Tuesday 8 September
Greece U21 1:1 England U21
Daniel Sturridge scored after five minutes but England were hanging on thereafter and did well to come away with a draw.
Joe Cole came through an hour of today’s practice match against Fulham. He looked lively and created a few chances. Goals came second-half as they took the lead and we equalised with one that bobbled in off their ‘keeper. Paulo played the whole game a looks much fitter than Joe.
Adrian Mutu has apparently written to Chelsea offering to pay money to drugs rehab charities in Italy, Romania and England instead of repaying Chelsea the €17.2m CAS ordered he pay. He is pleading poverty and hoping we take the bait.
Peter Kenyon has said there was no suggestion of ‘child trafficking’ in the Kakuta case and that Chelsea were backing plans to block all international transfers of players under the age of 18. He was speaking in Geneva at a European Club Association meeting.Wednesday 9 September
England 5:1 Croatia
Two goals for Frank Lampard, two Gerrard, Wayne Rooney at the death and England qualified without any fuss at all. It was a pleasure to watch an England team so organised and inventive, although it was sometimes difficult to tell if we were that good or they were that bad; some of Croatia’s defending gave the art a bad name.
Frank scored his first from the penalty spot after seven minutes to calm the house down, his second came in the second-half from the cross from Glen Johnson so perfect he didn’t even have to jump to direct his header across gaol and in. The defence had some shaky moments but generally John Terry and Ashley Cole played well.
We fear an outbreak of senility hit the local with one old boozer referring to England’s goalkeeper as Robson Green throughout the match.
Elsewhere, Michael Ballack also scored a penalty as Germany defeated Azerbaijan 4-0 in group four; Deco was taken off with a injury in Portugal’s 1-0 win away to Hungary, Carvalho and Bosingwa played the whole match; Florent Malouda was again left out of the French side that only managed a draw with Serbia. Nicolas played for the French and Branislav Ivanovic for the Serbs. Petr Cech kept a clean sheet as the Czech Republic overcame San Marino; Miroslav Stoch played 80 minutes for Slovakia, a Chelsea youth team product who the press chose to overlook when deriding our academy; Michael Essien played for Ghana in a friendly with Japan; finally, Gaël Kakuta scored for France U19 against tournament hosts Japan in a 3-3 draw.
Friday 11 September
Fifa announce that we will not be allowed to recall on loan Michael Mancienne, Miroslav Stoch or Scott Sinclair to help cover any gaps exposed by the African cup of nations and the transfer ban. It seems season long deals can only be revoked in cases of injury crisis, not as a result of Fifa punishments.
Saturday 12 September
Stoke City 1:2 Chelsea
Chelsea left it late again with Florent Malouda’s winner coming four minutes into injury time, ironically from a long throw. But niggling doubts remain; is it encouraging that we are grabbing late wins where last season we would have settled for the draw or frustrating we are not breaking down teams more easily?
We wouldn’t have had to work so hard if Petr Cech had stayed on his line on the half hour instead of coming half way toward a speculative Stoke cross allowing Abdoulaye Faye to head into the empty net. There had been a chance for Stoke before then when Branislav Ivanovic inexplicably chested into the path of James Beattie but his shot was wide.
Didier looked in determined mood. He had several first half chances in a performance of all muscle and industry, in defence and attack, his goal in first-half stoppage time came from a superb Lampard pass allowing Didier to turn Faye and blitz the ball past the substitute ‘keeper Simonsen.
In the second-half, old boy Robert Huth headed just over when he should have done better but while the possession was largely ours chances were slow to come until Anelka and Essien replaced Ballack and Kalou and suddenly everything we tried looked menacing. Essien, Lampard and Terry all had shots blocked before Didier whipped a free-kick up and over the wall only for Simonsen to clear from the foot of his near post.
Pressure was mounting but just as the pessimists were sharpening their ‘I told you so’, after a string of blocks and clearances, Belletti took a long throw and as the ball broke Malouda lashed in from the edge of the box.
Given our recent, er, difficulties over player recruitment a loud and boisterous home crowd came up with “you’re not signing any more”, how we laughed at the first notable wit of the season.
Tottenham lost, as always, to Manchester United leaving us three-points clear at the top of the league. It says a lot about the quality of the Premiership that you can win your first five games of the season and only be three-points clear, it is going to be a battle all the way, unless Wayne Rooney pulls a hamstring, in which case it’d be a cakewalk.