FIFA World Cup 2014 – Friday 20 June 2014

Not sure where to start really…

Another defeat that wasn’t altogether a surprise. I just curse myself for not doing the obvious and sticking a bet on Suarez to get the first goal. I don’t even feel that disappointed just rather weary, more deflated than devastated. I just hope we are put out of misery tonight and Italy and Costa Rica draw, so that England’s exit is confirmed.

Steven Gerrard has had a wretched end to the season. In the Chelsea game at the back end of last season his mistake planted the seed of doubt about Liverpool’s title credentials, which grew into a massive banana skin at Crystal Palace. Last night, Gerrard was implicated in the two Uruguay goals. His lazy/tired/half-hearted effort at a tackle on the half-way line allowed the ball to be spread wide for the cross that led to the first goal. For the second his lazy/tired/half-hearted effort at a header let in Suarez for the second. That might seem harsh, but at the beginning of the tournament I questioned Gerrard’s place in the side. However, he wasn’t the only one to blame for the goals. Neither Jagielka nor Cahill covered themselves in glory as their positional play was questionable for both the Suarez efforts was poor. And if I’m really being picky, I thought Joe Hart didn’t stay up making himself big enough for the second trike.

Despite the same starting eleven as for the Italy game, the same spark and thrust seemed missing. Sterling too often ran into trouble and the passing in the final third was poor all evening. Rooney was given his wish to be ‘the main man’ and despite his goal did nothing to cement his reputation as England’s leading player. Apart from the European Championships in 1996, Rooney has never lived up to his billing. Top players perform on the big stage and clearly he has failed once again to do that. I hope he’ll do the decent thing and retire from International Football, rather than see him in the European Qualifiers collecting goals against the minnows of San Marino and Lithuania. It’s a disturbing thought that he could become England’s leading scorer when for me he’s not fit to lace the boots of Bobby Charlton.

“We’re going home, we’re going home, England’s going home” (apologies to Baddiel and Skinner).

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Thursday 19 June 2014

Well what a night that was…

It all kicked-off with a bit of a thriller between Australia and Netherlands. When Jedinak scored from the spot to put Australia 2-1 early in the second-half, the mad world that has been Group B looked to have another unforeseen story to tell. However, van Persie quickly brought the Dutch level and sealed victory with a goal from Memphis Depay. It could have been so different for the Socceros, as minutes before the Dutch winner Mathew Leckie had a glorious chance to put Australia ahead which went begging.

Netherlands through, Australia out.

The drama continued as we watched to see if World Champions Spain could get their tournament back on track. Was the defeat to the Netherlands just a blip? Well by half-time Chile were 2-0 ahead with goals from Vargas and Aranguiz and Spain were looking devoid of ideas and seemed resigned to defeat.

Chile through, Spain out.

To round off the evening it was back to Group A and Croatia against Cameroon. The Africans imploded in this one, going behind early to a goal from Olic and had Song sent off making it an almost impossible task to get back into the game. Croatia strolled to a 4-0 win with second-half goals from Perisic and two from Mandzukic. As if that wasn’t bad enough, two Cameroon players, Moukandjo and Assou-Ekotto, ended up in argument, with the later seemingly head-butting his teammate.

Cameroon out. Croatia still in the mix to qualify to the knock-out phases.

And so to today…

Group C has Columbia take on Ivory Coast and Japan take on Greece. However, squeezed in between those games is the torture and agony that will be England against Uruguay. Up and down the country we’ll gather round our televisions like moths to a candle to see whether we’ll crash and burn in defeat or bathe in the warm glow of victory.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Wednesday 18 June 2014

Group H

 Belgium (0) 2 – 1 (1) Algeria

Good managers made decisive decisions that change the course of games.

At half-time Belgium were behind to a penalty converted by Feghouli and were frankly struggling. Marc Wilmots made three changes during the second period and two of them, Fellaini and Mertens came up with the goals that won the game.


Group A

Brazil (0) 0 – 0 (0) Mexico

Only the second draw of the Finals so far, but one that Mexico more than deserved.

Ochoa was outstanding in goal for Mexico making three brilliant saves, but the Mexicans were also an attacking threat with several shots on goal in the second-half.

