Friday, 16 July 2010

The Team of the Tournament

The moment you've all been waiting for...

Goalkeeper - Eduardo (Portugal)

There was a real shortage of good 'keepers in South Africa, even the traditionally brilliant Iker Casillas had his jittery moments, although he did managed to get the 'Golden Glove' award, presumably by default. Since there wasn't many alternatives who got further in the competition I'm going to go for the Portuguese stopper Eduardo, who has just moved to Genoa in Italy. About the only good thing about Portugal this year was their keeper, as Carlos Quieroz even managed to make Ronaldo crap for a month, they only conceded once, to David Villa, and Eduardo made some great saves against Brazil and Spain.

Left back - Carlos Salcido (Mexico)

Similar problem at left back, it's difficult to make much of a case for any full backs in the last four being included. As it is, Salcido was particularly good in the group stage, similar to four years ago. Apparently he doesn't turn it on for PSV domestically, so from that we can assume he's the opposite of anyone who's ever played for England. A lot of Mexico's attacking play came through him, and he was their most dangerous player against Argentina in the last 16.

Centre Back - Carles Puyol (Spain)

Gerard Pique may get the plaudits (probably because he doesn't look like he's just staggered off the Lord of the Rings set straight onto the pitch) but Puyol was immense in South Africa. Not just in winning the semi final, but also throughout the tournament he held the defence together. He's not the quickest, or the best on the ball, but he used all of his experience to marshall the rest of the back 4 and must take much of the credit for them only conceding twice.

Centre Back - Lucio (Brazil)

For a big defender he is suprisingly good going forward. His tournament was cut short by the utter incompetence of the rest of his team but that shouldn't take away from his performance. He had a terrific season with Inter and continued that form into the World Cup. Had Brazil gone further he could have really stated a claim for the Balon D'Or. At least, he could've if he wasn't a defender.

Right Back - Phillip Lahm (Germany)

No debate here. The best right back in the world, and comfortably the best right back in the tournament, just as he was four years ago. His versatility means he'll end up on the left for Bayern next season, but no such problems for him with Germany. I get the impression captaining the Germans isn't quite the challenge it can be with other teams, not many of them come out and try to stage a coup in the middle of a World Cup. Regardless, he took them to a semi-final and had a great tournament himself.

Central Midfield - Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)

Excelled in his new role as more of a holding midfielder. Bizarrely written off by the BBC brain trust because they've never seen him play there before, but put them firmly in their place with brilliant performances against England and Argentina. Other than a mental moment in the 3rd place playoff, flawless tournament.

Central Midfield - Anthony Annan (Ghana)

A bit of an unknown quantity coming into the tournament, but played so well that it was easy to forget that Ghana were missing Michael Essien in midfield. Not as much of an athlete as Essien, but more of a Makelele type player. Not only broke up opposition moves, but was always in space to receive the ball. A move to a bigger club than Rosenborg awaits.

Left Wing - Andres Iniesta (Spain)

My player of the tournament (surprisingly), had a hand in all Spain's goals after the group stage, and of course scored the winner in the final. He makes such a huge difference to the team when he's fit, and that really showed after he came back into the side against Chile.

Attacking Midfield - Mesut Oezil (Germany)

Started with a bang, but perhaps faded slightly after the England game. Regardless, the World Cup has only enhanced his reputation, not that he was completely unknown beforehand. Gets this position ahead of Sneijder because I don't think the Dutchman actually had that good a tournament, definitely was overrated due to the goals. One of which was an own goal, another offside and one more the Japanese 'keeper chucked in.

Right Wing - Thomas Mueller (Germany)

Another shoe-in, thoroughly deserved his Young Player award, but it is rather mysterious that he wasn't nominated for the full award. Another example of FIFA's genius decision making. I don't agree with him winning the Golden Boot because of the number of assists, but it does reinforce just how good he was. 5 goals and 3 assists in 6 games is a fantastic performance.

Striker - Diego Forlan (Uruguay)

FIFA's Player of the Tournament, and one that it is difficult to argue with (even though I would). Dragged Uruguay to the semi-finals almost by himself. I would say 'single handedly' but I think Luis Suarez might have something to say about that. Really flourished in a role just behind the front two, and Suarez's suspension really hurt them in that regard since he had to play further forward. On top of all that he scored a couple of absolute screamers. But he didn't play well in England so he must be rubbish...

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Campeones del Mundo

We have a new World Champion. In the aftermath of the dirtiest World Cup final in history, it's perhaps easy to forget that the team that won is one of the greatest sides we have ever had the privilege of watching. Yes, they never reached their best, or the heights of Euro 2008, but it is a testament to their quality that they didn't have to. Rather than focus on the disgraceful tactics of their Dutch opponents, or the performance of Howard Webb, we should applaud Spain, who have easily been the best team in the world over the past four years.

Everyone has already had their say on the final, so I won't go on too long about it. I think Holland were perfectly entitled to play defensively, but it was the constant fouling of Spain that really soured their performance. Though how much of it was a gameplan and how much was Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong automatically kicking the nearest living being is open to debate.

As for Webb, he was dealt a difficult hand given how the Dutch played, but only in England would a ref be praised for trying to keep everyone on the pitch. Kung-fu kicking someone in the chest is a red card offence whether it's a local park game or the World Cup final. Not sending him off because of the occassion is not an excuse, it's just a bad decision. Not only de Jong, but van Bommel should also have gone, on top of Heitinga's red. That said, pretty much every other yellow card was spot on, and Holland clearly didn't lose because of him, they lost because they made little effort to try to win the game, simply aimed to injure the opposition.

I've made no secret of my love for the matchwinner, Andres Iniesta, so it will come as no surprise that I was delighted when he smashed in his goal. What we can take from this final, if nothing else, is that he is most definitely the ultimate big game player. It's slightly strange, because normally the weakest aspect of his game is shooting, but on the big occasion he inevitably turns it on. His celebration was a nice touch as well, a tribute to the former Espanyol captain Dani Jarque, who died of a heart attack last year.

Now that the tournament is over, I'll keep doing blogs, some about the World Cup and some looking ahead, to keep us going until the new season kicks off. A team of the tournament seems a good place to start, so that will be the first thing to go through. I think you can guess who one of the players will be...

To finish with a bit of transfer talk, Liverpool are trying to sign James Beattie and Paul Scharner, how the mighty(ish) have fallen.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Final Countdown

The greatest event in sport is almost upon us. Tonight, an eighth nation will add their name to those of Uruguay, Italy, Brazil, England, West Germany, Argentina and France. If it's Spain, then this side will have earnt the right to be spoken of in the same breath as the Brazil 1970 team, or Holland in '74. The debate over the greatest team ever will have an extra name. The Netherlands can banish the ghosts of that '74 defeat, make it third time lucky, and finally lift the World Cup.

By now, everyone has picked sides; journalists, fans and sea creatures alike. The general consensus seems to be quite even, which suprised me, I thought far more people would have gone for Spain. They are fairly clear favourites in my view, undoubtably the best team in the world at the moment, and have completely dominated every team they've played, even the first game which they managed to lose. The lack of goals is a bit of an illusion, they have slightly lacked a killer ball so far, but have very rarely been under any sort of pressure. Aside from Paraguay's missed penalty, only Toni Kroos has even vaguely threatened the Spanish goal since Chile scored in the group stage.

In England, some people have started to call their keep ball 'tica taca' style 'boring', which is quite ridiculous. No team other than Chile has tried to attack them at any point in the tournament, so keeping possession has been vital, and they've had to wear the opponent down. When they sense a weakness they can still be scintillating, as some of the goals they've scored have proved.

The Netherlands' chances rest almost entirely on the shoulders of Arjen Robben. Since they're going to see so little of the ball, their weapon is going to be his pace on the counter attack. Wesley Sneijder has five goals (well, he hasn't really, but Einstein and friends at FIFA have decided he has) but that shouldn't hide the fact that when Robben was injured they missed him in a big way, the improvement upon his return is unbelievable.

The other key is gonna be the midfield duo of Nigel de Jong & Mark van Bommel, and how well they prevent Xavi and Alonso's distribution. Presumably the plan is to keep kicking them until they break, and since van Bommel seems to be immune to the yellow card he should get considerable opportunity to do that.

My prediction? It's not going to be as open a game as last night's was, but it's the World Cup final so be boring it will not. I think Spain will take it, but only by the odd goal as I expect the Netherlands to score, and wouldn't be too surprised if we had extra time.

As a final thing, tonight is Giovanni van Bronckhorst's final game as professional footballer, let's hope he doesn't follow too much in the footsteps of the last man to bow out in this match...

Netherlands 1-2 Spain (aet)

Robben; Villa, Torres (don't laugh)

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Creature comforts

Spain and Germany, according to Paul the Octopus, will triumph in the two games left at the World Cup. Whilst it's slightly concerning that the world's media values what a sea creature 'thinks' about a football match, I feel the Germans have missed an opportunity to attempt the most elaborate mind games of all time. Given Paul's record of crawling into the right box a couple of times, perhaps his 'choice' has some impact on the mindset of the opposition.

What Germany should have done is bribed (... or trained) Paul to pick them during the knockout rounds, then the teams they were playing would have in the back of their minds that they were guaranteed to lose.

Or perhaps they'd have thought 'it's an octopus' and not cared in the slightest, but it'd be worth a try, no?

On a similar theme, Sky Sports News are still doing their 'World Cup Report' every couple of hours, which was fine when there were 3 games a day, but now they are running seriously short of material. Yesterday I saw not only Paul the Octopus doing his thing, but also a 'psychic Parrot' chosing the winner. Now Paul at least has a bit of glitz and glamour about him, this parrot was presented with two cards, face down, and had to pick one. Basically, the parrot was tossing a coin. Wonderful.

