Manchester United have 16 senior players plus several juniors out on international duty this week, leaving Sir Alex Ferguson with time to attend the Elite Coaches forum in Nyon, Switzerland and the old guard holding the fort at Carrington. While Messrs. Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have time to take it easy this week, then most of United’s squad is off fighting for World Cup spots.
Ben Foster, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Wes Brown are with the England squad this week. Firstly for Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Slovenia and then for the Group 6 World Cup tie at home to Croatia on Wednesday. While Foster sat on the bench, Ferdinand will not play with a thigh injury and Brown not picked. Carrick meanwhile had a half against the Slovenian’s in the centre of midfield, while Rooney was at the heart of the action for 80 minutes.
Typically Rooney was at the heart of both the action and headlines after being felled for a controversial 31st minute penalty. Running into the box, Rooney tussled for a loose ball only to go down under a shirt pull. The Slovenian’s cried ‘dive’. It wasn’t but the penalty was certainly soft.
In Scotland Darren Fletcher captained George Burley’s team to a 2-0 victory over Macedonia at Hampden Park in European Group 9. The win keeps Scotland’s World Cup hopes alive until they are soundly beaten by the Dutch on Wednesday and dumped out of the competition. Rest easy next summer, Darren.
Meanwhile, John O’Shea played for the Republic of Ireland in the nation’s fortunate 2-1 victory over minnows Cyprus in European Group 8. The late Robbie Keane winner in Nicosia saved the Republic’s blushes and keeps open the country’s hopes for a spot in South Africa next year. Ireland sit second in the table behind Italy but several points clear of Bulgaria, who are in third place. The green army is likely to finish second and be forced to qualify via a playoff after Wednesday’s qualifier in Turin. Darron Gibson was an unused substitute.
In the same group Dimitar Berbatov scored from the spot in Bulgaria’s 4-1 win over Montenegro. The United striker scored Bulgaria’s third in the win, although his team are five points behind Ireland in the chase for second spot.
In Group 3 Jonny Evans delayed an ankle operation to play at the heart of Northern Ireland’s central defence in their 1-1 draw away to Poland. It was a huge result for the Northern Irish who still hold hopes of securing second place in the group and therefore a play-off spot. The Irish next face group leaders Slovakia followed by a crucial away fixture in the Czech Republic.
Portugal’s increasingly forlorn hope of qualifying for the World Cup took another blow as they drew with Group 1 leaders Denmark. Nani came on as a second half substitute in the 1-1 draw in Copenhagen in which Cristiano Ronaldo also played. Carlos Queiroz’ fate is likely to be sealed with two matches against second placed Hungary on Wednesday and then in October.
Elsewhere Patrice Evra played for France in their 1-1 draw with Romania. France, who are second behind Nemanja Vidic’s Serbia in Group 7, could still qualify automatically but face a crucial match against Serbia on Wednesday in Belgrade. Zoran Tosic also features in the Serbian squad.
Finally in Europe Ritchie de Laet made Belgium’s squad but mercifully didn’t figure in the country’s 5-0 defeat to Spain. Belgium have no chance of qualifying.
Outisde of Europe Park Ji-Sung set up South Korea’s final goal in their 3-1 win over Australia. Both Korea and the Australians have already qualified for the finals next year.
Luis Valencia wasn’t so lucky as his Ecuador side lost 2-0 against fith placed Colombia in Medellin. Ecuador still have a chance of qualifying however, as fourth placed Argentina are only two points ahead.
Anderson didn’t make the Brazil squad, as the World Cup favourites beat Argentian 3-1 on their own turf in Rosario.
Outside of the of the seniors United sent 11 juniors to under-21, under-19 and under-17 squads this week. Man United youth report far better than we can:
England U21 – Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley
Italy U21 – Federico Macheda
Northern Ireland U21 – Craig Cathcart
Scotland U21 – David Gray
Serbia U21 – Adem Ljajić
England U19 – Reece Brown, Cameron Stewart, Matt James
Ireland U19 – Robbie Brady
Ireland U17 – Sean McGinty