The more I watch Brazil in the tournament the more I dislike them. As in the game against Croatia, it was Marcelo who irked me as he threw himself to the floor to try and win a penalty with two minutes remaining in the game.

Note to FIFA: ability to retrospectively book players should be considered.


Group H

Russia (0) 1 – 1 (0) South Korea

The day ended with another game low on quality, but high on goalkeeping errors. Neither Korean custodian Jung Sung-ryong nor his Russian compatriot Akinfeev will look back on this game with any distinction.

Akinfeev had looked vulnerable to long-range efforts in the first-half, but his clanger to give South Korea was horrible to watch, as a shot from Lee Keun-ho squirmed from the keepers grasp and over the line.

Jung Sung-ryong in the Korean goal was also unconvincing during the game and he will have be disappointed in his part in the Russian equaliser, as his attempt to stop a cross-shot was only palmed away, where Kerzakov gratefully swept it home.

Note: I bet Rob Green enjoyed watching this one…


* * * * * * * * *


In previous tournaments things haven’t got interesting until the second round of group fixtures. Brazil 2014 has bucked that trend, as the opening round of games have for the most part been open and full of goals. The reality is that for some teams their World Cup will be over after the second round of games. Today nervously looking at their room reservations are the following:


Group B

Australia v Netherlands

Of course the obvious thing to say is that the Dutch will win this at a canter after putting the World Champions to the sword in their opening game. Australia don’t exactly look like a team in form after their opening 3-1 beating at the hands of Chile. But this tournament has not been easy to call at all – could there really be an upset?

These sides have met three times previously, with two draws and a win for Australia in 2008, when a Harry Kewell penalty and a goal from Joshua Kennedy saw them win 2-1.

Can they? Really?


Spain v Chile

The big question is whether Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque will make significant changes or will he keep faith with the side that collapsed so spectacularly against the Netherlands? Chile have never beaten Spain in their 10 meetings, but will be hoping it is third time lucky in terms of World Cup games against Spain.

The teams played each other in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, when Spain emerged 2-0 winners and in South Africa in 2010, when the Spaniards won 2-1. Both games as with this fixture were at the group stages.

A draw tonight would make the last round of games very interesting…


Group A

Cameroon v Croatia

These two sides have never played each other before and having lost their opening game, this meeting is hugely significant as a loss for either is check-out time. Croatia will feel slightly aggrieved with their loss to the hosts in the opening game, and if they use that injustice in a positive way they could collect a win here.

Tantrums and fouls aplenty as a draw is played out?


FIFA World Cup 2014 – Tuesday 17 June 2014

Group G

Germany (3) 4 – 0 (0) Portugal

Another result at these Finals that nobody would have predicted.

It was all over by half-time as Germany were 3-0 ahead and Portugal down to 10 men. The first-half was all about Thomas Muller as he converted an early penalty and grabbed Germany’s third goal on the stroke of half-time. He was also involved in the incident on 37 minutes that saw Pepe sent-off for Portugal. The Real Madrid defender tangled with Muller and his hand made contact with the Germans face. However, the reaction by the German forward was ludicrous and Pepe, feeling Muller had overacted, then head-butted the German. The incident displayed once again the canker that is commonplace in the modern game in terms of the feigning of injury to get players sent-off – basically cheating.

It meant that the second-half was a pretty meaningless watch as Germany slowed the pace and Portugal struggled in the heat. The Germans created a number of chances, but only took one as villain of the peace Muller completed his hat-trick.

Note to FIFA, do something that would make a significant impact on the game and come up with a way to stop diving, feigning injury etc. instead of the daft regulations on the kits teams can and can’t wear.


Group F 

Iran (0) 0 – 0 (0) Nigeria

Well we had to have a draw sooner or later. In truth this was a pretty poor game, devoid of much quality. Credit to Iran.


Group G 

Ghana (0) 1 – 2 (1) USA

Oh Clint, why didn’t you show such spark at the Cottage this season? A skilful finish from Captain America gave the USA a first minute lead that looked like it was the winner as the game entered the last ten minutes. With just eight minutes to go, Ghana were level with a well worked goal. A lovely back-heel from Asamoah Gyan put in Ayew who finished cleanly. However, USA were to be denied and with four minutes to go, John Brooks headed home a late winner. Ghana will rue the way they conceded the corner for the goal and the fact that of the 21 shots they had on goal, only 3 were on target.


