02 July 2010 – Day 22

A return to action on the pitch and two days which see the Quarter Finals being played out. It is possible that South America could provide all the Semi Finalists, a feat that the continent has never achieved to date. Europe on the other hand has supplied all four Semi Finalists on four occasions (1934, 1966, 1982 and 2006).

I don’t see South America achieving it this time round. For me Brazil will edge out the Netherlands, who are showing signs of reverting to type this week after a fall-out in the squad between Arsenal striker Robin van Persie and midfielder Wesley Sneijder. Africa’s last hope Ghana will battle bravely, but will succumb to the forward talent of Uruguay.

This leads us to Argentina and Germany, which could turn out to be as spicy as the aftermath of the 2006 World Cup meeting – remember the melee after Germany’s victory on penalties? Well four years later the insults and mind games are starting to be cranked up. I don’t mind admitting I do enjoy the odd game each year where it all gets a bit tasty on the pitch. This could be the THAT game of the 2010 World Cup. Don’t forget, this game has got a bit of history. In the 1986 Final with 16 minutes to  go and Argentina 2-0 to the good, the game looked over. However, West Germany scored two in 6 minutes and with 10 minutes remaining, suddenly it was game on.  There was to be no fairytale comeback for West Germany as Argentina scored in the 83rd minute to win 3-2. Four years later we were treated to the same Finalists, in what has been described as the most cynical and low quality Final ever. West Germany won with a penalty 5 minutes from the end of a truly terrible game.  Don’t forget to tune in on Saturday! Argentina to win through though.

So letting down South America will be Paraguay, in what I see as a game too far and Spain at last playing to their potential.

South America 3 Europe 1?

01 July 2010 – Day 21

Well I survived a day without any World Cup football to watch and a very pleasant evening it was too, spent having a BBQ. Inevitably though, the conversation did turn to the World Cup and the question of whether the best 32 teams actually qualify for the tournament.

Looking at the top 32 teams as per the FIFA rankings (May 2010) as sponsored by Coca-Cola (I kid you not), 75% made it to South Africa. The teams that made it to South Africa  but are currently outside the top 32 are as follows (rank in brackets):

Slovakia (34), Denmark (36), Honduras (38), Japan (45), South Korea (47), New Zealand (78), South Africa (83) and North Korea (105).

The teams that have missed out are:

Croatia (10), Russia (11), Egypt (12), Norway (22), Ukraine (23), Israel (26), Romania (28) and Turkey (29).

You’ll notice that the list of teams that missed out are predominantly European and this is because of the way the Groups are set up and how subsequently Qualification works. The teams actually at the 2010 World Cup are more representative of countries from all over the globe and the various football federations, which is a FIFA aim.

I had a look at trying to see how the ranking are worked out. In simple terms it is about the fixtures played in the last four years and points earned calculated with regard to match result, match status, opposition strength and regional strength. That is a very, very simple explanation. There are all sorts of variations and calculations that come into it. If you want to fry your brain please go to the link below.


However, lets take the situation that we do away with Qualification through Groups and instead it is based on ranking positions. So regardless of whether the tournament is the African Cup of Nations, European Championships or World Cup, entry to those events is based on ranking position. How do you play it? Do you go for fixtures against the big guns away in the hope of picking up wins and therefore major ranking points? Or is it a home fixture list filled with games against Anguilla, Montserrat, American Samoa, Central African Republic and Papua New Guinea (currently the bottom 5 ranked teams in the world)? Can you imagine the permutations as opponents are selected on the basis of their points?

In this scenario, who would the ideal England Manager be? They’d have the profile of a cross between a Bond villain and a Panto baddie. I like the idea already…….

30 June 2010 – Day 20

Well I said I was being risky yesterday with my choices and I came unstuck with both, as Paraguay and Spain went through. Portugal’s exit was worth it, just to see Ronaldo whinge and whine his way through 90 minutes to no avail. Another “big” player and a World Cup which has done nothing to enhance his reputation.

