COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 11: Fabian Johnson #23 of the U.S. National Team and Tim Howard #1 of the U.S. National Team celebrate their 1-0 win over Jamaica on September 11, 2012 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
These past two weeks sure have slogged by, haven't they? Fortunately we're finally just about ready to get back to the bread and butter of the Premier League, though Everton have to wait until Monday evening to restart their season. In the meantime, let's take a look at how some of the Toffees fared playing for their countries over the international break. As long as we can come out of this period with no injuries, I'll be satisfied...
Belgium earned a solid return of four points on their pair of World Cup qualifiers, beating Wales 2-0 in Cardiff and drawing 1-1 with Croatia in Brussels. Everton were heavily represented, as Fellaini played the entirety of the Wales match while Mirallas played the first half. Both players came off the bench for the next game, outlining the depth of quality in the Belgian side. The man who got away, Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, was not in the squad.
Costa Rica: Bryan Oviedo
Costa Rica could be in serious trouble in CONCACAF Group B qualifying after dropping a pair of results to regional powerhouse Mexico. Oviedo started in the first fixture, a disappointing 2-0 home defeat. While the Ticos played better in the reverse fixture, they still fell 1-0 in a valiant effort at the Azteca, as Oviedo was banished to the bench. Now Costa Rica must travel to El Salvador, a traditionally difficult place to secure a result, knowing that a loss would mean the end of their World Cup dream.
Republic of Ireland: Seamus Coleman
The Irish had only one qualifier and Coleman didn't manage to see any action in it, though it was an encouraging start to the campaign for Ireland as they beat Kazakhstan 2-1 to pick up their first three points. It wasn't easy though, as a Robbie Keane penalty kick in the 89th minute and a Kevin Doyle goal in the 90th minute were required to secure the win. Coleman did receive a full 90 minutes in a 4-1 friendly victory over Oman.
Croatia: Nikica Jelavic
Jelavic certainly made the most of his limited time on the pitch in Croatia's first qualifier versus Macedonia in Zagreb, coming on as as second half substitute and quickly scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win. Jelavic started the second match with Belgium, though he departed after an hour and therefore was never in the game at the same time as his Everton teammates Fellaini and Mirallas. As mentioned before, the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
Scotland: Steven Naismith
Results were mixed at best for Scotland, as they failed to earn a full three points in either of their draws over the past week (0-0 with Serbia and 1-1 with Macedonia, both in Glasgow). Naismith played all 90 minutes of the Serbia match but just 13 minutes versus Macedonia, failing to score in either. It's looking like it's going to be extremely tough for Scotland to qualify for the World Cup in a group that includes Serbia, Belgium, and Croatia, and this was a fairly poor start on the long road to Brazil 2014.
Slovakia: Jan Mucha
Slovakia struggled to a 1-1 draw in Lithuania, with Mucha getting the starting nod. However, apparently the coaching staff was unhappy with Mucha's performance, as he was dropped in favor of Legia Warsaw's Dusan Kuciak for the 2-0 win over Lichtenstein.
It was the perfect start for England in their quest to qualify for the World Cup, as they thoroughly trounced Moldova 5-0. Even better, our very own Leighton Baines scored his first international goal in the win! In truth, a heavy deflection was the main reason for Baines's free kick finding the back of the net, but it was still nice to see. I think that a lot of people are starting to wonder if Baines isn't England's best choice at left back even when Ashley Cole is healthy.
In England's second match and first qualifier of this cycle at Wembley, Baines's fellow Everton defender Phil Jagielka joined him in the starting eleven for the Three Lions. It was the first time since March 2007 that two Everton players started for England, when Phil Neville and Andy Johnson began a match with Israel. Not to pick on the guy, but I find it slightly incredible that Phil Neville received 59 caps for England. I guess playing for Manchester United has its perks.
In any case, England only barely escaped with a draw against Ukraine, a late Frank Lampard penalty earning his team a late point. Maybe some of our English readers can tell me how Baines and Jagielka looked, though considering that Ukraine's lone goal came on an unstoppable 25 yard free kick, I would assume the duo must have played decently at least.
United States: Tim Howard
Everton's number one goalkeeper started both of the United States' qualifiers with Jamaica, a shock 2-1 loss in Kingston and a narrow 1-0 victory in Columbus. I did not get an opportunity to see the 2-1 loss (thanks, beIN), but looking at the highlights both of Jamaica's goals came on free kicks that left Howard little to no chance to make a save. It was the first time Jamaica has ever beaten the United States, and it left the Americans staring at a must win scenario for the rematch.
Though the U.S. only won the second game 1-0, in fairness they completely dominated the match and deserved to win by several more goals. Indeed, the margin of victory would have been much greater if just a few of their many shots that struck the woodwork had managed to sneak in. Howard was left with virtually nothing to do all night for this one, but in the end it was a vital victory that leaves the United States in a good position to advance but still with plenty of work to do. The final two qualifiers for this round are scheduled for October 12 and 16 against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala respectively.