Tomorrow, in a slightly odd arrangement, the second round of group games begins before the first round has been completed.

 Group A

 Brazil v Mexico

The two unbeaten sides in Group A go head-to-head. Brazil will undoubtedly take three points, with a little help from the 12th man…


Group H 

Belgium v Algeria

Belgium qualified comfortably ahead of runners-up Croatia by 8 points, in a group that also contained Wales and Scotland. For Algeria it was a much tighter run thing as they emerged winners from their CAF play-off on away goals. The Algerians lost 3-2 to Burkina Faso, but a goal from ex-Rangers Madjid Bougherra put them through.

Nearly half the Belgium squad currently play in England and include, Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Nacer Chadli (all Spurs), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj (both Manchester United), Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas (both Everton), Eden Hazard (Chelsea) and Simon Mignolet (Liverpool). They have a talented squad and maybe could be a bit of a ‘dark-horse’ in these Finals.

For Algeria, Essaid Belkalem plays at Watford, whilst Nabil Bentaleb is at Spurs and Riyad Mahrez will be playing in the Premier League next season with Leicester City.

Surely Belgium will have too much for Algeria?


Russia v South Korea

The Russians topped their group but lost more games than runners-up Portugal. What got the Russians through though was that they drew fewer games than the Portuguese. South Korea came through after finishing as runners-up in the AFC qualifiers but only on goal-difference.

Russia are a rarity at these Finals in that their squad is entirely drawn from their own domestic competition. The same can’t be said for the Koreans. Amongst those playing in Britain are Yun Suk-young, who spent the end of last season at QPR, Kim Bo-kyung at Cardiff City, Kim Bo-kyung who was at Watford on-loan at the end of last season, Ki Sung-yueng who spent last season on-loan at Sunderland from Swansea and Lee Chung-yong at Bolton Wanderers.

Russia to take it in a tight game.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Monday 16 June 2014

Group E

Switzerland (0) 2 – 1 (1) Ecuador

A dramatic end to start the day’s games.

Enner Valencia headed Ecuador in front after 22 minutes, but how Swiss keeper Benaglio thought he’d save it by diving backwards into the net I’ll never know. Ecuador held the lead until half-time, but within three minutes of the restart, substitute Mehmedi headed home from a corner with the Ecuador defence static. Both sides had chances to win the game, but in time added-on as Rodriguez got down the left and crossed low for Seferovic to clinically finish and grab a spectacular winner for the Swiss.


France (1) 3 – 0 (0) Honduras

I’m not going to be critical of Honduras and their tactics. It could have worked in that it might have unsettled the French and provided a way into the game for Honduras. The fact is that if you go with very physical tactics, you know you are continually treading a thin line and as Palacios showed if you ‘live by the sword, you die by the sword’.

France will be relieved to have got this one out of the way.


Group F

 Argentina (0) 2 – 0 (1) Bosnia-Herzegovina

 A stilted display from Argentina. Although they were never in danger of losing the game once Messi put them 2-0. Bosnia got one late on, but it was too little too late.

 * * * * * * * * *

Tonight the games are: 

Group F

 Iran v Nigeria

 Iran qualified after finishing first in the AFC Group ahead of South Korea. Apart from a 4-0 win over Lebanon, Iran scored only four more goals in their remaining seven games, whilst conceding only two games in their eight qualifiers. Nigeria are the current Africa Cup of Nations Champions and qualified for Brazil after a 4-1 aggregate win over Ethiopia.

I’m all for the underdog Iran, especially as Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah is amongst their ranks and in our relegation season was one of the better players. Whilst born in Tehran, his family moved to Germany when he was a child and his club football has seen him appear for Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg. He played for Germany from Under 17s right up to Under 21s, but opted to play for the country of his birth making his debut in 2012.