Two days with no games until the Quarter Finals on Friday, so it will be strange tonight not be settling down with a beer about 7.30pm to watch a game. And all of a sudden everything around me seems quiet, a definite lull. I’m suddenly thinking about how Fulham will manage if “Sir” Roy departs to Anfield, about Leeds chances in the Championship and that the transfer market involving the Premier League teams has been quiet. This calm is just the prelude to the impending conclusion of the World Cup, which will release a surge of activity that will be a storm of change as the domestic season looms on the horizon.

29 June 2010 – Day 19

Yesterdays predictions as predictable as they were (Netherlands and Brazil) came to pass – 5 out of 6. I don’t need to tell you who let me down do I? The Netherlands have crept under the radar so far, with the biggest Dutch story to date being that involving the orange clad ladies who attempted an “alleged” promotion for a non-official beer. The Dutch could be a bit of an outside bet this year, but have to come up against Brazil in the Quarter Finals. The Brazil game was a bit of a curious one in that both Chile and Brazil were very robust, but there was a some sublime skill. I did enjoy the game and didn’t recognise it as being the same sport that I witnessed on Sunday afternoon. Today will see the last two Quarter Finalists emerge. There hasn’t been any penalties to date, so is today the day? Two very tight looking fixtures. Possibly risky, but going to go with Japan to overcome Paraguay and Portugal over Spain. One or both of these games to go to penalties.

Given this time of year and the exam season is in full swing, here’s a little test for your all. First your questions:

(1) If you go to work in a country that has a different language and it is not the language of your birth, does this make communication and the ability to express yourself difficult?

(2) Apart from the land you are born in and grow up in, can you understand what it means to be a citizen of another, understand their ways and feel patriotic about that country?

(3) You are losing in a crucial game and need to make a change quickly. Would you simply make a straight swap of a nimble quick footed striker and replace him with one who has not got a great strike rate?

Secondly your essay question:

(1) Players from other competing nations at the World represented a Premier League side that played 60+ games in the season just gone. None of them have so far complained about tiredness. Discuss.

Answers to The FA please……………

28 June 2010 – Day 18

It is quite difficult to know what to write this morning. The plain and painful truth of it all is that England are out of the World Cup. I’ve talked about reality and expectation before in these pieces, so will look at the reality of what has happened as I see it.

England were unconvincing in the three Group games against so-called weaker opposition and then taken apart by what was perceived as an average and inexperienced German team. This points directly to a set of players who failed to perform and a manager who seemed unable to lift the squad and provide tactical alternatives. There has been some tensions between the players and management, which surfaced in John Terry’s ill-advised (as I see it) conference after the Algeria game. England were supposed to have some World class players in their squad and a suitably experienced manager of international quality. Really? I didn’t see any evidence of this in the four games. Whether you look at defense, midfield or attack, where were the pluses to draw out of the campaign?

This morning there will be an outcry about the disallowed effort from Lampard that would have made the game all square at 2 all and how this changed the outcome. The fact is that we will never know. Some will argue that the momentum would have been with England and they would have gone onto win. My opinion is that, the way we defended suggests to me that we would still have lost. All that I hope is that FIFA relents and considers goal-line technology again.

I’m at a loss also as to the timing of Mr Capello signing a new contract. Surely a contract which runs from tournament to tournament would be better? And why if he intends to stay on in the post is he meeting so quickly with the FA? Taxi for Fabio?

Apologies if this seems as disjointed as England in this World Cup. I’m a disappointed and bemused England fan this morning. What also upsets me is the thought that in early August, SKY will be telling us all that everything is rosy in the garden and that the best League in the World is back. I don’t give a damn about that, I want an England team I can be proud of.

With my 100% tipping record gone – top work England, I’m ploughing on and going for the predictable choices of Netherlands and Brazil.

