Ever since England’s ultimately dis-appointing showing at Euro 2004, and the subsequent ‘Fariagate’ embarrassment, his enemies have proliferated at Soho Square. Senior officials are keen to see the back of the Swede with the lively private life. “We want a happily married Englishman as manager next time,” observed one FA board member. Eriksson’s assistant, Steve McClaren, the popular Middlesbrough manager, fits the FA blueprint, though he has still to prove himself properly at club level. Sam Allardyce, Bolton’s charismatic leader, and Birmingham’s Steve Bruce have also been mentioned in the corridors of power.

Rooney given the all-clear
TVNZ – Mar 24, 2005
Manchester Police have confirmed they are launching inquiriesinto claims by a 22-year-old student that Rooney struck him duringan argument in a nightclub on Monday. Police have, however, not yet made contact with the FootballAssociation about whether they are interested in interviewingRooney this week while he is on England duty. The 19-year-old striker will therefore continue preparations forSaturday’s game at Old Trafford, with a training session atManchester United’s Carrington base on Wednesday morning. Only if Rooney, who denies the accusation, is later found guiltyof any offence will his England place be jeopardised, although theFA may have to review the situation if he is actually charged. The FA’s rules have nevertheless changed since Alan Smith wasasked to leave the squad before a friendly against Denmark inNovember 2003 after simply being interviewed by police. Smith, who had been accused of throwing a bottle back into thecrowd during a game, was cleared of any wrongdoing and the caseprompted a rethink by the FA… It is claimed the student screamed at the striker, calling him’treacherous’ and shouting ‘once a blue, always a blue’, inreference to his former Everton career. Rooney insisted only last summer he would try to avoid suchpotentially controversial situations. “Obviously you want to try and avoid them,” he accepted beforethe Euro 2004 finals. “But I’m a young lad so if I want to go out a week before agame, I will. I just won’t go out three or four days before agame.

BBC SPORT | Football | Internationals | Gerrard issues England…
BBC News – Mar 24, 2005
“We’re in pole position. If we can get six points, I think we’ll have one foot there,” said midfielder Gerrard. “We don’t want it to be the same as for the Euro 2004 finals, when everything rested on the last qualifying game. ”

England had to beat Turkey away from home to book their place at Euro 2004 in Portugal but have a theoretically easier path to next summer’s World Cup finals in Germany. Their main Group Six rivals at present are Poland who are a point behind England on nine points while Austria, Northern Ireland, Wales and Azerbaijan are all playing catch up. But Gerrard said: “I think the draw was kind to us but we have to prove that we are favourites by winning games. ”

And ahead of the game against Northern Ireland at old Trafford he stated: “Obviously when you’re big favourites and you’re playing a team that are underdogs, there’s a risk that you can become a bit complacent and take them a bit lightly.

It’s time for England to win World Cup, says Ferdinand
EastDay.com – Mar 26, 2005
England’s qualifying campaign continues on Saturday against Northern Ireland
at Old Trafford, where the Group Six leader should move a step closer to the
finals. For Ferdinand, who missed their run to the Euro 2004 quarter-finals due to an
eight-month suspension, England have what it takes to win the tournament. “As a team, it’s time to fulfil our potential,” he told reporters on
Thursday. “We’ve got players who have been to two or three tournaments and there are
young players coming into the team who have got good experience with their
clubs. “We’ve got to put it in to practice now. “We know we’ve got the individuals, but it’s obvious that you don’t win
anything just with individuals… “I don’t think a manager has had a better squad of players to pick from,” he
said. “If we can get the balance right, we’ve got agood chance of doing
something with this team. ”
Despite the talent available in every department, Ferdinand is not fussy
about how they grind out results. “If I win the World Cup and we play rubbish in every game you won’t be
talking about us playing rubbish in 30 years’ time– you’ll be talking about us
having won,” he said. “Winning the World Cup or any tournament means too much to talk about team or
individual performances. Results mean more than anything else. ”

Xinhua.

