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BOWLER’S DELIVERY: Albion against the world

8 October 2015

An XI of tournament Throstles

A selection of Albion’s finest are about to embark on some of the most pivotal fixtures of their careers, away from the warm embrace of The Hawthorns.

The likes of Chris Brunt, Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, James Chester, Darren Fletcher, James Morrison and James McClean are about to do battle in crucial international games, on the brink of booking their passage to the European Championships in France next summer and joining a fairly elite bunch of Throstles with major tournament experience. 

There have been 18 of them so far, but despite the lack of numbers, we’ve still pieced together a pretty handy XI from those who have played in the major championships while with the Albion.

BEN FOSTER

Ben journeyed out to Brazil last summer as part of the England squad under the watchful gaze of former Albion boss Roy Hodgson. Things didn’t go according to plan and with England already out after two defeats, Ben came in to keep a clean sheet against Cristian Gamboa’s Costa Rica in the final game.

DON HOWE

A footballing pioneer, Don was one of the first attacking full-backs, rampaging down the right hand side. He was part of a three pronged Albion presence in England’s 1958 World Cup side, of which more later. In later years, he coached the national side at a number of tournaments. 

JONAS OLSSON

The giant central defender was in the Swedish squad that went to the last Euros and, after missing their first game as they lost to Ukraine, he stepped into the team for their 3-2 defeat at the hands of Hodgson’s England. He retained his place in the team but even a 2-0 win over France couldn’t save Sweden from an early exit.

GONZALO JARA

Gonzalo was still an Albion man when her took part in the 2010 World Cup for Chile. After coming off the bench in the opener against Honduras, he was a starter against Switzerland and Spain as they came second in their group, before losing 3-0 to Brazil. The other option at centre-back was Diego Lugano. But Gonzo didn’t play in that game at the Villa…

STUART WILLIAMS

Perhaps Albion’s most successful World Cup man and our record international cap winner until Zoltan Gera, Chris Brunt and James Morrison surpassed him recently. 

Part of Wales’ only tournament side to date in the World Cup of 1958, left-back Stuart was a key figure as they beat Hungary in a play-off to come through the group stage and play Brazil in the quarter-finals. Wales gave as good as they got, only to be beaten by a 17-year-old kid. Mind, it was Pele.

ROBERT KOREN

Robert was still an Albion man, just, as he skippered Slovenia to their first World Cup in South Africa in 2010. He marked their first game by notching the winner against Algeria, then led them to a 2-0 lead over the USA only to be pegged back in the second half. A draw against England would have seen them through, but a Defoe goal ended their hopes.

JUNICHI INAMOTO

Germany 2006 was Inamoto’s second World Cup after featuring at home four years earlier, but this time he was an Albion man and consequently far more important. He sat out the ignominious 3-1 defeat to the Aussies, then came on at half-time as Japan drew 0-0 with Croatia. Needing to beat Brazil in the final game, Junichi started but his team didn’t. They lost 4-1.

BOBBY ROBSON

Another of Albion’s triumvirate that went to the 1958 World Cup, Robson played in all three of England’s group games as they drew with the USSR, Brazil and Austria before being left out for the play-off with the USSR which England lost. Robson was selected in the squad for the 1962 World Cup in Chile but was injured ahead of the tournament and replaced by a young man called Bobby Moore. He never got back in the side again.

WILLIE JOHNSTON

Willie was in electrifying form through the 1977/78 season, as exciting a winger as any in the country, crucial to a scintillating Albion side. Having excelled on Scotland’s South American tour of 1977, he was expected to light up Argentina ’78 but Scotland faltered in the first game against Peru, losing 3-1. 

Willie was summoned to do a drugs test after another Scotland player had declined the offer and his sample contained a banned substance found in a hay fever remedy. His international career ended instantly, though his Albion manager Ron Atkinson did promise him a sponsorship deal with Boots... 

JEFF ASTLE

As one of the nation’s main goalscorers, Astle made a late burst for inclusion in Sir Alf Ramsey’s England side to defend the World Cup in Mexico ’70. A party of 28 travelled to South America, six to be discarded from the final 22. Astle looked favourite to miss out before he went on the rampage in a B international in Ecuador, scoring a hat-trick in a 4-1 win and booking his place in the squad.

He came on in England’s second game, four minutes after they’d gone behind to Brazil and within seconds, he was through on goal, only to stroke his shot wide of the post. It was an unimportant moment in the context of the tournament and that aside he had played well, but Astle’s confidence was fatally wounded and an ineffective hour in the next game against Czechoslovakia ended his England career. 

DEREK KEVAN

“The Tank” went to the 1958 World Cup with Howe and Robson and his rumbustious style made him perhaps England’s stand out player of a competition that ended in ultimate disappointment. 

Had it not been for the Munich disaster, Kevan might not have gone to Sweden that summer, but he grasped his chance, scoring in the 2-2 draw with the USSR (pictured top) and then again in the game with Austria that ended with the same scoreline. Sadly, he couldn’t find the target as England lost 1-0 in the play-off to the Soviets and England were on their way back home. 

A useful enough team, I’m sure you’ll agree, with seven more on the bench: Tomasz Kuszczak, Bernt Haas, Marek Cech, Diego Lugano, Keith Andrews, Simon Cox, Shane Long.

Hopefully, by next summer’s end, there’ll be a slew of new names to add to the squad…

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