After watching a bird try to eat a piece of paper and being proclaimed as psychic, I got to see some seals have a penalty shoot out. 'Spain' won, you'll be pleased to know, and 'Dirk Trout' missed the vital kick (which of course wasn't a kick at all, more of a wobble). I wonder if the presenters ever look at themselves in the mirror and wonder what they're doing with their lives.

Animal owners trying to cash in on the World Cup aside, tonight is the third place playoff. As I recall, the Germans were thrilled about winning it four years ago so there is a decent chance they'll take it seriously, and from the noises coming out of the Uruguayan camp, they will too. The most interesting aspect to it is that Miroslav Klose needs two goals to overtake the real Ronaldo as all time leading scorer at the tournament. I fancy him to score one, but I don't think he'll be able to break the record.

The other sideshow will be the reception Luis Suarez gets from the Germans and neutrals in the crowd. There'll probably be a few boos, although how many of the people in the ground are going to be actual fans is debatable, FIFA does love selling corporate tickets, as the Robbie Earle episode proved.

Anyway, there's usually goals in the third place game, so here's hoping!

And leave off with the animals, please.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The Andres Iniesta love in

If Spain win the World Cup on Sunday, Andres Iniesta will have won every competition available to him. At 26 he would become the third youngest player ever to do this, and the first since Uli Hoeness completed his set in 1974.

For some reason, even now, he seems to be underrated. Perhaps it's because he plays with so many incredible players at Barcelona and for the national team. Xavi, Messi & Villa get much more attention, and while that's not exactly outrageous, given his importance to both sides it is a little unfair. He wasn't fit for the Champions League semi final with Inter, and Barcelona couldn't break them down, then wasn't fit for the opening game against Switzerland and Spain couldn't break them down either.

Xavi is the creator, Villa is the goalscorer, but Iniesta makes the difference. Since returning to the side against Chile, he has made every goal except Villa's slightly freakish opener in that game. Before you all start shouting about Puyol's header on Wednesday night, it was Iniesta who skinned probably the best right back in the world, Phillip Lahm, to win the corner from which he scored.

It's not just during this tournament either, cast your minds back to a couple of weeks before the World Cup began, when you were young, free, and full of hope. As the mighty England were being outplayed by Mexico and beating Japan without scoring a goal, Spain absolutely destroyed Poland. Their second in a 6-0 thrashing was utterly, utterly brilliant. Iniesta's driving run is good, the interchange with Xavi and David Silva is great, but the scoop over the defence is masterful. You have to see this goal to truly appreciate it, so I've helpfully included a Youtube link at the bottom.

It's interesting reading what some people who've played with or against 'El Ilusionista' (The Illusionist, which I like. He's also apparently called 'Cerebro', the brain. Not bad) have said about him afterwards. I'll include some of them at the bottom of the page as well. What that tells us, and they are from some people who know the odd thing about the game, is that the only way to stop Barcelona, or stop Spain, is to stop Iniesta. No one can stop Iniesta, so they both keep winning. Are Holland going to stop him? I don't think so. Can I proclaim anyone other than Messi as the best player in the world? I don't know, I'm not sure there has ever been anyone as good as Messi, and he will undoubtedly be the player of his generation. So with that in mind, if there's a 'best of the rest', Andres Iniesta heads that list.

Oh, and Paul the octopus has picked Spain, is there any point in playing?

David Silva's goal against Poland (what a soundtrack)

Some quotes:

Samuel Eto'o: "When I said Iniesta was the world's best, you laughed. Now you can see I'm right"

Alex Ferguson: "I'm not obsessed with Messi, Iniesta is the danger. He's fantastic. He makes the team work. The way he finds passes, his movement and ability to create space is incredible. He's so important for Barcelona."

Pep Guardiola (to Xavi): "You're going to retire me. This lad is going to retire us all."

Xavi himself: "Iniesta is easily Spain's most complete player. He has everything"

A Barca coach:
"Everything, but every­thing, he does makes his team-mates better players"

And to end, Victor Valdes, the Barcelona keeper who is also at this World Cup, asked about Iniesta last season:

"Andrés has been the best for years."

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Flying Dutchmen

Miracles can happen. Not only did the Netherlands rise to the occassion, but Arjen Robben scored a header. That once in a lifetime occurence has helped put Holland into their third World Cup final. As for Uruguay, they were perhaps unlucky, but ultimately paid the price for only deciding to attack in the last 5 minutes.

The match itself was a bit of a strange one, the scoreline suggests a real thriller, but there was an air of inevitability about a Dutch win throughout, and they weren't ever really under pressure until late on when the referee seemed to be waiting for another goal. Of course the real highlights of the match were a couple of screamers, particularly from Gio van Bronckhorst and Diego Forlan, but also an honourable mention to Maxi Perreira's late second for Uruguay. Well worked free kicks make a nice change from the incredibly stupid 'tap it 2 inches sideways and smash it into the onrushing wall' ones.

One team has already made it to Soccer City, now it's time to focus on the second semi-final, a semi final that definitely has the potential to be a classic. Four years ago at this stage Germany fell to Italy on home soil in one of the best matches of that tournament. Now they have the chance to make amends. About half of the team remains (which does make the 'they're so young and inexperienced' claims seem a bit silly) and will surely be better off for the experience.

The big question for Germany is who will replace Thomas Mueller on the right side of midfield/attack. Whoever it is, they are going to be weakened in some way, it just depends how much. Their right is the side David Villa will be stationed, so the replacement is going to have to help out in defence, something Mueller is very good at. Toni Kroos is perhaps the frontrunner, so he will have a big job to do tonight.

Spain have never got this far before, so regardless of what happens this is almost undeniably the greatest team they have ever had, particularly taking the Euro 2008 win into account as well, their first ever major title. The vast majority of that side will play tonight, only Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique are new faces. They don't play in quite the same way, the pace was quicker and they were more incisive two years ago, but they are being held back a bit by the inclusion of Torres and Alonso. Torres is playing like a poor man's Emile Heskey, and Alonso doesn't fit into the midfield very well, his style is just too different to the rest of them, so his real strength - long range passing - is rather wasted.

This is definitely the hardest game to predict so far, an early goal for either team could be so crucial. Both Germany and Spain want the opposition to come at them and use the resulting space, so if the other side has to attack almost from the off the team in the lead should be able to pick them apart. The flip side is that neither of them is exactly Bolton under Fat Sam, so aren't going to sit back. I expect goals, but picking a winner is almost impossible. I think Spain will start badly (again) and then improve after about an hour when Torres is taken off (again), because of that I fancy them to fall just short.

Those 'ruthlessly efficient, young and inexperienced, not as good as England, definitely not as good as Argentina' Germans to win, and bearing in mind that there hasn't been a semi-final won by more than one goal since 1986, they'll only scrape through. But scrape through nonetheless.

Let's hope for a real classic.

Germany 2-1 Spain.

Monday, 5 July 2010

It's almost showtime!

The moment of truth edges ever closer for the four remaining teams. Will it be the magic setting of Soccer City on July 11th, for the greatest prize in sport? Or will it be the massively underwhelming third place playoff in Port Elizabeth the night before?

Yesterday we had a look at the first semi final, so today it's the turn of Spain and Germany to step into the spotlight.


Quarter Final result:

Argentina 4-0

Who are they missing?

Thomas Mueller

Best performance:

As much as we might like to think it was beating the international equivalent of Forest Green Rovers in the second round, it was their last 8 thumping of Argentina. What was expected to be a close run thing between the two most exciting teams in the tournament turned into a complete destruction.

Worst performance:

Losing to Serbia, but in reality they haven't really had a poor game. They lost that match due to a very, very bad refereeing decision and an event that occurs about once a millenium, a German missed penalty.

Why they'll win it:

The best team in the tournament so far, by some considerable distance, they would be the most deserved winner. They're also of course German, so the least likely of the 4 to fall to pieces under the slightest pressure. Spain will pose problems, but due to their attacking style they will be vulnerable to the Germans' breakaways which have been such a resounding success so far. An early goal and there is a possibility Spain could fall apart in a similar way to England and Argentina.

Why they won't win it:

The best team very rarely wins the World Cup. It's extremely difficult to maintain a really high level of performance throughout. Even once you get out of the group, to win the 4 knockout matches with ease is almost unheard of. Usually a poor performance comes out at some point, and if it happens now they are in big trouble. They're also missing Mueller, and he could be a big loss, I'm not sure any of his potential replacements are capable of doing the same job anywhere near as well.


Quarter final result:

Paraguay 1-0

Who are they missing?

No one! Although they are going to have to play with 10 men because Fernando Torres is starting.

Boom, and indeed, boom.

Best performance:

Beating Chile 2-1, with the pressure on they played the perfect way to get past Chile. Taking advantage of the Chileans overcommitting in attack they exploited the space, the highlight being a David Villa screamer.

Worst performance:

The loss to Switzerland, although the quarter final with Paraguay comes close, at least until the referee got bored and started giving penalties. They were most definitely caught cold by the Swiss, but it's better to get that out of the way in the first game than turn out a performance like that now.

Why they'll win it:

On paper, have the best side left, also are the only side with players who have experience of winning international tournaments. On top of that their core is from Barcelona and they too have lots of big match experience, something that probably can't be said for the majority of the German and Uruguayan sides at least. There's also the feeling that they haven't quite come alive yet, and if they do, they will crush anyone in their path.

