You know the drill. Skip England’s latest embarrassment, bolster hipster credentials by catching American Samoa versus Cook Islands at the Loto-Tonga Soka, wait a fortnight for United’s next game. International week: too often football’s equivalent to watching paint dry. Except, of course, for the diverse collection of Reds in action this week, leaving the kids, the retired and Bastian Schweinsteiger to train at Carrington ahead of United’s fixture with Liverpool next Monday night.
At Wembley, United winger Jesse Lingard made his England début in the home nation’s 2-0 victory over Malta. Having lost to Iceland at Euro 2016 anything was possible, although Gareth Southgate’s team edged past the islanders with goals from Daniel Sturrage and Delli Alli. Lingard played the full 90 on the right side of England attack to generally positive reviews.
Also starting for the Three Lions is the much maligned Wayne Rooney, selected once again in a deep-lying midfield role for the national side. Does it say more about England’s current state that Rooney is selected for a role he is patently ill-equipped, or the Scouser’s enduring fame that he plays whatever the merit? In the end Rooney, who is the top goalscorer in the history of the English national team, was booed by the Wembley crowd. Football is nothing if not enduringly cynical.
Marcus Rashford enjoyed another lively 20-minute spell as a substitute, adding to the growing chorus calling for the youngster to start. The left wing is nowhere near Rashford’s best position, but his ability to run at the opposition with confidence stands out in an England side battered by poor results, mediocre players and a tragi-comic managerial situation. Chris Smalling was an unused substitute, while Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Luke Shaw and Phil Jones were not selected.
“Jesse had an outstanding début, he really linked the play well and looked a real threat,” said Southgate. “That’s why we wanted to give him the start – he’s got a real strong mentality, he’s an exciting young player and the stage was made for him really. He’s enjoyed Wembley – he’s scored twice here in the past for Manchester United and he had a very good game.”
England next plays in Slovenia on Tuesday night, with rumours already suggesting that Rooney will be dropped for England as he has been for United. MLS and international retirement awaits, but which will come first?
Elsewhere in Europe, David de Gea and Ander Herrera were both selected for Julen Lopetegui’s squad to face Italy and Albania. De Gea started both matches as La Roja drew 1-1 with Italy in Turin and then beat Albania 2-0 at the Loro Borici Stadium in Shkoder. Herrera must wait for his international début after watching both games from the bench, while Juan Mata was not selected for the squad despite a largely positive start to the campaign under José Mourinho.
Former Red Gerard Piqué also played, although the Barcelona player suggested that the World Cup in Russia will be his last international tournament. Piqué has often been the target for Spanish crowds for his pro-Catalonia views.
Matteo Darmian was recalled to the Italy squad for the match against Spain and then the trip to Macedonia, despite rarely featuring for United this season. The right-back had to settle for a place on the bench in both games. After drawing with Spain, the Azzuri beat Macedonia 3-2 in Skopje through a Ciro Immobile winner in injury-time.
In Paris France beat Bulgaria 4-1 with goals from Kevin Gameiro, Antonie Griezman and Dimitri Payet. Paul Pogba played the full 90 and Anthony Martial was an unused substitute as Les Bleus came from behind to win comfortably. Morgan Schnederlin was not selected in Didier Deschamps squad. Little surprise given the former Southampton midfielder is a rare sight in Mourinho’s team this season.
In Rotterdam Daley Blind started and Memphis Depay was an unused substitute as Netherlands beat Belarus 4-1. It’s a result that relieves some pressure: Danny Blind’s side failed to qualify for Euro 2016 and started World Cup qualification with a disappointing draw in Sweden. Blind, Pogba, and Martial then all featured on Monday night as France beat Netherlands 1-0 in Amsterdam.
Marouane Fellaini started as Roberto Martinez’ Belgium thrashed Bosnia in Brussels. The multi-talent Belgium squad has disappointed at the last two international tournaments, with Marc Wilmots’ stifling tactics seemingly creating a side less than the sum of its parts. Martinez’ predilection for attacking football could yet unleash talents including Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke. That point was underlined when Belgium put six past Gibraltar at the Estadio Algarve in Faro, Portugal – a match that Fellaini missed.
Elsewhere in Europe ex-Red Cristiano Ronaldo scored four as Portugal beat Andorra 6-0 in Aveiro, Bastian Schweinsteiger failed to make Joachim Low’s Germany squad, and Johnny Evans, Oliver Norwood and Paddy McNair featured in Northern Ireland’s 4-0 defeat of the San Marino. Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired after Euro 2016.
United’s only participant in the African qualifying competition is Eric Bailly, whose Ivory Coast beat Mali 3-1 at Stade de la Paix in Bouake. Bailly played the full match – his 18th international cap. In addition to featuring in World Cup qualification games, Bailly is likely to miss much of January and potentially some of February during the African Cup of Nations, which is being hosted in Gabon. Bailly’s loss will certainly be felt at Old Trafford, with the Ivorian having settled in superbly this season.
In the South American qualifying competition, Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo both started in Argentina’s draw with Peru at Estadio Nacional in Lima. The pair has been much criticized at Old Trafford, where Romero will spend another season warming the bench and Rojo only remains for lack of a suitable buyer – read club that was prepared to return some of the inflated £16 million fee United invested in the hapless left-back. Argentina concludes this round of fixtures with a match against Paraguay at Estadio Mario Kempes in Cordoba on Tuesday night.
Finally, Antonio Valencia opened the scoring and set up another as Ecuador beat Chile 3-0 in Quito. The 30-year-old may be lining up at right back for United, but takes up a more attacking role with La Tricolor. Gustavo Quinteros’ side next plays Bolivia at altitude in La Paz on Tuesday afternoon.