Didn't we just do this soccer thing already? No, wait — that was the Euros, during what was otherwise a summer of sporting love for Great Britain. The summer where Brits fell back in love with their own country due partly to the exploits of the nation's athletes during the Olympics and Paralympics, its cyclists during the Tour de France — and of course Andy Murray breaking his grand slam voodoo.
Hidden in all that was England's abject performance for three weeks in June during the European Championship. There was so much sport going on, it was forgotten within days. But now that the euphoria of summer is behind us and the cricketers have packed their pads away for a few months, international football is back in the mind's eye.
Luckily, the 2014 Brazil World Cup qualifying games feature all the United Kingdom's teams over the next few days, providing enough spicy storylines to keep everyone satisfied — at least for a while.
England: the three T's (Terry, the Tube and Twitter)
Where to start with England? First up, there's the shambles around John Terry's retirement from international football due to being put in what he calls an "untenable" position by the governing Football Association (you can read the history of that here).
It's a wonder that someone with a rap sheet similar to that of your average NFL player has managed to garner unconditional support from the former and current England Manager, Roy Hodgson. Terry has been a distraction, and many fans think the "he is a warrior on the field" perspective is no longer relevant.
Let us end the bad apple regime and get the new blood in for good. Long live the partnership between defenders Gary Cahill and Rio Ferdinand — except that, according to Hodgson's casual chat with passengers on the London Underground last week, Rio is very unlikely to figure in England's path to the World Cup in Rio.
Engaging in national team selection chitchat with the general public wasn't exactly a high point in Roy's brief tenure at the helm (although, to be honest, I'm sure the passengers en route to Arsenal all nodded in agreement). At least he didn't make this announcement on Twitter.
Ah, Twitter. How often do you read aggressive or provocative tweets from athletes or sports stars, which they delete within hours when they realize that their respective governing bodies are about to come down on them like a ton of bricks? Ashley Cole, England's skilled and petulant left back, is the latest to fall afoul of this ever-increasing phenomenon. Unhappy with the FA's stance on the John Terry case, Cole used Twitter to express his feelings on the subject and then instantly regretted, deleted and apologized for it.
His club will fine him, as Chelsea has strict social media policies (allegedly — bolt door, horse bolted, etc.), but apparently he is free to play for England against San Marino on Friday night and Poland on Tuesday. Given that your own pub team could probably beat San Marino (which FIFA ranks 207th, joint last with Bhutan and Turks & Caicos Islands), I would suspend him for a game just because.
In other news, Wayne Rooney will captain England's Goliath to San Marino's David on Friday night due to the absence of Frank Lampard (injured) and Steven Gerrard (suspended), adding another storyline to the real matter at hand (England needs to get 6 points from the next two games).
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge speaks to Frank Lampard of England at the new National Football Centre at St George's …All this has taken away just a little from the grand official opening this week of the £105 million St Georges Park football excellence complex in central England. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were on hand to participate in the festivities and tour the facility that is aimed at advancing the development of English football from youth to senior levels, including coaching. It's something England's European rivals have been doing for years. Perhaps they will offer some seminars in the new FA social conduct rules, too? Speaking of wrongs...
Teams not in the news for the wrong reasons
Perhaps the biggest home game of the weekend is Wales v Scotland. They've been domestic British rivals since 1876, when Wales played its first international fixture against the Scots, losing 4-0. Some 104 matches between them later, Scotland holds a comfortable advantage, winning 61 times to Wales' 21, with 23 draws.
Friday night sees them lock horns for a crucial World Cup Qualifying game, with both sides desperately needing the points. Wales needs them the most after losing both its opening two games (0-2 to Belgium and 1-6 to Serbia) by a wide margin, which landed them at the bottom of group A.
Scotland is just two places above Wales, with 2 points from two games (0-0 against Serbia and a disappointing 1-1 against Macedonia) and hopes to continue its domination over Wales to have any chance of qualifying for the World Cup. Wales then plays in Croatia on Tuesday while Scotland travels to table toppers, Belgium. Both will be tough games.
Speaking of tough, Northern Ireland rounds out all-UK action, traveling to powerhouse Portugal on Tuesday for a crucial qualifier — and with Cristiano Ronaldo on top form so far this season, it could be a case of damage limitation for Michael O'Neill's boys.
by Matt Goff
Top: Frank Lampard scored England's first goal during a FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifying match between England and Ukraine at Wembley Stadium in London. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Right: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge speaks to Frank Lampard of England at the new National Football Centre at St George's Park. (Photo by Chris Jackson - Pool /The FA via Getty Images)