Why they won't win it:

They aren't actually playing that well, their biggest win was 2-0 over the mighty Honduras, and they have only won the 3 matches against better opposition by the odd goal. Vincent del Bosque's stubborn refusal to drop the clearly unfit Torres could really become a problem, in both knockout rounds they have only started playing properly after he was taken off. You also wouldn't fancy them in a penalty shootout, their record in them generally is positively England-esque, and they've missed 2 from 2 at the tournament so far. Spain taking on Germany at penalties is a bit like the Isle of Man waging war with the combined might of the US and Russia.

Mind you, Spain vs Holland in a shootout would be a like the Isle of Man waging war with the local primary school, so there's still hope.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

This time next week, it'll be all over

We have our final four. Each, to a degree, is making history. 60 years ago Uruguay won their second World Cup, but not since 1954 have they reached the semi finals. A re-united Germany has never won it (I wonder when they'll start singing about it). The Netherlands have never won it at all (they definitely aren't singing about it), but have lost two finals. As for the Spanish, they have never even got this far before, which is perhaps why they made Paraguay look like the greatest side of all time for an hour yesterday. By now, everyone has chosen their favourite, it's time for someone else's country to let us down.

Since we have a couple of rest days, we'll look at the first two semi-finalists today, and the other two tomorrow. I think the little list I did for the quarter finalists was quite nifty so I'll do something similar for the four teams remaining.


Quarter Final result:

Ghana 1-1 (4-2 on penalties)

Who are they missing?

Jorge Fucile and Luis Suarez, tragically

Best Performance:

Beating South Africa 3-0 in the second group game. After their 0-0 draw with France they were already being written off, but responded by thumping the hosts, and ultimately were the only team to actually beat them.

Worst Performance:

0-0 draw with France. Even if it was their plan from the start, was still an awful game. At least until England took awful to a whole new level against Algeria.

Why they'll win it:

They're very solid, and even without Suarez they still have one of the best strikers around to rely on for goals. Diego Forlan has already dragged Atletico Madrid to the Europa League title, and maybe it's just his year. He has been outstanding throughout this tournament, and if anyone deserves to win it it's him. They have also shown considerable mental strength in both knockout rounds so far, Suarez scoring a screamer after being pegged back by South Korea and Forlan doing likewise when behind against Ghana. Their main problem might be that they're running out of people to dig them out of holes (or punch them out, as the case may be), it's time for someone else to step up.

Why they won't win it:

The Dutch are not going to be easy to break down, and Uruguay will be weakened without Luis Suarez. Pushing Forlan forward to become a genuine striker could be a problem too, he has been the creative force in the side, leaving that to a midfield who probably can't even spell attack never mind do it might be their downfall. On top of that, if they go behind against anyone now it's going to be a much tougher ask to come back, especially as all 3 of the other sides are brilliant on the counter attack.

Where will they finish:


The Netherlands

Quarter Final Result:

2-1 over Brazil.

Who are they missing?

Nigel de Jong & Gregory van der Wiel, both suspended.

Best Performance:

The victory over Brazil, even if they were sparked into life by a ridiculous own goal, which has been inexplicably awarded to Wesley Sneijder. I do wonder sometimes if FIFA make their decisions on the way back from the pub.

Worst Performance:

Their opening game 2-0 win over Denmark, again they had to rely on a ridiculous own goal to get them started, except in this instance they continued being rubbish despite Dirk Kuyt scoring a thunderbolt second from a yard out.

Why they'll win it:

It seems like Holland have paced themselves perfectly, a very slow start has been followed by constant improvement since then. They're also being helped along by the opposition, two vital own goals already, plus a goalkeeping mistake against Japan (and arguably Slovakia as well). If this was Italy rather than the loveable Dutch I'd extremely suspicious by now. To supplement all the luck, the form of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben virtually guarantees them a goal a game.

Why they won't win it:

This is Holland we're talking about, glorious failure is very much on the agenda, as is a catastrophic self-destruction. Robin van Persie has already gone into a big strop after the coach dared to substitute him, and it's surely only a matter of time. There are also still slight question marks over the defence, mainly out of the belief that it's a Dutch defence so it must be rubbish.

Where will they finish?

Heart says second, head says first. We'll stick with another runners up medal.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

That's why we love football

What. A. Day. Begun by a sweeping Robinho finish and ended by a cocky dinked penalty, but that doesn't even begin to tell the story. Imagine now the contrasting emotions of Asamoah Gyan and Luis Suarez, who in the 119th minute seemed cast in the roles of hero and villain, but within 60 seconds had those reversed as one of the most incredible minutes of football ever seen at the World Cup unfolded in front of our eyes.

The big question over the next few days is going to revolve around the handball. I'm sure there'll be lots of shouts for penalty goals, extending Suarez's ban, forced amputation of the offending arm and all sorts. Ultimately, if Gyan scores the penalty it's not an issue, but my personal opinion is that no more can be done, nor should be done. Anyone in Suarez's position would do the same, take the red card and hope for the best. His constant diving and rolling about on the floor like Didier Drogba on steroids is far more annoying.

Ghana and Brazil really do have only themselves to blame for their defeat. 'Africa' had more than enough chances in normal time to win it, particularly in the first half, whilst the Brazillians completely self destructed after the equaliser. Felipe Melo is a bit of an underrated mentalist, Pepe nearly lured him into getting sent off against Portugal, so much so that Dunga had to take him off first. Then after assisting the Brazil goal and scoring Holland's first, Melo felt he hadn't quite made the whole game about him yet and stamped on Robben to make sure. Juventus are going to be pretty angry since they paid £20 million for him and his value halved in about 5 minutes.

Felipe Melo is not alone in the unpopular stakes, though he is not exactly a Brazillian pin-up right now (The real Ronaldo has come out and said Melo should not come back to Brazil). Dunga wasn't much loved to start with due to his perceived defensive tactics, but now he is probably the most hated man in the country. There is a definite window of opportunity for someone to come in and promise 'Samba football' now, so if anyone's got nothing to do for a few years...

Today has the potential to be just as exciting as yesterday was, starting with the game I'd quite like to be the final, the battle to see who's got the least bad defence between Germany and Argentina. The Germans should be worried, Leo Messi is due a goal, and Per Mertesacker is a bit like a poor man's Peter Crouch at the back. Not that Martin Demichelis is any better, the sort of player who could throw a match by scoring three own goals and no one would be particularly suspicious.

At the other end they have been the two best teams so far, 19 goals between them, 7 of which were in the quarter finals. A little bit of trivia too (I spoil you), Miroslav Klose needs one more goal to go third in the goalscoring leaderboard at World Cups. His 13th goal would take him above Pele on the list, and anything that makes Pele look worse is fine by me, though I imagine he'll go out in the garden with the Grandkids soon after and claim he's got another 5.*

*For anyone who doesn't know, Pele claims to have scored 1000 goals in his career. That is 50 a season for 20 years, and, quite frankly, complete bollocks. What really happened is he counted goals for his school team, and ones he scored against Sylvester Stallone in 'Escape to Victory'. Pele is a disgrace. If you're going to make up how many career goals you're going to score, which is slightly strange in itself if you're as good as Pele supposedly was (controversial opinion alert: massively overrated), then at least make it believable.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Now things get interesting

The first rest days of the World Cup are a watershed moment, no longer are we dreaming of North Korea heroically winning the Group of Death, or of England not being rubbish anymore. There are 8 teams left in the tournament, each within 3 wins of football's greatest prize. As Jamie Redknapp might say, it's literally do or die.

Since England have been dumped out, it's time for us to jump aboard a bandwagon. Let's have a run down of the contenders:


Diego Maradona
Route to the last 8:
Nigeria 1-0, South Korea 4-1, Greece 2-0, Mexico 3-1
Top Scorer:
Gonzalo Higuain (4 goals)
Star Man:
Lionel Messi
Very good
Why we want them to win:
Maradona. His press conferences are fantastic, and he picked Ariel Garce in the squad solely because he dreamt they won the World Cup and his was the only face Diego could remember. They also have the best attacking players in the tournament, Sergio Aguero and Diego Milito don't even get in the team.


Route to the last 8:
North Korea 2-1, Ivory Coast 3-1, Portugal 0-0, Chile 3-0
Top Scorer:
Luis Fabiano (3 goals)
Star Man:
Excellent, probably favourites
Why we want them to win:
Who doesn't love Brazil? Even if they don't play the constant free flowing attacking 'traditional' Brazillian way, they still know how to attack. Robinho's pass for Elano 'not good enough for Man City' to score against North Korea, and their two counter attack goals against Chile are evidence of that.


Joachim Lowe
Route to the last 8:
Australia 4-0, Serbia 0-1, Ghana 1-0, England 4-1
Top Scorer:
Thomas Mueller (3 goals)
Star Man:
Mesut Ozil
Decent, very tough quarter final to get through first though.
Why we want them to win:
No longer 'those typical efficient Germans' but are an exciting young side. Led by the brilliant Mesut Ozil they are dangerous on the counter attack, and their match with Argentina has the potential to be the game of the tournament. It also makes England's loss less of a humiliation if they go all the way


Milovan Rajevac
Route to the last 8:
Serbia 1-0, Australia 1-1, Germany 0-1, USA 2-1 (aet)
Top Scorer:
Asamoah Gyan (3 goals)
Star Man:
Anthony Annan
Slim to none, would be lucky to get past Uruguay. Winning the whole thing would be a miracle.
Why we want them to win:
The last African team standing. Very likeable team (Kevin Prince 'German until last week' Boateng' aside), John Pantsil's lap of honour after every win became almost iconic during Fulham's run to the Europa League final, imagine what it would be like if they somehow make it to Soccer City in 10 days time.

