Rogue players preoccupy England, Italy and FrancePARIS - With Europe’s heavyweight nations all on course for Euro 2012, the build-up to this weekend’s round of qualifiers has been dominated by talk of off-pitch personality clashes and certain players’ lack of discipline.
England’s game against old enemy Wales on Saturday will see John Terry restored to the captaincy after a year in the shadows, while France and Italy have also had to grapple with misbehaving players.
A 0-0 draw at home to surprise Group G leaders Montenegro in their previous outing saw England miss out on taking top spot in the group, but they will leapfrog the Montenegrins if they can go to Cardiff and beat a Wales side that will be filled with some of the best young talent around.
Wales, who will look to relive their famous 4-1 demolition of England in 1980, will have Aaron Ramsey back from injury but not Gareth Bale who has been ruled out, but pregame attention has focused almost exclusively on Terry.
The Chelsea center-back was stripped of the captaincy last year following media revelations that he had an affair with the ex-girlfriend of former Chelsea and England teammate Wayne Bridge.
Rio Ferdinand was the beneficiary but since he is yet again laid up with an injury, coach Fabio Capello has elected to hand the armband back to Terry, who was in fighting form when he came face-to-face with the England press corps.
“As I said to the manager at the time, I accepted their decision,” he said. “It doesn’t mean to say I agreed with it, and I never will. That’s me being very proud and having been honest with them.”
Italy, meanwhile, sit three points clear in Group C ahead of Friday’s trip to the Slovenian capital Ljubljana but they will be without Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli due to on-pitch indiscretions.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli axed De Rossi after the Roma midfielder was given a three-match ban by UEFA for punching Shaktar Donetsk’s Dario Srna during their recent Champions League clash. Troublesome striker Balotelli was also overlooked after a stroppy performance in Manchester City’s recent meeting with Dynamo Kiev culminated in a red card for an ugly, chest-high foul on an opponent.
For France, the announcement of their squad for Friday’s trip to Luxembourg marked the latest step in the long road to redemption after last year’s World Cup fiasco.
Franck Ribery and Patrice Evra were recalled for the first time since being banned for their roles in the squad’s training-ground mutiny in South Africa and Evra believes the time has come to draw a line beneath what happened.
“I want to turn the page and be a solution, not a problem,” Evra said. “It’s up to me to turn things around so that people can see me as someone who wants to invest himself in a much better future.”
France lead Group D by a point over Belarus and is chasing a sixth-straight victory under Laurent Blanc.
World and European champions Spain’s progress has to date been similarly serene and they will take a perfect record into their Group I home game against the Czech Republic in Granada on Saturday.
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‘항명 파동’ 에브라, 프랑스 대표팀 복귀
지난해 남아공 월드컵에서 감독에게 반기를 들었던 프랑스 수비수 파트리스 에브라(맨체스터 유나이티드)가 대표팀에 복귀했다. 프랑스 대표팀 로랑 블랑 감독은 오는 26일 룩셈부르크와의 유로 2012 예선전에 출전할 대표팀 명단에 에브라와 프랭크 리베리(바이에른 뮌헨)를 포함시켰다.
리베리와 에브라는 지난해 남아공 월드컵에서 ‘항명 파동’을 일으킨 뒤 대표팀에 뽑히지 못했다. 특히 에브라는 대표팀 주장이라는 이유로 프랑스 축구협회로부터 A매치 5경기 출전정지 징계까지 받았다. 에브라는 징계를 모두 마치고도 브라질과의 평가전에 참여하지 못해 논란이 일기도 했다.
유로 2012 예선에서 3승 1패로 D조 1위를 기록 중인 프랑스는 룩셈부르크와 예선전을 치른 뒤 30일 새벽에는 크로아티아를 상대로 평가전을 치를 예정이다.