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The Footballers" Football Column – Kevin Betsy: Watching Brazil was like buying a ticket to see Beyonce and ending up with Susan Boyle

KEVIN BETSY: Watching Brazil was like buying a ticket to see Beyonce and ending up with SuBo… England may have won, but the Thomas Ince tale reveals everything that's wrong with our game

PUBLISHED:

11:01 GMT, 13 February 2013

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UPDATED:

12:02 GMT, 13 February 2013

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Kevin Betsy returns for his second Footballers' Football Column fresh from scoring for Woking in the 3-0 win at Alfreton at the weekend. The Fulham Academy coach was at Wembley to watch England beat Brazil last week – but left disappointed with the team in yellow. Betsy is also quick to praise Ashley Cole but has some damning thoughts on the future of the game.

When the final whistle blew at Wembley last week, my love for the game had increased and I wished I could have my career over again. However, as I walked away from the stadium my mind was clouded with questions.

This England team has been much criticised in the past, yet against Brazil they played a superb tactical game accompanied with an excellence in technical ability. Something that you associate with the team that have five stars embroidered above their badge, not the team with just one.

The much hyped arrival of the Brazilian team to Wembley was one of the biggest let downs I have experienced as a football fan. Brazil are a team that lots of people
support as their
second nation. As a young boy in the park or on the
street it was a Brazilian, not an Englishman, I pretended to be.

Winning feeling: Wayne Rooney helped England secure their first victory over Brazil for 23 years

Winning feeling: Wayne Rooney helped England secure their first victory over Brazil for 23 years

Extravagance, flair and the Samba band are all associated with the yellow, green and blue, but even the band were as flat as their team.

It felt like booking tickets to see Beyonce and then finding out she had been replaced by SuBo. Sure she can sing, but that’s not what I signed up for.

Luiz Felipe Scolari picked a squad which left me a little perplexed, especially his decision to pick 29-year-olds Dante and Fred and Luis Fabiano, 32, ahead of their pool of younger stars.

Brazil’s endless supply of talent will never run out as the country has a system that is tried and tested and produces with distinction. Thiago Silva, Leandro Damiao, Marcelo, Romulo,
Hulk and Willian are just a few names of younger Brazilian players that
did not even make the pitch or were not in the squad, showing their strength in
depth.

Ronaldinho

Neymar

Big let down: Brazil's box office stars such as Ronaldinho and Neymar failed to live up to their billing

Jack Wilshere

Theo Walcott

The star performers: Arsenal duo Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott shone on the big stage

Enjoying the game: Kevin Betsy at Wembley

Enjoying the game: Kevin Betsy at Wembley

Neymar and
Ronaldinho, two box office players and favourites of mine, certainly put
bums on seats at an almost full 90,000 stadium, but it was two English
players Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott that stole the show and
allowed us to celebrate the English player.

In all honesty, I feel England did play well but it could be a case of Brazil not picking their best team that helped them to win for the first time in 23 years.

Brazil will always have the upper hand over England in the long term, as their youth have opportunity to develop and play from a young age in their clubs first teams.

The Brazilian Campeonato league is full of homegrown players, with only six per cent of players coming into the league from other countries.

If a young player shows any potential they are sold off to Europe. This has always been the economic model and a main source of export.

The players know this as they need to elevate their own career earnings. Third-party ownership is normal in South America, as clubs do not have the financial capabilities of their European counterparts and to keep their best players for longer. Clubs need aid to maintain a player’s salary instead of sponsoring the club, sponsor the player and receive a return their investment.

A large portion of Brazilians have moved to play in leagues to showcase their talents, obtain work permits and boost their transfer values, Ronaldo and Romario at PSV, Juninho Pernambucano, and Michel Bastos at Lyon and David Luiz and Ramires at Benfica.

The Dutch, French and Portuguese Leagues do not have the financial backing that the Premier League clubs enjoy and regulations are flexible on foreign players.

The French and Dutch leagues differ from Portugal at the moment, their main aim is also to develop their own players. They do this well and the road for a young player at the latter stages of development is far easier than in an English club, as they have fewer foreign players to compete with.

Clubs in countries such as these need to boost their revenue and elevate themselves to be able to afford one or two top foreign players to make their club more competitive to achieve Champions League status.

Beyonce Knowles

Susan Boyle

Not what I wanted: Betsy says watching Brazil was like paying to see Beyonce and ending up with Susan Boyle

Without mass spectator volume, TV deals in their league the need to sell young players becomes a way of survival.

In the case of Portugal, they have overloaded their sides with foreign players but have sold on for vast sums, Radamel Falcao moved for 41m, Axel Witsel for 35m, Angel di Maria for 25m.

On a business level this works very well, but in football terms their national team is ageing and if something is not done soon they will also struggle, as their young players have no way of developing.

The Premier League brand shaped by Richard Scudamore must be applauded for all of its work to make the Premier League global and attract the best players that continue to bring revenue to our shores.

But perhaps, with a few tweaks here and there, the national team will increase its quality and pool of players to choose from.

The Premier League has the highest percentage of foreign players with 65 per cent. Countries lower than us include Germany 49 per cent, Spain 37 per cent and Italy 47 per cent. They have all adopted further strategies to the benefit of their sides and we need to take note.