The Netherlands

Bert Van Marwijk
Route to the last 8:
Denmark 2-0, Japan 1-0, Cameroon 2-1, Slovakia 2-1
Top Scorer:
Wesley Sneijder (2 goals)
Star Man:
Arjen Robben
Similar to Germany, only decent because of their quarter final.
Why we want them to win:
Everyone loves the Dutch. Whilst they have got this far without playing anywhere near their best, still have the capability to really turn it on, especially with Arjen Robben back, the Bayern man is probably the most in form player in the world behind Leo Messi. Also beginning to show signs of the traditional Dutch implosion.


Gerardo Martino
Route to the last 8:
Italy 1-1, Slovakia 2-0, New Zealand 0-0, Japan 0-0 (5-3 on pens)
Top Scorer:
Alcaraz, Vera, Riveros (1 goal)
Star Man:
Lucas Barrios
Slim to none, have never got this far before, so will leave with their heads held high regardless of the result against Spain
Why we want them to win:
Along with Ghana they are massive underdogs to get into the semi-finals, never mind win it. Would also be quite amusing to watch the BBC/ITV pundits panic as they are forced to actually analyse their team. The only player they seem to know is the incredibly overrated Roque Santa Cruz up front, and seem to think he is their best player. He is most definitely not.


Vincent Del Bosque
Route to the last 8:
Switzerland 0-1, Honduras 2-0, Chile 2-1, Portugal 1-0
Top Scorer:
David Villa (4 goals)
Star Man:
David Villa
Excellent, have come through a difficult group and tough last 16 match without playing their best. Now is the time to shine.
Why we want them to win:
On paper, the best side left in it. Definitely should be Arsenal fans' choice due to their style of football. The similarity extends to their ability to create a lot of chances without taking them, and the normally excellent Iker Casillas seems to have turned into Manuel Almunia. Must avoid Arsenal-esque failure when the pressure's on to win it. The Euro 2008 success should stand them in good stead for that.


Oscar Tabarez
Route to the last 8:
France 0-0, South Africa 3-0, Mexico 1-0, South Korea 2-1
Top Scorer:
Luis Suarez (3 goals)
Star Man:
Diego Forlan
Surprisingly good, definitely dark horses.
Why we want them to win:
We all love these 'don't you remember, Diego Forlan was rubbish at Man Utd' montages don't we? Oh that's right, we don't. Would definitely be sticking it to the people who blindly believe anyone who fails in England is a terrible player. Also would get Luis Suarez a big money move, where he would have the chance to turn into another Afonso Alves.

I am well and truly behind Diego's Argentina. Potentially they could face Germany, Spain and then Brazil. Excited, anyone?

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Thank God for that

In terms of support, was tonight's match the most one sided ever? I'm not sure there were any neutrals who were on Portugal's side, and that is not surprising. They are a disgraceful side, not just for the incredibly defensive tactics but also for their constant cheating. Not one Portuguese footballer in that side is likeable at all.

David Villa's goal sealed a victory for attacking football. Yesterday I spoke about the rise of defensive football and I have no problem with that, but there are limits. Portugal have made no effort to win 3 of their 4 games at this tournament. Even at 1-0 down tonight they didn't even try to attack, which is a combination of utter stupidity and a bit of a disgrace. A side containing one of the best forward players in the world has completely wasted him, so much so that today I experienced a feeling I don't think I have ever experienced before, sympathy for Ronaldo. What was he supposed to do? Carlos Quieroz's tactics would be understandable if the plan was to play on the counter attack, but they didn't even try that. Ronaldo is a fantastic asset to have regardless of how you play, but he has shown both at Man Utd and at Real Madrid how devestating he can be when used in breakaways. Instead Portugal have used him either has a lone frontman or a isolated winger, with his only service being long balls forward, that was clearly a massive mistake.

The stats suggest a fairly decent goal return, 7 goals in their 4 games. When all 7 of them are in one game it suggests something completely different. The way they were set up, Portugal failed to score against any of their more difficult opposition (and Ivory Coast aren't even that good). A team like that does not deserve to qualify, and it's great for the competition that Spain eventually broke them down.

The European Champions still don't quite look to have hit their best yet, Fernando Torres clearly isn't fit, and I'd say similar about Andres Iniesta. Torres has probably been their worst player by some considerable distance so far, his movement is still good but in every other aspect he seems to have morphed into Emile Heskey. Terrible shooting, worse control. It's not a coincidence that as soon as the Liverpool man went off Spain started to play much better, Fernando Llorente gave the Portuguese defence something completely different to think about, and I think they need to keep this in mind for the quarter finals. Make no mistake, Paraguay will set themselves up in the same way as Portugal and Switzerland have, I don't think Spain can risk Torres again. David Silva or Jesus Navas needs to start to offer a different threat.

There is a history at World Cups of the teams that start slowly coming through to lift the trophy, very rarely do the sides who start with a bang continue that form throughout. So there is a lot of reasons for Spain to be positive, but they are going to have to really turn it on at some point in this tournament to win it. Will a potential semi final with Brazil be the moment?

Looking ahead, there's no football for two days now, and as soon as the rest days start you know there's not much of the World Cup left. That means a return to club football, and I'd like to pretend it doesn't exist for a little while yet. Today my team's manager finally completed his exit, enticed away by the delights of Hull City. That is definitely more depressing than a crushing defeat by Germany.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Substance over style?

Today we saw two teams who have traditionally been the most free flowing and exciting to watch at World Cups. Except, well, they aren't this time. Both Holland and Brazil are far more circumspect and have much more emphasis on defence. Why is that? Why the move away from their normal style?

To start with, Dunga's methods are extremely unpopular in Brazil, the inclusion of two defensive midfielders in Gilberto Silva and Filipe Melo is not the Samba way. Despite this, we've seen throughout qualifying, as well as in this tournament, how good their defence looks. Tonight against Chile they were hardly troubled by a side who has been one of the best so far in terms of creating chances. I said after Chile's game with Spain that they would have real trouble against Brazil on the counter attack, and so it proved. Once they were behind, there was very little chance of a recovery, this Brazillian side were never going to come out and continue attacking, which could have allowed the Chileans space. Even if they win the thing, this team will never be truly popular back home. I've read there are even some Brazillians supporting Argentina because they play football the 'proper way'. This has happened before, the team that won in 1994 are far less revered than the one who fell short in 1982. In fact that '82 side is regarded by some as the best side Brazil has ever had, and that is quite the accolade.

As for the Dutch, they look a far better side with Arjen Robben on the pitch. So far he's only played about 80 minutes of football, but managed to score and hit the post to set up Klaas Jan Huntelaar. It's not just his end product, but his mere presence on the pitch gives the defence something else to think about, creating space for his teammates. Despite his return, there seems to have been a shift away from 'Total Football' under Bert Van Marwijk. Two years ago Holland came through the Group of Death at Euro 2008 thanks to a couple of fantastic counter attacking performances against France and Italy. Memorable for two stunning goals against the Italians, and David Pleat shrieking 'wonderful goal, wonderful goal' in an extremely high pitched voice as Wesley Sneijder fired in their second. That sort of football has been replaced by a far slower paced style, and they are harder to beat now, but less entertaining.

Both of these changes in style are slightly disappointing, as they are two sides who define exciting attacking football. Holland brought the world Total Football, and Brazil has produced some of the most exciting players ever seen at the World Cup. It is quite possible that under a new manager they might return to their roots, but as it stands it's quite understandable that they want to be harder to break down. Jose Mourinho has shown the world how to beat the best attacking club side around (and perhaps of all time) and because of this other managers have become more afraid of an attack minded philosophy. The important thing to remember is that football seems to work in cycles, and there is constant innovation. Italia 90 is held up as the ultimate defensive World Cup, in the 52 games at that tournament there were 115 goals. Twenty years later we have another defensive World Cup, and as of yesterday there had been 52 games in which 116 goals had been scored. Uncanny.

Tactics evolve, and as defensive football seems to be slightly on top at the moment, people will work out new formations and new ways to break them down. As if to prove that point, USA 94 saw 141 goals scored in the 52 matches. I wouldn't be surprised if something similar happens in four years time. Holland and Brazil have altered their style under present management, but the next World Cup is in Brazil, there is no way they'll be emphasising on defence by then.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

That was REALLY bad

Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, towards the end of yesterday's blog I said:

"I really rate this German side and fear they might overwhelm us, especially given our rather simplistic formation."

Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. I imagine the tabloids and the simplistic England fans will blame the linesman and referee for the defeat, but that is just a pathetic excuse. By the time Lampard 'equalised' we could have been 4-0 down, and come the end we were lucky to have only lost by 3.

There are so many problems it's difficult to know where to start. I've been banging on about the formation for days now, and all my fears were realised. The Germans' extra man in midfield was always Mesut Ozil, and sometimes Schweinsteiger as well, between them they tore England apart. Ozil is a fantastic player, and he is quick, giving Gareth Barry the job of man marking him on his own was ridiculous. Barry had no chance in a foot race, a point reinforced by the way the German left him for dead to set up the fourth goal.

In defence, why Michael Dawson played no part in any friendlies before the tournament is a disgrace. He is better than Upson and Carragher (I'm also better than Carragher to be honest), and surely is a better bet than King since he isn't permanently injured. John Terry is too slow, and sold Upson down the river for the first goal by running towards the half way line for no reason and leaving the West Ham man on his own. Terry should be the man to organise the defence as he is the senior centre back, either he didn't, or he was talking in Spanish, judging by the way the defence fell apart for Podolski's goal.

