England play the worst team in the world later on Thursday. San Marino are ranked 210th and last in the official rankings, and we always trust Fifa when it starts talking numbers. That means they’ve been even less successful historically than the likes of São Tomé and Principe, Brunei Darussalam, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Scotland. Kick-off at Wembley is at 7.45pm GMT on ITV. Not long after, Stacey makes a big decision in EastEnders, which sounds interesting, while over on The Dog House (Channel 4, 8pm) the folk at the kennels might have found a forever home for Grant the little West Highland terrier. Aw bless. Very much looking forward to seeing him scamper about.
The San Marino match isn’t a total waste of time, though. Well, it sort of is, but it does give Gareth Southgate the opportunity to rest Harry Kane, who played all 120 minutes of Tottenham’s laugh riot at Dinamo Zagreb last Thursday, then three days later pulled off the heist at Villa Park where poor old Matty Cash was done up like a kipper, well true and proper. Plenty of midnight oil was burned while planning that caper, and criminal masterminds are still only human like the rest of us, they get tuckered out too, so Big H gets to put his feet up. Just in time to catch the last of this year’s heats in MasterChef.
Southgate had the brazen neck to describe this as one of “those big England nights”, slightly undermining an already ludicrous point by comparing it to the 9-0 win over Luxembourg in 1982. Drifting off into nostalgic reverie, he spoke of the “Luther Blissett hat-trick in my head” while insisting that “there are little moments in those games that we look back on from our youth and kids of today will do that.” The Fiver isn’t quite so confident about that, given the cumulative score between the two countries in their previous six meetings is 37-1, and we all know full well the only goal anyone remembers. Lightning never strikes twice, so expect a bored nation to start looking for the remote control at approximately 7.45pm and 6.3 seconds.
“I’m not expecting a Fiver campaign, but consider this. Last Saturday my rubbish team Southend got a rare penalty v Firewall FC when our Tim Dieng was pushed to the ground by their skipper Jordan Clarke; definitely a pen, but Dieng made a meal of it by holding his face/head (though to be fair he had a bandaged head from a nasty cut a week earlier so could have been in pain). Clarke’s red card has been rescinded and now, instead, Dieng has been given a two-match ban. How is that possible when even ‘simulation’ spotted by a ref only gets a yellow and when theatrical tumbles are normal, unpunished fare in the Premier League and Big Cup? It’s bad enough that we’re probably going out of the league after 100-plus years without the EFL sticking an extra boot in” – Bryan Matthews.
“Re: Neil Wells (yesterday’s Fiver letters). As a Manchester United fan, I was at the 1971 Chelsea away match in which United conceded the first goal through a pass across, just outside the penalty area, but I hope that Paddy Crerand owns up and calls The Fiver to state it was not John Fitzpatrick who committed this heinous crime” – Rob Burke.
“OK, I know I’m not actually supposed to take anything seriously, to be emotionally pinged in any way, but in yesterday’s Fiver there were two remarkable letters, one in-good-faith report of a coaching change retraction, a young adult shifting the literacy rate of an entire country and an Egyptian who could make millions impersonating some Argentinian. Strange times; I enjoyed it” – Paul Benveniste.
Crewe chairman John Bowler has stood down following the publication of the Sheldon report into sexual abuse in football. “We obviously welcome this decision,” read a statement from the Offside Trust. “We thought it might have been made in 2016.”
FFP rules are to undergo dramatic change, with the key break-even measure declared “purposeless” by Uefa. Hmm …
Fifa will not punish Norway after their players protested about Qatar’s hosting of the Human Rights World Cup before the 3-0 qualifying win in Gibraltar. “Fifa believes in the freedom of speech, and in the power of football as a force for good,” it cheered.
Wales are licking their wounds after a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Belgium. “They are No 1 in the world for a reason,” sighed caretaker boss Robert Page.
The Republic O’Ireland did a goal – two of them! – but it wasn’t enough to avoid a 3-2 defeat in Serbia.
Slovenia defender Petar Stojanovic is revelling in his team’s 1-0 win over Croatia. “We’ve been told many times that we are just a skiing nation but we showed that we have a great national soccer team too,” he whooped.
Former Dutch goal-getter Marco van Basten wants the offside rule scrapped. “I am convinced that football would be better without it,” he trilled.
And Queen’s Celtic skipper Scott Brown will leave Parkhead this summer after 14 seasons with the club to join Aberdeen as player-coach.
Six new England-born players, Michail Antonio and Human Rights 2022 to follow? The Reggae Boyz of Jamaica have big plans, as Paul MacInnes learns.
How the EFL prepares would-be stars of the future. By Ben Fisher.
From Weston-super-Mare to Wembley: Ben Fisher traces the origin story of super-Villan Ollie Watkins.