27 June 2010 – Day 17

So can I give up the day job and become a football pundit? Yesterday, I went for Uruguay and Ghana. In the afternoon kick-off, Uruguay did me proud and came through the 90 minutes in the rain at the less than full Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. As with so many of this tournaments games it featured another goalkeeping masterclass from the respective custodians. In the evening game, Ghana came through in extra-time with a peach of a winner. 100% record so far!

Who gets the nod for me today? Obviously England and though it pains me to say it – Argentina.

Today though there is only one thing on my mind. England against Germany, a fixture that we all know is “the one”. We’ve all got memories. It’s special to me as it was the first time I’d been to Wembley and the first time I’d watched England. It was a school trip and as a football mad 13 year old back in March 1975 I was just beside myself with excitement. I can still remember the coach journey and eventually getting to Wembley Way and seeing the Twin Towers gleaming under floodlights for the first time. I was stunned by how magnificent the Towers looked. Stadiums are just so much more atmospheric and magical for evening kick-offs. In Wembley’s case though, the darkness did much to hide the decaying old ground.

England’s line-up that night was as follows:

Clemence R (Liverpool), Withworth S (Leicester City), Gillard I (QPR), Bell C (Manchester City), Watson D (Sunderland), Todd C (Derby County), Ball A (Arsenal) – Captain, Channon M (Southampton), MacDonald M (Newcastle United), Hudson A (Stoke City), Keegan K (Liverpool). 

The West Germans had a strong looking line-up which included Sepp Maier, Berti Vogts, Franz Beckenbauer, Rainer Bonhof, Bernd Cullmann, Bernd Holzenbein and Jupp Heynckes.

England were in experimental mode under Don Revie with this game marking the debut of Alan Hudson, Steve Whitworth and Ian Gillard. Alan Ball was captaining England for the first time. On a wet night and with a pitch that quickly cut up (sound familiar?), England got stuck into West Germany and went ahead through a deflected Colin Bell shot. One nil at half time. England continued to press in the second half and were rewarded with a second from Malcolm McDonald, a trademark header.

My first game at Wembley ended 2-0; England beating the World Champions. International football? Nothing to it. England World Cup Winners 1978 was a certainty!

The rest as they say is history………..

26 June 2010 – Day 16

Halfway point of the 2010 World Cup. The Group Phase is behind us and now for the next four days the last 16 teams battle for a Quarter Final place. The pressure is cranked up as our old friends extra time and penalties bring their unique brand of pleasure and pain to the occasion. As fans do we prefer that the games finish in 90 minutes? Personally, the spectacle and drama of penalties is fine, as long as your team isn’t involved!

And so to today. Uruguay against South Korea is first up this afternoon. My head says that Uruguay will come through this game in normal time as I was really impressed with them in their last outing against South Africa. Forlan was outstanding and could be an outside bet for leading scorer in the competition. My heart says South Korea on penalties. However, if I had to put hard cash on the result, I’d go for the South American team to progress.

Later this evening, Ghana take on USA. The Americans for me are nothing more than a workmanlike side and my worry is that they could easily frustrate the talented Ghanaian team and nick the game in extra time. I hope that for the sake of the competition the attacking flair of Ghana enables African representation in the Quarter Finals. My prediction, Ghana.

Enjoy today, because we all know what tomorrow brings…………..

25 June 2010 – Day 15

Group F kicked off the afternoon fixtures, with various permutations possible. Paraguay needed a draw against New Zealand to progress. However, if the All Whites won that game, then they would be through. Holders Italy needed to beat Slovakia to be certain of going through, but knew a draw would be enough if New Zealand lost. If Slovakia beat Italy, they would sneak through, but only if New Zealand beat Paraguay and even then, goal difference would come into play. A more tangled web than your average bowl of spaghetti!

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I would have loved to have taken the time off to watch the Italy game. True drama with all the theatricals that we have come to expect from the Azzuri. Instead it was a reliance on the internet and BBC updates.

The evening belonged to Group E, with the Dutch through, a draw against already eliminated Cameroon would see the Netherlands top the Group. A draw for Japan against Denmark and they were through, although the Danes would grab the runners-up spot if they won.