As we move forward, the Gerrard debate will be done to death, and while he clearly shouldn't be playing on the left, it doesn't excuse yet another absolutely appalling performance. It's quite an achievement to look unusually poor in that team today, but he was. Constantly trying long cross field balls that were never going to come off and shots from miles out, wasting possession. He must be incredibly frustrating to play with. Gerrard insists on trying to be the hero the whole time, and as a result hasn't had a good game for England since Munich, and even then that isn't exactly a glowing appraisal given how well the team as a whole played.

I feel sorry for Defoe and Rooney today, the service they were given was as bad as it is possible to be, and they could do nothing with the constantly overhit long balls. Rooney came into the game a bit in the second half and threatened to create some chances, but they never materialised. It's unbelievable that he is yet to score a World Cup goal.

The substitutions once again were a complete joke, first taking off the one winger in the team and replacing him with Joe Cole, who just did the same thing Gerrard was doing on the other side and left us with no width. He also managed to give the ball away to set up a German counterattack which led to goal number 4. After that bringing Heskey on for Defoe when England needed goals? I imagine the big man's gonna get slaughtered, but what could he do? No player is going to refuse to come on, and once again the blame lies squarely at Capello's door. Shaun Wright-Phillips coming on was just moronic, especially with Lennon on the bench, but it was too late by then.

The calls for Harry Redknapp to come in as England manager are terrifying, because he won't change anything. I'm also not sure he'd be able to survive without signing anyone for a few months. The failings have nothing to do with the manager not being English, they are just mistakes. If we insist on an English manager, it should be Roy Hodgson, especially as he has experience managing at international level.

To end, Germany deserve a lot of credit for the way they went about destroying England. Everyone in the country seemed to be underestimating them and were going about predicting an England win. The pundits on the BBC were questioning how many of their side would get in ours. Klose has more international goals than any England player ever, Podolski averages 1 in 2, Ozil is one of the best young talents in world football, Muller is an exciting young player as well, Schweinsteiger was brilliant again and Khedira looks like he could develop into a great box to box midfielder. Anyone think we wouldn't get a single Englishman in their team?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

A blog for all Africa

"Bye bye big American sigh" Peter Drury screamed at us as the minutes ticked by in Rustenburg. Whilst the way he put it was incredibly cringeworthy, he wasn't wrong. The USA are going home. Perhaps they'll bump into the South Koreans at the airport, as they too are out of the World Cup.

Credit must go to Ghana (not Africa, who Drury seemed to believe were playing) for a fantastic performance, and one of incredible maturity for such a young side. They wobbled a bit in the second half as the Americans came at them, but after going ahead again were hardly troubled in extra time. We've seen a lot of teams sacrifice possession and defend deep if they're leading late in games, but Ghana did not do that, they kept the ball magnificently and were happy to let the US try the long ball over the top. They were happier to do this especially after Jozy Altidore was taken off and pace was no longer a threat.

The Ghanaians' last 8 opponents will be Uruguay, after their victory over South Korea. A win they made slightly more difficult for themselves than it probably should have been. It took a stunning strike from Luis Suarez to win it in the end, but had they not forgot to mark about half the South Korea team from a free kick they would have maintained their mean streak in defence. Once again, they didn't seem to get out of second gear, they are quite happy defending a lead and only really commit men forward when they have to. They will fancy their chances in the quarter final, and are most definitely not to be underestimated by any bigger sides.

Now, what do we think about tomorrow? It seems England are going to pick the same side, and I fear this is a mistake. The USA tonight demonstrated the problem with a 4-4-2 against a 4-5-1, a man short in midfield means that the opposition win that particular battle and will dominate possession. If we leave Frank Lampard to deal with Schweinsteiger and Khedira on his own then we are starting at a serious disadvantage. On top of that is the Gerrard issue, I keep bringing this up but it is still relevant, he will not stay on his wing, and this is going to be hopelessly exposed by Phillip Lahm unless our heroic skipper discovers some positional sense overnight.

The Germans' weak point is their defence, the left back Badstuber and centre back Friedrich in particular, they must be targetted if England are to have any chance. Going forward they are extremely talented and there have goals in them. I think we are going to have to score at least twice to win, so the emphasis must be on taking the game to Germany, something no one has done to them as yet. It might actually be better for us if we concede an early goal, as that would force us to attack them from the start. I'm not optimistic, I really rate this German side and fear they might overwhelm us, especially given our rather simplistic formation.

The winner of our game will face the winner of the other last 16 match tomorrow, Argentina vs Mexico. I've said on numerous occasions how much I like the Mexicans, but I have a real feeling that Maradona is going to win the whole thing again. Lionel Messi is long overdue a goal, and perhaps it's finally going to come tomorrow night. Mexico's best bet is to get Carlos Salcido, their left back, forward to try to take advantage of a slightly lopsided Argentine formation - there's no genuine right sided midfielder - and the laughable selection of Newcastle left winger Jonas at right back. Giovani Dos Santos will also be a threat, since he is extremely quick and tricky, and should look to run at the walking mistake Martin Demichelis. Despite their rather error prone defence, Argentina should come through this, but it will most definitely be their toughest test so far.

My Predictions:

England 1-3 Germany
Argentina 1-0 Mexico

Take hope from the fact I definitely do not have an 100% record so far.

Friday, 25 June 2010

It's a knockout!

The last 16 line up is complete, and what a line up it promises to be. Much of today was a bit of an anti-climax, but at least the Chile - Spain game was exciting for about an hour. Ultimately, the best teams have qualified. Chile would have been unlucky not to go through having played such exciting football, but they have just about made it.

For a while, it looked as if the miracle could have happened in Group G. Ivory Coast came flying out and started to take the North Koreans apart, they probably should have been 4 or 5 up by half time, which would have given Portugal the jitters. Unfortunately, they never really pressed home their domination, and as a result the Portuguese were able to keep it tight and didn't have to come out and attack. That made for rather dull viewing, but you can't blame them for not showing their hand as yet. I was more disappointed with they way both teams played when Portugal met Ivory Coast in the first game, particularly the Africans, as realistically they needed to get something out of that game, but made little effort to do so.

For that reason, Sven's men can have few complaints about their failure to qualify. Their short corner in the last minute of the first game is perhaps the stupidest moment of the tournament so far, and they left things out of their hands somewhat by relying on thrashing North Korea by more goals than Portugal did. Like I said yesterday with Cannavaro and friends, it's a shame this Ivorian side will break up without having ever really done anything to justify their billing. They have been extremely unfortunate with being drawn in the 'Group of Death' twice in a row, but there have been constant poor performances in the African Cup of Nations mixed in as well. Their failure to qualify leaves Ghana as Africa's sole representatives in the last 16.

Group G was far more exciting, at least until it became clear Switzerland were not going to beat Honduras. Chile started the game very well, but I feared for them on the break prior to the game, and those fears were realised by a couple of Spanish goals, thanks in no small part to the defence allowing them far too much space. It was in the build up to the second goal that Fernando Torres, who was woeful again, decided to throw himself to the floor and play dead for a few minutes to get Marco Estrada sent off. He succeeded. Whilst it was a terrible bit of cheating, Estrada was lucky to have lasted that long anyway, and Waldo Ponce should have gone about three times throughout the first half, so perhaps Chile got lucky in the end.

Tomorrow, we really get down to business. South Korea meet Uruguay to kick off the second round, and the USA meet Ghana in the evening. Both games should be intriguing affairs, and interestingly all 4 teams are from different federations (is that interesting?). What that means is we'll be seeing 4 teams who play different styles of football. South Korea live up to the stereotype of being 'hard working', but they are not short of quality either, they have put together some quick, incisive moves. Uruguay should not underestimate them, but they will start as favourites. Diego Forlan has been easily, and unsurprisingly, their best player, and they will be relying on him to create and score them some goals. However, we must not overlook their excellence at the other end, they are yet to concede a goal, and in truth have rarely looked like doing so. All 5 South American sides have looked very impressive so far, and the Uruguayans are no different. It will take something special for the Koreans to break them down, and I'm not sure they'll have enough about them to come through.

As for the other game, both the USA and Ghana have perhaps surprised a few people so far, and neither should be underestimated. The Africans have been solid at the back, only conceding twice (and one of them was a terrible piece of 'keeping), helped in no small part by Anthony Annan holding in front of the back 4. They are also capable of attacking with pace, something that may trouble an American team slightly on the slow side. As for the US themselves, they are also well organised and hard to break down, but have genuine class in places, something the Ghanaians perhaps lack without Michael Essien. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are excellent players, and are well supported by the impressive Michael Bradley in midfield. I think this one will be very close, but the United States will steal it.

My Predictions:

Uruguay 2-0 South Korea
Ghana 1-2 USA

Thursday, 24 June 2010


The worst defence of the World Cup ever? Must be close, real competition between this Italian side and the French one who crumbled at the group stage 8 years ago. At least Italy scored, and France don't get to win anything normally, so we'll give them this.

That is about as good as it gets for Marcello Lippi. He has paid the price for picking too many players who are too old and past their best, like Cannavaro, and too many very average players, like Pepe. Antonio Cassano should have been selected, he has the ability to create something out of nothing and can give the side a spark, but he and Lippi do not get on. Quagliarella and Di Natale should both have got far more game time than they got in the end, the Napoli man in particular made a difference when he came on today, and scored a fantastic goal. It's a shame that some great international careers have ended in the way they did, Fabio Cannavaro has already gone, Zambrotta and Gattuso won't be far behind, but in reality it was a tournament too far.

As for the match itself, it was a fantastic game. It's something of a mystery as to where Slovakia's performance came from, they were incredibly poor for most of the first two games, but today they were exceptional. All 3 goals were very well taken, but more impressive was the way they took the game to Italy. They sensed a weakness and a frailty about the Italians, and went for them. Perhaps if they'd showed that sort of initiative against New Zealand in particular, they could have won the group. Instead, a tough second round match with Holland awaits them.

