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?