International football

Fancy a game anyone? Andrew Hockley tells the tale of one of the most bizarre international fixtures you'll ever encounter

We’ve all seen it happen. A match is organised, there is confusion among the participants as to whether it will actually take place, no one is quite sure when it kicks off and finally the visiting team show up late without enough players to make up a team.

In two years Wales have gone from the brink of qualification glory to an effective play-off for last spot with Azerbaijan. Huw Richards looks for optimistic signs

Laughter may have echoed from Anglesey to Usk when David Healy angled his shot across Paul Robinson at Windsor Park, but Northern Ireland’s victory over England was not without its downside for Wales. As well as putting plaudits for a spirited display against the English at the Millennium Stadium into more sobering perspective, the result ended any chance of matching an initial fourth-place seeding. Victory over Azerbaijan in the final home match would at least avert a last-place finish, but come what may at Windsor Park on October 12, Wales cannot finish higher than fifth.

Northern Ireland’s shock victory over England was a welcome tonic on and off the pitch, as Robbie Meredith reports

Strange as it seems now, the visit of England to Windsor Park wasn’t originally particularly important. Sure, it was a rare chance for us to ogle at the Team England circus and gain some attention from Motty, Wrighty and… um… Woolnoughy, but many Northern Ireland supporters initially viewed the Azerbaijan match the preceding Saturday as more vital. It was a realistic chance to pick up a rare win, whereas most of us assumed that England would stroll into town, patronise us with a load of guff about how they expected a tough contest, then cuff us with relative ease. 

Ugly commercialism aside, Paul Joyce hails the pleasing diet of positive football at the Confederations Cup as well as tentative signs of revival in the German national side

As a dry run for next year’s World Cup finals, the 2005 Confederations Cup had many positive aspects. Not among them, however, was the rampant commercialism that included the sponsoring not only of the 22 player escorts who accompanied the teams onto the pitch, but also of the child carrying the referee’s tossing coin. All vestiges of local cuisine had been removed from the five stadiums. Gone too was FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s original intention of dedicating the tournament to Cameroon’s Marc-Vivien Foé who died of a heart attack at the 2003 Confed-Cup in France.

There is a world outside of FIFA. Steve Menary reports on plans for a world cup of "non-countries"

The breakaway republic of Northern Cyprus is set to host the first ever world cup for nations that don’t exist. Recognised only by Turkey, which invaded the Mediterranean island in 1974, Northern Cyprus will host the 16-team Viva World Cup in November 2006.

Australia may be getting a slightly easier ride to the World Cup by joining the Asian qualifying system, say Matthew Hall, but naturally, this one's all about money

Don’t get confused. Australia’s entry into the Asian Football Confederation is not about a fairer passage to the World Cup finals. Although taking part in a genuine qualifying campaign of up to 16 games, home and away (rather than beating American Samoa 31-0 then facing a rampant Uruguay in a play-off) is an excellent side dish, the main meal is about something a little more complicated: money.

Guernsey v England? It could happens says Steve Menary

Imagine crowds thronging into St Peter Port to see Guernsey play England in a World Cup qualifier. It could happen, as the island are considering an application to join FIFA.

While Japan was considering imposing sanctions on North Korea, they found time to have a game of football, writes Justin McCurry

Naive idealists who believe sport and politics shouldn’t mix had best ignore the Asian qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup – that is if they weren’t already. When North Korea played Japan last month in their opening group qualifier, it wasn’t just the prospect of upsetting the best side in Asia on home turf that motivated them. It was also the thought of putting one over a bitter historical enemy.

After two-and-a-half-years' worth of poor performances, Berti Vogts leaves his post as Scotland manager blaming media and supporter pressure for his failure. Dianne Millen explains why reform is desperately needed in Scottish football

If you listened hard on that icy Moldovan night, you could almost hear the sound of Berti Vogts’ tartan bodywarmer falling off the proverbial shoogly peg as the travelling Tartan Army cordially invited him to go forth and multiply. From then on, the combative German’s one-way ticket from Glasgow Airport was as good as booked, although his emotional “personal statement” on resigning laid the blame not on the fans directly, but on “the unacceptable power of the tabloid press to influence its readership”.

Few World Cup qualifiers can have been more politically charged than October's visit of Serbia & Montenegro to Bosnia-Herzegovina, as Djordje Nikolic reports

Nine years have passed since the end of the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Apparently it’s not long enough to hold a football game against the former compatriots, now neighbours, Serbia & Montenegro under normal conditions.