Outnumbered: The Premier League has a very high percentage of overseas players

Outnumbered: The Premier League has a very high percentage of overseas players

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We have tried to implement and address with the likes of the ’homegrown rule’ but there are severe loopholes in this system.

Arsenal is a great example of this, with Cesc Fabregas, Nicolas Bendtner, Wojciech Szczesny all qualified as they have the required three years development in England, but they will never pull on a Three Lions shirt.

Despite the fantastic work that goes on at youth level and the improvements being made in Academies and Centres of Excellence up and down the country criticism is always upon us.

Yes, the standard of coaching needs improving and there are processes in place to improve this but the best coaching in the world will leave any individual stagnated and unchallenged and struggle to reach full potential if the environment doesn’t test them.

My work at a Premier League Academy sees our players come up against the best our country and our foreign counterparts. Our level in comparison is extremely high.

Regular sharing of ideas and discussions take place with coaches, home and abroad. There is no magic wand or hidden secrets. It is all quite transparent as a major factor in many European clubs is they leave room in their squads for predominately their own players.

Perhaps the problem may be just one thing: ‘opportunity’. If there is no sunlight for a flower to blossom it will die. Is there enough sunlight for our young English players That is the question.

Developed to a certain level placed in the professional game but sitting in squads with no real avenue to learn the trade and gain confidence.

The newly revamped Under 21 league introduced this season is aimed at bridging the gap that young players in England have faced. They offer competitive games with consequences and a challenge.

Holding games at first-team grounds aims to increase the number of spectators and give them experience of playing in those grounds. This is good but still not enough.

It’s still reserve football, no matter how much you dress it up. There is quite a difference in tempo, tactical learning, and spectator environment to a first-team game.

Hence many clubs prefer to send their youngsters on loan.

Barcelona’s B team play in Spain’s second division and this makes my point, the players are still developing but are under challenging pressure.

People say if you are good enough you will come through but there are only a few Wayne Rooneys in a generation. The rest have to work hard and be
lucky, under managers that are brave, have a vision and will
let them play and learn from any mistakes.

Sir
Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and recently Brendan Rodgers have shown
the way. I am not saying we need to change the Premier League as a
product but adjust the ingredients a little.

Maintain foreign players in the country, of course, but just adjust the quantity.

Special talent: Players like Wayne Rooney are the exception rather than the rule

Special talent: Players like Wayne Rooney are the exception rather than the rule

Some people say the ‘six-plus-five’ rule that FIFA suggested contravenes European law and I hear this idea has been abandoned.

But it does have benefits and something similar to this would enable more players to play in the top league on a regular basis and learn from the best players.

One thing is clear, it is not the manager’s fault that they recruit foreign players.

Michael Laudrup

Michu

Knowing the market: Swansea boss Michael Laudrup bought Michu for 2m having seen him play in Spain

Their survival is based on results, they don’t make the rules and why should they not favour players where they have in-depth knowledge of ability and value. You get more for your money abroad as some imports have shown already this season and English players are overpriced.

Showing shrewdness in the transfer market with loans, smaller buys is part and parcel of being a top manager. Swansea Manager, Michael Laudrup’s Spanish purchases, including Michu at 2m, are a prime example.

I’m sure If you asked any Premier League manager he would say, 'I would love a team of five or six English players'.

Both sides of the coin: Tom Ince is an example of how clubs can make good and bad decisions

Both sides of the coin: Tom Ince is an example of how clubs can make good and bad decisions

Bosses must favour the market they know but if you have a restriction on number it may be beneficial to the national game long term and this is the governing bodies' problem to safeguard our talents development not football club's managers.

Thomas Ince is just another player who shows all things wrong with English football and all things right.

This bit is right – Developed from a young age at a fantastic academy at Liverpool.

..but this is wrong – Sold to Blackpool for 250,000, then a reported 5m offer to buy him back almost a year later. Patience may have prevailed, the giving of opportunity.

Someone else who has reaped some recent rewards with his 100-cap milestone is Ashley Cole. After coming head-to-head with Ashley on a number of occasions I must say he is without doubt the best left backs in the world.

Big achievement: Ashley Cole won his 100th England cap against Brazil

Big achievement: Ashley Cole won his 100th England cap against Brazil

Tough opponent: Betsy comes up against Cole during his Wycombe days

Tough opponent: Betsy comes up against Cole during his Wycombe days

He has to be coming up against me. Ashley comes second to Roberto Carlos in all-time status. Carlos’s devastating shot and a World Cup winner’s medal tipped the balance for me.

Whatever people’s perceptions are of Ashley off the pitch, in reality you have to be extremely professional to have achieved all he has in football. No matter how talented you are.

In my experience he’s a humble guy. Another example of what a young Englishman getting games from an early age can achieve dispels the ‘we don’t produce players ‘ myth.

Watching Peter Odemwingie on TV the other day, turning up at Loftus Road was as cringeworthy as a guy getting a sea of red lights on Take Me Out [Paddy McGuinness's ITV show – Ed] . All jokes aside, this was not a laughing matter. How could a professional footballer of Odemwingie's standing be left to drive himself to London and also drive the deal to QPR Where was his agent

A deal as complex as this one needed driving by external sources. West Bromwich Albion didn’t want to sell
and QPR had not agreed the fee. Therefore as a player you may argue your
case to the chairman, chief executive or manager but until you get the
green light you have to sit tight.