The other decisive match today was also very enjoyable. Japan had been very defensive in both of their group games, but stunned Denmark with one of the performances of the tournament so far. Keisuke Honda was comfortably man of the match, but the whole side deserve a lot of credit for the way they played. Denmark had no answer, and although you can argue that Thomas Sorensen was at fault for the first free kick, they wouldn't have got anything out of the game regardless. It's interesting how well both the Japanese and South Koreans have done at this World Cup, previously they've only excelled in the tournament they co-hosted, but Asian sides appear to have developed far more than African sides have done. I most certainly wouldn't bet against having a winner from Asia before one from Africa.

On a more general point, what a fantastic World Cup we've had so far. After a slow start when sides were ensuring they didn't start with a defeat, it really has come to life. It's worth looking at that for a second, there were 10 teams who lost their first game and at least 9 (Spain are the 10th) will not qualify. You can understand the defensive tactics in those circumstances, it may not be great to watch, but it is a perfectly reasonable way to begin the tournament.

On paper, the biggest game of the group stage takes place tomorrow, but in reality there's not a lot riding on it. Brazil are already qualified, and barring a goal difference swing of miracle proportions, so are Portugal. In all likelihood Dunga will rest some players, and with Kaka suspended anyway we'll see some of Brazil's 'lesser' lights. There is a chance Portugal could win the group with a win, but because of how open Group H is, whether they really want to or not is impossible to tell. I'm really looking forward to the big game in that group, Spain - Chile. I've been bigging the Chileans up for a while now, and I really hope they can get something out of this game to progress. I think it's too much to hope for a Honduras victory which would send both of these teams through. Goals should be the order of the day, Chile are not going to sit back but Spain will relish a team trying to take them on. I foresee a lot of counter attacking, and hopefully, Chile to scrape through.

Four years ago, Italy beat France to win the World Cup. This time, both did worse than New Zealand. That must be depressing.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Glory Glory...?

We got an unconvincing 1-0. It was a bit terrifying at times, but we made it. England are in the last 16, but contrary to the BBC's belief, it was not a good performance.

Let's focus on that match to start with. I find it very hard to watch the build up and post match analysis on England games, so much of it is cringeworthy and it's always way over the top. Either England are brilliant (as now, after a 1-0 win over mighty Slovenia) or terrible (after a 1-1 draw with a solid USA side). Anyhow, I'll look at the positives first; I am not Jermain Defoe's biggest fan, but he did his job very well today. When England don't dominate possession he can't get in the game, and that can be a real problem, but today that wasn't the case. He got in the right position to score, and had a couple of other opportunities as well.

James Milner was also excellent on the right hand side, putting some great crosses in. It seemed a bit strange that we drop Heskey and put in a player to put loads of balls into the box, but can't argue with an assist. I do think that both he and Defoe will drop back to the bench against Germany, but they had good games today.

In defence England looked fairly solid, but worryingly too much was 'last ditch'. Without Ferdinand we lack a defender who can read the game and make interceptions rather than have to dive into tackles at the last minute. Terry and Upson both made crucial interventions in the penalty area, but I can't help but feel we need to be stopping the attacks further away from our own goal. If one of the chances that fell to Slovenia today falls to Miroslav Klose on Sunday, we're a goal down.

There's still a number of problems in the side. Firstly, if the players underestimate the Germans in the same way that all the pundits have been, we are in deep trouble. The movement of their front 4 - Podolski, Ozil, Muller and Klose - is far superior to anything we have faced so far. They will target Carragher and they will look to get in behind England's defence. We lack pace throughout the whole team, but particularly through the middle, and that will be exploited. They have two very solid holding midfielders who are comfortable on the ball, and will look to build attacks from there. Our problems are that Gerrard will continue to not keep his position on the left wing, Rooney looks worryingly off the pace, and the aforementioned centre back pairing.

I'm going to be controversial. Gerrard should not play. We need someone on the left wing who will not constantly come into the centre, and who will help Ashley Cole out in defence. Not only is Thomas Muller a very hard working player on the right, but behind him will be Phillip Lahm, one of the best full backs in the world. We cannot afford to let them get 2 on 1 with Cole, however good he is. I'm going to put forward Mr Milner to fill that role. He's very disciplined, and will do what he's told to do, something that appears to be an alien concept to the Liverpool captain.

I'll do a better preview of the German side on Saturday, but for now we'll glance at a couple of other teams who qualified today. Ghana will play the USA at the weekend, in a rematch of a game four years ago. The Africans knocked the Americans out that day, but this time I think it's incredibly hard to call. I was delighted for both sides that they got through, Ghana are probably going to be Africa's only representative in the last 16, and they thoroughly deserve it. A lack of cutting edge could be their downfall, as it's been that which has stopped them from winning Group D. They have no problem creating chances, and in defence they look very good. Anthony Annan in particular has shone, and sometimes you forget they're missing Michael Essien in that position. To beat the US though they are going to have to score, and it'll concern them that both their goals in the group stage were penalties.

As for the Americans themselves, I've only seen highlights of their match today, but it looked like they should have absolutely crushed Algeria. Landon Donovan (Landycakes, if you prefer) is a quality player, and deserved to be the man who scored the crucial goal. Their problem is perhaps that they rely too heavily on him and Clint Dempsey, but they are a surprisingly good side. They play in a very English way, a couple of creative players combined with a powerful attack in front of a defence which will have no problem defending balls in the air. Ghana however play at pace, and will keep the ball on the floor. At the very least it'll be an interesting battle, and I am really looking forward to it.

A final thought, I'd like to think I'm not really biased towards England, and I say what I think about them. To that end; of the 8 teams in the last 16 so far, we look the worst of them all.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Good riddance to Greece

Just for a while, it looked like South Africa could do it. They could (and arguably should) have thrashed France today. Unfortunately they fell short, but South Korea did not, they managed to just about hold on to a draw. It's hard not to love the Koreans, not just for the way they play football but also for how much qualifying meant to them. If the England team cared half as much as they do, we wouldn't be disappearing up shit creek quite as quickly.

Laughing at the French can't fail to be a good starting point. They put every other crisis into perspective. A truly disastrous World Cup is over, but the repurcussions will continue for a while yet. The government has even got involved and ordered an investigation into what went on. I've slated Domenech many times, but not all of this can be put down to him. The players have disgraced themselves with their conduct, starting with Florent Malouda's bust up with the manager before the first game. It never really improved from there, I don't know what choice they had with Anelka, it's not acceptable to challenge Domenech's authority as he did. The way the rest of the squad reacted to that was pathetic, and I'm sure many of them have played their last game for France. Their greatest achievement at this tournament is how much entertainment they've given us. There's nothing like watching a team completely implode.

Credit to South Africa, they gave everything they had, and if they'd taken their chances then could well have pulled off the biggest shock ever at the World Cup. In the end though I'm pleased Mexico have made it, they are an exciting team to watch, and their match with Argentina is going to be a cracker. 4 years ago they put on a real spectacle at this stage, with any luck we'll have the same again. Despite the Mexican's pretty football and South Africa's fighting spirit, Uruguay have been the most impressive side of Group A. They have won the group without conceding a goal, and seemingly without playing anywhere near their best. Given they're in the weaker half of the draw, they must be looking at the quarter finals at least. Since that quarter final opponent could be England, a semi final is not completely out of the question. In fact, I wouldn't rule out an all South American last 4.

On to Group B, I was flicking between both games, and managed to miss all of the goals. Greece were a complete disgrace, the gameplan seemed to be 'hope Nigeria win'. It's one thing to play as Switzerland did against Spain, i.e. get men behind the ball, but when you get the ball in attacking areas commit some players forward and at least vaguely attempt to score. Greece were cynical, constantly fouled the Argentinians and timewasted from the start. Even after they knew that they would have to win (after South Korea had equalised) they made no effort to attack or get any players forward to support Samaras when he got on the end of an aimless hoof forward from the defence. They are not a loss to the competition.

The other game in that group seems to have been a real thriller. I saw the last 15 minutes or so, and the Nigerians really should have won it in that time. Yakubu's miss was hilarious and shocking in equal measure, but he did well to recover himself and score a penalty a few minutes later. I did notice the commentator describe that pen as 'a super goal', which is quite confusing, it wasn't even that good a strike.

On to England. Rumour has it Defoe and Milner are replacing Heskey and Lennon. Oh dear. When has Rooney and Defoe ever worked? It's almost like Capello is being stubborn and deliberately not doing what everyone else can clearly see is the right thing to do. Gerrard is going to refuse to play on the left again and try to play in the middle, leaving a huge gap where he's supposed to be. Why this still hasn't been solved is beyond me. I'd love to know what Joe Cole has done to deserve being completely overlooked again. Regardless, I expect England to win, Slovenia are quite a good side going forward, but have considerable weaknesses at the back. I can't believe England will play as badly as they did against Algeria ever again, so even if it's an unconvincing 1-0 we'll get through.

How's that for positivity?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Cesc Fabregas has a beautiful beard

Today, Raymond Domenech described his own team as 'exceptionally stupid' in a cunning attempt to improve morale. Despite his best efforts, the only player to be sent home today was not a Frenchman. Sulley Muntari is constantly falling out with someone, and he's done it again. I don't think he's a big loss, but still that's hardly helping preparation for Ghana's crunch game with Germany this week.

