Spanish ref used to courting controversy

James McClean is close to making the top ten of all-time appearances for Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

Daniel McDonnell

He has taken charge of one of the most closely scrutinised games on the planet, El Clasico, so Spanish referee José María Sánchez can probably cope with a World Cup qualifier in Dublin.

He makes a return visit to Dublin tomorrow to take charge of the game at home to Serbia: he was the fourth official for Ireland’s 1-1 draw at home to Austria in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. A familiar match official in Spain, he was dropped from the La Liga refereeing panel for a spell after some heavy criticism for his performance in a controversial 3-2 win for Barcelona away to Real Betis last year, where he sent off two players, booked seven more and also refused to award a clear penalty to Lionel Messi.

“Criticism is in our DNA. I have been doing this for 18 years, it’s normal,” he said afterwards.

Venue good sign for Crawford’s Under-21s

Ireland’s Under-21 side enjoyed a perfect start to their Euro qualifying campaign and the venue for tomorrow’s clash with the group’s bottom side, Luxembourg, is a good omen as UCD (v Dudelange, 2015) and Bohemians (also v Dudelange, last July) both won at the Stade Jos Nosbaum.

Bohs man Ross Tierney, who starred in their Europa Conference League win there, is also confident he’s done enough with a stunning display away to Bosnia to keep his place in Jim Crawford’s side. The game is also a sort of homecoming for Ryan Johansson, who made his competitive U-21 debut in the win over Bosnia. He spent four years in the underage set-up of his native Luxembourg before defecting to Ireland.

McClean close to the Irish top ten

James McClean could struggle to keep his place in the Ireland side after a sub-par display in the draw with Azerbaijan but featuring in the four remaining qualifiers (plus that Qatar game) must be a target for the Wigan Athletic player.

Now on 84 caps, if he features in the next five games, he will move into the top ten in Ireland’s all-time appearance record. Tony Cascarino is tenth with his tally of 88.

Number of the day – 7: The goals scored by Aleksandar Mitrovic in his last five games. An impressive total of 43 goals in 65 caps makes him the all-time top scorer for Serbia or Yugoslavia in all its previous guises.

On this day: In 2008, Glenn Whelan got the winner for Ireland in a 2-1 defeat ‘away’ to Georgia, in Mainz, Giovanni Trapattoni’s first competitive game as Ireland manager.