Embarrassing: Peter Odemwingie drove to Loftus Road on transfer deadline day to try and force a move to QPR

Embarrassing: Peter Odemwingie drove to Loftus Road on transfer deadline day to try and force a move to QPR

Until you get a call to say the fee has been agreed and you are free to discuss terms.

I presume the agent's fee in this deal would have been quiet substantial; the least they could have done was drive him there.

But now it is done and I hope Peter recovers well from this and gets on with what he does best, playing football.

Alastair Cook"s best is still to come, says Keith Fletcher

Cook is still developing and his best is still to come, says former England skipper Fletcher

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UPDATED:

22:03 GMT, 6 December 2012

Former England captain Keith Fletcher knew a dozen years ago that Alastair Cook was a banker to follow him on to the international stage — and now expects him to cash in on his natural ability.

Fletcher, then Essex coach, spent some of his 2000-01 winter giving a teenage Cook batting tutorials and saw enough to make a proclamation about his future career path one Saturday afternoon the following summer.

‘I did regular one-to-ones with him, and then, as part of my day job, took an interest in him, watching him play for Maldon Town in the East Anglian Premier League,’ Fletcher told Sportsmail.

The best is yet to come: Alastair Cook can hit greater heights, says Keith Fletcher (FILE PHOTO)

The best is yet to come: Alastair Cook can hit greater heights, says Keith Fletcher (FILE PHOTO)

‘You could see then that he had something special, and I said to one of my fishing mates, who had come to watch, “This lad will play for England one day, and that day will not be so far away either”. My mate took notice of it, put a bet on it and won a few grand.’

Two years later, Fletcher, who remains a batting consultant with Essex, was among the onlookers as an 18-year-old Cook crashed an unbeaten 164 against Cambridge and Godmanchester — unearthing an artistry regularly buried beneath a devotion to accumulation.

‘You don’t score that many, whoever you are up against, without playing a few shots,’ Fletcher added.

Developing nicely: Cook has added several shots to his armoury

Maturing nicely: Cook has added several shots to his armoury

‘However much talent you have, you can’t go out blazing any time you bat. He set his stall out to make a career of scoring runs, and his best way of scoring runs has been to apply himself to the pitch and situation.

‘When I saw him come down the wicket and hit that six, I thought, “Cooky wouldn’t have done that two years ago”.

‘My feeling is that he is going to develop and mature into an even better player.’

Sean Fitzpatrick: New Zealand will beat England by 15 points

Twickenham's not a great hunting ground for All Blacks… but we'll win by 15 points

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 30 November 2012

Twickenham hasn't always been fruitful for the ever-impressive All Blacks, but former New Zealand international and pundit Sean Fitzpatrick tells Sportsmail why his country will put Stuart Lancaster's England side to the sword.

Form so far

Good, but they need to win all four games on tour to be deemed a success back home.

That's the beauty of the All Blacks. We've beaten Scotland, Italy and Wales. Now for England.

Flair player: Dan Carter will hope to leave England's hopes of salvaging this series in tatters

Flair player: Dan Carter will hope to leave England's hopes of salvaging this series in tatters

High standards expected

Our mantra is to remember the losses more than the wins. I still recall losing to the 1993 Lions in Wellington. It was my worst game for the All Blacks.

We 'park' our victories pretty quickly.

I'm sure Richie McCaw will remember the pain of losing the 2007 World Cup quarter-final to France more than winning the final last year.

How good is this team

They have improved since winning the World Cup. They play a simple game and what they do, they do very well. They build unbelievable pressure and hardly make a mistake.

They have such strength that a good player becomes a very good player. Everyone does his job. Other than Dan Carter and McCaw, there are not many superstars – they are not showy.

Fearsome: Richie McCaw is ready to pick up another win over England

Fearsome: Richie McCaw is ready to pick up another win over England

Playing at Twickenham

It's not a great hunting ground – it's quite a difficult environment to play in and it's usually the last game.

All Blacks to look out for

No 8 Kieran Read, player of the year and the best No 8 in the world. He leads by example.

He's got the raw ability of a No 8 – big, fast and strong – a great work ethic and passion for the jersey.

He improves each week. No 15 Israel Dagg is the new Christan Cullen, a real talent improved from 12 months ago.

One to watch: Sean believes we should look out for Kieran Read (right)

One to watch: Sean believes we should look out for Kieran Read (right)

Any advice

England have to put the All Blacks under pressure for 80 minutes. They have to create space, take their chances and be hugely physical.

Basically, they need the game of their lives.

Prediction

The All Blacks to win by 10-15 points. But Twickenham is a difficult place to go to and the All Blacks will be wary.

*Sean Fitzpatrick is a rugby commentator for Sky Sports, who will show the men's and women's England-New Zealand games on Saturday as part of Sky's year-round rugby union coverage.

Arsenal set to make 10m swoop for Liverpool flop Stewart Downing

Arsenal set to make 10m swoop for Liverpool flop Downing in January

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UPDATED:

22:43 GMT, 24 November 2012

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is ready
to make a shock 10million move for Liverpool's out-of-favour winger
Stewart Downing in the January transfer window.

Wenger was outbid by Liverpool when
he wanted to sign Downing in 2011 as a replacement for Samir Nasri and
now believes he can rescue his career after the England international's
torrid time at Anfield.

