Here we go again…
After THAT defeat to Iceland, Roy Hodgson probably thought that there was no worse way to sign off as England boss. Step forward Sam Allardyce. 67 days was all it took for Big Sam to become the latest to fail in the country’s top football job, with Gareth “I like a few beers at the weekend” Southgate the next lamb to the slaughter. But Southgate might actually do alright. He knows the England setup, having previously coached the under-21s, knows most of the players and is popular within the dressing room.
It was therefore a shame that Saturday’s 2-0 win over Malta seemed to suggest that all of the above is inconsequential. England were very comfortable and could easily have scored a couple more, but against a side ranked 176th in the world you should expect to be creating about 10 clear goalscoring opportunities. Except for the new manager, the match’s only memorable feature could be that it’s the last time Wayne Rooney starts a match for his country. After another ineffective performance on Saturday, Southgate has decided that enough is enough with England’s captain and Rooney will start tomorrow’s qualifier against Slovenia on the bench. Maybe it really is a new era. Russia 2018, we’re coming for you.
This weekend could also prove memorable for striking the final blow to Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of winning a fourth Formula One world championship. Lining up on the front row behind team-mate Nico Rosberg, the British driver would have fancied his chances going into the Suzuka circuit’s first corner – a long, sweeping turn that is rarely without incident. But by the time Rosberg got there Hamilton was nowhere near, having fallen back to eighth. Hamilton lost a typically tense tussle with Max Verstappen over the final few laps to finish third and fall to 33 points behind Rosberg, with just 1oo left to play for.
Even if he doesn’t win a fourth world championship, Hamilton can console himself in the fact that he’ll probably still hog the headlines. At Suzuka it was due to his behaviour in press conferences: first by going on Snapchat when other drivers were answering questions, then refusing to answer any himself post-qualifying. You can’t deny he’s entertaining.
It’s just not Cricket
The threat of terrorism has meant that England’s tour of Bangladesh has been shrouded in negativity for months already, but yesterday things took a turn for the worst on the pitch. England lost, deservedly, by 34 runs, but the main talking point wasn’t related to the final result. With England chasing 239, captain Jos Buttler was trapped lbw on 57. Bangladesh were clearly delighted to remove the tourists’ last big hitter, but running towards Buttler to help him on his way wasn’t the brightest way to show it. As the teams shook hands post-match, Ben Stokes appeared to confront Bangladesh batsman Tamim Iqbal and later tweeted “what I won’t stand for is someone putting a shoulder to my team-mate at handshakes”.
This morning, it emerged that Buttler had been reprimanded and Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza and Sabbir Rahman both fined. With the series now tied at 1-1, these incidents will undoubtedly make things tasty for the final ODI on Wednesday.
Konta makes history
Sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture. Johanna Konta may have been convincingly beaten 6-4 6-2 by the experienced Agnieszka Radwanska in the final of the China Open, but she still made history: Konta is the first British woman in 32 years to be ranked in the world’s top 10. The struggles faced by the 25 year old makes this achievement even more remarkable. 18 months ago few outside Britain had heard of Konta, then only just scraping into the top 150 in the rankings and allegedly suffering from ‘performance anxiety’. Since then, two fourth round finishes at the US Open and a scarcely believable run to the semi final in Australia has fired her up the rankings to her current position of ninth. Now the hardest part: staying there.
On the men’s side of the draw, Andy Murray beat Grigor Dimitrov 6-4 7-6 (7-2) to claim the 40th title of his career. Such is Murray’s brilliance that this wasn’t even big news.