Thursday 20 November ~
John Toshack and Nigel Worthington reacted very differently to last night's results but the crux of the matter remained the same. The Wales manager was pleased with an impressive win in Copenhagen where, with Man City striker Ched Evans making his first start and Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey winning a first full cap, the side looked especially good going forward. Toshack pointed out that his young players were “improving quickly”, adding that by their next competitive match in March “these lads will have all had three more months of first-team action for their clubs”. In Belfast things were very different.
As Northern Ireland lost 2-0 to Hungary Nigel Worthington suggested that some of his players may have to move clubs to secure first-team football and that: "It was very evident that we had players out there tonight who are not playing for their teams that need to put more work in, simple as that." Worthington did not mention specific names but you can't help thinking that David Healy, who has failed to assert himself at Sunderland and this week launched a special DVD of his goals entitled “David Healy – The Talisman”, cannot have been far from his manager's thoughts.
As Toshack and Worthington both mentioned, some semblance of first-team club football is vital to the development and fitness of national-team players. The huge numbers of foreign players in the Premier League means that fewer home nation players than ever before are competing in England's top division. Where Scottish players once featured with all the top sides, they are now few and far between – Alan Hutton, Craig Gordon and Darren Fletcher being the highest profile Premier League representatives. The Northern Irish Under-21 team has also reflected this – for a game against Israel in February Irish League players were called up while Tuesday's 3-1 win in Scotland on Tuesday night saw a debut for Robin Shroot of Ryman Premier League side Harrow Borough.
Elsewhere last night, England's win in Berlin might some give encouragement to Wales who play Germany in a Group Four qualifier on April 1 and will most likely need to win to reach South Africa. It's difficult not to feel some sympathy for Shay Given who, while accustomed to defensive errors at Newcastle, seemed very upset with Ireland's defence in Trapattoni's first defeat as manager against Poland: “I don't know who was meant to pick him up, but it's very disappointing to give a goal away like that.” In Serbia's 6-1 thrashing of Bulgaria the erratic Savo Milosevic gave a familiar performance in his formal farewell from international football – two goals and two missed penalties. This humiliation caused a strop by Dimitar Berbatov who has now threatened to stop playing for his country. If true, this is some good news at last for Shay Given – Ireland play Bulgaria on March 28 next year.