The Nigerian squad is a nomadic bunch, with the 23 man squad drawn from thirteen different countries, with the biggest contingent (seven) drawn from Britain – Joseph Yobo (Norwich City), Efe Ambrose (Celtic), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City), John Obi Mikel (Chelsea), Victor Moses (Liverpool), Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough) and Shola Ameobi (Newcastle United).

No betting irregularities here as Nigeria cruise to s 2-0 win.


Group G

Germany v Portugal

My office sweepstake team, Germany, make their first appearance in these Finals in one of the games of the opening rounds of fixtures against Portugal. The Germans topped their qualifying group finishing unbeaten and 8 points ahead of second-placed Sweden. Ironically it was the Swedes that Portugal beat in the Play-offs to secure their place in Brazil. Ronaldo scored the only goal in the first-leg in Lisbon and was also to prove the hero in the second-leg. He gave Portugal the lead in the game in Solna, but two goals from Ibrahimovic looked like taking the tie to extra-time. However, Ronaldo got two in two minutes to grab a hat-trick and seal a 4-2 win.

Only six of the German squad play outside the Bundesliga, including the Arsenal trio of Mertesacker, Ozil and Podolski, Chelsea’s Schurrle, and two in Italy, [Mustafi, who was briefly at Everton but now plays for Sampdoria, and Klose (Lazio)]. The Portuguese squad has few players with any experience of the English Premier League, the exceptions being Raul Meireles, who had spells at both Liverpool and Chelsea, Nani who is still at Old Trafford and of course Ronaldo. In addition, Helder Postiga was briefly at Spurs.

Does this game hold a shock score like Spain v Netherlands or are we about the see a cagey draw between two of the European heavyweights?


Ghana v USA

 The image of Suarez celebrating in the tunnel after his sending-off as Ghana missed a potentially match winning penalty, still burns unpleasantly in my memory from the 2010 World Cup. Four years later Ghana are back in the Finals again after a comfortable 7-3 aggregate win over Egypt in the CAF Qualifying stages. USA were top of their CONCACAF Qualifying Groups finishing four points clear of runners-up Costa Rica.

It’s funny how you can go off a player. USA captain Clint Dempsey was a hero at Fulham for his whole-hearted effort and of course THAT goal against Juventus in the UEFA Europa League. He then buggered off to Spurs citing that he needed to at a big club playing European football – and we know how that worked out. He then came back to Fulham for a loan spell this season (essentially to keep himself fit prior to the MLS season and World Cup), contributing nothing in the games he played and further tarnishing his reputation down in SW6.

The rest of the USA squad contains a sprinkling of English Premier League experience including keepers Tim Howard (Everton) and Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland) and Geoff Cameron (Stoke City). The only Ghanian currently playing in England is Albert Adomah, who plays for Middlesbrough, but was born in one of my old stomping grounds in South London, Lambeth.

I hoping for a fluent display from Ghana and a win, although the USA are a dogged bunch and could draw their African opponents into a stilted draw.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Sunday 15 June 2014

Group C

Columbia (1) 3 -0 (0) Greece

A comfortable looking win for Columbia, but it doesn’t tell the whole story of this game. The South American team went ahead on 5 minutes, from a Amero shot which Greek defender Kostas Manolas should have cleared, but instead scuffed it and it crept agonizingly away from keeper Karnezis’s despairing dive. Greece had two good chances in the first-half both falling to Kone. The second of which, just before the break, brought a decent save from Columbian keeper Ospina. 1-0 at half-time.

Columbia made Greece pay on 58 minutes, when poor defending from a corner left Gutierrez unchallenged to knock over from close range. The Greeks though could have got back into the game, but with the goal at his mercy Gekas managed to direct his header against the bar when it seemed easier to score. The points were secured in time added-on when Karnezis in the Greek goal offered only a weak hand allowing Rodriguez’s shot into the corner.

Post-match question. Why wasn’t Samaras booked for a blatant dive in the second-half?


Group D

Uruguay (1) 1 – 3 (0) Costa Rica

A shock result in Group D as the side expected to finish bottom turned a 1-0 half-time deficit around with second-half goals from Campbell (54 minutes), Duarte (57) and Urena (84).

Post-match question. Are Uruguay a demoralised outfit after this defeat or will they be now a very dangerous animal come next Thursday?


