Monday, June 28, 2010


You carry your performances forward. If you play well and know your abilities you take it forward with you to the next game. If you don't play well but you still win you run the risk of blinding yourself with your success.

It is simple. England. Before the part-time fans begin their "yeah, but if it was over the line then..."

No, England were trounced by a superior team. That isn't to say England doesn't have some of the best players in the world in the side. They do. But Capello abused this side with his belief and stubbornness in his tactics that were born and died in the 1990's. Players in the wrong place and in the wrong positions.

Let's be clear. Sven Goran Eriksson's team were better than this one. Dull, lifeless....sounds like a L'oreal advert.

And even if England went in at 2 - 2, Germany were quicker, more creative and more disciplined. Germany deserved to win. England deserved it to be this bad. And their momentum from the warm-up games and the way they started this tournament...actually, even against the States they were better, more English...they were always going to lose.

Mexico too. They had such a great opportunity but they were beaten by Uruguay and despite some bad luck against Argentina, they fell apart. They lacked confidence.

There is no such thing as a friendly or a dead rubber. You want to win regardless.

What a dramatic day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Only a C?

The first day of knock-out football has begun at the 2010 World Cup.

Some might think that there is a tectonic shift in football at the moment. Perhaps they're right. I think the worries were there before this World Cup started.

Sepp Blatter's 5 + 4 ruling (which has recently been shot down by the EU) showed that enough domestic talent wasn't breaking through across the continent. I don't know. Spain's system grooms technicality from a very young age and was seriously addressed to ensure that no matter the size of a player, that the essentials of first touch, passing and movement were in place before moving into a higher level.

I doubt that those things aren't in place in France or Italy or even in England where size usually matters. France's issue was uniquely destined to occur because of the nature of their team and the explosion in South Africa was a culmination of issues rather than football.

Italy, well, they are flooded with foreign talent in their leagues. This is a remnant of the 90's and their boom time (ala Premier League modern day) and hasn't necessarily been addressed. At the same time, players like Quagliarella (who impressed in his only real chance against Slovakia) show that there is still the talent. I am sure this will be addressed after the abysmal tournament they had. I think it should have been addressed after 2006 but the euphoria of winning the World Cup meant it was a welcome relief to the scandal that had embroiled Italian football at that time. They weren't the best team in the world - they'd just played tournament football and had won it with luck too.

Is it a shift? No, its just an increase in competitiveness. All teams are fit and now the teams that are progressing and most that haven't except for Honduras have addressed organisation. It wasn't a fluke that New Zealand took 3 points. They were well organised and disciplined. They worked hard and deserved something from every game.

Not great to watch but look at Uruguay. So well drilled and hard to break down added to the fact they have such clinical finishers. That was the difference today against South Korea. They took their chances and half chances lets say. Now the Korean peninsula can concentrate on politics again. South Korea fell away after losing to Argentina. They started with such self belief but got unhinged and didn't recover. The Nigeria match is a testament to that. They were easily penetrable.

And the United States supported by Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger. Bizarre. However, they played so well and achieved so much in the Confederations Cup. And they started slowly this tournament. They kept falling behind but still achieved what they wanted. They finished top of their group and they were super fit. Beyond organisation, they were pace and tenacity personified. USA Today's C grade is a little harsh but tonight they came up against a real test.

Ghana. I am surprised yet not at the same time. I watched them in the African Nations and it was evident they were the wisest of the lot. They didn't sack their manager for a high profile one. They reached the final of the African Nations Cup without having to break too much of a sweat with a young team. They lined up organised (there's that word again) - they lined up hard to beat. 4 5 1. And that discipline and organisation isn't just adhered to with 2 banks that aren't penetrable. The difference between them and let's say New Zealand, is precision and delicate movement.

Their passes they make time for. If they are pressed the must keep the ball. They try not to make a rushed pass and if they are in the 2nd or final third of the pitch they pick their pass perfectly. Isn't necessarily attractive and they might not be the most talented - I think the Ivory Coast are. But they reached the final in Angola with a trusted, obedient team. Muntari was sent packing and they knew who their boss is.

Now he is back but he hasn't started once. No Essien. Not even Appiah starts. The Ghanaian FA didn't want a high profile man to take charge to just show their best side. Sven Goran Eriksson might have wanted the Ivory Coast to do well but even their players looked happy to just win 3 nil against North Korea. They danced after their 3rd. What was there to dance about? You are going home!

No, Ghana are different. And they may not get past Uruguay to what would be an amazing achievement in getting to the semis. Maybe not. But this is a young team. This is the Under 20 World Champions. Maybe they won't achieve the greatness that is expected of them. Nigeria never did after winning Olympic Gold. But they have potential. And they haven't reached the Quarter Finals by fluke. This is a good team who have achieved what they deserved. And what a tournament Kevin Prince Boateng is having. A late inclusion (which will rankle Muntari and the old guard) but hard working, combative, creative, precise....goal scoring?! From Tottenham outcast to Portsmouth villain to hated by Germany to the Quarter Finals of the World Cup. Not bad.

If Uruguay get to the semis what an amazing achievement too. Back to their glory days. Either way what a top start to the knock-outs.

And now the traditional big guns role out. England awaits. Germany does too. By the way, if you thought the English constantly ranted on about the past, then you are mistaken. The Germans are still as bothered about 1966 as much the English.

And Argentina Mexico...well, two relatively attacking sides but as I wrote previously, the Mexicans have tried to bolster their chances by playing South American opposition more often. However, the Argentinian paper, La Nacion wrote about their ability to role over and respect more reputable South American opposition. 10 games in recent times against Argentina and only 1 win. Tough task but a chance to right the wrongs of the second round 4 years ago.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Thats it. The first 2 weeks of the tournament are over. All the group / league action is done. We are half way through this World Cup. Sometimes it feels like it is going slowly and other times too quick. Italy crashing out felt like being in another world for a moment.

I doubt that the world order of football has shifted dramatically. I just think coaches in South America are more savvy and require discipline from their players.

None more so that Oscar Tabarez. He has such an organised team. 4 3 3 to a 4 5 1 formation and Forlan is in genius mode so far. They have not conceded once. I can not see past Uruguay beating South Korea who were a mess against Nigeria.

El Pais of Uruguay feels that surely the country will enter the top ten of world football after today's game. Pretty confident and so they should be. However, the paper is worried about Nelson Mandela Bay's pitch. Beautiful stadium but the pitch has taken a battering from the rain beating Port Elizabeth over the last two weeks. England had to play on it but I wonder how much impact it will have on the game.

Huh Jung Moo, South Korea's coach, says his players have set a target of the semi-finals for themselves. I can't see that happening if they play as bad as they did against Nigeria. Weren't as organised. I feel like the Argentina game shook them up more than they realise.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


The finalists of four years ago are gone. One with a whimper, the other with a shrug of their shoulders and national disgrace to face at home. Neither were the best in the world four years ago and neither showed enough to sit at the table of the best 16 teams in world football at the moment.

French football came extremely close to mixing the sport with politics - a big no no with FIFA. It has led to bans for such football luminaries as Greece and Pakistan as FIFA insists that the beautiful game remains an independent, democratic process completely separate from government interference.

Marcello Lippi has already assumed full responsibility of the world champions dismal tournament. Apparently, the team played throughout with a fear and Lippi says this is down to a lack of preparation and only he can take the well as taking questions about Totti from Ugandan journalists.

Argentina may well face the same two knockout opponents they played in Germany four years ago if the footballing Gods make it so. Maxi Rodriguez's impressive strike in extra time against Mexico sent Argentina through to a tempestuous quarter final with Germany in the last World Cup. La Nacion of Buenos Aires is keen to point out that Mexico has faltered against stronger opposition and as a result arranged friendlies with the likes of Argentina. In the last 10 meetings between the two sides, Mexico have won once.

Because of its propensity to submit to more reputable opponents, the Mexicans have thrown the wealth of the Mexican league into meaty ties with South American neighbours in order to gain experience and strength. La Nacion thinks it has failed and it will again. Perhaps, as Mexico showed against Uruguay they may not be up to the task. Tight, intricate passing moves need to be finished off and Argentina have been on form. Both teams lack a bit at the back though.