On the radar: Liverpool's Stewart Downing (right)

On the radar: Liverpool's Stewart Downing (right)

Current Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers does not want Downing, who has lost form and confidence since his 20m switch to Merseyside.

But Wenger is convinced he has the technical ability to fit in at Arsenal and would provide balance to his team on the left flank.

Downing can also play left-back, which has been Arsenal's problem position this season.

Capped 34 times, Downing was hailed as a new Kop hero when signed by Kenny Dalglish following an electric spell with Aston Villa.

But he failed to contribute a Premier League goal or assist in his first season and has been publicly criticised by Rodgers for a lack of work-rate in the current campaign.

Liverpool may try to use Arsenal's interest as currency to land Theo Walcott, who only has six months left on his contract at the Emirates.

David Beckham: Where next after leaving LA Galaxy

From Manchester to Los Angeles via Madrid… but what's next for Beckham

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UPDATED:

11:39 GMT, 20 November 2012

David Beckham’s wildest dreams probably haven’t matched up to the reality of his fairytale life.

On the pitch, he’s played football for three of the most iconic football clubs on the planet, captaining his country during the course of a stellar international career.

Married to a pop star, father of four….why his input was invaluable in bringing the greatest show on earth to London a few months ago.

But nothing in professional sport lasts forever and, as the news that he is quitting Major League Soccer in the New Year filters through from the west coast of America, we on Sportsmail are asking ourselves the question as to which clubs may be interested in signing the 37-year-old.

Where now David Beckham plans to quit LA Galaxy at the end of the year

Where now David Beckham plans to quit LA Galaxy at the end of the year

David Beckham

First, let’s establish where Beckham is.

In the prime of his career, he was never acknowledged as being fleet of foot. He didn’t make his name on the back of a stunning burst of speed which left opponents trailing in his wake.

Beckham’s genius was in his quickness of mind, marvellous vision and the ability to carry out what he wanted to do with the ball at his feet.

To that end, what has changed

Former LA Galaxy team-mate Chris Birchall said: “His speed has gone but that’s about it. His technical ability, his passing and his free-kicks are second-to-none and still up there.”

So, then, who might be interested

If he can deliver a ball, it might suggest that the two managers who contested Monday night’s Premier League dust-up at Upton Park might give the matter due thought.

With West Ham’s Andy Carroll to aim or – or Stoke City’s Peter Crouch – Beckham’s wonderful right foot would have little problem picking out either of those huge targets.

On my head: Andy Carroll (left) and Peter Crouch would benefit from Beckham's deliveries

On my head: Andy Carroll (left) and Peter Crouch would benefit from Beckham's deliveries

Moreover, the sight of Beckham at the east London club – although he’s not been a favourite of the East End crowd – would certainly appeal to those running the club.

The Beckham factor would ensure a sell-out crowd for the remainder of the season and that would surely appeal to Messers David Sullivan and David Gold, both of whom would seize upon the commercial spin-offs of having one of the most iconic figures in world football donning the claret and blue.

Alternatively, what about the Potters

Tony Pulis has done well to re-invent his team – trying to add a bit of quality with the arrival of Charlie Adam last summer – but Stoke remain tough, strong and decent from set-pieces.

With the likes of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross to complement Crouch’s aerial presence, Beckham’s delivery would be equally welcome

Reunited Beckham could join Michael Owen at Stoke

Reunited Beckham could join Michael Owen at Stoke

Moreover, Pulis has been prepared in the past to give a home to ageing and ailing stars. He gambled on Jonathan Woodgate and was given 20-plus matches by the injury-prone former Real Madrid centre half in return.

(Although his equally bold flutter on fledgling horse racing trainer Michael Owen doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect.)

If Beckham didn’t like the claret and blue of the Hammers, what about wearing the same colours at Villa Park

Paul Lambert has brought together a youthful team that is desperately searching for its’ way in the Premier League.

What better than Beckham to stand in the centre circle, directing proceedings, while the youngsters do all his running around him

Lambert desperately needs some quality in midfield and the sight of a consummate professional like the former England captain would give his own team the perfect role mode, as well as giving Villa Park a huge lift.

Mind you, Lambert has alienated all of his older players. Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Alan Hutton and Stephen Warnock are all out of favour.

Perhaps if he was dragged into that corner, Beckham would spend his time picking up huge sums of money for not producing much at all. He wouldn’t be the only one at Aston Villa at the moment, that’s for sure.

But this conjecture presupposes that Premier League managers still think that the 37-year-old could cut it at that level

Would he be prepared to take a step down to the Championship. And, if so, would there be anyone willing and capable of funding such an exercise

Possibly. What about Leicester City

The Foxes’ are owned by well-heeled Thais who arranged for the arrival of Real Madrid for a pre-season friendly two seasons ago.

That stunt cost the club a cool 1m and, with Leicester keen to make an impact in Thailand, what better way to demonstrate their ambitions than by bank-rolling such a move.

Big spender: Leicester City owner Vichai Raksriaksorn (left) could be interested in Beckham

Big spender: Leicester City owner Vichai Raksriaksorn (left) could be interested in Beckham

The east Midlands’ club is well sited and Beckham’s quality would certainly aid any club in that division – although with a hectic run of matches in a 46-game season’s slog, it could be tough going on those tired legs.

If all else fails, he could always give his former boss, Sir Alex Ferguson a call.

The Scot has taken Paul Scholes (38) out of retirement and rewarded Ryan Giggs (who turns 39 later this month) another year’s contract.

