International stars have mixed fortunes

Rafael Benitez will be waiting anxiously at Melwood today as his international players start to return from duty, but it so far seems that the only damage to his players will be to their pride rather than their muscles or bones.

Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch were part of the England team that lost 2-1 to Russia last night. Gerrard captained the side who let slip a 1-0 lead. This means the English press will be looking for blood, because now England are in a situation where they are relying on other teams slipping up to go through. Gerrard missed a chance to make it 2-0 and that is enough to blame Liverpool’s captain for the defeat in some people’s eyes, but Steve McLaren will probably be top of the list at the moment. Peter Crouch only came on for the last 10 minutes, by which time England were already behind.

Steve Finnan scored a brilliant goal for his country last night, as Ireland drew 1-1 at home to Cyprus. His goal spared some blushes, but Ireland cannot qualify for Euro 2008 now and manager Steve Staunton was booed at the end.

Ryan Babel played the last part of Holland’s 2-0 win over Slovenia, coming on as a sub for the injured Arjen Robben.

Andriy Voronin played the full ninety minutes for the Ukraine, but didn’t score any of the 5 goals against the Faroe Isles.

Liverpool defender John Arne Riise played the whole game for Norway against Bosnia-Herzegovina, setting up the first goal from a free kick. His brother scored the second as Norway won 2-0.

Speaking after his country had been defeated, Gerrard said: “I can’t believe it is out of our hands because we have worked so hard over the last five or six games to put ourselves in the driving seat and make ourselves favourites to go through. We went 1-0 up in Russia and you start believing you are nearly there, that you have got one foot in the finals, but football is a cruel game.

Russia’s equaliser came from a penalty awarded for a foul outside the area, and Gerrard wasn’t the only player to miss out on taking his chances. He said: “Chances and decisions and mistakes turn football matches and that is what has happened. But for England not to make the finals will be unthinkable. As players and staff we’ve got to take the responsibility for that.”

Yossi Benayoun will no doubt be getting some encouragement from Gerrard before Israel’s next game: “We are waiting on other people to do us favours but as players we’ve got to stick together, focus and believe to the end. Israel are capable of getting a result against Russia but, with them not being able to qualify, it’s certainly a difficult situation.”