Looks like the Kaiser thinks England stuffed up their tournament and I'd have to agree with him. I'm sure the English tabloids will want this pinned up in the dressing room as motivation, but if they read Beckenbauer's column carefully, they will see he has a lot of respect but believes they are burnt out from a glut of domestic football. Should be a classic and as Prank said, if Germany play the way they have, England will be in trouble.

Nice to see Ghana made it through. Seems as though plumming for the Africans is natural but they will now face a talented US side. And Uruguay and Paraguay have made it through. Uruguay have a great chance of beating South Korea and reaching the quarters. They have been impressive in their balance. Great defending - have conceded no goals and the forwards of Suarez and Forlan have now both scored in this tournament. South Korea looked shakey against a profligate Nigerian side. Wonder if Lagerback will stay now that their is trouble in the ranks.

Lets see who Paraguay play - either Japan or Denmark. Hard to call. Holland will come up against Slovakia now...great opportunity to get to the quarters.

It just gets Juicier.

The way it stands now ... we are going to have a fantastic round of 16. It will only get better. The big game that we will all anxiously be waiting for is, England vs Germany. England got through and everyone is overjoyed and singing praises like it's the second coming. England put on a good first half performance however I thought they took their foot of the gas in the second half and I am sure that against quality opposition that would have cost them. Rooney still looks far from his best. England will need to step up at least three gears if they are to blitzkrieg a very talented, young, hungry German side. Of course this is not a German side to be feared compared to their earlier teams but this German side in 2 years are going to be a force to reckon with. Ozil for me is their standout player and I know Wenger has had his eye on him for a while, so it is time for him to sign young Ozil. England still looked shaky at the back and to be honest they haven't been tested against quality opponents. Germany will be a big test and if they get through then they would most probably face a rampaging Argentinian side. All very exciting.

Very happy about the US qualifying because they have been one of the better teams in the competition. They are playing with heart, spirit and they are playing exciting football. Bob Bradley has a good group of players who are all plying their trade in leagues in Europe and it shows. Landon has been outstanding and I'm sure there are some Premier League sides who have their eye on young Michael Bradley. We now just need to wait for the Michael Bay directed Hollywood Summer Blockbuster " Freedom Kick" about how this US team against all odds played a team of terrorist footballers for the freedom and security of the free world and American way of life. Bruce Willis will make an excellent Bob Bradley.

Ghana have by far been the best African team on display, they are quick, creative and well organized. A potent combination of West African flair and European organization. However what will hamper their advancement in this competition is their lack of quality in the final third. They don't possess a striker who can find the back of the net. So far Ghana have been unable to score a goal in open play which needs to be rectified against an American team that is riding high on momentum.

The next two days will decide the last of the round of 16 , with a very tasty Brazil and Portugal game on the Friday. Colonizer vs Colonizee. I think they both will qualify from their group leading to a possible showdowns with Spain and Chile ( fingers crossed).

That's about it for the time being, my advice to the English fans is to come back down to earth because your team still weren't able to finish off a mediocre Slovenian side. For a team packed with such quality and experience they should be doing better. As I mentioned earlier if they play like they did today against the Germans in the round of 16 they will be on a Ryanair flight back home. They really need to step it up or ze Germans vill Blitzkrieg right past dem.

Upwards and Onwards.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mmmm spicy

I love Chile. I haven't even fully formed an opinion on them. But they have been the freshest, attacking team so far in this World Cup. It will be an absolute tragedy if they get knocked out by Spain having worked so hard to top group H.

Their media is about as tense as I am about it all...especially since they are coming up against the former masters. 1,500 police are to be deployed in Santiago in case it turns into a riot fest.

So France are out and the inquest begins. Spectacular fall from grace. Can't forget that this is the same team that battled to the last World Cup final. Domenech's refusal to shake Carlos Alberto Pareira's hand added to the ignominy. Apparently, it was for saying that France didn't deserve to be at the tournament...

Seems like all the French are at it. David Ginola is attacking Gerrard Houllier, 17 years after the former French manager called him a criminal and placing all the blame on their non-qualification for the '94 World Cup on poor old David.

The South Africans are already looking to the future with a 'positive' attitude.

Mutiny? Really? I'm sorry its not France. The Daily Mail refers to John Terry's apology only to position it as a back-track. Sorry, I'm not John Terry's biggest fan but please, apart from talking out of turn he didn't do too much wrong. If Capello chooses not to play Cole because John Terry says then he is getting paid 6 million for cutting off noses to spite your faces. Then we are all living in fear of not stepping on the toes of the over compensating regime of Capello and Baldini. Yes, the players are all over paid but if you don't like them then don't get involved. You can't change what they are. You can change the wage structure and see what happens but I think you would have a real revolt on your hands.

Anyway, England are bound to win...right?

Mmmm spicy

I love Chile. I haven't even fully formed an opinion on them. But they have been the freshest, attacking team so far in this World Cup. It will be an absolute tragedy if they get knocked out by Spain having worked so hard to top group H.

Their media is about as tense as I am about it all...especially since they are coming up against the former masters. 1,500 police are to be deployed in Santiago in case it turns into a riot fest.

So France are out and the inquest begins. Spectacular fall from grace. Can't forget that this is the same team that battled to the last World Cup final. Domenech's refusal to shake Carlos Alberto Pareira's hand added to the ignominy. Apparently, it was for saying that France didn't deserve to be at the tournament...

Seems like all the French are at it. David Ginola is attacking Gerrard Houllier, 17 years after the former French manager called him a criminal and placing all the blame on their non-qualification for the '94 World Cup on poor old David.

The South Africans are already looking to the future with a 'positive' attitude.

Mutiny? Really? I'm sorry its not France. The Daily Mail refers to John Terry's apology only to position it as a back-track. Sorry, I'm not John Terry's biggest fan but please, apart from talking out of turn he didn't do too much wrong. If Capello chooses not to play Cole because John Terry says then he is getting paid 6 million for cutting off noses to spite your faces. Then we are all living in fear of not stepping on the toes of the over compensating regime of Capello and Baldini. Yes, the players are all over paid but if you don't like them then don't get involved. You can't change what they are. You can change the wage structure and see what happens but I think you would have a real revolt on your hands.

Anyway, England are bound to win...right?

Monday, June 21, 2010

This is it...

This is the last 13.30 kick off of the World Cup. The World Cup reaches the peak of its volume in conjunction with the summer equinox. The longest day and the most games will have been played so far.

I would get you some news from North Korea about today's game against Portugal. A rematch of the classic Eusebio starring 1966 Quarter Final which ended 5 - 3 to Portugal after the Koreans jumped to a 3 nil lead.

A Bola, Portuguese sports newspaper issues a rallying cry to their own "dear, great leader" - so they mock North that up on the dressing room Kim Nam Il.

Additionally, the same paper reports that Cameroon manager, Paul Le Guen, who said he wasn't going to resign has been appointed Australian coach. Pim Verbeek will leave his role after the tournament so they were on the look-out anyway.

A word on the Africans. Its so disappointing that none of the African teams seem secure for the last 16. Ghana have the best opportunity but have to face Germany. The Ivory Coast dominated possession in key areas at times but really waited (Sven influence) until it was too late to have a crack.

The goal that killed them off was Luis Fabiano's second, which by all standards was handled twice by the striker before he finished. The referee even had the gall to ask the player if he had handled it! Why ask if you are in doubt? That is your decision right there. Anyway, Abidjan Post is fairly transfixed on that incident rather than Kaka's unfair dismissal.

23 minutes in, North Korea are giving the Portuguese a run for their money. Nil nil.

And the England camp seem a little more in sync than their French counterparts. Lampard, Terry and Capello all engaging with the media in the last two days to issue rallying cries and point out there is no rebel faction as per the media's insistence.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

French Unity and Player Democracy

What an interesting couple of days. Anelka sent home and now a revolt of sorts. Reports initially came in that after arriving on the team bus, Patrice Evra, team captain and manager extraordinaire (mais non) had a heated discussion. This spilled on to the training ground when the physical trainer was engaged in the conversation.

It transpires that the physical trainer, Robert Duverne, was leaking information to the press regarding internal team matters. What transpired in the changing rooms at half time between Domenech and Anelka was an internal matter and it would seem that the Manager felt he had dealt with the situation by substituting the striker for Gignac.

However, Duverne went to the press and because of the exposure of the altercation the French Football Federation decided to send Anelka home. Wind of the leak reached the players and hence the ensuing protest.

