Random Yarns from the Week: England Have No Claim and More

Seeing a female formula 1 driver is rare and on a sad note, the closest one there’s been to driving at a competitive level in recent times, Maria de Villota was found dead in Seville earlier today.

De Villota was a reserve F1 driver who had survived a terrible accident while testing for the Marussia team in 2011 in a collision with a lorry, suffering severe head and facial injuries and losing her right eye in the process… though she did get back to racing.

Onto competitive racing where it’s almost rare for Sebastien Vettel not to finish on the podium. And he could be crowned world champion of Formula 1 for a fourth consecutive year in this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, a race the Red Bull driver heads into with a 77 point lead over Fernando Alonso, who must finish lower than eighth for Vettel (who also must win the race) to be crowned champion.

At the moment, Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton led the track after first practice session in Suzuka but inevitably, Vettel remains firm favourite to win a fifth successive race… but maybe not so much the title for this weekend at least.

That said, Vettel and Red Bull teammate Mark Webber matched the Mercedes by heading the track after second practice, leaving them odds on to take pole position. Vettel was pole in the last grand prix in South Korea.

Inevitably also, there’s talk of fans getting bored of Vettel’s dominance of the sport, exemplified by him getting booed in a recent race, but Suzuka is almost a second home for the German while the other teams just need to step up to the level the Red Bull team has reached over the years.

Can’t blame some fans getting irked by Vettel’s dominance however, as I was in their shoes when Roger Federer held sway in the tennis world right after the glory days of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

Never liked Federer in that period simply because it will always be Sampras for me while Novak Djokovic is my present favourite on the tour, but watching Federer crash out of the Shanghai Masters didn’t inspire a rival fan’s ‘joy’.

Only two years ago, Gael Monfils would’ve been happy to get a set off Federer not the other way round as it happened in Shanghai. Alas! The Swiss master (I don’t like his game doesn’t make him less a great) is past his prime and has twins to care for too.

Novak Djokovic remains in his prime though and is through to the Shanghai Masters semi-final (at Monfils expense) alongside Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro who beat Florian Mayer and Nicholas Almagro respectively. Rafael Nadal on his part beat Stanislas Wawrinka for a place in the last four, his 68th win in 72 matches this year.

As for world number three Andy Murray, he’ll have to be content with watching his peers from the sideline as he continues his recovery from back surgery. Sadly, he’s had to pull out of the season ending ATP World Tour final in London to continue his recovery.

Murray’s absence means there are now five more places in the Tour Final to fight for, with Nadal, Djokovic and David Ferrer already guaranteed their place in the season finale. Ferrer however has been beaten in Shanghai, 6-4 6-3 by Florian Mayer earlier on.

Seventh ranked Federer could seal his place in the Tour Finals by doing well enough in the two tournaments before November’s finale, at Basel and Paris, but he will be contesting for those five spots with Tomas Berdych, Del Potro and Tsonga who are in the last four in Shanghai, as well as countryman Stanislas Wawrinka, Milos Raonic of Canada and Richard Gasquet of France.

Del Potro, Berdych and Tsonga hold a big threat to Federer’s quest to make the finale for a 12th successive year, while Wawrinka, Gasquet and Raonic will have to put up strong performances over the next fortnight to boost their chance of making it to London, where there’s little chance of them getting embroiled in who should or shouldn’t represent what nation.

Special thanks to native Englishman and Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere for making the lines clear between who’s English and who’s not English even though they may have the Queen’s passport anyway… thus getting a number of sportsmen such as Kevin Pietersen and John Fashanu worked up.

All because of what (who)? The mere suggestion that Adnan Januzaj should play for the English national team; the Three Lions, following his heroics at the Stadium of Light… a debut that has eventually made us now know that he shares his birthday with Cristiano Ronaldo and that he made his debut on the anniversary of George Best making his Manchester United debut all those years ago.

Simply put, and that’s if you don’t read the fine print, it means Januzaj is destined to be great! Destined to be great because the boy scored two (well made first and well taken second admittedly) goals? Against a bottom of the league side? On his league debut?

While trying to understand why the 18 year old who’s eligible to play for the national teams of Belgium, Croatia, Serbia, Albania and Turkey and actually won’t be eligible to play for England before 2018… wait, so what’s all the fuss about?

And right on cue, the matter changed from the morality involved in having ‘foreigners’ play for a nation of residency or descent even rather than of birth to ‘do we have enough of our (native) youngsters coming through even?’

Judging from the calamitous Euros endured by Stuart Pearce’s young Lions last year and by the number of young Lions (under 23 years of age) featuring regularly for ‘top six/seven’ Premier League clubs or doing exceptionally well on loan to decent clubs from these ‘top’ clubs, the future of English football for the next decade is bleak.

While a world class institute/academy in England ala Clairefontaine in France or La Masia in Spain is for the moment an infant, England really have a small pool of ‘world class’ players with Wayne Rooney perhaps the only established one.