Beckham is positively young by comparison.

One thing’s for sure, Brand Beckham carries enormous clout and the news from California this morning will have had one or two chief executives reaching for their calculators.

Wherever he turns up next, as long as David Beckham retains the desire to play football, it seems there will always be someone willing to foot the bill.

India v England: David "Bumble" Lloyd reads Sportsmail column

Admiring your own column, Bumble We don't blame you! Sportsmail funnyman catches up with the best coverage of India v England

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UPDATED:

09:34 GMT, 19 November 2012

Read the latest editions of Bumble and Nasser's brilliant columns…

Bumble's diary: Cook doesn't perspire and never changes his gloves, magnificent

Nasser Hussain: England can rely on captain Cook on the subcontinent

Now this is what you call a Test Match Sofa.

Two members of Sportsmail's crack cricket team were spotted reading up on England's struggles during the first Test defeat to India in Ahmedabad.

David 'Bumble' Lloyd was pictured going through Sportsmail's Monday edition… and unconfirmed reports suggested he was busy admiring his own column.

Read all about it: Bumble (right) goes through Sportsmail's pages on Monday morning alongside Nasser Hussain

Read all about it: Bumble (right) goes through Sportsmail's pages on Monday morning alongside Nasser

Today Bumble tackled the issues of
Alastair Cook's remarkable ability not to sweat while batting in hot
conditions, the England captain's fine knock in Ahmedabad and the need
to bring back Monty Panesar for the second Test in Mumbai.

Meanwhile, Nasser Hussain had clearly been up earlier than Bumble and devoured MailOnline and the paper before turning to The Times.

The pair were pictured at Sky Sports' Isleworth base in the wee hours of Monday morning as Cook's men slipped to a heavy nine-wicket defeat at the hands of MS Dhoni's India.

No sweat: Bumble today praised Alastair Cook's marvellous knock in the first Test... and his unique gift

No sweat: Bumble today praised Alastair Cook's marvellous knock in the first Test… and his unique gift

Sky's commentary team, including Sportsmail's dynamic duo, have been forced to broadcast from the UK due to a financial dispute with the Indian cricket board.

Sky refused to send any presenters or production staff to India after the BCCI demanded 500,000 for what it labelled ‘realistic’ facility costs for the broadcaster during the tour.

As a result, it is the first time in 20 years that television viewers are not receiving British coverage of an overseas England tour from inside the grounds.

Still, it's good to see at least one of our men putting his time back home in Blighty to good use…

Davis Cup final: Spain lose to Czech Republic in doubles

Berdych and Stepanek down Spanish pair to close in on Davis Cup glory

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UPDATED:

18:08 GMT, 17 November 2012

London's O2 Arena will have seemed a long way off from its Czech counterpart for Spanish duo Marc Granollers and Marc Lopez as they slid to a Davis Cup final defeat, just six days after the high of winning under the Millenium Dome.

The champions of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals were downed by host nation’s Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek in a feverish atmosphere to put the Czech Republic within one victory of winning the 100th edition of the sport’s premier team competition.

In the pivotal doubles rubber it was again shown that there is no substitute for sheer ability and big match experience, whatever the format, as the two better known players prevailed 3-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-3, in three hours and 19 minutes.

Czech mates: Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek beat Spain in the doubles

Czech mates: Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek beat Spain in the doubles

It was an impressive effort from Berdych, who finished his singles match not long before midnight on Friday, barely fourteen hours before resuming with the partner alongside whom he now has a 12-1 record in doubles in the team event.

Sunday will require one last slog from the Czech No 1 as he takes on his opposite number David Ferrer, who never gives an inch.

Assuming he still has enough puff left, 34 year-old Stepanek is slated to play the decisive singles against Nicolas Almagro if Berdych cannot finish off the job.

On the basis of what we saw on Friday, when the Spaniards played above themselves and looked comfortable with the pace of the court, the home side are still a long way off from emulating the old Czechoslovakia team of 1980 that won this title.

If they did manage to cross the finishing line then what is beyond doubt is that it would spark off delirious celebrations as the last two days have provided more proof that team competition stirs emotions in a way that the individual format struggles to match.

No answer: Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez were bought back down to Earth

No answer: Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez were bought back down to Earth

Without the luxury of a specialist doubles team to give them a day's rest, Berdych and Stepanek were slow off the mark against the Spanish pair, whose confidence gleaned from London appeared to have carried over.

It did not help that Stepanek, whose serve was vulnerable on Friday, dropped his in the second game to give the visitors the perfect start.

Only in the second set set did the Czechs begin to look more co-ordinated, and they were eventually able to prey upon what emerged as two key weaknesses in the opposition – the reflex volleying of Granollers at the net and the serving of Lopez, whose profile before this year has been connected to his friendship and sometime partnership with Rafael Nadal.

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Pure delight: The win sent the patriotic crowd into rapture

In the fourth the crucial break came for 4-2, and although Berdych looked edgy as he tried to serve the match out at 5-3 they summoned up enough composure to seal the win without ever looking completely convincing.

After a mediocre display on Friday Stepanek grew into the match, and will feel better about himself if he has to come out to play what would be a nerve-shredding deciding rubber against Alamgro, the talented baseliner who is nonetheless at his least comfortable when playing indoors.

