Early Doors

England’s great triumph

Early Doors

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Early Doors has reverted to childhood, sticking its finger in its ears and pretending that last night's dirge against the Serbia B team simply did not happen.

England did, however, score a marvellous victory against the odds to down a world-leading side in a triumph in the face of adversity, a display of true grit from the underdog.

It was led by the phoenix-like rising from the flames of a man long written off as a has-been who never achieved his potential thanks to a poor attitude and the feeling he had made it while all around him improved to seemingly unattainable heights.

Mark Lewis-Francis was the fastest teenager in the world some years ago, quicker aged 18 than Asafa Powell and the since-disgraced Justin Gatlin, men who dominated the scene before freak-of-nature Usain Bolt turned up.

But MLF somehow got slower with age, served a ban for testing positive for cannabis (of all things!) and - at the Helsinki World Championships in 2005 - was so fat that he seemed to be running backwards and reportedly needed an emergency re-fit of the running kit he had swelled beyond.

The Birmingham athlete had his funding revoked, was widely mocked by the British media and could barely break 10.3 seconds. He was finished, washed up, another semi-tragic story that epitomised the decline of UK track athletics.

But hot on the heels of a shock European silver this summer he is invigorated, confident, slim(ish) and a Commonwealth gold medallist after doing the un-doable by overhauling a clear deficit to a Jamaican to romp home and win the 4x100m relay for England.

Jamaica were stunned and so was ED.

The naysayers will point to the absence of Bolt and Powell, but Britain's fastest man - Dwain Chambers - was AWOL too, banned from these Games, while relay regulars Simeon Williamson, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and James DeSalou were also unavailable.

And to those to scoff at the Commonwealths because the dubiously-pumped Yanks aren't there should remember that - Bolt or no Bolt - Jamaica are the world and Olympic champions, with the USA dropping the ball (or baton) in recent years.

So hurrah for England and for Mark Lewis-Francis: and also for the girls, who pulled off a similar surprise in winning their event. Whoop!

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It was a decent day for Scotland in Delhi too, as two shooting golds boosted an impressive tally to six.

Unlike England, ED will refer to their football team, as they were the only home nation to emerge with any real credit last night.

Even the defeat was fitting - had Fernando Llorente not scored that late winner, it simply would not have been Scotland.

If only the Scots had showed the same spirit, vigour and formation against a mediocre Czech side as they did against the world champions: they could, and should, have been looking at three points from two games, and not zilch.

The less said about Northern Ireland's draw at the Faroe Islands, the better. It matters not that they dominated the part-timers from the little island near Denmark, it matters not that the Faroese scored with their only opportunity of the game, which was a half-chance at that.

A team largely made up of Premier League and Championship players should be carving apart a side with less quality than a Blue Square South side. And to think they won in Slovenia and drew with Italy, dammit! It is a real blow given that a win would have put the Irish with a serious chance of second in the group.

Still, at least they're not Wales. Two of their four good (and available) players were absent and they suffered a mighty beating at the hands of a side hardly renowned for lashing the goals in.

Poor Brian Flynn has, much like Roy Hodgson at Liverpool, walked into a side stripped of confidence by a coach infamous for isolating his players. A permanent role should not be countenanced after the last two performances, but realistically is there anyone else, you ask?

ED thinks so, and it doesn't have to be a foreign import.

Wales can kiss any hopes of qualifying for Euro 2012 goodbye, but they do have some exciting young players, like Aaron Ramsey, Jack Collison and Simon Church: Gareth Bale is already the real deal.

That is the nucleus of a decent international side in four years or so, but it needs a coach willing not only to put faith in the kids but to take responsibility for their nurture and development.

Ryan Giggs, alas, is not an option: he still has a couple of years playing left, and he has no experience as a coach - which, at this stage, is vital.

Mark Bowen, however, is ripe for the challenge.

The Fulham assistant manager and former Wales left-back has an excellent reputation for his work on and off the pitch, having helped Steve Bruce take Birmingham to the Premier League, before becoming Mark Hughes's number two again at Blackburn, Manchester City and now the Whites.

ED says 'again' because Bowen also worked with Sparky on the Wales coaching team, when they were agonisingly close to qualifying for Euro 2004, beating Italy in qualifying and losing a play-off to Russia.

Bowen has over a decade of coaching experience, knows how to get results and knows the ropes - but can Wales tempt him away from the Mark Hughes comfort zone?

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Okay, go on.

But it's not ED - Tony Mabert questions whether England's home fans are showing a touch too much impatience.

Could it be that that what Fabio Capello described as the "Wembley problem" when he took over may well be returning?

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It was a disgrace. (Nigel De Jong) should be suspended for the duration of Hatem Ben Arfa's unavailability. I played at the highest level for 17 years and I never injured a player. You can see from the tackle that he is not playing for the ball. And even if we give him the benefit of the doubt, it is clear that he does not stop himself. Having seen his past, I would consider it an assault" - he may have won ze the World Cup, but Frank Lebeouf just can't stop talking rot.

FOREIGN VIEW: A fanatical football supporter has made the ultimate tribute to assassinated Colombia international Andres Escobar - by having the defender's shirt tattooed all over his body. It really is something, check out the pictures here.

COMING UP: It's a quiet day for live sport, although live comments and scoring from the Shanghai Masters tennis could whet your morning appetite. Award-winning blogger Jim White will no doubt be sticking a size nine into England later, while for fans of the genuinely beautiful game, Andy Mitten continues his excellent insight into Spanish football.

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