After reaching the training ground and snubbing the French media at the complex, the players went back on to the bus and convened to decide on their next move, which was to give Domenech a note to pass on to the media stating that they would not train in protest to the FFF. It was the FFF's decision not Domenech's.

So they won't train? Well, it seems only for today as part of the protest and in support of Nicolas Anelka. Is this galvanising? Is this unity? Seems so. If they beat South Africa and beat them well, they may still sneak through. A big if though.

Meanwhile, England's nervous camp are probably meeting with Fabio Capello right now. They're going to air everything they are feeling and aren't happy about. Seems as though Joe Cole's stock in the England set-up has never been higher but John Terry has re-emerged as the 'real' captain of this team in a candid press conference.

Amongst this backdrop of frustrated European footballing powers, lets not take away from New Zealand's achievements in holding off the Italians. Italy were far from boring but could only breach the Kiwis once in response to an early goal by Shane Smeltz.

The New Zealand Herald are obviously extremely proud of their teams achievements while La Repubblica complains of the implications if Italy even do qualify, which they should. Now they are worried about coming up against the Dutch.

Paraguay beat a truly uninspiring Slovakian team. They really have missed an opportunity but fair play to the South Americans...a plucky European style win.

And on the 10th Day

We have the first victims of the World Cup. Cameroon have a game to play but for nothing except pride. They played well, created through the middle, kept the ball well and used width. Well balanced going forward. However, they only got to grips with Denmarks diagonal balls a bit too late and then the defensive cover let Denmark in with the simplest of goals. Guess they will rue their game with Japan the most.

Slovakia weren't great against New Zealand earlier in the week. Weiss was about the only bright player they had and they will face similar determination against Paraguay. However, the South Americans will be more clinical and precise in their movement, control and passing than New Zealand were. Slovakia need to up the ante and Paraguay need the points too. I'm expecting cagey over flamboyance.

Paraguay are a defensive team but it looks as though the Slovaks will add another defensive midfielder to their equation and try and hit on the break today. They seem to know how to play one way. Novy Cas is described as gutter press in Slovakia - so its a bit like The Sun in the UK then. Anyway, their insight says the Slovakia will line up 4 4 2....

Much of this tournament has been beset by nervousness on the players and that usually derives from excess discipline. Too much accountability. England suffered from it. One commenter on a popular website said that they played like they were at the office. Yes, an English office. When you don't have the freedom to enjoy your work you become pent up and there was an anguish in the way many of the players at this tournament have played.

Saying that other nations have played with a freedom and enjoyment of the game that has been clear for all to see. Chile are the prime example.

Paraguayan La Nacion calls for goals and a celebration today - especially because it is Father's Day...apparently. The newspaper expects Roque Santa Cruz to come in as part of a front three - similar to Uruguay and that there will be more attacking intent. Paraguay might well be the favourites but it has to translate onto the pitch, says La Nacion...

Nations really do expect. You forget once you're bedded into any one culture that a country in a place you might not know anything about has as much expectation as you. Especially, in a globalised world, I don't think people get to respect other people's feelings. Fascinating that football actually bridges divides that many people don't want to cross. Wow, that was deep.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Offensive Cameroons

Jyllands Posten, more synonymous with offensive, sacrilegious cartoon mongering, quotes Samuel Eto'o ahead of Denmark's important clash with Cameroon. Eto'o either fears or respects Denmark's "supertaktiks" according to the Posten and expects it will be tough to break down such a disciplined side. Based on Cameroon's first game against Japan, he is probably right.

Eto'o was wasted on the right wing against Japan and looked like the lacked genuine penetration. They have one more chance to get it right before they face an even tougher task in Holland, probably with a fit Robben in the side.

Cameroonian sports magazine, Camfoot, quotes Paul Le Guen prior to this pivotal match. He felt there were some below par performances and that not only does he need to take responsibility but he focuses on the players taking the blame too in order to make sure their Japanese misfortune doesn't strike again.

And finally, L'equipe wonders whether Anelka would have been sent home at all if the magazine hadn't published what had happened at half-time against Mexico. Not only did Anelka refuse the commandments of his coach but had a few choice words for Monsieur Domenech, which resulted in him being substituted. As a result of L'equipe's revelation, the FFF moved quickly to send Anelka home. Usually, a fairly calm character....looks like the first Lemming has jumped.

Media Squirt - Day 9 - Part 1

National despondency isn't just reserved for the English or the French. Harry Kewell isn't a happy bunny. Michael Cockerill of the Sydney Morning Herald questioned his commitment to the team and asked for him to step up against Ghana. Kewell wasn't a happy bunny and sought out the journalist after a training session.

I can understand why the Australians are so unhappy but they are a man down during this game against Ghana, with Kewell already sent off for handling the ball in the penalty area. 1 - 1. Australia's general predicament is not all Kewell's fault. The backline is ageing and Craig Moore doesn't even have a club team to play for. Lucas Neill is not a central defender and they aren't as dynamic as they were in Germany.

And Ghana's Chronicle newspaper are quite pleased that Australia's Tim Cahill is suspended making their job a little easier. All they need to worry about is if goalkeeper Kingson can catch a ball....his mistake has given the Socceroos a valuable goal. All square at the moment.

Day 9 - Media Squirt

Rafael Van Der Vaart will gain his 80th cap against an organised Japanese side today. 40 minutes in and no score. De Telegraaf reports on the choice of Van Marwijk to pick Van Der Vaart over Eljero Elia who looked bright against Denmark from the bench. I feel they needed width, without Robben especially and Elia gave them that.

Japan coach Okada said he is confident ahead of the match but expects a handful. Not on that first half showing. Dull game.

The rant

Right, Prank had his rant last night about France. And to some degree I understand why. For a long time France have been indelibly linked to Arsenal because of the faith shown in those players but to see how misused they were is infuriating for a team that prided itself on being World Champions in 1998. No, no, no...World Champignons and they weren't worthy of that title in 98. Brazil were.

As for England. Right, well lets get this clear. This is for all the fans who end up supporting England. Whether you're in Lebanon and your team didn't qualify and you wear either Brazil or England or Italy or Spain's shirt as a medallion. This is for the England fans who are from Cheltenham Town and haven't had success in their lifetime so go along with the official England Supporters Association like all the hooligans used to be able to. This is for the fans of Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal and whoever else you support but your allegiance is to your club and not your country.

Tonight was justification why England means nothing to our tribal club allegiances. I am English by default and in any previous World Cup, I have supported the opposition, NOT England.

Many Scousers or Liverpool fans haven't supported England after Thatcher's reign marginalised the city. Most English will look at Liverpool as perennial victims. "We're not English we are Scouse" goes the song. Maybe other cities feel the same maybe they don't. But I've never supported England.

Until this year, until I felt like they deserved it. Like I could look past the songs that are ingrained in the British Empire's dominance of the world - Rule Britannia etc. Like I could look past the fact that England was synonymous with the country's racist element.

I felt I could. I felt like all the other fans who usually support England. Their local team has been abysmal but beyond that the Premier League has produced its greatest crop and they deserve this despite being overpaid and lacking in intelligence. Nevermind, lets give it a go.

Fine. But the fans sang the national anthem 3 times tonight and then booed off the team. Well, firstly, if your backing this team then back it. Rooney stomped off screaming at the end that this "was our own fans booing us". Turncoats. This is the same team you harp on about 1966 for every 2 weeks. Yet when they need galvanising beyond the national anthem you can't do it.

No "You'll Never Walk Alone". None of that. Those players felt pressure. But that isn't their excuse. They should know how to deal with that pressure. They were poor, awful. Worse than France. But where has that derived from.

They started well against the US and that was by default. Here's the thing, England have been under this new "discipline" that Capello (who earns 6 million pound sterling a year to draw with Algeria) has instilled in this team. They coasted an easy qualifying group but credit to them for that. However, they drew with America and there was doom and gloom surrounding that. But I didn't feel that. I felt that the tempo of the opening game was good and they were not kick and rush as Beckenbauer said.

No, they played with drive and were slightly unfortunate that they didn't win. And at the centre of that was their new captain, Steven Gerrard. And yes, because he is Liverpool's captain and because Jamie Carragher is in there, I've felt like 'you know what, I want those players to do well'. Even Rooney. He plays for United, yet I've felt like this Liverpool lad is a good player. He deserves it.

