Manchester United’s players returned to training today after the international double-header of the past week, with just a few days preparation before the Reds take on Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford. Always the most inappropriately timed FIFA-sanctioned international, more than half-a-dozen United players departed the country for World Cup qualifiers and friendlies. And while Sir Alex Ferguson returned from a brief sojourn to watch Andy Murray win the US Open in New York unscathed, not all his players can make the same claim.
Over in Moldova Roy Hodgson’s England began World Cup qualification in fine fashion, beating the home side 5-0 in Chişinău, with United’s Michael Carrick and Danny Welbeck appearing off the bench. Meanwhile, Carrick’s midfield partner Tom Cleverley won widespread praise for an ambitious performance at the head of England’s midfield.
“Cleverley was excellent for 90 minutes and when you watch him, you understand why Sir Alex Ferguson is pleased with him,’ said England manager Roy Hodgson, who deployed the youngster as a shadow forward at Stadionul Zimbru.
“Tom stepped into that position and looks at home there. Tom’s come into a team alongside the likes of Lampard, Gerrard and Carrick and didn’t look at all out of place.”
Back at Wembley on Tuesday night Carrick again started on the bench along with Welbeck. While the latter made a highly effective late appearance as a substitute it was Cleverley, once again, that caught the eye – although this time for less celebrated reasons, with the 23-year-old missing three clear chances in an hour-long appearance. There will be far better days for Cleverley in an England shirt.
Meanwhile, for France Patrice Evra returned to Les Bleus side for the national team’s victories over Finland in Helsinki and then Belarus at Stade de France four days later. Evra lost his place to Manchester City’s Gael Clichy during Euro 2012, but has seemingly found favour with new national team manager Didier Deschamps.
For Portugal Nani missed Selecção’s friendly with Luxembourg last week, although the winger played as the national team beat Azerbaijan 3-0 at Estádio AXA in Braga on Tuesday. Nani may not be Ferguson’s first choice this season, but the 25-year-old remains key to Portugal’s hopes of qualification for Brazil 2014 having scored 13 goals in 60 appearances.
In Brazil the national team, which qualifies automatically as hosts for 2014, played friendlies against China and South Africa, scoring nine goals in the process. However, United’s Brazilian contingent – Rafael da Silva and Anderson – were both absent from Mano Menezes’ side. Rafael appeared in most of Brazil’s matches in the past summer.
Meanwhile, in Costa Rica Javier Hernández started, but failed to score as Mexico beat the hosts 2-0 in San José. And if there had been any heat for Chicharito in the build up, with the striker not starting for United this season, the 23-year-old ended the debate with the winning goal in the return match as El Tricolor won 1-0 in Ciudad de México.
Back in Europe, the Reds’ £24 million summer acquisition from Arsenal, Robin van Persie, started games against Hungary at the Puskás Ferenc Stadion in Budapest, and Turkey three days earlier. van Persie scored his 30th international goal against the Turks, only to hobble off at half-time with a minor thigh knock against the Hungarians. The 29-year-old striker will face a late test to decide whether he is fit to face Wigan this weekend, although the injury is not thought serious.
“We took off Robin for precautionary measures,” Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal told SBS6 television. “It doesn’t seem to be too serious, but you never know. We didn’t want to take any risks.”
In a similar vein Shinji Kagawa played for Samurai Blue as the Japanese beat UAE 1-0 in a friendly at Niigata’s Denryoku Big Swan Stadium last week, only for the midfielder to miss the World Cup victory over Iraq. Manager Alberto Zaccheroni omitted the playmaker with a minor back complaint, although there is no guarantee Kagawa will make either of United’s upcoming matches against Wigan or Galatasaray.
“It happened in yesterday’s practice,” Kagawa told Nikkan Sports. “I was holding the ball and went to make a move and in that instant it started to hurt. “I won’t take long [to recover].”
There are no such fears for flying winger Antonio Valencia, who captained Ecuador to two positive results in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying. Ecuador beat Bolivia 1-0 at Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa in Quito, before securing a highly creditable 1-1 draw with Uruguay in Montevideo. Former City striker Felipe Caicedo scored the goal which earned Valencia’s side the valuable point in the Uruguayan capital, three days after scoring the winner against Bolivia.
One man on the way back from injury, Jonny Evans, played in Northern Ireland’s matches against Luxembourg and Russia. The Irish emerged with a single point after drawing 1-1 with the central European minnows at Windsor Park, while Russia chalked up a comfortable 2-0 victory in Moscow. Evans created a goal for Dean Shiels, while coming through the fixtures with no fresh injury to the left ankle which underwent surgery this summer.
There was even better news in the shape of international débuts for two United youngsters – flying Norwegian striker Joshua King, and Irish winger Robbie Brady. King came of the bench against Iceland at Laugardalsvöllur, Reykjavík as Norway lost 2-0 to the hosts, and again as the Norwegians beat Slovenia 2-1 in Oslo. The 20-year-old striker, who spent last season on loan at Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hull City, failed to score on either occasion.
Meanwhile, Brady made a scoring début for the Irish against Oman at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. Brady scored three times in 39 appearances for Hull on loan last season, but even better was to come for the Irish with the 20-year-old scoring and making two more as the Republic ran out 4-1 winners.
“I’m delighted with the way it went, with a goal and an assist, but I thought I could have done more,” Brady said. “I wasn’t disappointed, but I felt I could have done a bit more. Maybe got on the ball a bit more, all-round really. I’ve gotten on well with everyone. The guys are great. They’ve made me feel part of the group.”
There are likely to be many more nights like this for the highly regarded youngster, and while Sir Alex will undoubtedly show pride in two more coming off the production line into the international scene, the 70-year-old Scot, much like his countryman in New York, will simply be “relieved” if all his charges return home unscathed.