International surprises

Little Zambian-born Robert Earnshaw is the very quintessence of the Big Match Temperament; and indeed of the Welsh tradition of players suddenly inspired when they put on the famous red jersey.

The recent profusion of international matches has had its fascinating elements; not to say surprises. The greatest of all, quite clearly, being the sudden, astonishing transfer of two of Argentina's World Cup stars, Carlos Tevez, the prolific striker, and Javier Mascherano, the influential midfielder, from the Corinthians of Sao Paulo, not to one of Europe's major clubs but to West Ham United. A London club both well supported and admired, but one which has never in its long history won the English Championship; though it did, last season, come within an ace of winning the FA Cup again after long years.

In fact Manchester United have announced that they, as indeed a major club, were offered Mascherano, only to turn him down, and were not interested in Tevez. I saw both men play in a fascinating match staged at Arsenal's new Emirates Stadium against a much fitter Brazil who, though by no means at full strength, thrashed them 3-0.

It seems generally assumed that Tevez and Mascherano will not be staying indefinitely at Upton Park. But just how the Corinthians ever came by the vast amount of money to bring them to Brazil from Buenos Aires remains as great an enigma as who has really sold them to West Ham. Kia Joorabchian, the Iranian who has been front man in the various negotiations, has been exposed as little more than a man of straw, his various boasts embarrassingly deflated by the revelation that his string of English companies have all been in trouble.

Right from the first, when Corinthians, from a country where every major team is in financial trouble, suddenly found the money to buy Tevez and co. there was talk of Russian oligarch wealth behind the deals. Kia denies it; instead there is now rumour of Arabian money. What we do know is it certainly isn't Kia's.

Short of match practice, as their newly installed manager (for the second time around) Alfio Basile stressed afterwards, Argentina, though on paper the stronger team, were no match for a lively Brazil. Who, a couple of days later, took on Wales at Tottenham. And if you can make any sense out of such fixtures taking place at such North London venues, then you have had advantage of me.

Three days earlier, Wales had played and narrowly lost 2-1 to the Czechs in their Euro qualifier in Kosice. An exciting game, made especially interesting to me for the performances of the Czech midfielder and key playmaker, Thomas Rosicky, now at Arsenal, and Wales' little Robert Earnshaw, lately transferred to far less exalted Norwich City.

I have long admired both players and Rosicky, with his astute passing and clever control, showed how important he could be to the Gunners. Provided they don't absurdly stick him out on the left flank which they recently and wastefully did when beaten at modest Manchester City. Now that Dennis Bergkamp has retired, the Gunners so urgently need a creative attacker. Where he can do most damage.

Little Zambian-born Earnshaw is for me the very quintessence of the Big Match Temperament; and indeed of the Welsh tradition of players suddenly inspired when they put on the famous red jersey. I've been a fan of Earnshaw ever since the quick little fellow made his international debut against Germany in Cardiff. In no way overawed by the reputation and physical power of the opposition, he proceeded right away to beat the big defenders, eventually scoring the only goal of the game.

Yet to his frustration and my bewilderment Mark Hughes, then the manager, beadily looked a gift horse in the mouth, inexplicably keeping him on the bench. Notoriously when they played a vital qualifier a few years back in the World Cup against a seemingly demoralised Serbian team in Belgrade. Attack should have been the watchword, even though the essential target man, big John Hartson, was out injured. All the more important to have Earnshaw involved. Instead, Hughes allowed Serbia to take confidence and the 1-0 lead, deploying Earnshaw only late in the game. Even then he made a huge difference, effervescent on the right flank, actually beating the 'keeper only to have his shot cleared off the line. When, after 78 minutes, he and another quick little substitute, the blond Cotterill, were sent on by the new manager John Toshack, the pendulum instantly swung in Wales' favour. The two of them engineered an equalising own goal, though Wales went down to a 2-1 defeat in the 89th minute.

When the legendary Ted Robbins, Welsh FA Secretary for decades, managed the national team in all but name, he was famous for transforming Third Division players into heroes for an afternoon. Last season, Earnshaw had a thin time of it under Bryan Robson at West Bromwich Albion, who sold him to Norwich, but put him in a Welsh jersey, and watch the sparks fly.

That same Saturday, two distinguished players emerged from recent obscurity, each scoring twice for their countries in impressive away wins. Jari Litmanen, the Finnish veteran midfield attacker, brought it off against Poland. And Norway's Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, back at last after long exclusion through a knee injury, scored his pair in Budapest versus Hungary. To the deep relief, one feels, of his Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, short of strikers since letting Ruud van Nistelrooy and the young Italo-American Rossi go. The "Baby Faced Assassin" is back! So Wayne Rooney and Luis Saha, distressed by Van Nistelrooy's going, have cover.