Gerrard drove that team from the centre of that pitch because that is where he is comfortable and where is most effective. He is the most adaptable and gets misused (Domenech misuses in another way but thats what he does - misuses) because of team ethic. Lampard couldn't play on the left. Yet he was awful tonight. Awful.

But as soon as Barry is fit, Gerrard gets lumped on the left. Not even just behind Rooney where he could make an impact. NO JOE COLE? Why? Why? Not once has he been on the pitch. He played a right footed winger to replace Aaron Lennon. In the end he played Rooney on the right.

This is a man who earns 6 million a year! No way. You get very limited opportunities to get it right at World Cups. This is not Serie A. This is now or never football. I went to Anfield and watched a Liverpool side with Heskey and Gerrard beat Roma managed by Capello two nil. His team were awful.

When they selected him for the job, it is because he canvassed so hard for the job. He wasn't the first name they wanted. Not at all.

Even if England win this, I'm pretty much done supporting them. Despite such a lousy season for Liverpool, I'd rather be disappointed by the ones I love than the ones I don't care about. Its an arrogance to be paid that much and to deliver so little against a team that were beaten by Egypt in January 4 nil.

It is an arrogance to turn up because you are branded the Premier League and you can't even control a ball. But the players basics went out the window because they DID NOT believe in the system or the decisions.

Benitez for Liverpool fell on his decisions. Domenech with France has left out key players and stuck with players like Govou. If he wasn't leaving he would have been pushed. Capello, two games into his first tournament has not entertained nor given England fans any confidence.

If I'd been a neutral I would've wanted my money back. South Africans are mad about the Premier League. If they had seen this from the stands at Green Point, I'd have gone back to reception. Forget tomorrows headlines. This is not a rallying cry. This is why I'd rather have a passport with a Liverbird on it than a horse and a lion (the latter of which there are none in the English countryside - so why they are the 3 lions I have no clue).

If they win the World Cup or even top this group they will not have deserved it based on tonight. And I blame it on him. Stubbornness. There is no time for stubbornness. Joe Cole deserved 90 minutes. Not Barry. Ok, fine Lampard had a stinker but he deserves that place more than Heskey or Barry. Heskey provides space for Rooney and links play well. But he does not score goals and goals count when the other striker might not reach form.

This World Cup started slowly because of organised, tactical football. England did not have to be that way. They have the quality and the strength. They played with fire against the US at times, driven by Gerrard. Tonight, Gerrard was playing his graveyard shift. And now England played worse than imagined.

I said before the game that winning wasn't enough. That tonight was a chance to stick the flag in the ground and say "be afraid of us". Slovenia, good luck. Well done Algeria.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Statement of Intent and Opportunities Missed

The American media are a bit focused on the disallowed goal that would have earned them a valuable 3 points. Still, they are better than their first half show and a little unlucky as the 2nd came after some sustained pressure.

The Slovenes will also feel they've missed on securing 6 points which would surely have left them with not alot to do against England to qualify. "Stopped" Delo simply reads. The Slovenian public will feel their balloon was burst so close to the finish line.

England play Algeria tonight and after so many big names have faltered in recent days, tonight has to be a signal of the team's ability to punch at a higher weight than the rest. Algeria are definitely without form - they are lesser than the team the nipped past in qualification; Egypt. The victory almost caused a diplomatic fall-out between the maghreb neighbours but of the two sides they are no where near as good or disciplined.

If England don't show it tonight - if they don't win well, not just win, then they will have let an opportunity go by. From most accounts it looks like Gerrard will be switched to the left with Barry coming in. That would be daft. It really would. If he plays behind Rooney then no problems but he is nowhere near as affective on the left and would in fact expose Cole at left back.

Not a big contest, but a big game for England's ambitions.

Premature Euphoria

"Shit, Damn. Now Its Close Again"

Germans look to retract into their shell.

Meanwhile, in England's group the Yanks take on Slovenia who beat Algeria in their opening game. Most people think nobody cares in the United States... Well, USA Today's frontpage carries a piece on today's game and reports that the USA - England game was the most watched football match in American TV history....Not bad for its 5th important sport - however, most played sport in the States. Landon Donovan talks to USA Today and says that if they lose today they are out.

Popular Slovenian daily, Delo, predicts a one nil win for Matias Kek's men. "Say, Say USA but Not Today" reads Delo's headline.

Tonnes more American fans in Ellis Park. Should be a good one. Yank win I predict. Tight game though.


There was something distinctly different about the Germans last weekend. Fluidity and creativity accompanied Germany's trademark solidity. The Telegraph's Rory Smith refers to it as Total Football with a Teutonic twist.

Not only is the Bundesliga the most attended league in all of Europe (standing room still exists as well as much cheaper tickets) but all of the squad currently play in Germany. There is an upward curve according to players such as Khedira. In fact, Khedira is not only part of the upward curve but represents the new ethnicity of the 'new' Germany. Brazilian, Turkish, Tunisian - they've all brought and learnt aspects that make this young team (this is the youngest of any team at the tournament) so fundamentally different to what we expect from the Germans.

And the music of choice in the dressing room is in fact a representation of this fresh side. Not sure why mind. Bushido, the German-Tunisian rapper sounds rubbish but then again I don't know what he is saying.

The Serbs have got their work cut out. They suffered from the discipline Ghana showed at the weekend and like many teams opted for the wings but that was to far deep in their own half to make an impact. Credit to Ghana but saying that a lot was expected of Krasic and Jovanovic.

Joachim Loewe is a great coach and there is absolutely no doubt at all that his team will be prepared for the Serb backlash he outlined at his pre-match press conference.

A draw. I know but I'm still going for a draw

Death and ghosts

Prank's frustration is borne out of the hope that one of football's "powerhouses" are not only bowing out at such an early stage but in the manner in which they whimper, crawling back to the airport. Not just yet, one more game and a mathematical possibility. French sports paper, L'equipe's front page says it all.
Zidane isn't happy that Gourcuff didn't play but the in-house ego and internal fighting Prank alluded to indicates the reasons why such a decision was taken...he wasn't the only one not playing well.

El Mercurio of Mexico reports on the outpouring of emotion on the streets of Mexico City and around the Angel of Independence monument. Added to the fact that the stadium in Polokwane was full of Mexicans, in fact outnumbering the French. For a country that had lesser ambitions at this tournament, it is quite stunning and inspiring. Plus the Mexicans felt they had to do this for the Irish.

This is why international football is now the purest football left. Not the same player celebrations you see in the Premier League. Just emotion. This is the real badge. This isn't about the money. This is about pride and loyalty.

20 games already played so far....can't believe it. We are essentially a third of the way through the tournament. Absolutely gutted. But the impressive Germans are riding the crest of a wave in terms of national fervor and optimism ahead of the 2nd game against Serbia. German tabloid Bild focuses in on Philip Lahm's ambition to emulate the 1990 heroes of Italia 90. There is also a piece on Fabio Capello's retort to Franz Beckenbauer in which the England manager claimed ze Germans are scared. "Iz zis guy for real?" asks Bild...

The tabloid has a piece on a Serbian commentators howler during commentary of Germany's opener against the Socceroos. The commentator failed to note that Robert Enke committed suicide and told Serb viewers that he was injured hence Neuer was in goal. Serbs I suppose have a high tolerance to death.

Meanwhile, Serb tabloid, Blic is still reeling from the defeat to Ghana rather looking to the taller task of beating Germany.

Half way through the group stages. I'm going to miss the early kick-off when it goes.

Off with their heads !

This post could be in danger of devolving into a murderous rant... and I'm not even French. First of all congratulations to the Mexicans for a thoroughly deserved win. They played neat, attacking, quick organized football. I am utterly elated at the manner in which they won as well. Now onto the French, I'm not going to say much that hasn't already been said but the French are a disgrace and have disgraced the beautiful game with their lack of conviction and application. News of disharmony in the French squad have plagued the media space for 2 years now. What I can't understand is why Raymond Domenech still has his job ? He obviously has compromising pictures of the head of the French Football Governing body with little boys from Thailand or something worse because I can't see any plausible reason for him to have his job. He has singlehandedly dismantled a superpower of World Football. A team that boasts some of the most gifted players playing the game today won't even look each other in the eye. Throughout the Mexico game he was leaning back in the dugout with a smug smirk watching his piece de resistance. He will once again be subjected to an onslaught of biblical proportions but to what avail ? We already knew that this was his last hurrah with this team and his replacement Laurent Blanc ( who has a very easy act to follow, they can't be any worse under him at all) was waiting to take over after the World Cup. Ok then ... why not let Laurent coach them now ? Laurent was part of the World Cup and Euro winning team and just the change in management could have galvanized a team that seem like they would rather be vacationing in the South of France than be in South Africa.