On to the football; I think North Korea were unlucky but also their tactics seemed strange to me - It would have made more sense to play like they did against Brazil, try to get a draw and bank on beating Ivory Coast. They started really well, but their expansiveness cost them in the end and the space Portugal got late in the game was crazy. Despite the scoreline, I still don't think there's much to the Portuguese. Against tougher sides (and even against the Ivory Coast, who aren't particularly good) they rely far too heavily on Ronaldo, and the midfield is seriously lacking in creativity. Given that they could face Spain or Chile in the second round I'd be surprised if they get much further.

Talking of Chile, how did they not thrash the Swiss? Mark Gonzalez scored, but once again managed to miss an absolute hatful of chances. He will be as much to blame as anyone if they fail to qualify. A draw with Spain would be enough, and even a defeat if Switzerland don't beat Honduras. Really they should have qualified already, their goal difference could, and should, be at least 6 better than it is now. That would have given them such a big cushion that the final game would have been irrelevant. Instead they are the ones in the most perilous position despite being by far the most impressive side of Group G. Believe me, Chile will not sit back against the Spanish, they just don't do that. Instantly that gives them a problem as Spain will relish having a team attack them, and I'd be very surprised if the game isn't an absolute goalfest. Not only is their style of play probably going to make it difficult, they are also without a couple of players thanks to another terrible refereeing performance. I thought Valon Behrami was extremely unlucky to be sent off, it wasn't quite as bad a decision as last night's, but it wasn't far off. For a game where there wasn't any really poor challenges, 9 yellows and a red is ridiculous. I still have no idea what Mati Fernandez got booked for. FIFA has got to sort this out.

Now we're into the 'business end' of the group stage. Tomorrow is the start of the final round of matches, and for a number of teams it's win or bust. For France, it could be win and bust anyway. They must beat South Africa, hope the other match isn't a draw and that there's a 3 goal swing in goal difference. it would be quite funny if Mexico and Uruguay play out a draw to send the French out, but Mexico really need to try and win. A second round meeting with Argentina awaits them unless they beat the South Americans tomorrow. I hope they do, they've played some nice football so far and both their matches have been entertaining. They would fancy their chances against South Korea or Nigeria as well, so a quarter final place could beckon. They must win tomorrow first.

I left Greece out of that equation because they have to play Argentina, which they aren't going to win. It'll be interesting to see whether Maradona rests many players for that game, even if he does they have enough strength in depth, attacking wise at least, to ensure it doesn't make too much difference. The big game in Group B is between South Korea and Nigeria. Both teams have 3 points, but the Koreans have a worse goal difference. I fancy them to win it, they were unlucky to come up against the Argentians in the form they did, but against Greece they looked impressive. Much more so than Nigeria have in either game. No team that loses to the Greeks deserves to qualify.

It was good to see Fabio Capello put John Terry in his place today. Come on, it'd be funny if he dropped him, wouldn't it?

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The French have lost the plot

Only a couple of days ago, we were all praising the quality of refereeing at this tournament. Not any more. Miroslav Klose's dismissal against Serbia, closely followed by a completely ridiculous disallowed USA goal and now one of the worst red card decisions I have ever seen.

Kaka's first yellow card was barely deserved, coming in a bit of handbags with Yaya Toure, for which the Ivorian mysteriously wasn't punished. As for the second, well, there were so many things wrong with it it's difficult to know where to start. Firstly, it was clearly an outrageous dive from Keita, but that doesn't excuse the decision. What I'm most interested in is who actually saw it and told Monsieur Lannoy to send Kaka off? We've already ascertained from the TV coverage that it couldn't have been him. Next to look at would be the linesmen, who in general have a tendency to want to give lots of decisions anyway, but one was the opposite side of the pitch so surely he's not guilty. The other was still a good 40 yards away, the same goes for the fourth official. So who was it? If it was any of those 4 people then someone has made a very, very bad decision without seeing it properly. The only alternative is that the referee himself sent Kaka off on the basis of Keita's reaction, which makes it even worse.

FIFA now have the opportunity to make a statement. They should rescind the red card and ban Keita for at least one game. The referee and all of his team should be sent home. It is not acceptable to be making errors like that. One of the world's best players is now suspended for a World Cup game because another player ran into him. Graham Poll went home for his 3 card trick in 2006, the same thing should happen here. There are 16 games in each round of matches at the World Cup, how is it that we can't find 16 referees in the whole world who are capable of refereeing a match without making a decision like that? The same thing applies to the man who disallowed Maurice Edu's goal against Slovenia. It was so late in the game that you can be as sure as you can ever be in football that the USA would have won that game, which means the referee's incompetence has cost them 2 points. What happens now if they miss out on qualification by a point? The same man will still be doing major international tournaments next time, there appears to be no punishment for making poor decisions. If a striker constantly misses chances, he gets dropped. In the Premier League there are referees who constantly make poor decisions (Stuart Atwell, Rob Styles, Mike Riley are good examples of this) and continue to do games at the top level.

Moving on, the funny thing in the end is that the Ivory Coast need Brazil to beat Portugal. So getting Kaka sent off and trying to cripple a couple of their players perhaps wasn't the best idea. Actually, that reminds me, I didn't even mention that the over the ball, studs up 'challenge' on Elano didn't even get Tiote a yellow card. Or that Luis Fabiano practically caught the ball and ran into the goal without punishment. Or that the referee then had a laugh and a joke with the Brazillian asking him if he'd handballed it. How a man refereeing in the World Cup, the pinnacle of the sport, can have as bad a game as that is a complete mystery to me.

It would be unfair to focus solely on the Brazil match, as other things have happened today. New Zealand pulled a brilliant performance out of the bag to hold the World Champions, who severly lack creativity. It's not completely inconceivable that the Kiwis could qualify from this group, sadly I don't think they've quite got enough to beat Paraguay. The Italians themselves must be worried now, but I expect them to still qualify. Slovakia are a fairly weak side and shouldn't pose too many problems. Mind you, we thought that about New Zealand.

Saving the best til last, France! No one does anger and going on strike quite like the French do. I'm still not quite sure why they stormed off and refused to train, they claim it's because of Anelka being sent home, but they only actually left training after Patrice Evra's argument with the fitness coach. If you haven't seen the video of that then it's worth looking for. I particularly like the coach marching off and hurling his accreditation across the field.

One other thing; Chile play tomorrow. They have become my second team, their formation is unique at the tournament and they play exciting football, what's not to love?

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Josh Kennedy looks like Jesus

Harry Kewell lasting less than half an hour in a big game, who'd have thunk it? Fortunately for him that wasn't the only stereotype to reinforce itself today, as Richard Kingson did little to enhance African goalkeepers' reputations (never trust a keeper in tracksuit bottoms). Day 8 of the World Cup sees the Dutch become the first team through to the round of 16 and Cameroon are going home.

Holland haven't exactly been scintillating, but they're missing Robben badly and credit must go to them for winning both games without him. They had a considerable amount of luck but did enough to come through and now they don't have to rush their star man back. Hopefully Bert Van Marwijk will rotate some players and we might get a look at Elia from the start. Without Robben he's the only player they have who's prepared to run at players and take them on. They play Cameroon in the final game, which isn't going to mean anything to the Africans either. The Indomitable Lions should have beaten Denmark, they had so many chances. Samuel Eto'o is going to be extremely angry at his teammates, he had two chances in the game; scored one and hit the post. The rest of his team had about 30 and missed them all. Pierre Webo being the chief culprit, his misses included skying one into the top tier from inside the penalty area. The other game in this group will be a playoff for second, but Japan only need a draw to progress thanks to a better goal difference. I imagine they'll play for a draw and look to frustrate the Danes, which I think they should be able to do if they defend deep. The main threat is Rommedahl's pace, and there isn't a lot of creativity from other areas. Stop Rommedahl and you stifle Denmark.

The other game today was another exciting one, Australia turned in a great performance after having Kewell sent off. Pim Verbeek got his tactics massively wrong against Germany, but this time he got it right. Particularly bringing on Josh Kennedy in the second half and taking the game to Ghana. Both teams had chances but Australia should have won it, Luke Wilkshere missed a great chance late on. Unfortunately for them they're probably out now, they need to win, Germany to win and a 5 goal swing in goal difference. Very unlikely. At least if/when they do go out, they can be proud of this performance and it goes some way to making up for their capitulation against the Germans. Ghana missed a big opportunity to virtually put themselves through, maybe it was down to inexperience - they're missing Essien and are a very young side - but they wilted in the face of Australia's counter attack in the last 20 minutes. They weren't expecting it and never took control of the game properly after half time.

I don't want to talk about England too much here, but there are a couple of points I want to make. Firstly, this incident with the fan getting into the England dressing room. Whilst it's slightly worrying how easy it was, I'm slightly confused as to what made him think that was the best outlet for his anger. On top of that, apparently Princes William and Harry had just left. What were they doing there straight after a game? Surely it should have been a time to clear the air somewhat between players and manager and the atmosphere would have been tense, it seems crazy to me to let them in at that point. Secondly, Andy Townsend on ITV seemed to be suggesting that it was all Capello's fault. That is a completely ridiculous thing to say, I am a big believer in formations, tactics, and the influence of the manager, but you cannot excuse the pathetic lack of effort there was last night.

A quick look forward at tomorrow, Paraguay - Slovakia should be interesting as the Europeans in particular have got to win that game, but should Paraguay win then they are almost certainly going through. New Zealand didn't disgrace themselves at all in the first game, but Italy are a very different and much more difficult challenge. It'll give us another look at what the world champions have got going forward as the pressure will be on them to break New Zealand down. I'm not sure they've got a lot, they didn't look very creative against Paraguay and the Kiwis are not going to give them any room to work with. As an aside, the last time these two teams met - in the Confederations cup last year - New Zealand led 3 times before finally losing 4-3. We'll take that again. The last game tomorrow sees Brazil take on the Ivory Coast, in a game the Ivorians probably have to win now after not even trying to beat Portugal. I can't see it, the Brazillians are very solid and will be happier against teams who try to attack them. They could win comfortably, particularly if they score an early goal, they can then sit back and break fast when they have the chance. I fancy 3-0 Brazil.