England (1) 1 – 2 (1) Italy

So we didn’t get the mauling I feared, but the reality is that England have lost their opening game and so the pressure is cranked up for the Uruguay and Costa Rica fixtures.

On reflection from the game last night, I feel like a parent receiving their child’s end of term report. It’s not what you had hoped for, but can’t be too hard on the kid as you know they have tried hard.

‘Sir’ Roy will always have a special place in my heart for what he did at Fulham and feel that he is one of the last football ‘gents’ (witness him shaking hands with all the Italians substitutes prior to kick-off). He gave us last night a glimpse of a younger England team which whilst raw and sometimes naïve did provide some cause for optimism.

Italy are a decent side and their possession and ability to slow the tempo will mean for me they are Europe’s main threat in these Finals.

* * * * * * * * *


Well by the time I’d got up, one game had already finished as the Group C fixture between Japan and Ivory Coast was at 02:00 this morning. Japan took the lead through Honda with a sweet left foot shot but were beaten by two second-half headed goals. They both came within the space of two minutes, first a flicked header from Bony and then one from Gervinho, which the Japanese keeper should have dealt better with,

The rest of today follows with the familiar pattern of games at 17:00, 20:00 and 23:00


Group E

Switzerland v Ecuador

The Swiss qualified for the Finals after finishing top of their group and going undefeated. However, the achievement is tempered when you look at who they played – Albania, Cyprus, Iceland, Norway and Slovenia. Ecuador took the last of the automatic spots in the CONMEBOL group finishing fourth.

Within the Swiss ranks, Reto Ziegler had spells in England with Spurs and Wigan Athletic, and a player I can’t believe is an international centre-back, Philippe Senderos. He (incredibly) lists Arsenal, AC Milan and Valencia amongst his clubs, but can only say he was for me a liability every time he pulled on a Fulham shirt. Villa fans you have been warned. Also boasting Arsenal as a previous club is Johan Djourou, with a brief loan spell at Birmingham City as well. Midfielder Valon Behrami was at West Ham between 2008 and 2011, whilst fellow midfield partner Gelson Fernandes was signed by Sven-Goran Eriksson for Manchester City and later Leicester City.

Watford fan’s will be anxious to see the new summer signing from Ecuador, Juan Carlos Paredes, in action, having moved from Barcelona (the Ecuadorian version, not the Spanish). Antonio Valencia Ecuador’s captain is the biggest name in their squad, the striker having joined Manchester United from Wigan in 2009. Another player with experience of Manchester (this time at City) is Felipe Caicedo, although he was unable to claim a regular starting spot.

This is a difficult one to call and may end up as an attritional draw.


France v Honduras

France had the dubious pleasure of being in the same qualifying group as Spain, so had to settle for a runners-up berth and only got to the Finals after a dramatic play-off victory against Ukraine. The French lost 2-0 in Kiev and seemed to have a difficult task in the return leg. However, France had wiped out the deficit by half-time with goals from Sakho and Benzema. Sakho emerged as the hero of the hour getting his second and the goal that sealed qualification for Brazil. Honduras took the last automatic qualification spot in the CONCACAF Group, finishing third behind USA and Costa Rica.

France could nearly field an entire team from England, with 10 players currently plying their trade in this country. They are, Lloris (Spurs), Debuchy (Newcastle United), Evra (Manchester United), Sakho (Liverpool), Sagna (Manchester City), Sissoko (Newcastle United), Schneiderlin (Southampton), Giroud (Arsenal) and Remy (QPR). In addition, Yohan Cabaye was recently at Newcastle United and Paul Pogba had a very brief spell at Old Trafford.

Honduras too can boast some British connections with Maynor Figueroa (Hull City), Juan Carlos García (Wigan Athletic), Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic), Wilson Palacios (Stoke City) and Roger Espinoza (Wigan Athletic).

As England can testify from their friendly in Miami, Honduras won’t be afraid to put their foot in. It could be an uncomfortable test for France, but I think Les Bleus will have too much talent and come through to win.