This is unacceptable to me , after all, they are disrespecting the game, Henry who essentially ruined his spotless reputation because of his hand in their qualification, The Irish who deserved to be in this World Cup and their country. I think Platini should spend more time chastising his national coach before he castigates Maradona, whose team is producing on this stage and have a strong desire to win. You can never discount Maradona's passion for the game.

Au Revoir Les Bleus see you in Euro 2012 because we know you can't sink any lower.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Media Squirt - Day 7 - Part 3

Nigeria...what chances they had to be closer to qualification than South Korea and Greece today. Wasteful and self destructive. Very frustrating. Greece took advantage and in historic fashion.

Meanwhile, L'equipe heats up the intensity of tonight's match between the French and Mexico with an interview with Eric Abidal, the Barcelona and France centre back cum full back. They cannot even consider waiting until the last match to qualify according to Abidal.

And the Mexicans don't seem to feel any pressure at all according to El Mercurio. Fans are preparing in the cold winter of Polokwane, South Africa with a traditional roast....not like Sunderland footballers...but with Guacamole and Salsa.

France have a lot more pressure to deal with and they will have opportunities with this attacking Mexican side. Torrado will be critical to his backline alongside Marquez in midfield.

Gourcuff, seemingly sidelined by his teammates needs to up his game - Ribery was bright but not bright enough. Big game this - going to end in a draw - disappointing and nailbiting for both teams.

Media Squirt - Day 7 - Part 2

Argentina bagged 4 against a slightly over-respectful South Korea. Shame really, could have been so different had Korea equalised.

Anyway, recently in Dubai I opened a Nigeria Gossip and Glamour magazine left in my hotel room. It amused me. However, Nigeria's The Guardian newspaper reports on an author's unique way of inspiring the Super Eagles to victory today - a marathon bus ride. Creative - but odd

Greek tabloid, Espresso, reports on a 3 point strategy in order to win against Nigeria, which kicks off in 20 minutes. Looks like Greece are worried about the height of the Nigerians and not conceding the first goal. I don't like the way they play and it isn't effective at the moment. Change it before you retire Rehhagal.

Media Squirt - Day 7

Diego Armando Maradona versus Huh Jung-Moo....

Ok, it might not sound like the biggest showdown on earth (so many meanings to that) but Huh and Diego have unfinished business.

In 1986, guess Huh, sorry who had the unenviable task of marking Maradona in a 3 - 1 defeat? Well, it was Huh - I kind of spoilt that but still.

Argentina have the flair - South Korea have the speed. Its the Hand of God versus the Land of Dog.

Higuain was profligate on the weekend and I'm not sure why Milito isn't starting. Want to see Park Chu Young of Monaco do something.

Anyway, La Nacion of Buenos Aires says Maxi Rodriguez will start in place of the injured Veron. Damn shame that as he's in my fantasy XI. And Diego is critical of the referees and wants more protection for little man Messi. There is a seriousness about the Argentine media. No euphoria - just fairly cold optimism - a pragmatism, similar to the cynical style of the English press.

I can't read Korean but their English daily the Korea Times reports on the growing confidence ahead of this match. They feel they've got a chance to beat the 'powerhouse' but worry that if they lose they might find themselves in a tight spot against Nigeria. Excitement all around.

Robbie Earle's 50 free tickets.

Without the T.V. coverage, the majority of planet Earth would miss out on the World Cup. And what a travesty that would be.

The broadcasting of this showpiece is almost as critical as the football itself. It would seem that some of the best television broadcasting for this World Cup is in the United States. ABC shows it free-to-air with much of the other matches on pay-TV in the US with ESPN. ESPN have snapped up the legendary Martyn Tyler who most people will know from Sky in the UK or from his commentary on the Premier League matches broadcast ubiquitously across the globe. He is joined by Ian Darke and co-commentators such as Ally McCoist. Viewers in the States are quite pleased with this as the last time around in Germany the American and Irish commentary teams were below par.

Saying that, a part of me is a bit disappointed with the coverage in the UK. The BBC has long been without Des Lynam but Gary Lineker still doesn't do it for me. Hansen is still a legend but the token blacks included on the panels aren't in there on merit but to impose an African spirit to the showing.

I'd usually hate ITV's coverage and without Motty (not commentating but does some polemic on the highlights show) on BBC, I'd have to say that ITV have surpassed their licence funded rivals. Still, they've fallen for the "we should have black people for the African World Cup" trick as well.

Unusually, they sent home Robbie Earle as you will read. What on earth ITV were doing giving Robbie 50 free tickets I still don't know. 50?

Finally, I've touched upon the fact that Al Jazeera broadcasts in the Gulf and how difficult it has been for viewers there to watch - the fact it is subscription based World Cup viewing is still a bitter pill. But I suppose when FIFA handed out the rights to the World Cup it understood that the region had more disposable income than say an African country. But most or all of the countries around the world with the exception of China will show all or a portion of the matches for free.

It doesn't sit right. Not at all when you consider Al Jazeera broadcasts to the whole of North Africa as well as the rest of the Middle East. So it doesn't just affect the well-to-dos.

Anyway, a nation is on the verge of mourning. Bafana are a work in progress....a large construction no less. Forlan was magic in the hole but saying that he had a lot of time to turn for his first goal and controlled things without having anyone cover him.

As much as I feel sorry for South Africa they aren't ready as a team. They have such a rich heritage in the game but have lagged behind West African teams and North Africans to some extent for a while now. Having lived there, I know how passionate kids are for the game and how talented they are - raw diamonds.

But with the infrastructure they have in South Africa it is criminal that the sport hasn't churned out more Benni McCarthys or Nomvetes or Zumas. With the shift in political power I would have imagined that the mitigating circumstances of a racially divided sports scene would have eroded and there wouldn't be this rawness about the national team. At least they've got their vuvuzelas.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Spain, Spain, What ye done ?

I guess now is as good a time as any for me to play best supporting actor to Quillock's scorching lead performance in World Cup punditry. As he has mentioned in every blog ... the name of this beautiful game is organization, strength in numbers behind the ball and counter-attack. Everyone seems to have taken a page out of the Mourinho and Benitez coaching manual because let's face it.... it's effective. As good as a passing side as Spain is , it is still supremely difficult to break down two well-organized walls of four. I am a little surprised at Del Bosque's decisions, to leave Torres out and not playing Fabregas at all. Granted my Arsenal bias will always want Fabregas in the starting 11 for Spain but in this case it is merited. Fabregas has had his best season at club level where he has been instrumental in winning clutch games in the last minute. His never say die attitude and talismanic aura should have been harnessed. Pedro is good but do you learn how to grind out a game when you play for the best club side in a generation... NO ! . Fabregas plays for a top European side but know what it takes to grind out a result and never give up. The Furia Roja were running out of ideas and were looking around the pitch for that little bit of inspiration, Fabregas could have provided it. For the next game I think Del Bosque should start Torres and Villa up front, start Fab and have Alonso ( by far the best player on the pitch) has a holding provider, with his range of passing he will be even more effective, starting play from deep. The only thing that will make this better is if England lose to Algeria which will make me purr like Mick McCarthy's best Barry White impression.

Onto other news found an interesting article written by an Indian journalist about the isolation of France's next big thing Yoan Gourcuff.

Shame because he has the potential and I think a move to Arsenal will see him truly blossom into a great player. Nothing like a little Arsene to get you going.

Anyways ... I hope for some more interesting games and bevare of ze Germans they look dangerous and with the Wizard of Ozil in such sublime form they could blitzkrieg the entire tournament.

Surprised? Don't be

The first shock of the tournament. Doubt anyone predicted that. But I'm not surprised. The theme of this first week has been discipline and organisation. The South Americans, Europeans, Asians and Africans have all done it. Even New Zealand. Organisation with a disciplined execution works.

It might bore us but it gets results. Doesn't matter how mad the ball is.