Ferrer looked extremely accomplished in his opening match, and Berdych will need to be at his best to try and hit through him on a court designed to enable him to do just that.

So the Spanish may have more energy for the task, but as their Captain Alex Corretja succinctly put it: 'We would still rather be tired and 2-1 up.'

Thomas Vermaelen says lackluster defending cost Arsenal

Not good enough: Vermaelen says lacklustre defending cost Arsenal

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UPDATED:

21:24 GMT, 24 October 2012

Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen gave a nod to a lack of a cutting edge in the final third after his side were beaten 2-0 at home by Schalke in the Champions League.

It was the Gunners` first home lost in the tournament since 2009 and, although they are still expected to progress from the group stages, it was not the performance they needed after a dismal defeat at Norwich on Saturday.

They were toothless at Carrow Road and a response was expected tonight but it never arrived.

Not good enough: Thomas Vermaelen says Arsenal did not defend well

Not good enough: Thomas Vermaelen says Arsenal did not defend well

'We are really disappointed,' he said.

'We lost on Saturday and wanted to be better today but it was the same story. We didn`t create enough chances to score goals. They got one and then got more.'

Asked why Arsenal were unable to right the wrongs of the weekend, the Belgium international added:

'It`s difficult to explain, we wanted to put it right.

Pure joy: Klaas Jan Huntelaar celebrates his goal

Pure joy: Klaas Jan Huntelaar celebrates his goal

'We gave 100 per cent but it`s difficult at the moment because we`re not creating enough chances to score goals.'

Arsenal had just one shot on target while Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Ibrahim Afellay showed them how it was done.

'Teams come here with strong organisation, technical ability and sometimes it is difficult to get through,' Vermaelen said.

Dreamland: Ibrahim Afellay puts Schalke 2-0 up

Dreamland: Ibrahim Afellay puts Schalke 2-0 up

Hunterlaar, who again proved his enduring class on the European stage, said: 'We are very pleased, we played well. We had our chances and scored two goals.

'We now have seven points and it is looking really well. We have three matches left.

'We had some good defence, played close to each other, then we countered. Arsenal are a good team so we had to take our chances.'

England World Cup Qualifying Group H explained

Here we go again! England on the road to Brazil 2014… but who are the danger sides

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UPDATED:

14:04 GMT, 6 September 2012

The quest to reach Brazil for the 2014 World Cup is already underway in some parts of the world but on Friday the European nations will officially kick-off their campaign when the group stage qualifiers begin.

With another summer of penalty heartache firmly behind them, England feature in Group H as favourites to qualify automatically by finishing top of the pile.

But who will be out there to stop them Sportsmail gives you the lowdown on the five teams aiming to get the better of Roy Hodgson’s side.

New era: Roy Hodgson is about to lead England into World Cup qualifying

New era: Roy Hodgson is about to lead England into World Cup qualifying

Montenegro

A country that has come a long way in a very short space of time since splitting with Serbia.

Montenegro were the lowest seeded team in England’s Euro 2012 qualifying group but ended up posing a realistic threat to Fabio Capello’s side in a bid to secure top spot before eventually finishing as runners-up.

They missed out on Poland/Ukraine after losing their play-off, but the upsurge in fortunes now makes them the second seeds in the group.

Home form is strong but performances away from Podgorica will need to improve if they are to hit similar heights this time around.

FIFA world ranking: 48

Manager: Branko Brnovic

The former Yugoslavia international has big shoes to fill. Predecessor Zlatko Kranjcar was fired with just two games remaining in the Euro 2012 qualifiers before Brnovic stepped up from his assistant role to replace him.

After drawing his first game with England, the 45-year-old has since lost all three competitive matches he has taken charge of.

Star man: Stevan Jovetic

Apparently the new Roberto Baggio and that’s good enough for us. The 22-year-old plays just behind the striker and his technical ability has won many plaudits during his time at Fiorentina.

Already he is on fire in Serie A, scoring three goals in the opening two games of the season and if he and Mirko Vucinic hit top form in qualifying they could be a major strike partnership.

The new Roberto Baggio Fiorentina forward Stevan Jovetic (right)

The new Roberto Baggio Fiorentina forward Stevan Jovetic (right)

Previous World Cups

1930-2006: Did not enter
2010: Failed to qualify

Record against England: W0 D2 L0

Euro 2012 qualifier: Drew 2-2 (h) 07/10/11
Euro 2012 qualifier: Drew 0-0 (a) 12/10/10

Chances of qualifying:

The surprise element has gone from Montenegro, who will now be taken as a serious threat by the rest of the group. It’s unknown territory for the country in just its second qualifying campaign for the World Cup but the team should still challenge for the runners-up spot.

Danger rating: 3/5

Ukraine

Revenge is on the cards for Ukraine who are still hurting from their Euro 2012 exit on home soil at the hands of England in their final group game.

Form is on their side though as they are the only team to defeat the Three Lions in a qualifying game over the last five years, and they bossed large periods of their 1-0 defeat earlier this summer.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom at Euro 2012, as the hosts showed they could compete with the best after an Andriy Shevchenko double put Sweden to the sword. But with the legendary striker now in his rocking chair, it’s a new era for the Eastern Europeans.

FIFA world ranking: 39

Manager: Oleh Blokhin

He’s only been in the job since April so was thrown in at the deep end for Euro 2012 but he came out of the tournament with a respectable showing, if not the results.

