Jonathan Cook’s World Game Wrap-Up

Socceroos on treacherous track

Australia’s football officials will consider axing Graham Arnold and bringing in a new Socceroos coach as their World Cup campaign heads down a treacherous track.

A 2-0 defeat to Japan last week secured a place in the World Cup for the Samurai Blue and condemned the Socceroos to a play-off route as their last hope of reaching the Qatar tournament.

Australia will first have to negotiate a way past the third-placed team in the other Asian group, currently the United Arab Emirates, before meeting South America’s fifth-place team. As it stands, Peru, Colombia and Chile are fighting for fifth.

Arnold will be in charge for Australia’s final group game – a dead rubber against World Cup-bound Saudi Arabia on Wednesday morning (WA time). But football officials could turn to fresh ideas for the play-off matches.

A new coach won’t have a magic formula but he might be able to force a reaction from the current crop of players, who will need to be at their best to have any chance of progressing.

More importantly, a new coach could prompt a tactical tweak to give Australia an advantage in the knockout matches.

Azzurri red in the face

Italy have missed out on qualifying for a second successive World Cup after North Macedonia produced the biggest shock of the European play-offs.

The European champions, who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, were undone by Aleksandar Trajkovski’s late strike, despite the Azzurri dominating possession and opportunities.

The position of Italy coach Roberto Mancini, who was the architect of the Euro success just eight months ago, is now in serious doubt.

For their part, North Macedonia celebrated a famous win and will take on Portugal on Wednesday (WA time) for a place at the World Cup.

A 3-1 victory over Turkey, secured by goals from Otavio, Diogo Jota and Matheus Nunes, has given Portugal confidence heading into the knockout match in Porto.

Bale’s heart with Wales

He has hardly kicked a ball for Real Madrid in the past eight months. But Gareth Bale continues to produce magical moments in a Wales shirt.

Having featured in just five games for Real Madrid since his return from a loan spell at Tottenham Hotspur in June last year, the 32-year-old continues to dazzle when required for the national team.

The Madrid media got personnel again last week, questioning Bale’s desire to play for Real. His response was to score two stunning goals that have put Wales into a play-off final against either Scotland or Ukraine. A victory in that game will send Wales to the World Cup.

For the record, since signing for Real in 2013, Bale has played 256 games for Real Madrid and scored 106 times, including two goals in the 2018 Champions League final victory over Liverpool. He is rumoured to be earning around AUD$45 million per year at Real.

Canada break 36-year drought

Canada have reached their first World Cup since 1986 with an emphatic qualifying victory over Jamaica.

Goals from Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchanan, Junior Hoilett and an own goal from Adrian Mariappa gave Canada a 4-0 victory that sparked wild celebrations in Toronto.

The Canadians will be hoping for much better than they achieved in Mexico 36 years ago when they lost all three matches and failed to score.

Larin, Canada’s greatest ever scorer, might just be the man to break the goalscoring duck. Based in Turkey where he plays for Besiktas, he has scored 24 international goals in 49 matches.

Records on the horizon

Harry Kane and Olivier Giroud are closing in on national team records after both were on target in friendly internationals.

Kane scored his 49th England goal from the penalty spot in a 2-1 win over Switzerland and now stands just four goals behind all-time leading scorer Wayne Rooney.

Giroud has scored 47 times for France after opening the scoring in a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast, who Kane is likely to line-up against in another friendly for England on Wednesday.

The Frenchman, who plays for AC Milan, is just four goals off the all-time record of 51 goals held by Thierry Henry, who retired from international football in 2010.

But time is running out for 35-year-old Giroud, who was restored to the France squad for the first time since June last year to replace the injured Karim Benzema.

Giroud should have the chance to move even closer to Henry’s record when France take on South Africa in a friendly on Wednesday (WA time).

Whether he gets more opportunities beyond that remains to be seen.

At just 28, and a key figure in Gareth Southgate’s team, Kane is highly likely to achieve the England scoring record in the not-too-distant future.

Bright, new chapter in Eriksen tale

It’s the good news story that keeps on giving.

Christian Eriksen has achieved new footballing heights by making his return to international action following his recovery from a cardiac arrest at last year’s Euros.

His career at Italian club Inter Milan was ended due to Serie A regulations that do not allow the registration of players with cardiac devices fitted. But he defied medical opinion to return to professional football in the English Premier League.

The qualities he has shown in three games for Brentford were taken to another level when he came off the bench for Denmark in a friendly against the Netherlands.

Just two minutes after his introduction, the 30-year-old fired home a fantastic goal to drag Denmark back into a contest they eventually lost 4-2.

Reds battle for World Cup place

Mo Salah has an early advantage over his Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane as the pair lock horns in World Cup qualifying.

Salah’s Egypt benefited from an early own goal – after Salah’s effort had rebounded off the cross bar – to earn a 1-0 win over Senegal in a first-leg match in Cairo.

But Senegal will take confidence into the second leg on Wednesday after carving out several chances against a vulnerable looking home side.

In other African qualifiers, Congo DR and Morocco drew 1-1, Algeria won 1-0 away to Cameroon, Mali lost 1-0 at home to Tunisia and Ghana drew 0-0 with Nigeria. Second leg matches are played this week.

New coach, same conclusion

Ruben Zadkovich’s reign as Perth Glory coach started as his predecessor’s had ended – in defeat.

In fairness to the former player, Glory were forced to do it tough following the dismissal of Osama Malik seven minutes into the second half of their 2-1 loss to Wellington Phoenix.

Just minutes after Nick Fitzgerald scored his first Glory goal to draw the WA side level, Malik was given his marching orders for a second yellow card, leaving Zadkovich’s side with a mountain to climb.

And climb they did, hanging on until the seventh minute of stoppage time when Nicholas Pennington scored a late, late winner.

Zadkovich took on the Glory coaching role following Richard Garcia’s recent sacking.

Glory, who are now without a win in eight matches, will take on Newcastle Jets at HBF Park on Wednesday.

Maclaren scores before wedding

Just two days after a substitute appearance in the Socceroos’ loss to Japan, Jamie Maclaren was on target as Melbourne City stayed top of the A-League.

The 28-year-old turned down the chance to play in the Socceroos’ final group game against Saudi Arabia this week with his own wedding on the horizon.

But Maclaren’s mind was very much on football on Saturday as he scored his 13th goal of the season.

City are three points ahead of second-placed Western United, who won 3-2 against Brisbane Roar on Saturday. Western also have two games in hand on the leaders.