Switzerland under a twice European Cup winner in Ottmar Hitzfeld were always going to line up, two banks of four against a fluid, passing Spanish team. Alas, Spain couldn't make a real breakthrough as many teams have found slightly lesser opposition. The gap is finer across the board. Teams can't just turn up and do what they knew best. They have to be organised. And so it is Spain find themselves in a spot of bother. Honduras next. Spain'll want 3 points and should get them. But doubt has crept into them now.

Chile were by far the most attractive team so far. Speed and solid passing and movement. Fernandez was at the centre of everything. Good side. Sanchez on the right was frightening and with a fit Suazo, Chile will be hot to handle....wahay.

The Honduran media know how to look on the bright side though. Daily Diez newspaper, ran with a headline on goalkeeper Noel Valladares' stunning save from Ponce's close range header. That is looking on the bright side.

Should've been two but Bielsa has warned that his side need 16 chances to score one. Might be their downfall. As a result, the Chilean newspapers are fairly content but conservative in their outlook. Concepcion's daily (Concepcion was the focal point of this year's quake) La Estrella runs with an interview with goalkeeping captain, Claudio Bravo urging his team mates to keep their feet on the ground.

That is the complete first round of matches and what a way to end the first real phase of the tournament. A surprise; nice or not. And anyone picking Villa in their fantasy XI will be a bit disappointed.

But we move back to group A tonight. South Africa and Uruguay meet in a game that will decide much of the host nation's chance of getting out of this group. I don't think they will do it and I don't think they deserve to. As hosts they qualified but they didn't qualify for Germany nor the last African Nations Cup. That's not a pedigree and as much as South Africa is hosting a great tournament this team isn't quite deserving. Durban's The Independent runs a rallying piece but they will need much more to beat a resilient and skillful Uruguayan side.

Ovacion Digital of Uruguay's El Pais (The Nation) newspaper is in a state of confusion as how to approach tonight's game in Pretoria. Considering that South Africa play a similar sort of counter attacking football, do the 'Celeste' play with 3 strikers or with one upfront on his own. Neither can really afford to lay back. El Pais says that tonight's match is like standing at a road crossing. Once you've pressed the button you will know whether there is an opportunity to cross in the near future.

How metaphorical an analogy for a nervous nation it would seem. No or never I say. If they don't win this, they have to rely on their final game against Mexico and that is the reason there is so much conjecture on the part of the Uruguayan media. Mexico are attacking. Uruguay are counter attackers and this provides them with their best opportunity to win. So do they settle for a draw here and try and qualify in the last match? Risky.

We see much of England's media and their approach to the national team and it is a touch refreshing to see how other countries do their bidding.

Anyway, looking forward to it. Uruguay to win.

Staying Alive.

Day 5 done. 5 goals on day 5. Not quite a glut of goals but still a bit more action than we've seen. Seems like there is an Italia 90 feel to this tournament so far. Plenty of conservative coaches. New Zealand faired well and did themselves proud. Slovakia will be kicking themselves for not making the most of this but saying that the Kiwis set themselves up well.

The Ivory Coast have to play Brazil next but I don't think they'll be too displeased with a point. Better than the start they had in Germany. Portugal will play North Korea and after today's performance it won't be plain sailing. Brazil laboured to victory but with some genuine creativity down the middle from Robinho and a slightly fortuitous goal from Maicon they got home in the end. Kim Jong Il will be proud of the organisation of his army influenced side. Prank suggested the Koreans lives depended on their performances. I think the 'Dear One' will be quite pleased.

Nonetheless, Day 6 awaits us and this is the first chance to see Chile. Chile managed by Argentinian (and former Argentina coach) Marcelo Bielsa have been touted as the surprise dark horses of this World Cup. That usually is the kiss of death...quite literally. In 94 Pele tipped the Colombians as potential World Cup winners and such was the weight of expectation, Andres Escobar was shot to death for his unfortunate own-goal. Lucky Rob Green doesn't live in Bogota...more on him later.

The only violence in relation to this tournament has been of Salvador Cabanas, the Paraguayan dynamo who would have been at this tournament had he not been shot in the head in January. Luckily, the incident in Mexico, where he plies his trade, left him harmed but not dead. A real shame actually. My hyperbole for other players doesn't do this little man much justice. Seems to still be having an affect on the team though.

So, will Chile actually surprise us? Well, Bielsa is revered in post-Earthquake ravaged Chile. He instilled a sense of national pride before the quake and as with Greece, a bit of joy in the football would be a boost to the country.

Interesting team actually. Only finished second behind Brazil in qualifying and line-up in a dynamic 3 3 1 3 formation. A playmaker behind 3 forward, including Mexican based Humberto Suazo. Suazo scored 10 in qualifying but the playmaker is key to this equation. Matias Fernandez or 'Matigol' is very skillful and creation down the middle will be pivotal in this tournament. Not many teams have mastered it so far and Chile need points early before they come up against Spain. So watch out for him.

Honduras are another team related to a bit of violence. Wilson Palacios who is not 100 per cent ahead of the clash with Chile, lost his brother to a kidnapping and murder case when he first joined Tottenham. Apparently, the Honduran team suffer from a lack of concentration when it comes to tactical positioning and execution. I would too if I had to worry about kidnapping.

Anyway, Colombian coach, Rueda, has Premiership experience in his team with Wilson Palacios, Hendry Thomas and Maynor Figueroa to pick from. Palacios is the playmaker in this team - at Spurs he plays more of a linchpin, defensive midfield role. So thats a worry. They line up 4 4 2 and rely on 'forays' from their full backs. I wonder if they will struggle like the other coaches who get stuck in the middle and cross into the box. Considering Rueda will be drilling them on tactics I'm guessing they will be rigid in their approach and their warm-ups haven't been great.

But you should check out this mad team profiles by a very young lady on Noor TV. Quite disconcerting

Still, first time since 1982 that they've qualified. A bit like New Zealand and they did themselves proud. Hard one to call really but I'll give Chile a win by a couple of goals. 2 nil.

Spain tomorrow. You don't need me to tell you about them. Should be a thrill but I imagine Switzerland will do what Denmark did to the Netherlands. Park the bus and counter. Didn't work for Denmark.

And then South Africa versus Uruguay. Mphela against Forlan. Suarez didn't impress against France so he and Forlan need to connect better. I think they'll have more chance to tomorrow night and I think it will be the end of the road for South Africa. Uruguay have a bit more discipline and a bit more quality. 2 - 1 to Uruguay.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Kim Jong Il Watches The Match at Wetherspoons

Not really. But what is fascinating is that contrary to reports that the isolated communist nation wouldn't be able to watch their team in action against Brazil is is now...see what I did there link to 1966? Nevermind. It'll make some sort of convoluted sense in a minute.

South Korea had cancelled their feed across the northern part of the peninsula due to the growing tensions after Kim Jong Il denied bombing a naval ship of his southern brothers out of the water, killing many. South Korea insists it was no case of mistaken identity and North Koreans wouldn't have been able to watch this summer's action...but they wouldn't have known that until it started, if they knew where it started. Well, thats all changed now as the filthy Wall Street Journal reports.

Even North Koreans get to watch the World Cup for free. We can't say that for everywhere, even in the developed world. Someone should have a word. Shaz, have a word.

Well, the good news is they get to watch their national team play in the World Cup for the first time since 1966 - now you see the link right? It was the year England won their only World Cup (as if they haven't stopped telling you) that North Korea made a name for themselves, beating Italy and pushing Portugal all the way in a quarter final at Goodison Park. Apparently, all the toffees wanted the Koreans to win because they were the, why does that seem wrong?

Anyway, a filmmaker has made a...well a film about it all about it!

Anyway, its seems as though we have a conservative World Cup on our hands. Not only did David Cameron's party get into some sort of power but now they're affecting the football. Dull, tight affairs all round. Even the skill filled teams of the Ivory Coast and Portugal ruined my predictions of great excitement with a nil nil draw.

I don't know why I'm surprised. Like I said in a recent post, all the coaches and all the teams are now experienced enough to play disciplined organised football. Conditions are harder - pitches are hard, bouncy rubber ball. But at the same time, there has been an unwillingness to venture out of the formation and create chances through the middle. Its just too rigid.

Apart from Germany that is who after the first round (so far) have looked more than impressive. That said it was against an aging, disorganised Socceroo outfit. Mesut Ozil was sublime and the runs from midfield made a difference.

