England 5-0 Czech Republic; Kazakhstan 3-0 Scotland. The contrast could not be starker.
Less than 24 hours after Scotland slumped to what many have deemed their worst defeat in history, England hit five at Wembley for the first time since 2014.
A plastic pitch, a long way to travel – the Scottish excuses are simply not enough. A team ranked 40th in the world should not be losing to a team ranked 117th in FIFA’s world rankings. Plastic pitch or air miles regardless.
Completely contrasted with that came England’s performance at Wembley just the day after. A Sterling hat-trick, yet another emphatic Harry Kane penalty, two debutants – it does not get too much better than that for the Three Lions.
Sterling had suffered a 1,102-day goal drought in an England shirt, stretching back to 2015, before his brace against Spain at the tail end of last year. And since then the boy born within sight of the former Wembley’s famous two towers has not looked back.
In fact, according to Southgate, “He has turned full circle.” Going from two goals in his first 45 England appearances – a remarkable stat – to five in his last three appearances indeed suggests he has.
And the Manchester City star was even greeted to positive headlines from the media – given the criticism directed at him previously, who would have believed it was possible?
It is all too easy to eulogise about this current crop of England players, but regretfully we must now turn back to Scotland.
Having won their Nation’s League group last year, the humbling defeat to Kazakhstan suggests Scotland, much like Sterling, have turned full circle, though sadly in the opposite direction.
Manager Alex McLeish took over the national side in February last year, with Scotland dropping nine places in FIFA’s rankings since then.
Before the qualifiers got underway, Scotland looked set to record a maximum six points from their two games last week, against Kazakhstan and San Marino.
With three already thrown away, anything but a win against the world’s lowest-ranked side San Marino (which will have taken place by the time one reads this), and the crisis is unfathomable.
The pre-match calculation that Scotland had a 43 per cent chance of getting out of their group and directly qualifying for Euro 2020 is sure to have shrunk.
The only respite that Scotland fans have is that by winning their Nations League group, they are automatically into a play-off semi-final.
Even if they proceed to lose every single game in this current qualifying group, Scotland could still qualify through their exploits in the Nation’s League.
In spite of this, the majority are not backing McLeish and the Scots to end their 22-year wait for a place in a major tournament.
Enough of this melancholy. England will be looking to maintain a 100 per cent record throughout qualification, and this is no far-away dream.
Debuts for Declan Rice – whose performance on the pitch quickly extinguished all focus on his IRA-sympathetic 2015 Instagram post – and Callum Hudson-Odoi show this team has so much potential.
At the end of the game, two players born this millennium – Jadon Sancho and Hudson-Odoi – were on the pitch.
As a millennium baby myself, I am now beginning to reach the tragic time that all football fans go through when England players are younger than me.
Hudson-Odoi has become a full England international before starting a Premier League match for Chelsea. The faith Gareth Southgate is showing in his youngsters is unrivalled and so exciting.
The oldest England player on the pitch against the Czech Republic was 28 – the age a footballer is supposedly at the prime.
None of this England side is ‘past it.’ Roll on the future.