To finish, it hasn't escaped my attention that the French camp has once again descended into chaos. Seems a bit silly to me to send Anelka home now when they could wait a couple of days and all go back together.

And we thought France were bad

Oh dear.

The worst England performance since Steve McClaren let Terry Venables have his wicked way with the formation in Croatia.

I said a couple of days ago that all I wanted was a good performance, and that is really all I, and most people, want from England. If we lose in the quarter final having given our best and lost to a better side, then that's fine. What I do have a problem with are performances like yesterday. Against the USA we were unlucky, we would have won that game without a freak mistake, but last night was just appalling. When I was talking about France's defeat to Mexico, I criticised Raymond Domenech for his team selection and his substitutions. It's only fair to do the same to Capello.

I am genuinely surprised he dropped Robert Green, if he was his best keeper a week ago, then has he suddenly become rubbish? He presumably wouldn't drop Wayne Rooney if he missed an open goal, so why get rid of Green? In any case, if we start dropping players for one mistake we'll need a whole new squad after last night. As for the subs, we still seem to have this unwritten rule that says Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard have to play all game every game. Lampard and Rooney in particular were terrible last night, there's nothing wrong with deciding after 70 minutes that we need to try something different. I would have liked to see a midfield of Cole - Gerrard - Barry - Lennon behind Crouch and Defoe by the end. We need to get out of this ridiculous mentality that big players can't be substituted. On top of that, as much as the media might want us to think otherwise, we have no genuine world class players (except probably at left back). We do not have a Messi or Ronaldo who can win games on their own, Rooney is not anywhere near that standard. I'm not saying he's not very good or anything ridiculous like that, he's still England's best player (excluding, again, Ashley Cole) but he's not good enough to warrant being kept on if he's had a bad game and there are different options on the bench. We've learnt that Defoe and Rooney can't play together, but Defoe can play with Peter Crouch, so try it out if we need a goal! Capello decided to do it far too late last night, and then inexplicably kept Rooney on and played him on the left wing.

After slagging off the whole team, I would still only make a couple of changes for the Slovenia game. Joe Cole ahead of Heskey and a change to 4-2-3-1, then Dawson for the suspended Carragher at the back. It wasn't really the starting 11 that was the problem. Obviously to an extent we didn't win because most of the team played extremely badly, but the substitutions didn't change anything. As an example to back up how important they can be if used well; two Mexican subs scored against France, and the third won a penalty.

Dragging myself away from England for a second, a couple of other games took place yesterday. I imagine both the Germans and the Americans are also very angry this morning. Miroslav Klose was sent off for very, very little whilst Maurice Edu had a goal disallowed seemingly for the offence of 'all his teammates being fouled'. Really it was some careless defending in the first half that cost the USA the win, but they still deserved victory in the end. As for Germany, it's been 36 years since they last missed a penalty in regulation play, so pencil in the next one for the 2046 World Cup. This little blip probably won't cost them because they should beat Ghana and their hammering of Australia might well win them the group. I can't see Ghana taking the Socceroos apart in quite the same way today, so if it comes down to goal difference - which it probably will - Germany qualify.

Finally, Fabio Capello did an interview on Five Live today, and used an interpreter. The Daily Mail is gonna have a field day with that.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

All hail the little pea

A week ago, Argentina and France looked quite similar. Raymond Domenech and Diego Maradona were both seen as joke managers, who had stumbled their way into the tournament and had left a couple of big players out of their final 23. Tonight, Maradona looks like he's been on a two year long wind up. But Domenech seems to have left the one part of his brain still functioning back home in Paris.

I'm still at a loss as to how Raymond has held onto his job for so long. He's been unpopular in France for almost as long as he's been in charge and his one success, the 2006 final, was really down to the fact they had Zidane. Tonight the team was wrong, the subs were wrong and I'm not sure they even bothered with tactics. Anelka and Govou should not have started, Ribery in the middle was a mistake and Eric Abidal at centre back was an accident waiting to happen. As for the substitutions, if he doesn't think Henry is good enough to come on then why is he in the squad? Valbuena was just a strange one, France needed experience by that point, which he was never going to bring. Finally, the steadfast refusal to make the 3rd change was completely inexplicable. It was almost like he was trying to make a point, that the best team was on and it was all the players' fault, which would've been fine if the the best team was on and it was all the players' fault.

The hammering France get in the press tomorrow will take away from Mexico's performance, which is unfair. In truth they were hardly troubled defensively, but going forward they were excellent again and this time managed to take some chances. Javier Hernandez has now played about an hour combined in the two games so far, and without wanting to judge too early, he looks some player. On top of that, 'El Chicarito' or 'the little pea' is a great nickname. I hope they don't settle for a draw with Uruguay in the final game, because winning the group means avoiding Argentina (who they lost to last time).

Maradona's men turned in another brilliant performance. It's unbelievable that Lionel Messi is yet to score a goal in either game, with a bit of luck he could have won the Golden Boot already. As it is, he's just winning it for Gonzalo Higuain instead. In defence there is still a worry, particularly if Walter Samuel is out of the tournament. Martin Demichelis is terrifying to watch at centre back and has managed to give a goal away without coming under much sustained pressure as yet. The first 'big' team they face could be England, which would be interesting.

Or a complete humiliation.

A quick glance at the other game in Group B; Greece have scored their first ever World Cup goal and at the same time registered the luckiest win in tournament history. They were absolutely shocking again until Sani Kaita got himself sent off, then the first goal took an enormous deflection and the second was thanks to a terrible goalkeeping mistake. Despite having three points, I'm going to confidently say they will not qualify.

Looking ahead, Germany and England get a second chance to state their credentials tomorrow night. Serbia will be far tougher to break down than Australia but they really need a win, so will be forced to attack at some point. When they do that they could be in trouble. Algeria aren't going to cause England too many problems but we could do with a big win, not least because goal difference is likely to decide the group winner. All I want is a good performance. Well, I also want Carragher and Shaun Wright Phillips to be exiled from the squad, but I won't hold my breath.

The most important thing to remember tonight, however pessimistic an England fan you are, is that at least we aren't French.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Go back to the museum!

Finally! Maybe, just maybe, we have liftoff. The headlines will undoubtably go to Switzerland for their shock victory, but we shouldn't forget Chile or Uruguay's part in the day either. Oh, and Maradona has done something mental again.

It's only fair to give the Swiss top billing. The side that went out last time without conceding a goal have maintained their mean streak, and in doing so started this campaign with a fantastic win. From a Spanish perspective, it's slightly worrying how easily they were kept out. Whilst they dominated possession and had a fair few opportunities, they never created a really clear cut chance. They were far too narrow and easy to keep out until Navas came on, and even then his crossing was so Walcott-esque that it limited his impact. I would've liked to see them bring on Fernando Llorente ahead of Torres. Firstly because Torres clearly wasn't fit, and secondly because he offers a different threat. Given that with Navas on there seemed to be more of an effort to get the ball in the box, Llorente is far better in the air than Torres and could have been their 'Plan B'.

As it is, Group H is now wide open. Chile began their campaign with a 1-0 victory that should have been far more comfortable. On another day Alexis Sanchez could have scored about 4 himself, and Waldo Ponce lived up to his name by somehow managing to miss an open goal from a yard. I gave Chile a bit of a build up yesterday so thankfully they went some way to living up to that. They might look even better against sides who attack them more than Honduras did, as they are exceptionally quick on the break. It's almost a shame they can't meet England until the final because Sanchez v Carragher would be worth seeing. The earth spins on its axis quicker than Jamie does the 100 metres. I say 'almost a shame', because England would probably lose.

I think my second place prediction for South Africa might have to be altered. They simply weren't good enough tonight, and Uruguay didn't even get close to their best. Barring a (potentially hilarious) miracle against France, the hosts are going home. Metaphorically, obviously. In saying all that, I did think they were a bit unlucky with the penalty. Luis Suarez had clearly been watching Ronaldo yesterday and was throwing himself all over the place throughout the whole game. He was looking for it, and the way he went down given the minimal contact from Kuhne was ridiculous. I also think he might've been offside. From the inital attempt from Forlan, he was on, but the shot seemed to hit another Uruguayan player before it got through to Suarez. We never got a look at the right angle to see. They probably would have lost regardless, but it's hard not to feel sorry for the goalkeeper given that he is unlikely to play at a World Cup ever again.

You'll all be pleased to know that Maradona's back tomorrow. In his press conference today he not only sung happy birthday to a journalist (presumably not one of the ones he told to 'suck it', amongst other things, in October) but also told Pele and Platini to 'go back to the museum'. Which, as insults go, is not the best. It also makes absolutely no sense, but it wouldn't be Maradona if he didn't talk in bizarre made up riddles all the time. As for his team, they face their toughest test of the group stage against South Korea, but you would expect them to come through it. Nonetheless, we'll have a much better idea of their credentials in 24 hours time. Even I can't talk up Greece vs Nigeria, other than to say that the Greeks are completely terrible and anything other than a hammering will probably be a success. I wish I could say the same for France, but as I've said before I think the Mexicans' lack of firepower is going to cost them. The French will use all their experience to scrape a 1-0 win.

Why do I get the feeling Diego's gonna win this thing?