Well, surely Brazil won't make us suffer? They won't? Well, I wouldn't be surprised. They are described as functional and even World Cup legend Carlos Alberto is worried about this Brazil. They are after all in the mould of their coach. Turgid, tough, resilient. I should assume this is a reaction to their showing at the last World Cup when they only reached the Quarter Finals. They were carrying too many ill disciplined players - remember Ronaldinho has been dropped, no Ronaldo and even no place for Pato.

But they do have Robinho and Kaka. Let's hope they bring some delight to the table. Has to be a Brazilian win. 3 nil I say.

North Korea though have been training in some odd Rocky like ways. Carrying each other to build each others strength etc. I'm not joking. I'd prove it if anyone could find them and the Telegraph's Jim White has been hunting for their team.

For any insight on to how they will play you need to speak to people who've watched them. That'd be World Soccer then.

Apparently, Hong Yong-Jo provides the dynamism upfront and will play for knock-downs from his out and out striker colleague Jong Tae-Se. 5 at the back? Looks like a dull affair. Like I say, hope Brazil can kick-off some creativity.

3 nil I'll go for.

The Antipodean Wales

New Zealand. I've never been there. I know there are lots of Punjabis and Gujratis there for some reason. I know Peter Jackson filmed quite a bit of that sad Lord of the Rings trilogy there. If someone were to emigrate there it would be like going to live in Wales about 24 hours away. I hear its beautiful though and that there are lots of sheep there.

Today, they kick-off only their second World Cup. I know they have the backing of much of the sporting and general community in the country. News of their World Cup squad and their subsequent victory over Serbia in a warm-up, relegated news of the Rugby Union teams fortunes to lesser zones of the Kiwi rags.

Its a strange one. Considering we had no team from Oceania playing in recent World Cups until Germany 2006 its strange that there are 2 now albeit the Aussies came through Asian qualifying.

Ricky Herbert, New Zealand's head coach, is in charge of one of the world's lower end Championship or League One sides. In fact a group of the All White's team plays for the likes of Ipswich and Plymouth. Ryan Nelsen plays at the highest level within their squad, his no nonsense approach is familiar to Blackburn fans.

The New Zealand media is worried about their midfield. They've drafted in Vicelich to keep more possession in the middle, while that decision is derided because of lack of bedding time (he had been in the wilderness until last year's confeds cup) it also means a lack of pace with out Tommy Smith if Ivan Vicelich is included. Rory Fallon's goal got them to the World Cup while Chris Killen earns his keep with Premiership bound, West Brom. Shane Smeltz is another player of note. Generally, though they don't have the player resources to compete and this will be tough on them.

The Confeds Cup was actually a litmus test for the All Whites and they were pretty much the whipping boys in their group and I think they only gave Italy a tiny fright. But they've been in international competition before with Wellington and Auckland having represented in the World Club Championships. A big learning curve.

As I mentioned yesterday, Slovakia have quality and should easily win this one. Shocks do happen though.

Portugal and the Ivory Coast kick-off group G this afternoon. Focus will be on Drogba (will he play) and Ronaldo. I'm looking forward to seeing Romaric for the Elephants. Plays for Sevilla and if African teams lack anything it is creativity in the middle of the park and he can make chances apparently.

Portugal's Raul Meireles is key for me, he acts as a pivot around which the forwards and wingers can safely operate. Deco will be infront of him at some point so his role is critical. Essentially, Porto's Meireles allows Ronaldo to riverdance like an idiot all over the pitch. News that Nani has been sent home rather for disciplinary reasons is emanating out of Portugal.,27032,13954_6206357,00.html. They won't want any distractions. Nani broke a collarbone attempting a bicycle kick in training. Thats enough reason to be sent home.

A draw here. A scoring draw but a draw. 2 - 2.

Brazil and North Korea tonight. Brazil are functional this year under Dunga. Not jogo bonito. Shud still ease past North Korea though. Prank advises me that even if North Korea lose, that the papers in Pyongyang will have Kim Jong Il as scoring the winner with a back heal from 40 yards.

Everyday is a like a football party during the World Cup. The games haven't been extraordinary but this is better than any other celebration. Non-stop football of the highest level. This is boyhood dreams.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Blown it

So many uninspiring games so far. Even the Dutch looked a bit lacking and two nil flattered them for the most part.
Cameroon blew it again. They're out. You can't lose your best chance and they underestimated Japan, putting Eto'o out wide right where he had least impact. Le Guen needs some grey matter checking. Cameroon showed nothing until the end and then they just humped it up field. Japan were just very organised and very negative.

Anyway, Italy will contest another quite dull game tonight. Paraguay are more negative than the Italians according to Gabriele Marcotti and that can't be great.
Interesting to see what Lippi does with this new batch with a few oldies interspersed for experience. No Pirlo tonight so wonder who gets playmaker responsibilities. De Rossi is a gem and if Cardozo plays, his left foot might do some damage. Last chance for Roque Santa Cruz you feel but I have least expectations for this game. Quite an open group if Paraguay pull something divine off. Slovakia and New Zealand tomorrow.

Looking forward to seeing Marek Hamsik tomorrow lunchtime. He's even in my fantasy XI after a season with Napoli in which European powerhouses have been mooted as his next destination. Should do some damage against New Zealand, however, they'll be riding a bit of a crest after beating Serbia in preparation. Slovakia will be speedy and tricky on their wings. Miroslav Stoch (of Chelsea for a time) and Vladimir Weiss (his dad is the national coach) are bound to make an impact from the flanks. The latter has come on for Bolton late in games and looked stunning. Wonder if Man City will take him back.

1 nil to Italy tonight. And a 3 nil drubbing inflicted on the All Whites of New Zealand for tomorrow.


Oh, 3 - 2 to Cameroon I predict. A few Mizuno's on show in Bloemfontein....they actually eat monkeys in rural Cameroon. No lies

Indomitable lions hunt for a rising sun

I'm running out of stupid headlines.

Dutch weren't as impressive as I imagined. Suppose they are just getting warm. Danes were rigid and don't have much of a plan B but after the own goal lost a bit of their thrust.

So, Samuel Eto'o comes up against the Japanese. They make cars quite efficiently, well, until someone in engineering played a prank and decided to make the brake pedal the accelerator. But they make efficiency and technology.

I guess the football teams often represent aspects of the culture of a nation, not just the prowess of a few skilled individuals.

The Japanese play like workmen for a unit that acts in unison. That makes them uncreative. Japanese culture can be quite creative though but the only anime/manga style footballer they have is Keisuke Honda. A bleach blonde with a powerful, accurate right foot who used to play in Holland with Venlo. Now with CSKA Moscow. Doubt his insider knowledge will help against the Dutch. Usually a play maker but the rumours are he will start upfront on his own...

Hope he has got to grips with this new ball because nobody apart from the Germans seem to have mastered. However, they are German and prepare methodically for going to the bathroom so its not a surprise really.

Honda wears a pair of boots by Mizuno. Wave Ignitus they are called. They haven't plugged for this blog. I like the fact they are what Adidas Predators were supposed to be. Not only does the whole front and instep of the boot have the rubber panels that guides and controls a ball better, but it even has a 'Maikatan' panel.

Yeah, one of those. The panel towards the upper half of the instep prevents the ball from spinning and makes a ball change normal trajectory. So with these new balls will Honda do something out of the ordinary. They should really pay me for this but I endorse their usage...I don't think anyone cares for my opinion apart from the voices in my head.

Anyway, Japan will need more than a 'Maikatan' panel to win today. Cameroon have their problems though. Legend Roger Milla criticised Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o for not having done much with the national side. Its true really. But Etoo threatened to walk out of the national team because of the samba dancing one's slur and retorted that Milla only got to the Quarter Finals. Thats a bit further than Eto'o spearheaded sides have done.

Not sure if he will play behind a striker or be the lone man but this match represents a great chance for 3 points as it will only get tougher in this group for these two. Cameroon's physical presence and a bit more skill should see them through in this one.

Cameroon were poor in the ANC in Angola. This better be a different side to the one I saw if they will get Roger Milla to keep quiet

Clogs & Lurpack

Soccer City. A massive location for the first all European tie of this World Cup.

The Netherlands are a team alot of people will be looking forward to seeing. Just kicked off here. No Arjen Robben and Van Der Vaart has slotted in as essentially an inside left.

I would have thought Eljero Elia would have gotten a start in place of Robben. Runs like Cristiano Ronaldo and has made a name for himself at Hamburg on the wing.

