Two of Liverpool’s strikers were on target for their countries last night in an evening of mixed fortune for Reds stars on duty for their nations.
Dirk Kuyt got Holland’s third goal in a 3-0 win over Belarus that sees them move two points clear of Bulgaria in qualifying group G.
Possibly more important to his country was Peter Crouch’s goal against Macedonia – the only goal of the game sees England stay top of E on goal difference from Israel, both with six points from six games.
Crouch is on fire for England right now, and a lot of England fans are probably extremely embarrassed about giving him so much stick in the early days of his England career. Sven Goran Eriksson probably wishes he’d made better use of him now too. His current boss at international level, Steve McClaren, was again gushing with praise for the Anfield forward: “His record of scoring goals for his country is phenomenal. I think he led the line really well. He took a lot of stick out there and he was unfortunate because a lot of the referee’s decisions seemed to go against him but he stuck at his task. He’s an opportunist and he took his chance very well – even if I did miss it at the time.”
McClaren had missed the goal because he was still in the tunnel looking at his notes: “I’ve done that a few times now,” laughed McClaren, “I had just finished the half-time team talk and was having a think about the second half. I didn’t know anything about the goal until I came down the tunnel and I saw it on one of the TV monitors. It was a very good goal. We’ve been criticised for a lot of our second-half performances and we wanted to start well after the interval. We did that perfectly.”
Crouch’s most important manager is club boss Rafael Benítez of course, and he’ll be glad to get Crouch back under his wing again this afternoon. Rafa can see how the press and public are praising him as highly as they ever will, but knows that the fickle nature of many of the journalists who follow England means Crouch will be getting stick again sooner or later. The other worry for Rafa is that if Crouch believes the hype there’s a danger he’ll take his foot off the pedal. Speaking yesterday, before the England game, Rafa was already expressing his concerns: “I am very happy for Peter but also worried. People are talking highly of him right now and as a manager that’s good because it’s always important for a player to have confidence.” Then the characteristic “but” from the manager: “But I also have to say to him, ‘Be careful!’ because things can change in a week in football. He must keep his feet on the ground. When people are saying nice things about you it’s sometimes easy to stop working as hard because you think you’re better than you are.”
Crouch was substituted towards the end of the game to eat up a bit of time, and received a standing ovation. Reds captain Steven Gerrard was also on duty for England in the game.
Over in Belfast some disappointed Reds players will want to forget about their country’s match. Northern Ireland caused a huge upset by beating Spain 3-2. Xabi Alonso played the whole game but it was his mistake that allowed Northern Ireland to score their first equaliser in a game he’d rather forget. Luis Garcia came off the bench on 63 minutes with Spain leading 2-1, only to see Northern Ireland get their second equaliser a minute later. The Windsor Park faithful went crazy on 80 minutes when they went ahead for the first time in the game, and in fact that’s how it ended, with all three goals for Northern Ireland scored by David Healey. Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina sat on the bench for the whole game, watching Casillas let the three goals in.
Two of Liverpool’s central defenders played 90 minutes each last night for their countries – Daniel Agger in Denmark’s 2-0 beating of Iceland, and Sami Hyypia in Finland’s 1-1 draw with Portugal.