Thursday, 7 February 2008

Mixed Reviews

There were mixed fortunes for West Ham United players involved in internationals yesterday and in the case of Matthew Upson, who won his eighth cap for England in their 2-1 win over Switzerland at Wembley, there were mixed reviews. The Guardian labelled the defender a 'playground bully' who was plodding but solid in the air, even against the burly Blaise Nkufo. He was said to be a threat at the other end too, showing some overall nice touches, but ultimately his dream World Cup would only come as John Terry's understudy. In The Times, Matt Hughes remarked that Upson had not played for England since the infamous friendly in Spain when several black players were racially abused in November 2004, and in the early stages it was easy to see why. He observed that the West Ham United defender was beaten in the air by Philippe Senderos at a corner and gave the ball away more than is permissible, concluding that John Terry is unlikely to be worried about losing his place.

There was a more positive slant taken by The Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson. He stated Upson was a surprise inclusion rewarded for his club form, arguing that the player looked unfazed by the occasion and can expect to remain in the squad for the friendly with France. The Mail also gave the defender an above average score, noting that although he has not always performed so well in the big examinations, this was much better. The Sun thought on the whole Upson had a decent outing, but add the caveat that he was never really stretched. Capello, they reason, will not be too overjoyed at some of the marking from set-pieces but the fact that he got his international chance ahead of Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott and Jonathan Woodgate demonstrates just how much the Italian rates him. Finally, in The Mirror, John Cross stated Upson was disappointing and must try harder, noting he looked nervous, his passing was inconsistent and that he did not command in the air.

Reflecting after the game, Upson said he had enjoyed the whole experience of linking up with the Italian manager's squad - and not just the game itself. "To get the call was really pleasing," he told Sky Sports, admitting that he had been "optimistic" it would come. "I have enjoyed my time and I am really happy to be here. The manager has an idea of what type of player he wants and how he wants to play. International football is different to the Premiership - it is at a slower pace and more technical. [Capello's approach] is very detailed and positionally [you have to] be immaculate." Over in Belfast, George McCartney played the first 45 minutes for Northern Ireland in their 1-0 defeat by Bulgaria as Nigel Worthington's reign as manager of Northern Ireland got off to a losing start thanks to Martin Petrov's 38th minute strike.

Lucas Neill helped Australia to a 3-0 victory against Qatar in Melbourne, the first match in their bid to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. According to reports in The Australian Telegraph, stars Neill and Tim Cahill are now willing to risk angering their English clubs again to be part of Australia's World Cup qualifier at altitude in China next month, despite it being a midweek match sandwiched between club games. Socceroos skipper Neill said he would continue to make himself available for his country regardless of any pressure his English club West Ham and manager Alan Curbishley may put on him to dodge international duty. "People say 'why would you want to go and play for Australia in the middle of two English Premier League games?' (I say) Because I'm playing for Australia and I want to go to the World Cup," Neill said. "It's an honour, it's a privilege and I'm sure there are millions and millions of others who would want to be doing what we are doing. I'm not taking it for granted. If it was him (Curbishley) going to represent England he wouldn't have an argument and that's the only case we have to put forward to him."

While the four games in this qualifying stage following the China match will be played in the European off-season, the club versus country issue is set to escalate should the Socceroos advance to the next phase of Asian World Cup qualifying. That will involve another eight internationals, plus the prospect of more should Australia find themselves involved in playoffs.

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