Booting any pawn, bishop or rook near them as far as is humanly possible

Just as there probably won’t be any fireworks in Dublin. Photograph: Byrne/Inpho/Rex/Shutterstock


These are exciting times for the kind of people who pretend watching scoreless draws isn’t mind-numbingly boring, preferring to pretentiously liken them to chess matches … which of course aren’t tedious to watch at all. Following competitive goal-free, drear-draws between Honduras and the Sheilaroos, Denmark and the Republic O’Ireland, New Zealand and Peru, Switzerland and Norn Iron Nil, Greece and Croatia, Italy and Sweden, O’Ireland and the Danes will again face each other across the chessboard in Dublin, with a place at the World Cup up for grabs.

Sailing up the Liffey in their team longboat with the giant figurehead of granite-jawed Euro 92 legend Kim Vilfort staring menacingly ahead from its prow, the Danes arrived with the jeers of thousands of their unhappy compatriots still ringing in their ears. It seemed they didn’t quite view their team’s failure to score at Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium against O’Ireland over 90 minutes as being like a chess match, unless there’s some new variation of the game that involves Shane Duffy, Steven Ward and Darren Randolph booting any pawn, bishop or rook that comes near them as far as is humanly possible in the vague direction of Daryl Murphy or Shane Long.

While the Danes could still be considered to have the advantage in so far as a score draw will see them through to Russia 2018, the O’Irish are unlikely to help them take advantage of this state of affairs by upholding their end of the bargain and getting a goal. “It would be lovely to have a prolific goalscorer in the side,” honked Martin O’Neill, whose first-choice striker has three international goals in 27 appearances and whose second-choice striker hasn’t scored in his past 30 games. “If you don’t have that, then you have to try to find other ways.” Of course, another scoreless draw, the seventh in seven consecutive World Cup eliminators around the globe, is the only result which would lead to Tuesday’s chess match going to penalties. Spot-kicks it almost certainly will be, then … although whether or not anyone will manage to successfully score one remains to be seen.


USA! USA!! USA!!!, Holland, Scotland … heavy hitter after heavy hitter has fallen by the wayside on the road to Russia 2018, but now they’ve been joined by Italy. Shambolic Italy. Poor Vespa-riding, espresso-sipping, ice-cream hawking, greasy haired, tightly trousered Italian cousin La Cinque. Anyway, here’s Paolo Bandini’s big read on the decline of the Azzurri, while you can be entertained by the in-no-way-over-the-top Italian press reaction and generally funky fan verdict, while feeling a bit bad for Gigi Buffon, but not bad at all for Carlo Tavecchio.

Photograph: Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

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