International football

Robbie Meredith highlights the case of Darron Gibson, who has started a storm by choosing to play for the Republic of Ireland despite being born in the North

The Republic of Ireland’s 4-0 friendly win against Denmark at the end of August was the last of the few convincing performances during Steve Staunton’s ill-fated spell as manager. Two months later Staunton was sacked, but that ultimately inconsequential match in Aarhus may have lasting implications for Irish football.

Some of England’s best players are, naturally, with the most successful teams. Now, though, it seems to Barney Ronay that moving to a big club confers star status and that once achieved it’s never shaken off

The England team have always had problems. Reassuringly, they always seem to be the same ones. Here, in no particular order, are a few old favourites: obsession with long-ball football; the poor technique of players; rigid adherence to a 4-4-2 formation; players don’t like running around in the heat; ­everyone gets injured all the time; terrible at penalties; manager gleefully hounded from office. Factor in the periodic brief new dawn under a replacement gaffer/skipper combination only a tiny bit different from the last one and you have a pretty accurate summary of any recent visit to a major ­international tournament.

A recent documentary film claims to reveal the dynamics of a German dressing room – that of the national team at the World Cup. But Matt Nation has witnessed a very different side to coaching techniques at a lower level

Rarely has a U-rated film in Germany been as scandal-soaked as Söhnke Wortmann’s Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen (Germany: A Summer’s Fairytale), the fly-on-the-wall documentary about Germany’s World Cup campaign. It revealed more false bonhomie in the German dressing room than at a ­civil‑service office Christmas party. It demonstrated how David Odonkor makes just as much sense when interviewed with a mouthful of toothpaste as without. It exposed young men in sickening states of undress, including flip-flops and towelling socks together. But, most of all, it gave Jürgen Klinsmann the chance to add to his motley collection of alter-egos, in this case as Motivationsmeister.

Alex McLeish takes over when Walter Smith walks out. Neil Forsyth is worried

It takes a special kind of team to suffer an apparent plummet in stature and expectations without the players taking to the field. Scotland may be the unlikely leaders of a Euro 2008 qualifying group that includes Italy and France, but recent events have made this situation appear more like a temporary aberration soon to be rectified rather than a possible springboard to qualification.

Theo Walcott has made a unique backward step – making his England Under-21 debut after playing for the senior side. But, asks Csaba Abrahall, what’s the point of the junior team?

Thirty years ago this month, an England team featuring Ray Wilkins, Glenn Hoddle and, um, Steve Sims took on Wales at Molineux in their country’s first Under-21 international. A European Under-23 tournament had taken place in various formats since 1967, but UEFA felt the gap between Under-18 and Under-23 football was too large and opted to fill it by lowering the age limit leading up to the 1978 European Championship.

Matt Barker reports on why Italy's youngsters are so good

Italy’s Under-21s – the Azzurrini – have dominated the junior-level European Championship since winning their first title in 1992. Under Cesare Maldini’s ten-year stewardship, a succession of sides won three titles on the trot (in total the Italians have triumphed in five of the last seven tournaments), blooding an impressive turnover of players, from Demetrio Albertini and Francesco Toldo, to Fabio Cannavaro and Francesco Totti.

Brazil are everyone's second team, we are told. Well, after watching Nike's latest advert, Barney Ronay suddenly feels a lot less goodwill towards a corporate steamroller masquerading as the people's champions

What kind of person could possibly have a problem with the “beautiful game”? The good old joga bonita, with its smiling children, Brazilian superstars, tippety-tappety freestyle moves and remixed samba rhythms. Not to mention an entire range of polyester sportswear and accompanying DVD and soundtrack album. What kind of fiend, what kind of monster, could possibly feel a sense of queasiness at being told by the World Footballer of the Year, a man with a “brand value” of €47 million per annum, that we all need to stop being such corporate dupes and get with the kids on the street who are keeping it real? OK, Ronaldinho, I give in. I’ll take a gross of cap-sleeved soccer shirts and a dozen pairs of Air Zoom 90 boots. Just, please, no more back-flicks.

It says a lot about Germany that they managed to reach the 2002 World Cup final in the middle of a prolonged slump but, as Paul Joyce explains, the expectations for this summer’s hosts and poor recent results leave their long-distance coach under pressure

After a 4-1 mauling by Italy in February left Germany without a victory over a top-ranked nation since defeating England at Wembley in October 2000, CDU politician Norbert Barthle demanded that manager Jürgen Klinsmann be hauled before the national sports committee “to explain what his concept is and how Germany can win the World Cup”. With a mere three per cent of the populace believing that a side ranked three places below Iran could now win the tournament, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel herself felt obliged to give the under-fire Klinsmann the dreaded vote of confidence: she was convinced that he and his team were “on the right path”.

The appointment of Steve Staunton and Sir Bobby Robson has not met universal acclaim in Ireland, as Paul Doyle reports 

“Oh Christ, we’re doomed. Not Sieve Staunton, anyone but Sieve bloody Staunton!” Those were the exact words that resounded through the Lansdowne Road press room on June 2, 2001, when the team sheet revealed that partnering clumsy Richard Dunne in defence for the Republic of Ireland’s vital World Cup qualifier against Portugal would be 32-year-old Steve Staunton, a once-admired left-back who in recent years had become the personification of a tool with many holes but, mercifully, had hardly so far featured in this campaign. It was obvious that either Luis Figo or Staunton himself would tear the Irish defence apart.

Cramped and a capacity of 14,000 are the characteristics of Northern Ireland's Windsor Park. Robbie Meredith reports on what the future may hold for the national stadium

While supporters of the other home nations are either looking forward to Germany 2006 or contemplating progress under new managers, Northern Ireland fans are currently engaged in a surreal debate that encompasses, among others, IRA hunger strikers, George Best and US politician and billionaire Ross Perot.