After leaving for their international duties still reeling from a 2-0 defeat by Bolton, many of Liverpool's international players have had another miserable weekend, certainly having little to celebrate.
Veteran defender Sami Hyypia was booked for Finland in their goalless draw with Armenia, who were saved by the heroics of their keeper. Sami got a chance to score in the second half but headed wide. Former Red Jari Litmanen also appeared for Finland, who now travel to Kazakhstan in midweek. Finland were top of the group prior to this match but now drop to second.
Meanwhile, in Denmark, Daniel Agger was part of the Danish side held to a goalless draw by Northern Ireland.
Also held to a draw were Dirk Kuyt's Holland, who ended 1-1 in Bulgaria. Kuyt's involvement in the game lasted just sixteen minutes before he had to leave the field with an ankle injury on 16 minutes. Holland haven't sent him home just yet in case he recover in time for Wednesday's next qualifier against Albania, but according to coach Marco Van Basten there's little chance he'll have recovered by then: “Kuyt twisted his ankle and it doesn't look good. It's unlikely he will be fit for Wednesday.”
Yet another draw for Liverpool players came at Old Trafford where Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch played ninety minutes for England against Macedonia. Jamie Carragher was an unused sub. Unfortunately for Gerrard, fortunately for Liverpool, the midfielder was booked in the game and so now misses the next game, Wednesday's visit to Croatia. As a result he'll be back in Liverpool training with his club team mates this week.
Gerrard himself was obviously unhappy at getting the yellow card, and also with German referee Markus Merk's explanation: “I was really disappointed with the referee's decision – I told him I got the ball and he agreed with me but said the momentum took me into the player.” He said of the game he'll miss: “England against Croatia is a great fixture. As a player, you want to be involved in all the big games, so I'm going home really frustrated, not just with not getting three points but also with missing the Croatia game. I will be cheering the boys on from home. Hopefully, they will turn in a good performance and get the result.”
Crouch and Gerrard both had good games for England, with Gerrard coming close with one of his specials. As seems to have been the case all season so far for him though his luck wasn't in and the shot thundered off the bar. He says the bad luck has to end soon: “I need a change of luck. I have already hit the woodwork four or five times this season. I hit the shot well but maybe I hit it a little too well. Sometimes, you mis-hit them and they go in.”
Crouch partnered Wayne Rooney upfront, but with Rooney seemingly in the midst of a dip in form he was far and away the better of the two. Crouch defended Rooney: “I thought myself and Wayne worked well. I like playing with Wayne. He is a top player. It is the first time in a game we have started together so I would definitely say there is more to come from us.
For the other Liverpool players on duty it was much worse. John Arne Riise played the full ninety minutes for Norway as they lost 1-0 to Greece. Spain were beaten 2-0 with coach Luis Aragonés under fire for another defeat. He chose to start with the three Liverpool players on the bench. Pepe Reina and Xabi Alonso stayed on the bench, with Luis Garcia getting around 30 minutes of the second half. He did have a chance on goal but ended the game with nothing more than a booking. The coach's head is now being called for in Spain, which isn't surprising considering the country are now fifth out of seven teams in Group F.
Steve Finnan won't want to recall his country's display in Cyprus after they were hammered 5-2. Former Red Steve Staunton is now feeling the pressure, with Ireland joint bottom without a point from their two opening games. Finnan played the full game, unlike team-mate Richard Dunne who was sent off 12 minutes from full time. Staunton was actually banned from the touchline for this game and afterwards said he wasn't going to quit: “I'm not walking away. This job is certainly not beyond me, and I have full faith in myself and in the younger players. Defensively, that's the worst performance I have seen by an Ireland side. Of course, I'm embarrassed.”
Whether Finnan retains his place in the side remains to be seen, but the next game is against a side that beat San Marino 7-0 yesterday: “We now have to pick ourselves up for the game with the Czech Republic on Wednesday and get it right.”
In the same group are Wales, and they too were embarrassed yesterday with a 5-1 defeat, at home to Slovakia. Liverpool's summer signing Craig Bellamy had been given the honour of leading his side out, but was clearly shell-shocked after the game. He puts it down to a lack of experience from most of those players he had under his charge and says they've got their work cut out now to put things right before facing Ireland's victors Cyprus on Wednesday: !We've a few days to lift ourselves for Cyprus, we have to do that quickly. We've always lacked depth as a small nation, but a lot of players out there aren't getting regular club games. You could see that, it's a hard ask to step up to international football.” Like Ireland, Wales are managed by a former Red in John Toshack, who had this to say after the game: “They looked a lot better than they are and we looked a lot worse. We started brightly, moved the ball well, and Slovakia looked apprehensive, but there was no end product. We were sleeping for the first goal and the second was a bad mistake – that was enough to knock the stuffing out of anyone. Gareth Bale got one back, but the third and fourth goals were very poor – you can't afford to do that at this level.” He echoed Bellamy's claims that a lack of experience played a big part in the defeat: “I know where the problems are. We had only two people out there who are playing in the Premiership and no outfield men over the age of 30. But it was a poor result. It's just as well we have another game on Wednesday, I wouldn't want to go for a long time on the back of that.”
In goal for Wales was Paul Jones, an ex-Red in that he spent a couple of weeks on loan for Liverpool, filling in for the Reds during an injury crisis. He was picking up his 50th cap but his experience didn't help him as he was blamed for two of the goals. Tosh said there was little point criticising him: “Paul's experienced enough to know that he could have done better on at least two of the goals, but he's the sort of character who you don't have to tell that sort of thing to.”
Bellamy could find himself playing alongside John Hartson in the next match after he offered his services to his country: “John is the only one who has rung me to say he wants to come out of retirement,” said Tosh, “There have been rumours about Gary Speed but I have not heard from him.”