The 59-year-old led Ukraine to the World Cup before during his spell in charge between 2003 and 2007 and has vast experience of coaching at club level, having spent over 10 years managing in Greece at clubs like Olympiakos, AEK Athens and PAOK.

Rising star: Yevhen Konoplianka (left)

Rising star: Yevhen Konoplianka (left)

Star man: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk

Father Time is catching up with a generation of players that have taken Ukraine to new heights at international level, but the 33-year-old captain may have just one last campaign in him.

The Bayern Munich holding midfielder has an unprecedented 120 caps for his country and his experience is not to be underestimated.

Previous World Cups

1930-1994: Did not enter
1998-2002: Did not qualify
2006: Quarter-finals
2010: Did not qualify

Record against England: P5 W1 D0 L4

Euro 2012 group stage: Lost 0-1 (h) 19/6/12
World Cup 2010 qualifier: Won 1-0 (h) 10/10/09
World Cup 2010 qualifier: Lost 1-2 (a) 01/04/09
Friendly: Lost 0-3 (a) 18/08/04
Friendly: Lost 0-2 (a) 31/5/00

Chances of qualifying:

The loss of Shevchenko is a blow but not as heavy as it would have been five years ago. There are promising players making their mark at international level now including winger Yevhen Konoplianka, who had a very soild Euro 2012 and will prove a vital attacking threat.

On paper they should be England’s strongest challengers so anything less than a runners-up spot will be a failure for Blokhin’s side.

Danger rating: 4/5

Poland

Another team with a point to prove after crashing out on home soil at Euro 2012. Poland were dealt a relatively kind group for the tournament but draws against Greece and Russia followed by defeat against the Czech Republic saw a group stage exit.

Despite their disappointing showing it was nowhere near as bad as their last qualifying campaign. In trying to reach the World Cup in South Africa, the Poles won just three games on the way to finishing second bottom. Don’t expect to see that again…

FIFA world ranking: 56

Manager: Waldemar Fornalik

New to the role after predecessor Franciszek Smuda’s contract was not extended beyond Euro 2012.

With over 10 years of managerial experience in the Polish leagues, the 49-year-old faces his biggest challenge yet to guide the Poles through a tough group.

Fornalik has only been in charge of one match but he got off to a losing start following a 1-0 reverse in a friendly at Estonia last month.

Star man: Robert Lewandowski

Europe only saw brief flashes of Lewandowski’s undoubted quality at Euro 2012, but the Borussia Dortmund striker will still be Poland’s focal point for goals.

The 24-year-old will be a marked man however and his personal success will likely play a huge role in how Poland will eventually fare in Group H.

Hot property: Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski (centre)

Hot property: Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski (centre)

Previous World Cups:

1930: Did not enter
1934: Withdrew
1938: First round
1950: Did not enter
1954: Withdrew
1958-1970: Did not qualify
1974: Third place
1978: Second round
1982: Third place
1986: Last 16
1990-1998: Did not qualify
2002-2006: Group stage
2010: Did not qualify

Record against England: P17 W1 D6 L10

(Last six meetings)
World Cup 2006 qualifier: Lost 1-2 (a) 12/10/05
World Cup 2006 qualifier: Lost 1-2 (h) 08/09/04
Euro 2000 qualifier: Drew 0-0 (h) 08/09/99
Euro 2000 qualifier: Lost 1-3 (a) 27/03/99
World Cup 98 qualifier: Lost 0-2 (h) 31/05/97
World Cup 98 qualifier: Lost 1-2 (a) 09/08/96

Chances of qualifying:

It’s a fine line. Poland could just as easily win the group as they could finish fourth. Topping the table will likely have to involve defeating England for the first time in nearly 40 years though.

There will be no disgrace in finishing runners-up and clinching a play-off spot, especially with Ukraine and Montenegro posing similar threats.

Danger rating: 4/5

Moldova

It’s been a long time since Moldova crossed England’s path but the country are arguably in a worse position to qualify now than when they last met the Three Lions back in 1997.

Just three wins (two were against San Marino) in qualifying for Euro 2012 played a part in a slump down the rankings, with their placing of 143 back in March their lowest for 18 years.

Mind you, the winless record to finish bottom of their qualifying group ahead of the 2010 World Cup also hasn’t helped.

FIFA world ranking: 141

Manager: Ion Caras

It’s all turned full circle for Moldova with Caras, appointed in January, back for a second spell in charge after becoming the country’s first ever manager in 1991.

The 61-year-old held the reins for six years before departing the first time and for this campaign has targeted at least a fourth place finish. He can’t do worse than his last stab at the big time as Moldova finished bottom of their World Cup qualifying group in 1997 after losing all eight matches.

Star man: Alexandru Suvorov

Struck a respectable four goals in qualifying for Euro 2012 (no they were not all against San Marino) and with over 30 caps is one of the country’s most experienced players.

Playing as a forward, the 25-year-old will likely be pulling the midfield strings but Steven Gerrard and friends shouldn’t be too ruffled up by a player who currently turns out for Polish second tier side, Cracovia.

Previous World Cups:

1930-1994: Did not enter
1998-2010: Did not qualify
Record against England: P2 W0 D0 L2
World Cup 98 qualifier: Lost 0-4 10/9/97
World Cup 98 qualifier: Lost 0-3 01/09/96

Chances of qualifying:

Don’t waste your money. Finishing fourth will be a success for Moldova and anything more than that would be nothing short of remarkable – although you cannot blame Caras for setting the bar relatively high.

