LONDON — The World Cup qualifying matches scheduled for Wednesday promise to be the most decisive yet.
For the coaches.
In England, those calling for the head of Graham Taylor are poised to sharpen their blades should the English lose to the Dutch at Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Taylor's four-year contract expires in June, but many expect him to step down should England fail to gain a berth in the World Cup by the end of the mid-November qualifying period.
Taylor's critics are many. Some are critical of his 4-4-2 alignment, which they find too conservative.
Some are critical of his juggling of players, which they say creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and a lack of cohesion.
He has even been pilloried in the press for his good relations with the media--too much public relations and not enough victories.
England's humiliating loss to the United States last June is brought up whenever lists are made of reasons to fire Taylor.
In Sunday's Independent newspaper, one columnist skewered Taylor, derisively referring to the coach as a Boy Scout.
"Should England qualify for the World Cup finals they will face embarrassment or even worse," Eamon Dunphy wrote. "The United States next summer will be no place for players wearied by a cruel domestic season and led by a talkative Boy Scout who likes to build bridges. If England fails this week, Graham Taylor will go. His epitaph might contain the words: plausible (to some), platitudinous (to all), pious and reasonable and willing to learn. A harsher judgment would argue that international team management is no place for Boy Scouts."
In another London paper, Taylor was quoted as saying he would not quit if England loses Wednesday.
Things are worse for Dutch Coach Dick Advocaat. Should his team beat England and qualify for next summer's World Cup, he will hand his job over to the popular former superstar Johan Cruyff, who is coaching successfully in Spain. Cruyff has been hired part time to coach the Dutch World Cup team.
A loss to England will no doubt bring Advocaat criticism, but it also means he gets to prolong his job for at least one more game, and possibly longer. Cruyff won't coach the Dutch national team, only its World Cup team.
In Italy, where the employment of coaches is measured in days, Arrigo Sacchi's job is linked to his team's fortunes. Italy is in second place in Europe's Group One, a point behind Switzerland and two ahead of Portugal. If Italy fails to advance, Sacchi might go the way of Scotland's Andy Roxburgh, who has already quit. If Portugal loses to Switzerland on Wednesday, Coach Carlos Queiroz is expected to quit or be fired.
Spain is in third place in Group Three behind Ireland and Denmark, the European champion. If Spain doesn't move up with a victory Wednesday, and the team fails to qualify for the first time since 1974, Coach Javier Clemente can expect a pink slip.
Diego Maradona's debut with his new Argentine team was typically dramatic. The 32-year-old former retiree scored the winning goal in an international friendly game against Ecuador.
Playing professionally in his native country for the first time in nearly 12 years, Maradona's return has been heralded in the press with great fanfare. "The King is not dead. . . . Long live the King" read one headline in Buenos Aires.
So the question of the former Argentine captain rejoining the national team in time for its Oct. 31 qualifier against Australia at Sydney arises again.
Maradona was originally left off the team's roster, but Coach Alfio Basile has the option of naming him as an alternate for the game. To the surprise of many, Maradona arrived for his first club game 25 pounds lighter and in better shape than in years.
A fit Maradona is a formidable player. But the Australians may have their own secret weapon--their country's immigration laws. It seems that Maradona's handful of drug convictions, which resulted in a 15-month ban from soccer, could prevent him from obtaining a visa.
The embattled French team Marseille had barely adjusted to being thrown out of European Cup play when it received more bad news. The team faces relegation to a lower division, and last week new bribery claims surfaced. Rumors are swirling that the team and owner Bernard Tapie are losing money. . . . If England loses to Holland on Wednesday, the national team and its players stands to lose a potential $50 million in sponsorship fees, future investments and income, according to marketing experts.
The soon-to-be star of Nigeria's qualifying is Efan Ekoku, 26, of England. After scoring four goals in an English league game, Nigerian soccer officials discovered Ekoku was the long-lost son of a Nigerian tribal chief. . . . Ossie Ardiles, a striker with the Tottenham Hotspurs, spoke harshly to his coach after he was taken out of a recent game. Ardiles was fined two week's pay, or about $7,500.