Timewasters be aware

We can't say we weren't warned. Remember IFAB made it clear that time-wasting was going to be clamped down in the severest possible way?

Come on, surely you must recall the outcry after the Premier League match against Cardiff City and Burnley in 2018? Maybe referee Slavko Vincic should check it out, because that's the last time the rules body made a definitive statement on time-wasting in the game. There can be no criticism of efforts to speed up football but watch literally any international match and you will see minnows or underdogs attempting to level the playing field every single game. After all, most of the time they're not drawing their playing personnel from the best leagues in the world.

So, quite why Vincic felt so aggrieved by the 23 seconds it took Jamal Lewis to return the ball to play in Northern Ireland's crucial World Cup qualifier in Geneva on Saturday night is guesswork. The Slovenian showed the Newcastle defender a yellow card, presumably to make an example of him, before swiftly realising that he had already carded him for a foul on Breel Embolo 14 minutes earlier. It was a match the Irish had to win to keep alive their hopes of a play-off spot for next year's final in Qatar – unsurprisingly they lost 2-0.

On a scale of 1-10 – with one being mild time-wasting and 10 being Burnley in the middle of a relegation battle, Ian Baraclough's players first-half efforts to wind the clock down were sitting somewhere around Israel's at Hampden. But, in the country of precision timing, it was perhaps not surprising that the Swiss fans became increasingly agitated. Their constant whistling and booing of Northern Ireland's throw-ins almost certainly made up Vincic's mind to dismiss Lewis after 36 minutes. For. Time. Wasting. If you're wondering, yes, it's the same Slavko Vincic who was arrested without charge last year after he attended a party in Bosnia at which prostitutes, cocaine, weapons and large sums of cash were present.

Tweet killed Kenny

Not that it needed much in the way of validation after recording a points haul that would have had Jack Charlton spluttering into his Guinness but confirmation came over the weekend that the Republic of Ireland had failed to qualify for its fifth successive World Cup despite a 3-0 win over Azerbaijan in Baku. The damage was done earlier in the campaign – losing 1-0 at the Aviva Stadium to Luxembourg and drawing 1-1 with the Azeris at the same venue.

Those results have heaped the pressure on former Dunfermline Athletic manager, Stephen Kenny, who has endured a torrid start to his tenure, taking 12 matches to record his first victory.

The Football Association of Ireland got a tad carried away with the feat, predictably drawing criticism from supporters, when it pushed out the following message on its twitter feed: “What a win and what a performance by the Boys in Green, Stephen Kenny gets a deserved first competitive win as Ireland manager!”

In the face of fan ire, however, there is a portent of optimism for Kenny, however. It took the very successful Michael O'Neill 10 matches to record his first win as Northern Ireland manager, and he did so with more limited resources than Kenny has available to him.

Fabianski farewell

Lukasz Fabianski played his last game for Poland in the 5-0 win over San Marino on Saturday night after 15 years and 57 caps. The now-customary elongated farewell took place with Fabianski substituted in the 57th minute at which point the 36-year-old ambled up to the centre circle in floods of tears, then walked towards the tunnel where he was given a guard of honour by the players from both sides. Credit to San Marino for playing their part by waiting until the West Ham goalkeeper was long off the pitch before they had their only shot on target.

Spain dangerous again

Spain's appearance at Euro 2020 was somewhat contradictory in its manner. Certainly, it runs slightly askew to what is going on in club football in the country with the two sides that have populated La Furia Roja for the best part of two decades – Real Madrid and Barcelona – no longer the powerhouses they once were. It was a somewhat schizophrenic Spain that we witnessed during the summer. They almost exited the tournament at the hands of Switzerland in the quarter-finals and looked, at turns, sensational and then utterly feckless in their 5-3 round of 16 win over Croatia.

In midweek, Spain ended Italy's world record 37-game unbeaten with a performance that brought to mind the way they played in almost knocking out the European Championship winners at Wembley. That night, it was Spain who looked the more likely before Italy composed themselves to win the shootout but it served notice that Luis Enrique had got them playing in a way that was reminiscent of their great teams of the recent past.

Spain's appearance in last night's Nations League final – in which they beat/lost to France – suggests the wait for another major title might not be as far away as had previously seemed.

Farewell of the Faroes

It's not every Sunday morning you take a phone call from an international footballer but not every international footballer is Odmar Faero. The Faroe Islands' central defender was the subject of a profile piece on these pages in recent days and in the course of efforts to track him down there were a number of missed calls to his mobile. Faero duly returned the call yesterday, saying he was in international camp and this was the first opportunity he had had to call back whereupon he also said that he had ordered five print copies of the Herald and Times sports section having read his profile in digital format.

The former Robert Gordon University, Keith, Forfar and Banks O' Dee player certainly stood up to the favourable descriptions given to me by his former colleagues at those clubs even having the good grace to humour a joke about wishing him luck 'but not too much' for tomorrow night's Group F game against Scotland in Torshavn.