Sport

Armchair Reporter: Borat and Kazakhstan the highlight of international soccer borefest

The rock of Gibraltar provided a handy catch net of sorts for wayward shots in the Euro 2020 qualifier between the Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar on Saturday Picture by PA
Kevin Farrell

AT the risk of over-egging a flat pudding, it's fair to say that a double root canal via meat cleaver, secateurs and kango-hammer would be far more appealing than watching live international football of your own volition these days.

Knock-out tournaments every two years are, of course, a welcome acquaintance of every man, woman and beast despite all too often lacking that warm, fuzzy, soft focus our big country and/or wee country bring to the party.

The necessary evil axis of friendlies, warm-ups and qualifiers, though, throw up fixtures by the toilet-load that you'd struggle to let a shivering stray watch from a parlour rug.

With the opening Euro 2020 qualifiers window draped across multiple Sky Sports channels over the weekend like a flash outbreak of scurvy, the whole caboodle was as harsh as professional football can be on the eyeballs and stomach.

The coverage was best approached with the caution-cum-curiosity of a half-juiced cyclist trying to dodge a pile-up of Landrovers and Ladas during Friday night rush hour.

Norn Iron's 2-0 triumph over three-time Baltic Cup winners Instonians on Thursday night at Windsor Park was as exhilarating as it sounds – even less so when watched out the corner of one eye on a cracked iPad while trying to convince a dissident sprog that his five baby carrots are definitely cyanide-free.

Scotland's ass-skelping earlier that day at the hands of Kazakhstan in the hard-to-pronounce Astana Arena, six time zones away from Glasgow Celtic and Rangers, was as hilarious as it sounds – unless you (a) are Scotland or (b) had backed the serial chokers against the 117th best team in the world, split in the Fifa rankings by Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau (haven't a baldy) as pre-match Googling revealed.

Post-humiliating annihilation, boss Alex McLeish felt his boys had started the game really well... the Kazakhs' opener had arrived after two minutes incidentally.

This interview was gonna need more popcorn, hot nuts, nachos, Maltesers, pick ‘n' mix and ten-glass bottles of The Famous Grouse.

Big 'Eck then revealed that he'd tried manfully to summon the spirit of the national rugby team while 2-0 down at half-time, referencing Gregor Townsend's charges' comeback from 31-0 down against proud Edward's army to win 38-38 in Twickers the other week.

Alas, it was to little avail. McLeish's men, who had been instructed upon arrival in an eastern European oxter next door to China to keep their watches locked on Govan time for energy preservation, were sleepwalking and snoring en masse.

It was no surprise that five consecutive tries in the second half failed to materialise this time round.

Despite Oliver McBurnie – the most Scottish-sounding forward since Hotshot Hamish – leading the line, it was Borat (inset) and the Shakhtar Karagandy boys who were making all the noise at full-time. Scotland's finest probably headed off for their breakfast/elevensies/brunch to contemplate a no-deal ‘Scexit' at this very early/late juncture.

Come Friday night, England took one giant leap towards bringing the Henri Delaunay Trophy home with a 5-0 opening qualifier thumping of a pitiful Czech Republic at a giddy Wembley Stadium.

For anyone still interested in Declan Rice or the RA, the ex-Republic of Ireland flirt and former, er, Royal Academy of the Arts sympathiser, if Twitter is our judge, made his England bow in a number (19) 16 commemorative jersey as a second half substitute.

Manchester City's Ra...heem Sterling, meantime, was finally located alive and well in an England shirt and bagged a hat-trick to send the Three Lions' flag-waving colour party into a frothing studio frenzy.

Elsewhere, Poborsky, Berger and Nedved tore the remaining tresses from their ageing skulls somewhere between London and Prague and dreamed of the Czechs' Euro '96 heyday – minus that final obviously.

By the time the Republic of Ireland were embarking upon a fresh era via the return of the Mac blah blah blah in the Ards peninsula of Spain – albeit with great duty free – the will to take on board any more oxygen was diminishing faster than another diagonal Hail Mary from defence.

In a virtual airport carpark in gale force winds, with a hefty enough rock providing a makeshift catch-net for a trazillion wayward hoofs, Jeff Hendrick's goal proved the difference.

The Republic got out of Dodge on a plastic pitch greener than historical Declan Rice, but the Gibraltarians had held their own.

Goalkeeper Kyle Goldwin celebrated a save from his own defender like a demonic Euromillions winner, while Lee Casciaro – no relation to Tony – and skipper Roy Chipolina, of Lincoln Red Imps fame, spurned chances.

Cheery Republic boss Mick McCarthy said he hated every minute and couldn't wait to get home. Presumably John Delaney, the brand new FAI executive vice-president, felt exactly the same as Mick in the day that was in it.

The boys in green wouldn't have to venture too far, mind you. EasyJet planes were taking off from a runway 200 feet or so behind jittery-looking Darren Randolph's net every half-hour on the hour by the look of it.

Forget the shower. A bridging loan of some deodorant would surely suffice until everyone got to Abbotstown.

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