Group F

Argentina v Bosnia-Hercegovina

The ‘panto-villians’ that are Argentina, who count amongst their squad the Manchester City trio of Pablo Zabaleta, Martín Demichelis and Sergio Agüero and of course the World’s Best Player Lionel Messi. However, despite all the talent in their ranks, they just aren’t cuddly are they? How I’d love an upset Italia ’90 style in this game.

Bosnia-Hercegovina qualified by winning their group, but it was on goal-difference after they finished level on points with Greece. This game will be a bit of an Etihad reunion as Edin Dzeko is likely to lead the front-line for Bosnia. The Premier League connection is added to by Stoke City keeper Asmir Begovic, who will need to be at his very best to keep Argentina at bay.

An imperious 3-0 win for La Albiceleste could well be on the cards. Oh no it isn’t…oh yes it is…

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Saturday 14 June 2014

Today for me (and I presume most of the country) is all about the last game of the day. However, as I write there’s a tension in my guts and its hard to concentrate. Anyway, first to yesterdays fixtures:

Group A

Mexico (0) 1 – 0 (0) Cameroon

As with the opening game yesterday, the major talking point concerned the inadequacies of the match-officials. Mexico should have been 2-0 ahead at half-time, as Giovani dos Santos had two efforts disallowed. Both were given offside, but on each occasion, the officials made the wrong call. However, it wasn’t just these decisions that were poor. Cameroon midfielder Mbia deliberately put his forearm into his Mexican opponents face, but wasn’t even booked. The African team offered little in the opening forty five minutes, although Eto’o did have one chance which hit the post. 0-0 at half-time.

Into the second-half and the torrential rain that had been a feature of the opening half continued. On 61 minutes, Mexico deservedly went ahead. A good move ended with a ball into the box where Giovani dos Santos had his shot saved by Itandje, however, Peralta was on hand to sweep the rebound home. This forced Cameroon to come out of their shell and they did improve in the last 15 minutes. They nearly snatched an undeserved draw in the final minute when Benjamin Moukandjo was free in the box, but Guillermo Ocho in goal saved the header well. Mexico nearly got a second when in the last of the four added minutes, Javier Hernandez was unmarked in the box, but he blazed wildly over.

Thankfully despite the poor officiating, Mexico were deserved 1-0 winners.

Note to Clarke Carlisle, every sentence doesn’t have to end with the word ‘Sam’.

Group B

Spain (1) 1 – 5 (1) Netherlands

Well who saw that coming? With a minute to go in the first-half the World Champions were ahead 1-0 through a Xabi Alonso penalty (which had come on 27 minutes) and Spain were looking on course for a winning start to the defence of their title. However, a stunning diving header from Robin van Persie just before the break changed the momentum of this fixture.

Incredibly Spain conceded four goals without reply in the second-half to suffer a mauling at the hands of the marauding Dutch 5-1. The once imperious Spanish keeper Casillas looked as vulnerable as his back four as the Netherlands were able to play through the middle, almost at will. Casillas was helpless on 53 minutes as Robben brilliantly controlled Van Persie’s long ball, cut inside and lashed home for a 2-1 lead. However, the Spanish keeper must take the blame for the next two goals. First he flapped at a cross allowing de Vrij to head home on 64 minutes and worse was to follow 8 minutes later, when Casillas miscontrolled a back-pass gifting Van Persie his second of the game. The rout was complete 10 minutes from time when Robben outpaced the cover, taking the ball past Casillas and firing home with two Spanish players helpless on the goal-line.

One game doesn’t mean that Spain are suddenly a bad side, but their coach Vicente Del Bosque had a haunted look about him at the final whistle.

Note to Louis Van Gaal – work needed on the ‘high-five’ celebration.

Chile (2) 3 – 1 (1) Australia

What more can you ask for? A spine-less defensive display from Australia that was as yellow as their shirts. Two goals down within the opening 15 minutes after goals from Sanchez and Valdívia, the Aussies looked like they were in for a heavy defeat. However, 10 minutes before the break Tim Cahill outjumped his marker to reduce the deficit to 2-1.

The second-half was a more even affair and Chilean keeper Bravo made a smart save to stop an effort from Bresciano. Chile though had their chances and the goal-line technology was called into play after a Vargas effort was cleared by Alex Wilkinson, and showed it was not a goal. The South Americans weren’t to be denied though as in the closing minutes Beausejour scored a third to secure the points.