Wilshere still talks about getting to optimum fitness following almost two years on the sidelines, Tom Cleverley is struggling with shedding the hot prospect tag and living up to the pun in the family name while Joe Hart’s gloves have betrayed him in recent times.

Daniel Sturridge is a big hope, but Danny Welbeck’s more of a flickering hope. Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon are as good as they can be annoying, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have aged, Gareth Barry pretty much so as well. So, 19 year old Ross Barkley? Alongside a Phil Jones if he manages to stay fit over a sustained period?

Only position on the field England can actually boast of credible and consistent (performance wise) options is at left back but three grains of rice will never be enough to feed a famished Lion… and it’s the Three Lions being written of here.

Apart from all that, when majority of the best players or managers in your league are foreigners (including the nearby Scots and Irishmen; Northern and Republic), it does not matter just how world and Martian class your academy is when you don’t have same standard of coaches or even managers.

Indeed, that they’re getting regular time in their native leagues is helping youngsters in rival nations as Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands, there’s more to it than the obvious. A proven blueprint; in suitable tactics, techniques and coaching is what England needs more than a world class academy or a quota system in favour of ‘Englishmen’.

Right now however, the Three Lions – native and naturalised – have gone a step closer to qualifying for Brazil 2014 following a 4-1 win over Montenegro on Friday night, in the first of their final two crucial World Cup qualifying matches.

Now with 19 points, England is a point ahead of Ukraine that ended Poland’s faint hopes of top spot or even a playoff spot in a 1-0 win in Kyiv. England can therefore be a bit confident of getting qualification in Tuesday’s trip to face Poland.

Belgium meanwhile have qualified for Brazil 2014 as a brace from Romelu Lukaku earned the Red Devils a 2-1 win at Croatia and open an unassailable eight point gap for the Belgians who last made a World Cup appearance in 2002.

Croatia will be content with getting a playoff spot while Wales, that beat Macedonia 1-0 in Cardiff on Friday, will host the happy Belgians on Tuesday in a pseudo-testimonial for Craig Bellamy after the Cardiff City winger announced he’ll retire from national duty then.

Elsewhere, Russia got a 4-0 win from their trip to Luxembourg to effectively get the qualification ticket after second placed Portugal was held to a 1-1 draw by the Israelites in Lisbon, a result that put Russia three points and ahead of the Portuguese who must now win by a seven-goal margin at home to Luxembourg and hope Russia lose at Azerbaijan to get automatic qualification. Otherwise, Cristiano Ronaldo and co can settle for their guaranteed playoff spot already.

Four nations will battle for one playoff spot in Group B, as second placed Bulgaria’s 2-1 loss at Armenia allowed the latter and two other nations to equal or come within a point of them.

Denmark was held to a 2-2 draw by already qualified Italy to go level on 13 points with Bulgaria while Czech Republic came within a point of the duo thanks to a 4-1 win at Malta, ahead of Armenia on goal difference.

Denmark will be favourites to get the playoff spot as they host Malta on Tuesday, while Bulgaria on their part host Czech Republic and Armenia visit the Azurri needing a win and other results to go their way to get that playoff spot.

Sweden got a playoff spot from Group C in a comeback 2-1 win at home to third placed Austria after a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-inspired second half with Germany sealing qualification from that group with a 3-0 win at home to Republic of Ireland.

The already qualified Netherland’s demolished Hungary 8-1 as Robin van Persie became the Dutch side’s all-time leading scorer with a hattrick on the night, while Turkey got a 2-0 win at Estonia to maintain second place with 16 points ahead of Romania that also has 16 points following a 4-0 win at Andorra.

Turkey will get the playoff spot in that group if their result at home to the Netherlands on Tuesday is not bettered by Romania who host Estonia, while Hungary with 14 points must get a big win from their match against bottom side Andorra and hope Turkey and Romania lose to get the playoff spot.

In Africa, Nigeria’s Super Eagles will visit Ethiopia on Sunday in a first leg match of the final qualifying round on the continent. Before then, Senegal will face Cote D’Ivoire in Abidjan on Saturday without the uninvited Demba Ba while Ghana host Egypt on Monday.

Finally in the Nigeria Premier League, Kano Pillars took a big step towards defending their league title after beating title rivals Enyimba 2-0 in Lokoja on Wednesday, going top of the league as a result.

Should Pillars go on to win the league, they will have only a month to prepare for a second title defence after the League Management Company announced on Thursday that the 2013/14 season will kick off in the penultimate weekend of November. Next season will also see the return of special matches on Friday evenings as the league calendar steadily returns to normal.

My weekend begins now however, bringing us to the end of this post. On this day in 1962, the Second Vatican Council holds, 92 years after the first. And in 1582, the day does not exist in Italy, Spain, Poland and Portugal due to the implementation of the Gregorian calendar.

Today also is the International Day of the Girl Child, the 38th anniversary of tv show Saturday Night Live, the birthday of former rapper MC Lyte and actresses Contance Zimmer (Entourage, House of Cards) and Joan Cushack (Shameless). Best wishes to them and everyone celebrating today.

Have a pleasant weekend.

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