FIFA World Cup – News & Features
uefa.comUEFA.com – Mar 25, 2005
Recent encountersThe Swiss have not beaten France since a 2-1 victory in Lausanne in 1992. France ran out 2-0 winners in an August 2003 friendly and Switzerland were undone by two late Thierry Henry goals as they lost 3-1 and tumbled out of the group stage of UEFA EURO 2004™ in their last encounter in June. Encouraging displaysHowever, Müller believes that Switzerland showed enough fight in that latter game in Portugal, pegging Les Bleus back at 1-1 until the last 14 minutes, to give them hope of breaking their 13-year winless streak against the former world and European champions. “In Portugal, we created chances to win and we must always think positively as a team,” he said. Retired heroesA number of French stalwarts have retired since EURO 2004™ – including Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu and Claude Makelele – but Müller warned against complacency… Encouraging displaysHowever, Müller believes that Switzerland showed enough fight in that latter game in Portugal, pegging Les Bleus back at 1-1 until the last 14 minutes, to give them hope of breaking their 13-year winless streak against the former world and European champions. “In Portugal, we created chances to win and we must always think positively as a team,” he said. Retired heroesA number of French stalwarts have retired since EURO 2004™ – including Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu and Claude Makelele – but Müller warned against complacency. “Of course they have lost a few experienced players and you cannot replace the likes of Zidane easily – he was a very important part of their team,” Müller said. Still strong”But at the same time we cannot afford to be too relaxed against a team that still has the likes of Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Patrick Vieira in their lineup. We must concentrate on the players that they still have, not on the ones that have left. They are still a very strong side, but we gained confidence by giving them a hard game the last time we played.

Euro big guns aim to book ticket to Germany
Independent Online – Mar 26, 2005
In Group 2, Ukraine enjoy a six-point lead and sit out this round of matches, but second-placed Greece, the European champions, face a tough away trip to Georgia. Turkey, the 2002 World Cup semifinalists who failed to qualify for Euro 2004, are lying third in Group 2, eight points behind Ukraine, albeit with a game in hand. Slovakia have a chance to draw level with Group 3 pace-setters Portugal, who hold a three-point advantage over their rivals, with an extra game under their belts. The Slovaks travel to Estonia, one of three teams, along with Russia and Latvia, who are lying on seven points. ‘It won?t be a disaster if we don?t take the six points’In Group 4, three teams are locked in top place on eight points. With all to play for, Ireland travel to Israel and France are practically obliged to win against the Swiss after being held to draws at home by two of their direct rivals… ?

Second-placed Poland, just a point adrift of England, host winless bottom side Azerbaijan. Austria, third on five points, visit Wales for a match both teams need to win to keep their qualifying hopes alive. Wales have not qualified for a major soccer final since the 1958 World Cup, and new coach John Toshack admitted: ?We are realistic; we have talked about this and know the difficulties of qualifying. We could win all six and still not qualify, so it is down to others now and how they do. ?

The three top sides in Group 7 all have the weekend off, but strugglers Belgium and Bosnia-Herzegovina face off with neither side having managed to register a victory yet. In Group 8, leaders Sweden travel to second-placed Bulgaria, who have a game in hand, while third-placed Croatia travel to Iceland. Meanwhile, World Cup hosts Germany insist there is plenty at stake when they travel to Celje to play Slovenia in a friendly on Saturday.

Soccer: Becks backing Cole to seize England chance
Channel News Asia – Mar 24, 2005
With Joey, I think what has happened is that at Chelsea he’s played eight or nine games on the trot and he has got that confidence. “And he’s a player that when he has got confidence, he excels in his performances. ”

With Paul Scholes having departed the international scene, injuries to Shaun Wright-Phillips and Wayne Bridge have reduced Sven-Goran Eriksson’s options in midfield, creating an opportunity for Cole to make the leap from fringe to first team player in the way that another Chelsea midfielder, Frank Lampard, did in the run up to Euro 2004. “If you get a chance on Saturday you have got to take it. Frank Lampard came in last year and played consistently well. He’s shown the way. ”

Eriksson has harboured reservations about Cole in the past… “Joe Cole can do much more for the national team today than he did in the past because he is playing much more maturely — which for me has always been the problem with him,” Eriksson said. “He would take big risks when he shouldn’t take them but he is now playing with much more discipline and, in the games I’ve seen him in recently, he has been doing very well for Chelsea. ”

Cole does not appear to totally buy into the theory that he has been totally reborn as a player this season, but he does feel that he has taken a significant step forward under the guidance of Chelsea’s manager, Jose Mourinho. “I wouldn’t say I’ve taken my game apart but I have analysed myself and looked at where I was going wrong,” Cole said. “The last few months, I’ve played most games for Chelsea and I think it is just a natural progression I’m making. “I don’t know if it is a conscious thing, I’m just trying to learn and I’m always open to new ideas. I’ve always worked hard but there is a lot more discipline to my game now.