On the radio, Jan Molby was talking about Simon Kjaer, courted by many clubs after a stand-out season with Palermo. Its an indication of the style of Danish play when the most excitement is for a defender. Great defender though and alongside Agger they will be difficult to break down. An aging side with Rommedahl and Gronkjaer still providing the pace they have relied on for the best part of this decade. Bendtner starts so the "direct" ball will be a big aspect of their game.

Dutch are creative though. Sneider behind Van Persie and Van Der Vaart will want to prove his metal after a season marginalised at Madrid.

See the Dutch winning this 1 or 2 nil. I'll go with 1 nil. Scoreless after 24 minutes though.

Herr Loewe's fraulains

I hate being that wrong. But I don't sacrificing my ego for goals. Ozil was finesse personified and Podolski and Lahm also stuck out in a pretty dominant master-class.

It could have been so different had Garcia netted early on. But the Aussies exuberance didn't mask an aging and misplaced defence. Lucas Neill played Mueller onside from Ozil's sublime pass and then rather than guard against Podolski's shot he was too busy claiming offside.

Moore shouldn't be playing - in fact he essentially wasn't and Verbeek has a lot to do to turn this ship around now. Cahill's dismissal affects their course too and a lot will depend on who comes in for him.

I was very wrong and very impressed with the Germans.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ozil and the Aussies

Teams announced. Ozil. Watch Ozil. Creative at the top of a diamond or behind the front two. No Kewell. On the bench.

Tie Me Socceroo Down Sport

So Ghana are the first African team to win a game in this World Cup. Turned my prediction defunct but quite happily so. Only a goal in it and they were more deserved of it over the 90 minutes. Lacked penetration down the middle and thats the Essien - Muntari factor I suppose. But they had more of a hunger to break down a solid Serbia.

Jovanovic was bright but Kevin Prince Boateng was the brightest on show this afternoon.

Most of my predictions have been pretty tight scores and only one game has seen a team score more than once. South Korea's win just about produced a clear winner despite their overall dominance over Greece.

Much of the comment has been about the ball affecting the scoreline.

I'm not so sure. There aren't any really bad teams in this tournament. There are weaker teams but no bad teams. Even Algeria were organised. And that is the biggest factor. Most of the teams in this World Cup have players in big leagues in Europe or South America and that level of organisation stifles a rip roaring, end to end game.

England and the US was the most flowing game out of the 7 played so far and that is a testament to the athleticism and skill of those two teams. England played the football that you see in the Premier League and they haven't done that before. That's why I think yesterday's result wasn't bad. If they play like that and make the right changes (No Green, no Milner and play Cole) I think they will go very far.

But tonight's showpiece is about a Ballack-less German side taking on one of the most under-rated teams in this tournament. While Kevin Prince Boateng makes the most of his father's country of origin, his mother's native country will be without the man he turned into a limping piece of meat. Germany won't forgive him but without Ballack, Germany are still one of the second favourites for the World Cup.

Franz Beckenbauer said before the tournament kicked off that Germany is a team not of individuals and despite being a loss, Ballack's absence will others more motivation.

I think that is correct. Germany may not be the force of the 80's and the 90's but they have consistently performed at major tournaments. Second place at Euro 2008, semis in Germany 2006, finalists in 2002. That's not bad for a team without major stars.

Saying that Schweinsteiger, Mueller, Lahm and the other Boateng brother are all part of this team with Podolski and Klose giving the Germans a familiar presence in terms of solidity.

But Australia have quietly gone about their business. Preparations weren't ideal and they've been in South Africa the longest. They lost to the US but on their day they will be difficult to beat. They suffer from the same sporting addiction as the Americans and they go whole-heartedly. This is the real group of death for me. Serbia narrowly lost and Australia won't roll-over. Ghana top the group at this point and a draw will not be ideal for either Germany or Australia but thats how I think this one will pan out.

There are no superstars in this Socceroo team either. Kewell is lacking match practice (surprise surprise) but Cahill will have an impression on this game. The polynesian, Samoan part of his DNA puts him up there in regards to fight and he consistently scores with his head. I think he will nick one tonight but the Germans will score too.

We will also get to see the brand new Durban Stadium tonight. I used to live there and this looks a far sight better than the ABSA stadium where England have played (remember Beckham in corn-rows anyone?)

In fact it is one of the real epic stadiums with Soccer City and Green Point in Cape Town being the other two in this World Cup.

Should be good. Australia 1 - 1 Germany. Cahill and Klose will score. I'll probably be wrong. 2 out of 7 isn't great is it.

Just a point on television rights. The World Cup by law in Europe is on free-to-air. This is the people's game. There is enough capitalism in this tournament to keep the suits happy so why is this not the case in the Middle East? Why do they need to make more money out of a game driven by the populus? Additionally, the signal is poor and its more accessible at cinemas. That used to happen in England in the 60's. Capitalism; you live by the sword you die by the sword.

Finally, my comments in my first post about Brian Glanville - scratch them. He is the bitter old man of football. He has beef about the tournament including 32 teams. He was happy with 16. Ummm that would leave so many out in the cold and no, Brian, just because not every team is great doesn't mean they don't add something. Go back to deckchair and handkerchief, your old and noone knows you exist anymore.

2 out of 6

Not bad on predictions. Slovenia nicked a technically vacuous game with Algeria thanks to the maverick goalkeeping of Chaouchi. Green is better but Chaouchi showed he was willing to play to the cameras to keep the ball out and then went for a safe collect instead of diving for the flashlights, which would have been better.

Anyway, Serbia are warming up to play Ghana at 3. No Appiah, so with no Essien either, there is no traditional experienced veteran in their line-up. Asamoah has done well in Italy and the coach knows what he is doing. He played 4 5 1 in Angola and took Ghana to the final. They will be tight this year. Not like 2006. But Gyan was their leading scorer at the Nations Cup and they will need him to be accurate if chances are at a premium.

Serbia's Krasic is on his way to Juventus and I want to see what all the fuss is about. But this is a strong Serb team. Ivanovic and Vidic in the backline are well known to the Premier League but Krasic is the one to watch going forward me thinks.

Tight one to call. 1 - 1 draw.

Match of the Minnows

So the morning after the night before. England should take last night as a blessing in disguise. Considering their warm-up, that is not he worst way to start a tournament and the US have been flying.

Anyway, Slovenia vs Algeria. If Greece and South Korea couldn't fill Mandela Bay stadium then I'm a little surprised this one can. But apparently South Korea - Greece was the hardest game to fill for the organisers.

And so Group B's unlikely qualifiers meet. As 3 points go, these are more crucial to both teams than England's dropped 2. The task gets harder for both so I imagine this is an opportunity in Saadane and Kek's collective minds.

Algeria dispatched The Ivory Coast in the ANC in Angola this January. Then they got a bit emotional against a vengeful Egypt. Travesty really. Egypt are by far the best team in Africa yet they aren't here. Rueful is the word. I digress. Algeria truly looked like they would get a nose bleed if they came up against any higher opposition than Egypt and beating Drogba's men was more an issue of failure rather than Algerian success.

But the early kick-off tomorrow is a different beat. Ziani and Meghni are The Desert Foxes stand-out players. Ziani left Marseille to join 'Plastic Teeth' Steve McClaren's new side Wolfsburg. Quite flashy from this video of him against Liverpool with the accompaniment of this strange sound track but he and Mourad Meghni of Lazio give Algeria width and with their full-backs will try and stretch teams. However, no Belhadj tomorrow due to suspension (he and their crazy keeper were sent off against Egypt in Angola). Apparently, a 'patient' team, which suggests they will be slow and that won't bode well if they let Slovenia get a grip. Bougherra of Rangers at the back is key to instilling defensive discipline if that is the way they decide to play.

Slovenia were poor in South Korea & Japan 8 years ago and that was their 'golden' generation (although Zahovic was quite nice to watch). However, this time they return after knocking out Guus Hiddink's Russia in a play-off depriving us of seeing Arshavin in full flow. So they better be good. Dedic is key to Slovenia. He does the running, industry and guile for Novakovic to gain chances but it was the former's combination with Birsa that sent them to their second World Cup. Birsa plays tighter inside but still finds a deeper position to cross from and to some affect. This is the goal that sent them through

Whether that is enough to qualify is another question but both teams have to view this as their best chance to get 3 points.

For discipline, I can see Slovenia winning this....1 nil. Yawnnnn.