Battered Bulgars, bereft Belgians and miserable Maltesers

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The human teleprinter here, with utterly off the cuff reactions to last night’s other results – i.e. not England’s or Scotland’s.

Serbia 6-1 Bulgaria.

Hristo Stoichkov, Yordan Letchkov, Trifan Ivanov, Dimitar Penev, Georgi Dimitrov: your boys sure took a hell of a beating.

What has happened to Bulgarian football? I grieve for the nation that beat Germany 2-1 at USA 94, probably the most enjoyable World Cup game of my life. (Too young to remember 1966. Just.)

I still remember Terry Venables sagely predicting: “I fancy the Bulgarians here.” How right he was. Stoichkov was immense, a one-man Total Footballer who even turned up at right-back. And now this.

Losing 6-1 is bad enough. But Savo Milosevic missed two penalties – and still managed to score twice in his last appearance for Serbia. If The Sun splashed this the headline would presumably be “Serbs 6 Twerps 1.” Or, indeed, “Silly Bulgars.”

Milosevic says a tearful goodbye 

Greece 1-1 Italy.

The Italians aren’t as frenzied about friendlies as the English, so Marcello Lippi will be chuffed to have equalled Vittorio Pozzo’s record of 31 matches without defeat as Azzurri coach. And Luca Toni scored, which was nice, as that bloke said in The Fast Show.

Azerbaijan 1-1 Albania.

Decent result for the Albanians. I watched Wales play Albania in Tirana in 1995, on a surface of lunar craters lightly dusted with grass and sand. That was 1-1 too.

Albania was just emerging from Stalinist isolation and a gang of middle-aged autograph hunters huddled at the airport, one of whom came up to me, brandishing a notebook and pen, saying: “Mark Hughes?” I briefly contemplated pretending to be Sparky – I had 78% more hair then – before mumbling that the man himself wasn’t with us.

He briefly contemplated asking Neville Southall but, intimidated by the size of Big Nev’s ghetto blaster, beat a hasty retreat.

Luxembourg 1-1 Belgium.

Arguably the humiliation of the night. Six years ago the Belgians gave Brazil their biggest scare of the 2002 World Cup. Now, they can’t even hold onto a 1-0 half-time lead against the Grand Duchy. Nice way for the duchy to celebrate their 100th anniversary as a footballing nation.

Incidentally, the term Benelux was coined by an Economist correspondent in 1946. He thought it sounded better than Nebelux and it stuck.

San Marino 0-3 Czech Republic.

At least the microstate kept it to 0-0 until the 47th minute.

Czech keep-ball: You can't hold out forever 

Denmark 0-1 Wales.

Craig Bellamy’s first international goal in 14 months earned John Toshack’s young team a deserved win against Morten Olsen’s much-fancied team. Has the Dragons' luck turned? Are there many more dragon-related puns left for the media to use in headlines?

Malta 0-1 Iceland.

The Icelandic nation may have cost the British government a billion or two with their creaking banks but they can still make the Maltese cross. That’s one gag where, even as you write it, you can hear the ghost of Basil Brush crowing “Boom boom!”

Ireland 2-3 Poland.

Leo Beenhakker’s boys, who have been in the stocks since Euro 2008, return to Poland with a morale-boosting win while Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland, though a tad erratic on the night, continue to suggest that their coach is certainly not, as he memorably suggested years ago in Germany, an idiot.

Trap: "So that's E... equals... M... and C..." 

Montenegro 2-1 Macedonia.

A pride-swelling victory in the Balkan derby for the mountain state who hadn’t won in five. The ghost of Alexander the Great will probably sink a few bottles of wine and rage drunkenly at the plight of his old kingdom, felled by a dodgy penalty.

Macedonia’s Slovenian coach Srecko Katanec will get a drubbing as he again left out Goce Sedloski, the team’s inspirational skipper, for questioning his tactics.

The Sun headline here would surely be The Full Monty.

Slovenia 3-4 Bosnia.

Maybe Katanec ought to flee Macedonia and get his old job back. Quite a result for Miroslav Blazevic, the coach of Bosnia, best known for guiding Croatia to third place at the 1998 World Cup and not doing very much since.

Ukraine 1-0 Norway.

Seven without a win now for the Norwegians, who haven't won this year, a feat they last managed in 1983. Ukraine could have scored more. Beleaguered Norway coach Age Hareide better hope that Valerenga’s young striker Moa Abdellaoue really is the new Solskjaer.

"Ooh! A ball!"

Fiji 2-0 New Zealand.

A cracking result here that must unnerve the All Blacks before they take on England in the egg-chasing at Twickenham.

Trying to discover when Fiji lost won a game, I found this on Thanks to Hans Schloggl, the record of Oceania’s greatest football rivalry – Christmas Islands vs Cocos Islands. For those who think this is a link too far, the Christmas Islands have won eight out of 10 – a ratio I thought only happened when cats’ owners were tested for pet food ads.

Northern Ireland 0-2 Hungary.

On this form the green and white army may just, as Nigel Worthington warned afterwards, lose to San Marino.

France 0-0 Uruguay.

In 1974, the great forecasting guru Herman Kahn predicted that the UK was finished and that France would dominate the 21st century. Kahn obviously hadn’t factored in the force that is Raymond Domenech.


Germany 1-2 England. OK, I know I promised not to but... if fawning was an Olympic event, Clyde Tyldesley would win gold for Great Britain. That man can fawn over any distance – 5000 metres, 90 minutes...

If I faced England in South Africa, my tactical plan would be simple. Draw England out and hit balls that force John Terry to chase back towards his goal. It isn’t his forte.

He was honest enough to own up last night. But that wasn’t a fluke. I still remember him scrambling after Fernando Morientes when Monaco stuffed Chelsea in 2003/04. And Morientes, even then, wasn’t that pacy.

If the World Cup was held now two things would happen: Sepp Blatter would faint and England would probably win it. The only fly in the ointment is that, in recent history, the World Cup has rarely been won by the form team.

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