Italy v Scotland: Preview
go.com – Mar 25, 2005
And as long as his team make use of the talent at their disposal, Lippi believes there shouldn’t be any unwanted surprises. The three-times world champions are battling a team that has never reached the second phase of a World Cup finals tournament. The absence of AC Milan defender Alessandro Nesta and Serie A’s current top scorer Vincenzo Montella, who were forced to leave Coverciano earlier this week through injury, is not weighing too heavily on Lippi, who succeeded Giovanni Trapattoni after Euro 2004. “Two players have gone home but I do have a big team available and the players who will replace them can do well,” said the former Juve boss. What seems obvious is that Lippi has given in to public sentiment by going with the glamorous attacking trio. He insists his only concern is winning. “I am not curious to see how the attacking trio will perform,” said Lippi… The players believe in what they are doing. “It’s admirable how the players have focused this week in order to work hard and be ready for Saturday’s game. ”Scotland manager Walter Smith insists he does not want to be portrayed as a footballing miracle worker should he mastermind a shock victory. The World Cup qualifier in Milan’s famous San Siro stadium marks the former Rangers manager’s first game in charge since succeeding Berti Vogts in January. It is also the first time he has picked a team in the three years since he left Everton and few are expecting anything other than victory for Marcello Lippi’s Azzurri, who are ranked 10th in the world compared to the Scots new low-point of 88th, which is equal with Albania and below Syria. Only one Scot – Kevin Gallacher – has ever scored in Italy and that proved only to be a consolation goal in a 3-1 defeat in Rome in 1993. But while Smith retained the right to be confident that those dismal statistics could be improved he also insisted his own worth had to be judged in the long term.

France v Switzerland: Preview
go.com – Mar 25, 2005
The French are second in Group 4, level on points with first placed Republic of Ireland and third placed Israel. The three teams are separated only by goal difference. After the facing the Swiss, whom they beat 3-1 in the group stages of Euro 2004, the French travel to Tel Aviv to face Israel on Wednesday. Vieira is asking for a repeat performance of the desire displayed in the previous outing to remain hot on the heels of Ireland. “If we keep the same fighting spirit as from against Sweden, there will not be any problems and we will have great chances to win,” the Arsenal midfielder said on Friday. “It’s the level of determination we can produce that will make the difference. ”Vieira, who has been captaining the French side since the retirement of Marcel Desailly last summer, is adamant his team has what it takes to take maximum points from the two games but insists it would not be the end of the world should France fail to do that… “As a whole, they are fine and on a medical plan it’s far better too,” he explained. “There is still some uncertainty about their participation, even if their injuries inspire no worries anymore. “But if there is any doubt from any of them, we will not take any risk, that’s for sure. ”France are yet to win at the Stade de France since Domenech took charge of the national team in July 2004 but he is optimistic that run will end on Saturday. “The stadium will be full, there is always a great passion for the French national team in France,” said Domenech. “And I think my players will know how to use it to boost their spirits. ”The Swiss will be backed by a travelling army of 9,000 fans in Paris, many with the cowbells that are a feature of Swiss football crowds.

McNamara relishing chance to play role on big stage
Sunday Times – The Sunday Times – Mar 26, 2005
Twice in the past year, he has helped Celtic to contain the most stellar talent of all, Ronaldinho, in the Barcelona icon’s own backyard at the Nou Camp. So, facing Italy’s new hero, Antonio Cassano, tonight in the San Siro does not perturb the Scotland defender. “I’m not scared of these occasions, this is what I look forward to,” McNamara said. “It is a great lift to play against the best players in the world, for either your club or country. “I always like to see video tapes of the guy I am going to be up against. I will give them respect, but I will also know their strengths and weaknesses. The San Siro is the kind of stage you want to be on… I am not saying we are going to win 2-0 but if we play our best, and frustrate the Italians, we have a chance of getting a point. “That is Scotland’s nature. When we are underdogs, we do well — as we showed by beating Holland in the first leg of the Euro 2004 play-off at Hampden Park — and when we are favourites, we blow it. That is not just the case over the last few seasons. That has happened since I was a boy. We build people up and knock them down. That was true when we got the great result against Holland and then look what happened when we went to Amsterdam and got thumped 6-0.

No lifeline in sight as Scots plunge to new depths
Telegraph.co.uk – Mar 24, 2005
They were soon in free fall, however, and a 5-0 defeat by France in a friendly match in Paris set the tone for what was to follow – including a Euro 2004 play-off against Holland, who crushed Scotland 6-0 in Amsterdam, and a shambolic opening to this season’s World Cup qualifiers. On the way down Scotland long ago passed Iraq who, despite their country having been blitzed and occupied, are a comfortable 45th in the rankings. Uzbekistan (46th) were left behind, too, along with Cuba (60th), Thailand (80th) and Burkino Faso (84th). If you know a team by the company they keep, Scotland, at this week’s all-time low of 88th place, are flanked by those great powers of the game, Guinea and North Korea. Not that Vogts can be blamed entirely for the calamitous loss of status, because even since he departed last November Scotland have tumbled another 11 places without playing a game… Uzbekistan (46th) were left behind, too, along with Cuba (60th), Thailand (80th) and Burkino Faso (84th). If you know a team by the company they keep, Scotland, at this week’s all-time low of 88th place, are flanked by those great powers of the game, Guinea and North Korea. Not that Vogts can be blamed entirely for the calamitous loss of status, because even since he departed last November Scotland have tumbled another 11 places without playing a game. This is the situation Smith must begin to remedy as a matter of real urgency. Three teams north of the border can attract 50,000 spectators consistently – Celtic, Rangers and Scotland. When the national side fail to function Hampden attendances wither, Scottish Football Association income falls and the whole structure of school and youth football development is jeopardised. The effect is magnified by failure to reach the finals of any major tournament since France ’98.

