International football

wsc334With declarations of superiority and personal messages from leaders, Jon Spurling looks at why the 1934 meeting of England and Italy was as much about politics as football

In November 1934, world champions Italy arrived at a packed Highbury to face an England team containing seven Arsenal players: Wilf Copping, Ray Bowden, George Male, Frank Moss, Ted Drake, Eddie Hapgood and Cliff Bastin. Benito Mussolini had claimed “Good kicking is good politics” and described Italy’s World Cup victory the previous summer as a “triumph for fascism”. Although tempting to suggest that Italy were little more than a collection of 11 sporting soldiers, the England players were also expected to demonstrate the superiority of the Britisher.

wsc302Mike Bayly on why England's warm-up match against non-League opponents might not have been the best way to prepare for Euro 88

One of the more curious international friendlies of recent times took place in June 1988. England had just qualified for the European Championships in Germany. A year earlier, on the return journey from a qualifying match in Turkey, the journalist Frank McGhee had approached Bobby Robson, suggesting England play a non-League team in their build-up to the tournament.

wsc302 The rules which determine international eligibility must be looked into, argues Steve Menary

Equatorial Guinea's run to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations augurs badly for the credibility of future international tournaments. Only five players in the co-hosts' squad were born in the country. Nine came from Spain, Equatorial Guinea's former colonial rulers, but players such as Thierry Fidjeu and Narcisse Ekanga – the perpetrator of a shocking dive regularly revisited on YouTube – seemingly have no links to Equatorial Guinea at all.

wsc302Poland, the Euro 2012 co-hosts are struggling to find a common language in the dressing room, writes Liam Nolan

During the past six months, Poland's coach Franciszek Smuda has faced a barrage of domestic criticism for trying to lure footballers with Polish ancestry to play for the national team. Five of Smuda's starting 11 were either born or raised abroad. French born Ludovic Obraniak (Bordeaux) and Damien Perquis (Sochaux) cannot speak Polish, and three German-Poles – Eugen Polanski, Adam Matuszczyk and Sebastian Boenisch – feel much more at ease speaking in German.

wsc301 Steve Menary on how the Great Britain team will have a past triumph to live up to when they take part in the Olympics this summer

A century is a long time for any side to wait to reclaim a trophy that once seemed their own. But should Great Britain's controversial Olympic team win gold in London this summer, that will be the gap between their titles. Great Britain won the first proper Olympic football event – and the first proper international tournament – in 1908. They had home advantage and faced mostly weak opposition in the six-team tournament. Holding on to the title four years later was surely the GB side's finest achievement.

wsc299 After their first leg play-off win, Lee Daly reflects on Ireland's Euro 2012 qualification campaign

Despite the Republic of Ireland scoring four goals in their away victory against Estonia in the first leg of their Euro 2012 play-off, the most ambitious Irish performance of the night was from fan Conor Cunningham. He managed to sneak past security into the stadium and make it onto the pitch, disguised in an Estonian team tracksuit top. Cunningham sat in the home team dugout and celebrated with the Irish players after their victory. He became an overnight media sensation and made several appearances on radio explaining he was as surprised as anyone that he wasn't found out until after the final whistle.

wsc299 Playing for your country is the peak for most footballers but, as Steve Menary points out, it can come at a cost for lower-league players

For players in the lower leagues, pursuing an international career is a real gamble. The latest international calendar allows for 19 matches over a two-year period ending in 2012. With no automatic suspension of games in the lower divisions, players going on international duty risk losing their place at their clubs.

Chris Lines on Fulham's scapegoating of fans after a ticketing shambles

Fast becoming football's answer to the Harlem Globetrotters, September saw the Brazilian national team in London for an enticing friendly with Ghana at Fulham's Craven Cottage. But for many supporters the occasion was marred by events outside the stadium.

Footballing tensions in Ireland have worsened recently over several cases of defection and perceived poaching, reports Aaron Rogan

Gerry Armstrong's goal against Spain in the 1982 World Cup finals will live long in the memories of Northern Ireland supporters. His new role within the Irish Football Association (IFA) could be vital for the future success of the national team. Over the last few years, the south's Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has begun selecting an increasing number of northern-born and capped players to represent the Republic. Armstrong has been appointed as "elite player mentor" to persuade younger players to stay within the north's set up.

While the other World Cup winners celebrated the competition's first 50 years, England stayed at home, writes Neil Andrews

The Mundialito tournament – or Little World Cup – that kicked off in December 1980 was one of those rare occasions when FIFA managed to get everything right. Designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first ever World Cup, all six previous winners of the trophy were invited to Uruguay, the first hosts in 1930, to contest the title of Champion of Champions. All seven games were to be played at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo and the organisers were determined to set a celebratory tone. However, the English FA seemed to misunderstand this wave of nostalgia and declined to take part, just like they did first time around.