The last time Scotland qualified for the European Championships, Paul Gascoigne was the toast of England, Wembley was due a remodelling and Serbia weren’t even a country. Last night, after a gruelling two hours, lots of late drama and a penalty shootout, they qualified for the tournament again, courtesy of the heroics of their goalkeeper David Marshall.
Scotland controlled large swathes of the game, dominating possession to such an extent that Serbia, the hosts may have been relieved their stadium was virtually empty.
All that remained though was a goal. Both sides came close in the first half but neither tested the goalkeepers enough. In the second, Scotland upped the ante and in the 52nd minute had their reward.
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Callum McGregor seized possession right outside the Serbian box and fed Ryan Christie the ball. Christie was immediately surrounded by defenders but swiveled, and wriggled, carving out a yard from which to unleash a shot. It was inch perfect, low and hard, bouncing off the post to give them the opener. From there, one imagined Scotland’s nervy moments would begin.
And yet, actually, they could’ve had two more, Christie and McGregor guilty of missing chances better than the one scored. Serbia slowly grew into the game, and as Scotland entered the nervous 80s, they looked likely to score — which they duly did in the last minute of the game to drag it into extra time.
The visitors dominated extra time, but failed to score. Marshall was the hero then, saving from Nemanja Gudelj to drag the game to penalties. And there, he pulled off the ultimate trick, saving the penalty that took Scotland to the Euro Finals. The celebrations were deserved. More will come.
North Macedonia and Hungary also sealed their sports for the Euros, beating Georgia and Hungary in their play offs. Hungary pulled off a late comeback via goals by Loic Nego (88’) and Dominik Szoboszlai (90’ + 2) to break Icelandic hearts in Budapest.
For North Macedonia, this was a first, and the victory over Georgia was sealed by their most capped player of all time, Goran Pandev. “I am so happy. I’ve played in a lot of games like this before and I think my experience helped the team to achieve this success,” said Pandev. It was a remarkable story, one set to grow at the tournament next summer.
Greg Clarke Quits From FIFA as Well
Greg Clarke’s remark on BAME athletes while addressing MPs from the British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee cost him a position in the global game too. Clarke lost a second significant role within football after he stepped down from his position as a vice-president of Fifa.
Clarke, till Wednesday at least, was quoted as saying by the BBC that he had been asked to remain in his role with Fifa until spring, in order to avoid a vacuum. Soon after it was recommended that Clarke resign from his position as Europe’s representative on the Fifa council — a crucial post in footballing diplomacy, no doubt, with an annual salary of £190,000.
The vice-president is expected to act as a bridge between the interests of Europe and their domestic leagues.
“Following a telephone call this morning between the UEFA President and Greg Clarke, they agreed with Clarke’s proposal that he should step down with immediate effect from his position as a UEFA representative on the Fifa Council”, said a UEFA spokesperson.
Gomez Sidelined Post Surgery
Liverpool defender Joe Gomez, who underwent a knee injury, is "likely" to miss a "significant part" of the rest of season, the club said.
Gomez was injured while training with England before Thursday's friendly match against the Republic of Ireland. He had undergone a "successful" surgery to repair a tendon in his left knee.
Liverpool have now lost a third defender in their ranks. They are without centre-back Virgil van Dijk because of a long-term knee ligament injury and Trent Alexander-Arnold to a calf injury last weekend.
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"The issue was isolated to Gomez's tendon, with no damage to any other associated knee ligaments," Liverpool was quoted by the BBC.
"No timescale is being placed upon his return, though the issue is likely to rule him out for a significant part of the remainder of 2020-21."
Gomez played in all but one of Liverpool's Premier League and Champions League matches this season.
FC Goa Inks Deal with RB Leipzig
FC Goa have signed a three-year “strategic partnership” with Bundesliga heavyweights RB Leipzig, The agreement between Goa and last season’s Champions League semi-finalists will last till June 30, 2023.
The partnership will “help garner opportunities both in the football and business spheres for the two clubs”, the Indian club said in a press release. The primary focus will be on youth development.
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“During this period of collaboration, coaches from RB Leipzig’s academy will be welcomed to Goan shores to impart knowledge via workshops. FC Goa will also be sending coaches and players from the club’s youth set-up for further training and learning the intricacies of the game at RB Leipzig’s academy.”
FC Goa president and co-owner Akshay Tandon said the deal with Leipzig was different from most partnerships.
“The biggest difference is that most of the previous partnerships have been some sort of licensing deal or another where the Indian entity has usually licensed a global brand like RB Leipzig. Over here, both the clubs are investing equally into a specific programme which has a specific agenda of mapping out and developing young Indian footballers through online camps, and eventually through offline camps,” he said.
Southgate Admits to Concerns About Dementia
England manager Gareth Southgate admitted that he "does have concerns" about the prospect of suffering from dementia as a result of his 18-year playing career.
Southgate, 50, played as centre-back with Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, winning 57 England caps. He said: "At my age, having headed a lot of footballs, I do have concerns."
His statements follow the revelation that Sir Bobby Charlton became the fifth member of England's 1966 World Cup winners to be diagnosed with dementia — the others have all died since 2018.
A study published in 2019 found that ex-professional footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of dementia than the general population.
The report, commissioned by the Football Association (FA) and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), compared the deaths of 7,676 former players to 23,000 from the general population.
"In terms of the link, there is research going on," Southgate added. "That's a little bit inconclusive at the moment, which is a bit frustrating for everybody because we'd love to have a clear solution.”
More than 30 former professionals have signed up to a long-term study at the University of East Anglia, which is trying to establish further links between football and dementia.
Dr. Michael Grey, who heads the study said he hoped more former professionals would come forward, and that interest so far had come from those who wanted to "help the science" and those "interested in their own brain health". Furthermore, Dr. Grey expressed that only two women had signed up for the study.
"We know women suffer the effects of concussion to a greater extent than men across sport, and they are more predisposed to dementia more generally, so it's really important we get women involved in our study,” he said.
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