A change at the top is generally regarded as a positive thing in football, heralding the dawn of a new era, the chance for a fresh start and so on.
The first two 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying matchdays in Europe featured seven well-known coaches who took charge of new teams for the first time, and two bosses who returned to former stamping grounds. However, a distinctly mixed set of results underlined the fact that change in itself is no guarantee of success. FIFA.com turns the spotlight on a raft of newly-installed but familiar faces in national hot seats.
A total of 48 points were at stake for England, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Portugal, Austria, Serbia, Czech Republic and Switzerland in the two rounds of matches. A haul of 32 points would appear more than respectable for the new supremos, but one man in particular will be wringing his hands in despair after his tenure got off to a nightmare start.
Horror for Hitzfeld
Ottmar Hitzfeld was already ruminating on the fairness of it all after his Swiss side tossed away a two-goal lead in Israel at the weekend, conceding a last-minute equaliser in a frustrating 2-2 draw. But that was nothing compared to the agony of Wednesday’s 2-1 home defeat to Luxembourg, the tiny state’s first FIFA World Cup qualifying win in 36 years.
"I learnt from Ottmar never to give up, because all you can do is keep going. That’s the situation he finds himself in now," commented former keeper Oliver Kahn, Hitzfeld’s captain for many trophy-laden seasons at Bayern Munich. As if he did not know it before, the hugely-respected 59-year-old coach has been handed a stark reminder of the yawning difference between managing at club and international level.
Two further coaches would also have wished for better starts to their new jobs. The Czechs’ scoreless draw with Northern Ireland will have disappointed international rookie Petr Rada just as much as the fans in the nation ranked eighth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, but Carlos Queiroz’ return to the Portugal helm coincided with a nasty shock.
The Portuguese routinely won 4-0 away to Malta, but then contrived to lose 3-2 at home to Denmark despite taking a 2-1 lead with four minutes remaining. It was Portugal’s first home defeat in FIFA World Cup qualifying since 1993, when the man in charge was also a certain Carlos Queiroz.
La dolce vita for veteran Italians
Two further debuts went well but can hardly be regarded as yardsticks for the future. Bert van Marwijk’s Dutch side won 2-1 in FYR Macedonia without recapturing any of their breathtaking form from EURO 2008, while Radomir Antic's Serbs have three points after winning their first match but falling to FIFA World Cup runners-up France in midweek.
Karel Bruckner led his new Austrian charges to a stunning 3-1 home win against the French at the weekend, but the 68-year-old and his men came down to earth with a bump four days later in a 2-0 away defeat to Lithuania. The footballing world will keep a close eye on the progress made by van Marwijk, Antic and Bruckner in the coming months.
Another famous trio comprising two Italians and a Spaniard fully lived up to their star billings by guiding their teams to maximum points from two games. They did it in style too: Fabio Capello’s England notched up a first, while Marcello Lippi and FIFA World Cup holders Italy, and Vicente del Bosque’s European champions Spain both extended truly impressive streaks.
England’s 4-1 triumph over Croatia in Zagreb represented revenge in full measure on the side that was their undoing in EURO 2008 qualifying, and was also the Croats’ first-ever home defeat in qualifying for a major tournament. Elsewhere, wins against Georgia and Armenia respectively meant Italy’s prodigal son Lippi and new Spain supremo Del Bosque successfully preserved unbeaten home records in FIFA World Cup qualifying.
It is naturally too early for final verdicts, and the road to South Africa is still long and full of pitfalls, but even at this early stage, one thing is clear: a change at the top is no guarantee of success.