Taxi for the Socceros!

* * * * * * * * *

So that was yesterday, but before England take to he field there are two other fixtures being played.

Group C

Columbia v Greece (17:00)

Columbia qualified having finished as runners-up in the CONMEBOL Group to Argentina, whilst Greece came through the UEFA runners-up play-offs after a 4-2 aggregate win over Romania.

This is a game I’ll be avoiding as any appearance by Greek skipper Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Mitroglou, will only serve to remind me of their part in Fulham’s relegation. Although in the case of Mitroglou, Fulham fans might not recognise him, given that although he was signed in January 2014, he started just one game.

For their part in Fulham’s downfall, I’m hoping the Greeks suffer defeat.

Group D

Uruguay v Costa Rica (20:00)

The hosts of the first World Cup (1930) Uruguay qualified after a 5-0 aggregate win over Jordan in the AFC/CONMEBOL play-off game. Costa Rica came through after finishing runner-up to USA in the final round of qualifying from CONCACAF.

Another game to be avoided for me, as Costa Rica feature the prolific Bryan Ruiz. Well, prolific at every club he has played for apart from Fulham.

Uruguay to pinch all three points with a 1-0 win.

England v Italy (23:00)

Just dreading watching the game. The dark cloud that hung over me as Fulham were relegated from the Premier League, has followed me into the World Cup. I just can’t see anything other than an Italy win, and I fear it could even be as bad as a 4-0 drubbing.

Perhaps I’m just better off not watching today…somebody tell me when it’s Sunday.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Friday 13 June 2014

Group A

Brazil (1) 3 – 1 (1) Croatia

There is only one word for me after the opening game yesterday, that being, ‘embarrassing’.

The reason for this?

  1. The FIFA ‘doves of peace’. What a completely empty gesture.
  2. The ‘snow-spray’ used to mark 10 yards at free-kicks. What ever happened to referee’s actually being able to apply the rules and take charge of a game.
  3. The Croatian keeper. At fault for all three goals. Beaten by a long-range bobbler of a shot, parried the penalty into his own net and then conceded a hopeful toe-poke.
  4. The referee. Gave a joke of a penalty to Brazil and seemed to favour the hosts whenever he could.
  5. Brazilian defender Marcelo. Went down instantly anytime anybody had the temerity to tackle him.
  6. Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. Not only for his running on the pitch to try and get a Croatian player booked during the game, but his post-match defence of the match referee.
  7. The TV producer who decide to show the goal-line technology decision as the ball nestled in the back of the Brazilian net.
  8. The oversized board used by the fourth official. The sponsors of it are certainly getting their monies worth.
  9. The ITV ‘expert’ panel of ‘Patrick’, ‘Lee’ and ‘Fabio’ fronted by ‘Adrian’. No wonder the protestors tried to break into their studio.
  10. Andy Townsend. Could he possibly be any more sycophantic over a frankly ordinary Brazilian team?


The match details? Croatia started the opening ten minutes well and deservedly went ahead on 11 minutes. Olic had space out wide and his low cross was scuffed by Jelavic, but went in off Marcelo as the Brazilian defender tracked back. Brazil were struggling to find any rhythm or fluidity, but were fortunate that a poorly hit long-range effort from Neymar bobbled past Pletikosa into the corner of the net. 1-1 at half-time.

In the second-half, Croatia did not look troubled and looked to be heading for a deserved point. However, the game turned on 71 minutes. As the ball was played into the Croatian box, Dejan Lovren was inconceivably penalised for a foul on Fred. The Brazilian should have been booked for diving, but instead Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot. Neymar took the penalty, which Pletikosa, having guessed the right way, managed to parry it from one hand to the other and into the net. With the game entering the final minutes, the referee ignored a blatant foul in the centre circle and from this Oscar toe-poked a third Brazilian goal, with Pletikosa slow to get down compounded by being out of position.

So what delights await today?


