International football

With Mark Hughes on his way out, Steve Bidmead looks at the main contenders competing to succeed the now-Blackburn Rovers boss as manager of the Welsh national team

“If that had happened to me I’d have been slaughtered by the media,” complained Sven-Göran Eriksson on learning that Mark Hughes had taken the Blackburn Rovers job and would be part-time Wales manager for the World Cup qualifiers against England and Poland. But there were vital differences between the two coaches. Not only had Hughes avoided controversy in his private life, he had also carried his team as far as he realistically could, enjoying comparative success. The timing could have been better, but fans understood his departure was on the cards. Beating Italy 2-1 in Cardiff in 2002 is his epitaph, rocketing Wales from non-League to Premiership.

There were more than one team of football winners in Athens, though there waas some squabbling over what Iraq's achievement means, reports Matthew Brown

For a nation that supposedly fell in love with the game this summer, Greece seemed strangely indifferent to the Olympic football tournament. Per­haps they simply needed a break after all that Euro 2004 euphoria, but many matches at the Olympic Games were played out in front of virtually empty stadiums. In general the crowds rose above 20,000 only when Greece were playing or if the game was held in Athens itself. In some cases, the attendances barely rose above 5,000 and in others were fewer than 1,500.

The World Cup has had to expand to the point where it can be too much of a good thing, believes Philip Cornwall, who thinks the European Championship is now perfection

It’s part of the calendar of the football fan’s life. One summer is dominated by the World Cup; then there’s a quiet year; but now the European Champ­ionship circus rolls in, in many ways a less cumbersome, more accessible (closer if you want to go; always in our time zone if you don’t) and so more perfect tournament than the global event. Euro 2004 offers a steady stream of daily matches stretching for a fortnight, then a less intense but more important final week, finishing on a Fourth of July that will be cele­brated so wildly in one country that visiting Americans will complain about the fireworks. The tournament’s rise, creating a two-rather than four-year cycle, has ensured the eclipse of the international friendly, making them training grounds for the games that truly decide coach’s jobs.

Rio might be complaining, but it could have been far worse: just ask Russia's Yegor Titov, Dan Brennan says

Compared to the “Titov Affair” the furore surrounding Rio Ferdinand’s drug test fiasco and subsequent ban has been all too mild. Like Ferdinand, Yegor Titov will be watching Euro 2004 from the comfort of the VIP box. The Spartak Moscow midfielder, who tested positive for traces of bromantan – an anti-fatigue drug developed by the Soviet military – prior to Russia’s play-off against Wales in Moscow last November, is now seeing out a 12-month ban from domestic and international football.

Religion and football remain a potent and unpleasant mix. Robbie Meredith examines the problems on both sides of the border in Ireland

In 1998, in a routine attempt at male bonding, I took my son to his first international at Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland play Moldova. Our players wore green, but numerous fans sported Rangers scarves of red, white and blue or the purple and orange colours of the Orange Order. Many bellowed “No Surrender!” in the midst of the national anthem, while The Sash, the Protestant marching song, was sung regularly.

And you think rebuilding Wembley was a saga. Paul Doyle reports on the homelessness crisis that could bring the Republic of Ireland to a ground nearer than you would think

Can Irish football recover from its current crisis? A nation that was last year trying to convince the continent it should co-host Euro 2008 is set to admit that it cannot, in fact, host its own home matches.

David Wylie explores what lies ahead for Northern Ireland

Quitting the international game to re­turn to club management is in vogue. If speculation is to be believed, Sven-Göran Eriksson is considering the lure of Abramovich’s millions at Chelsea. Meanwhile, emphasising the worlds between them, Sammy McIlroy has resigned from the Northern Ireland post to become the boss of Stockport County. Eriksson has just delivered qualification. Sammy Mac, on the other hand, has pre­sided over the worst spell in his country’s footballing history. Yet amaz­ingly, he wasn’t sacked; indeed the opposite. Believe it or not, only a short time before leading NI to a dismal three points, no wins and no goals from our latest campaign, Mc­Ilroy signed a new two-year deal.

England may have lost twice to the United States but have inflicted frequent and often quite heavy revenge, beginning, as Gavin Willacy relates, with Tom Finney in 1953

Three years after their humiliation by the United States in Belo Horizonte, Alf Ramsey, Billy Wright, Jimmy Dickinson and Tom Finney were given the chance to gain some sort of revenge on those pesky Americans when the FA sent England on their regular tour of the Americas.

As Iraq gets used to life after Saddam, Hassanin Mubarak recounts what his rule meant for football – and hopes all Iraqis can now enjoy the game in peace

When Saddam Hussein took over as president in 1979, Iraq had one of the most successful nat­ional teams in Asia and some of the continent’s strong­est clubs. The regime quickly asserted its authority over the nation’s favourite sport, appointing Saddam’s personal body­guard, Sabah Mirza Mahmoud, as head of the Iraq Football Association (IFA). His predecessor, Faleh Akram, was later executed on charges of opposing the regime.

Closing a ground to England fans would just hurt the wrong people, believes Alan Bailey, who wants a more imaginative penalty imposed: a media blackout

By the time you read this, UEFA should have decided how to punish the attacks, constant racist chanting and pitch invasions which surrounded and intruded upon England’s 2-0 win over Turkey at the Stadium of Light in April. I can’t tell you what was decided on May 1 and what the FA’s response will be. But if the rumours are right it will be both too much and far, far too little.

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