I opted for watching the Japan game and was not disappointed by the Blue Samurai’s attacking prowess in their 3-1 win over the Danes. Although viewers had to suffer the various car puns relating to Japanese forward Honda, with classics such as “…what a Rolls Royce performance…” and Harry Redknapp’s quip that he tried to swap “…Honda for Bentley…”. Who know what gems lay in store if Japan progress further?

And so to the final day of Group games….

2010 World Cup Hosts                    Gone

2006 World Cup Runners-Up       Gone

2006 World Cup Winners               Gone

2008 European Champions          Going?

24 June 2010 – Day 14

“…Que sera sera, what ever will be will be, we’re into the last 16, que sera, sera…”

 Credit where credit is due. The pressure was on the England team and the management and they came through it. It was a much improved performance and was achieved without too many heart in the mouth moments. Although I wonder what would have been said if the attempt at a block by John Terry (where he looked like a goldfish after falling out of his bowl), had spiraled off his head for an own goal. “Made in Leeds” Milner came up with some fantastic crosses and the shin of Defoe did the rest for our only goal.

So the flags and enthusiasm continues around the country until Sunday at least. All I ask that there is a balance of reality against expectation in the days leading up to the game. Speculating about football is like all sports, it’s about head and heart feelings. Having watched the Germans in action in their three games, my head tells me that they are a good side who will beat England. However, if we applied such logic as a fan, we’d never turn up to games if we didn’t dream or hope in our heart that our side can win. What I’m trying to say is that the result for the Algeria game was seen as the end of the world, just as yesterdays result is hyped up to be world class. Football punditry has meant everything is over analysed and is seen in a scale that is only either calamitous or magnificent. If England are good enough on the day to win, I’ll be as pleased as anybody and if we get beat, and it was by a better team, then let’s say it.

Finally, commiserations to Slovenia, Algeria and my sweepstake team Serbia on their exit from the World Cup. As for Australia, what a fantastic few days. Beaten by England on their own soil at Rugby Union, lost to England at cricket in the 1st One Day International and out of the World Cup. What was that you said Harry Kewell? Can’t wait to play England in the last 16?

23 June 2010 – Day 13

In Group A, going into the game Uruguay and Mexico knew that if they drew they would both progress to the last 16. Anybody for a draw then? However, that would have meant Mexico finishing as runners-up and a probable meeting with Argentina in the knock-out stages. A win for either side would have given an opportunity for France and South Africa to progress. However, that would not necessarily have been enough due to their poor goal differences.

The pre-match build-up though was dominated by the story of a possible boycott of the fixture by certain French players after Anelka-gate. The implosion by the French has surpassed that of the Dutch in previous years and I’m sure people tuned into watch our Gaelic cousins game against the host country with morbid fascination. And for 45 minutes they didn’t disappoint. Down to 10 men and 2 nil down. Meanwhile, Uruguay were 1 up and South Africa were suddenly believing they could sneak through. However, the French hadn’t read the script entirely, improved in the second half, scored and both games fizzled out. South Africa were out and I’ll miss the joy, spirit and moving image of the players singing in the tunnel before each game. France – well they were a disgrace. A team who had the charm, cohesiveness and warmth of rubble.

So to the evening kick-offs which featured the conclusion of Group B. Argentina were as good as through, so the interest lay in who would finish second where all three teams were in with a shout. South Korea had to match Greece’s result against Argentina to go through, as long as they didn’t lose. If they lost, Greece could go through with a draw. However, if Nigeria beat South Korea and Greece lost, the Africans would go through as runners-up. As a certain meerkat would say “simples”.

As it turned out Greece displayed little attacking intention, lost 2 nil and so went out. They’ll not be missed. The drama was all in the South Korea and Nigeria game. A see-saw affair which included the miss of the tournament by Yakubu. Not a good day for the African countries, but credit to South Korea for making it through.

As for 3pm this afternoon and England……que sera sera.