The top four will expect to take a comfortable six points from them but Holland only twice narrowly defeated them in the Euro 2012 qualifiers, while Finland were beaten 2-0. They will be Group H’s banana skin for someone.

Danger rating: 1/5

San Marino

April 25, 2001 is a historic day in San Marino football and now a distant memory, but it was the last time the international whipping boys took as much as a point from a competitive game.

Since drawing 1-1 at Latvia, they have played and lost 53 games, scoring just six goals and conceding a whopping 239 times.

That on-going record of defeats doesn’t look like changing anytime soon but as one of the smallest countries in the world, what do you expect

FIFA world ranking: 206

Manager: Giampaolo Mazza

One record that San Marino can at least be proud of is that having been in charge for 14 years, Mazza is the longest serving international manager in Europe.

His experience isn’t quite paying off but the 56-year-old must be doing something right to remain in charge after all these years. Someone must have thought about pulling the trigger on his reign after a record 13-0 loss to Germany in 2006 though.

Star man: Aldo Simoncini

It’s not easy picking a star man from a team officially ranked as the worst in the world, but as only one of two players that feature as a professional, Simoncini will need to be at his best.

And as a goalkeeper it’s easy to see why. If San Marino are to grab a shock draw it is more than likely their 26-year-old between the sticks will have to pull off some world class saves in the process.

Previous World Cups:
1930-1990: Did not enter
1994-2012: Did not qualify
Record against England: P2 W0 D0 L2
World Cup 94 qualifier: Lost 1-7 17/11/93
World Cup 94 qualifier: Lost 0-6 17/02/93

Chances of qualifying:

There is more chance of you and 10 of your mates from the Dog and Duck of forming a team and qualifying. The resources are just simply not there for San Marino to ever climb above minnow status.

With Andy Selva now 36, San Marino’s star striker and all-time top scorer (eight goals) is also past his best. A successful campaign will be getting a solitary point, that or repeating their trick of scoring against England inside 10 seconds – still a World Cup qualifying record.

Danger rating: 0/5

Roberto Di Matteo delighted with Eden Hazard

Outstanding! Di Matteo says new boy Hazard is exactly the player Chelsea wanted

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UPDATED:

16:58 GMT, 19 August 2012

Fantasy football 2012

Roberto Di Matteo hailed Eden Hazard’s debut and insisted his fleet-footed performance showed why Chelsea spent the 32million to land the Belgian forward.

Hazard could not have made a more impressive start to life in the Barclays Premier League following his summer move from Lille, as he created both goals in Chelsea's 2-0 win at Wigan.

He was given a standing ovation when the 25million Brazilian Oscar, another new boy, replaced him after 64 minutes.

Dream start: Eden Hazard (second left) celebrates with Frank Lampard (right) as Chelsea beat Wigan

Dream start: Eden Hazard (second left) celebrates with Frank Lampard (right) as Chelsea beat Wigan

His intelligence, skill and movement, coupled with the way he linked with Juan Mata and Fernando Torres, augurs well for the future and Di Matteo believes Hazard’s presence will transform his side’s style, something which Frank Lampard feels Chelsea’s fans are 'crying out to see'.

‘Eden showed all his quality,’ said the Chelsea manager after goals from Branislav Ivanovic and Lampard via the penalty spot secured victory. ‘He was outstanding. He combined well with his team-mates, was a threat. He was exactly what we were looking for.

‘He's got great technical ability, a burst of pace as well to get away from players; he can play with his back to goal. He has a lot of characteristics which he'll bring to our team.’

Felled: Wigan's Ivan Ramis gives away a penalty by fouling Hazard (centre) inside the area

Felled: Wigan's Ivan Ramis gives away a penalty by fouling Hazard (centre) inside the area

Equally impressive was Hazard’s ability to deal with some heavy challenges and, when asked if he feared teams singling him out for rough treatment, Di Matteo added: ‘These kinds of players, they're difficult to mark, they're good on the ball, they move… I don't think teams will try to.

‘I think it will be a matter of the game. I brought in another guy who's not bad himself (Oscar). I just wanted to freshen it up a bit. I thought we were always comfortable.’

Di Matteo, who is close to signing Marseille defender Cesar Azpilicueta, refused to discuss whether he will be adding Wigan’s Victor Moses to his squad. Wigan have dropped their initial 10million valuation and manager Roberto Martinez is frustrated with the uncertainty that has been caused.

Contrasting fortunes: Roberto Martinez (right) has work do to but Roberto Di Matteo will be content

Contrasting fortunes: Roberto Martinez (right) has work do to but Roberto Di Matteo will be content

‘The transfer window should close before the official games start,’ said Martinez, who admitted it was 'a risk' to start Moses. ’It's unfair on the fans and the footballers. Victor, in the last 10 days, has got himself focused.

‘He wanted to help the team, but it's unfair asking any player – at 21 or 31 – to cope with that mental pressure. That's very unfair. We want this league to be the best in the world, so we should look after our players.’

Wigan defended admirably after the lamentable start they made but Martinez said: ‘We didn’t play with our heads in the first seven minutes. In pre-season, you work over 55 sessions to get the right start but we were too soft. We had no defensive intensity.’