Score In A Brothel But Not From The Bench

Last updated : 06 September 2004 By Bernard Azulay

I imagine it must be a bit bizarre for the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, coming in for daily training without the majority of his team mates. More baffling is the fact that Patrick Vieira's injury meant that he hadn't played a competitive football match since Portugal this summer and yet he captained his country for the entire ninety minutes of a somewhat embarrassing 0-0 draw against Israel in the Stade de France.

I assume the new French manager must have obtained Arsène Wenger's approval and I suppose it serves the Arsenal's purpose for our captain to regain his match fitness whilst playing for his country. But without having appeared in red & white so far this season, it would be just a little bit of a wind up if Paddy was to aggravate his injury playing for Les Bleus and ended up out of action for a further couple of months. With the French having lost virtually the heart of their team, as the influential likes of Zidane, Thuram, Desailly and Lizarazu have all retired from International competition, I guess the revolution which has resulted since Domenech's tenure began meant that they must have needed all the experience they could muster to play alongside so many raw recruits. Judging by Saturdays ineffectual efforts against the Israelis Les Bleus might struggle to meet the high expectations and the huge shadow cast by their former World and European cup winning side.

Mind you after watching the scoreless bore draw played out in Paris I am still trying to work out if the Israelis were surprisingly resolute (not to mention more than a little fortunate) or the French were particularly profligate. What's more with regard to the consequences as far as the Boys in Green are concerned, I am not sure whether it bodes well because the French are no longer the imperious force they once were, or if this result gives us more reason to worry that there might be four team fighting it out for automatic qualification and a play-off place (that's assuming Cyprus and the Faeroe Isles are the two whipping boys?).

I might not be International footie's greatest fan (mainly because I watch most of it merely praying that none of our Arsenal players gets clobbered) but I made sure that I'd walked Treacle and completed any other chores on Saturday morning so I could sit down and savour the veritable feast of football all afternoon and evening, without fear of any distractions. A big vote of thanks goes to the schedulers responsible for arranging kick-off times which meant that for once I could watch Ireland and then England, instead of sitting here wearing out my remote control constantly hopping channels in the hope of catching all the important action but where the laws of Sod and Murphy invariably guarantee that I end up missing the goals in both games.

I might be mistaken but even via my television signal I thought I sensed a renewed mood of optimism as Brian Kerr's charges trotted out at Lansdowne Road (perhaps it was just the positive effect of everyone enjoying the pleasant sunshine?). However even with the return to fitness of Robbie Keane, I still find myself contemplating the Ireland line-up from the principal point of view that there are only three players who I would consider of International calibre (possibly four if you include Given). I won't insult the remainder by calling them mediocre journeymen but to my mind they are the sort of staunch players who might be relied on to get a team promoted to the Premiership (from what has now been dubbed the ridiculously confusing Championship league) but who might not have the natural talent to keep a team there.

I sincerely hope they have me eating large portions of humble pie when they end up doing us proud in Germany. Yet I can't escape the feeling that while Kerr might be able to inspire them to play out of their skins and compete with the world's best in one-off, high octane encounters, eventually the limitations of a centre-back pairing comprising of Cunnigham and O'Brien is likely to see Ireland come unstuck against the incredible pace and potency of the creme de la creme of Continental strikers.

I hadn't thought of Andy Reid as being up there with Duff, Keane and O'Shea as potential 'world class' players. To be honest I hadn't seen much of him at all previously, so it was a pleasant surprise to see Reid add some delightful touches to what was otherwise a decidedly dour encounter in my opinion, despite the 3-0 scoreline. It will be interesting to discover if he can do likewise against better quality opposition and it was amusing to see him described as "chunky in stature" in the the match reports which heaped praise on the Nottm. Forest youngster. Perhaps it is the Ireland kit but compared to some of modern football's super fit specimens, to my eyes Reid looked more tubby than chunky! Is it a mere coincidence that all the creative players coming from either of our two countries appear to have a predisposition for pot bellies? Then again as my portly old pop was often fond of joking with us, Reid is not dissimilar to the man who got on the scales in the chemist only for a sign to flash up "Height disproportionate to weight". He's in no need of salads, he's just six inches too short!

Far be it from me to further the cause of the megalomaniac who monopolises the media in this country but the Sky Plus gadget must be amongst man's very best inventions. On Saturday I sussed that I could watch the first 15 mins of the England game and then switch to one of the multitude of foreign channels to witness live coverage of the return to action of our captain. For once I wasn't disadvantaged by my indecisiveness, as I happened to catch the Austrian cock-up which resulted in England's first goal and thankfully the other three all came after I'd flicked back during half-time in Paris. I was then faced with a bit of a quandary. Did I return to the Stade de France to see if Thierry Henry and co. could finally foil the Israeli resistance in a match which had totally failed to catch fire, or did I linger to ensure that England's embarrassment was no fault of Ashley Cole's?

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology I was able to watch both. I hit the record button so that I was able to wallow in the frustrations of the French a few hours later and I am glad that I did. I wouldn't have missed for the world the live transmission of the post-match comments of Steven Gerrard, perhaps the player most likely to rescue all three points, as he revealed to everyone's astonishment that he'd been subbed by mistake. Apparently Sven misunderstood Gerrard's signal, believing the Scouser to be injured. If only the Swede was as unequivocal on the subs bench as he seems to be in the bedroom!

"Arsenal All 4-1" published by Mainstream, a record of the Arsenal's amazing undefeated campaign, as told in a collection of these columns is available now, online and at all good bookshops.