Last night in international football: one game out of a scheduled two for England’s senior and under-21 sides, a Polish farce and a Serbian tragedy.
The senior England team will belatedly kick off last night’s World Cup qualifier against Poland in Warsaw this afternoon, after stunning scenes in the new National Stadium last night, while if Stuart Pearce and his squad have their voices heard, it may be some time before an international kicks off in Serbia again.
A near-biblical downpour in the hours before the game’s scheduled start time last night caught Polish authorities completely off guard, setting in motion a bizarre sequence of events including repeated trips out onto the pitch by the hopeful, ball-bouncing referee and a Polish FA spokeswoman promising some miraculous heating system to clear the pools of water in half an hour. Numerous delays on a seemingly straight-forward decision only added to the frustration not only of Roy Hodgson and the England fans, but also the ITV presenters – Gabriel Clarke and Roy Keane, in particular, were visibly tiring of the situation by the time the game was eventually postponed at 8.45pm English time.
Unbelievably, the pitch’s roof – which was not closed when the rain began to fall, despite remaining tight shut throughout the glorious summer sun of the European Championships – could then not be closed because the rain and wind had become too strong. I can only echo Adrian Chiles’ relentless criticism of the decision-makers who fluffed firstly the closure of the roof, then the cancellation of the game.
Less comical scenes were witnessed in Krusevac, however, where a 94th-minute Connor Wickham goal grabbed England U21 a 1-0 win to send them to the European Championships next year. Danny Rose, whose teammates claim he was racially abused throughout the game, snapped following the final whistle, made monkey gestures back at the fans, and then punted a football into the stand.
Rose’s reward was to receive a red card and to spark an incredibly ugly post-match brawl featuring players, substitutes and coaches from both sides, as well as Serbian fans. The England players reported afterwards that they had been hit by missiles, and Stuart Pearce, while not naming names, appeared to accuse members of the Serbian coaching staff of getting involved in the fight.
The Serbian FA promised a swift response amid widespread calls for a ban to be imposed – and it came this morning, predictably denying any racist insults or chants having emanated from the home fans and blaming Rose’s “inappropriate, unsportsmanlike and vulgar” behaviour for the post-match mêlée.
What does UEFA do now? Your guess is as good as mine – as long as your guess is that they’ll bottle the issue once again, handing Serbia a ~£20,000-£50,000 fine and ordering them to play a couple of games behind closed doors. Great deterrent, or limp-wristed token punishment?
Meanwhile, back in Poland, England kick off their qualifier for real in around an hour. Let’s hope that at least one of these games can reach a satisfactory conclusion – and that it doesn’t get rained off again.
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