England expected to win big
Turkish Daily News – Turkish Daily News (subscription) – Mar 25, 2005
On one side, unbeaten group leader England has a record of 14 wins and four ties in qualifying for major championships under Sven-Goran Eriksson. On the other, Northern Ireland failed to score during 1,242 minutes of qualifying for the Euro 2004 championship and is without a Group 6 victory so far. Home advantage:What’s more, England has home advantage at Old Trafford in Manchester. It all looks so easy — and that could be just the problem for Eriksson and his star-studded team. If the pressure’s on anyone, it’s England. “It would be disappointing for England — the fans, the players and management — if we were to lose,” England captain David Beckham said… If the pressure’s on anyone, it’s England. “It would be disappointing for England — the fans, the players and management — if we were to lose,” England captain David Beckham said. “But we are not even thinking about losing, even though we will not take Northern Ireland lightly. ” England is expected to collect a maximum six points from home games against Northern Ireland on Saturday and Azerbaijan the following on Wednesday. Second-place Poland, one point behind England, faces the same opponents at home in reverse order. Only the group winners and best two runners-up are guaranteed a place in next year’s finals in Germany. Eriksson’s team can’t afford to drop points against two of the weakest teams in the group.

UEFA European U-17 C’Ship: Nations gather for EURO reunion
noticias.info – Mar 26, 2005
German optimism
Germany missed out in Portugal, but on home soil J?rg Daniel’s side have reason for optimism. Although they have not reached an U17 finals since 2002, this season’s team began in August with a 1-0 win against Switzerland before topping a qualifying round group containing the Republic of Ireland, Iceland and Lithuania. Friendly wins
In February, Germany gained 2-0 and 2-1 friendly wins against Ukraine. However, with only one place in Italy up for grabs, Daniel warned: “The upcoming group will be much more difficult. Our first match against the Czech Republic will be decisive. Hopefully we will still be able to qualify when we finish our fixtures against the Netherlands.

Choc full of goodness
uefa.comUEFA.com – Mar 24, 2005
” Cameroonian internationals Samuel Eto’o and Carlos Kameni – of rivals FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol respectively – unveiled the new front. Kameni said: “These kinds of events are really positive, above all for children because it is important to educate them to be tolerant of others and have respect. The fight against racism is not just in football but in society. Those that come to the stadiums to shout insults are stupid although fortunately they are becoming fewer. ” Good eggsHaving come so close to UEFA EURO 2004™ qualification, Wales have been struggling somewhat as they attempt to reach the 2006 FIFA World Cup. They are yet to win in Group 6, have seen manager Mark Hughes depart, and worst of all were defeated by neighbours England in their first meeting for 20 years. However, those unwise enough to take their eyes off football for a moment may have noticed that the nation’s sporting fortunes have improved in another sport dear to their hearts – rugby union, where they last week completed the ‘grand slam’ by defeating England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy in the prestigious annual Six Nations tournament… The fight against racism is not just in football but in society. Those that come to the stadiums to shout insults are stupid although fortunately they are becoming fewer. ” Good eggsHaving come so close to UEFA EURO 2004™ qualification, Wales have been struggling somewhat as they attempt to reach the 2006 FIFA World Cup. They are yet to win in Group 6, have seen manager Mark Hughes depart, and worst of all were defeated by neighbours England in their first meeting for 20 years. However, those unwise enough to take their eyes off football for a moment may have noticed that the nation’s sporting fortunes have improved in another sport dear to their hearts – rugby union, where they last week completed the ‘grand slam’ by defeating England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy in the prestigious annual Six Nations tournament. Wales captain Ryan Giggs, who wins his 50th cap on Saturday in the first of two meetings this week with Austria, says that the oval ball success can inspire John Toshack’s side. “All the lads have arrived in Cardiff and the place is buzzing – we just hope we can carry that on,” Giggs said.

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