Friday, July 2, 2010

The World Cup's business end and a note on Liverpool

This is the last stretch now. The last 8 teams. The wheat has been extracted from the chaff and essentially these are the best 8 teams in the world right now. Perhaps its just a tournament and some of this is a one off. But for now you should take this as an indicator.

A case in point: Ghana. Aside from Egypt, Ghana have been the most consistent since the start of the year of all the African nations. Their preparation and comfort with their coach has been a far stretch from all the other sides from Africa that qualified. Nigeria are joining France in the close to the bone stakes of government intervention.

Paraguay have been tough, combative and resolute. Not pretty but accurate enough to keep out the opposition. Uruguay similarly are condense. Their major difference is the front two: clinical. Argentina it could be said are the worst side to have qualified based on their streaky campaign to get to South Africa but going forward they have clicked. At the back they haven't been tested.

Not many would have said Germany would be real contenders but after England their movement and speed has to be complimented. Are they due a mistake? Yes, they can be got at. When the onus is on them to attack they are susceptible. Ghana could have exploited that but were profligate.

Brazil and Spain, the pre-tournament favourites have now found a flow that could take them to a meeting in the final. Brazil are Dunga's Brazil. Nothing fancy, just ultimately tough to beat and clinical on the counter. Spain are finding their feet - they stepped up the speed of their passing against Portugal during the second half and looked like they were in total control. They know what they need to do. And The Netherlands really do have another gear to move into.

Whether they do that is another question.
However, it is now or never. Port Elizabeth isn't the best place for the teams to meet for the fourth time in the World Cup. The pitch has come in for a great deal of criticism. Both teams have been effective rather than beautiful. Fabiano is flying at the moment and the Dutch can say their best player is either Sneider or Robben who has only just come back in.

Holland know that they are yet to impress but neither team is likely to. What I will say is that Brazil seem to control their gears more comfortably than the Dutch. For that I can see Brazil winning. But what do I know. I think Johan Cruyff is trying to induce some free flowing football from Brazil so that the Dutch can exploit some space - doubt those mind games will work with the stubborn Dunga.

Ghana and Uruguay. Well, either way this is delving into the historical. Only two other African teams have made it to the Quarters and Ghana have a continent behind ( them wishing them as the first semi-finalists from Africa. This will be tight. Uruguay are content to hit on the break while being solid in Midfield. Lugano has been immense at the back and they have conceded only once. Forlan and Suarez have switched between one another for the goals but they are a formidable partnership to have when you need them. Ghana rely on Gyan but he and a host of players are nursing injuries. Both Mensahs are in need of fitness tests as is Prince Boateng who has arguably been their best player. Muntari is likely to come in for Ayew who is also struggling.

Its those niggling injuries that perhaps puts them at a disadvantage. Uruguay look like they are experienced even if they aren't if you know what I mean. They look ready. Ghana have the support of a continent and have been precise in their play and measly in conceding. However, they have conceded and I worry that they are not physically ready because of the length of their campaign so far...same as Uruguay's but just harder on the body and mind I feel. El Pais, Uruguay's most highly read daily quotes two time coach as saying they will not afford Ghana too much respect.

I hope that doesn't bite him on his backside. Uruguay have won two World Cups. Long ago in 1930 and 1950. Pioneers in the sport despite their small size. Prior to that they won Olympic Gold and as a result wear four stars on their shirt. The Olympics was the unofficial World Championship, yet they still revel in that fact. Their heritage may spur on this team and I don't feel they have over achieved. They look comfortable. More comfortable than Paraguay or Argentina. The best balance of all the South Americans bar an incredibly resolute Brazil.

But this is the business end. I can't wait.

And domestically, Liverpool have perhaps the nicest man in football as their new manager. As a fan, I'm right behind him despite being unhappy with Rafa's treatment. But he had burnt his bridges and had made too many mistakes this season. Part of me wanted him to stay for what he gave us but as much instability as the owners have given us the one way to keep going was to keep winning and not all our woes could be blamed on the Americans. Roy has a tough job but I really do hope he does well. He deserves it and so do we.