Group A

Mexico v Cameroon (17:00)

Mexico qualified for the Finals after a 9-3 aggregate CONCACAF/OFC play-off victory over New Zealand. The squad features some familiar names to the Premier League, although the only one still playing in the competition is Javier Hernandez at Old Trafford. Others to have spent time on these shores include Carlos Salcido who had a spell at Fulham, although he never really settled in London and returned to Mexico in 2012. Another Mexican who had a spell in the capital was Giovani dos Santos who in 2008 joined Spurs and a brief loan spell Ipswich Town in 2009.

Cameroon finished top of their qualifying group which included Libya, DR Congo and Togo. Their path to Brazil was secured after a 4-1 aggregate over Tunisia in the Knock-out phase of the qualifiers. When thinking about the current squad, most people automatically come up with the name of the well-travelled Samuel Eto’o who spent last season at Chelsea. Another spending time in London last season was defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto who played for QPR on-loan from Spurs. Others with England on their CV include keeper Charles Itandje who whilst at Liverpool was ostracised after apparently acting in a disrespectful manner during the Hillsborough Memorial Service in 2009. Alex Song had a long and successful spell at Arsenal before moving to Barcelona, whilst North of the Border, Celtic fans may remember Landry N’Guemo’s loan in 2009/10. Stephane Mbia played at Lotus Road during 2012, but spent last season on-loan at Sevilla where he picked up a UEFA Europa League winners medal. Also spending some time in West London was Eyong Enoh who had a very brief loan spell at the end of the 2012/13 season for Fulham.

It’s not a game that has my pulse racing and this could well be a cagey game which ends in a draw.


Group B

Spain v Netherlands (20:00)

This is the pick of the games on Day 2, with a repeat of the 2010 World Cup Final. To be honest I’d be happy to see another contest that has the edge that it did four years ago, although I would be incredibly surprised if that happened.

The current World Champions romped their qualifying group winning every game against the Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, and Scotland. It’s possibly the most famous squad in Europe and they simply need no introduction.

Netherlands also topped their group, and like Spain were pretty imperious, drawing just one game (a surprising 2-2 result against Estonia) in a group which also included, Andorra, Hungary, Turkey and Romania. The Dutch manager, Louis van Gaal is likely to be under the scrutiny of the press as much as his players, as after the tournament, the joys of taking charge at Old Trafford awaits. The teams experience is in its midfield and attack where the likes of Nigel de Jong, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben supply the ammunition for Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Neither side will want to lose this opener and this has the hint of a 0-0 about it.


Chile v Australia (23:00)

The last game of the day sees the two underdogs in Group B play. Chile qualified automatically after coming third in the CONMEBOL table, alongside Argentina, Columbia and Ecuador. Keeper Johnny Herrera played at Everton, but before those from Goodison Park start denying it, it should be said this is Chilean side Everton de Vina del Mar. A player who did grace the Premier League last season was Gary Medel, who was part of the Cardiff City team that suffered relegation. Gonzalo Jara has been playing in England since 2008 with spells at WBA, Brighton and Nottingham Forest. Jara would have come up against compatriot Jean Beausejour last season in the Championship, as the later was at Wigan Athletic after a spell at Birmingham City. Journeyman Mauricio Pinilla has played all round Europe as as part of his tour and had a brief time in Scotland at Hearts.

Australia ended up as runners-up to Japan in their AFC group to qualify automatically. Their English contingent is not what it used to be, with the quality of Schwarzer, Neil, Lazaridis, Kewell and Viduka, long since gone. These days the Aussies are represented by the likes of Bailey Wright (Preston North End), Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace) and Massimo Luongo (Swindon Town).

I’m no fan of our Australian cousins in any sporting contest, so hope they get a mauling, although I’d settle for 1-0 to Chile. Vive la Roja!

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Thursday 12 June 2014

Yes, this summer England will be hosting the opening three stages of the Tour de France and yes, Scotland will be hosting the Commonwealth Games, but the ‘big’ event of the year is that taking place in Brazil – the 20th FIFA World Cup.

What drama will unfold over the 64 games of the tournament? Will it be remembered for events on the pitch or will the demonstrations that were a feature of the Confederations Cup last year come back to haunt the Brazilian authorities? Will the stench of the recent Qatar 2022 bribery allegations linger?

The fact is that the build-up to the World Cup has not been an easy one and FIFA and the Organising Committee will hope that it all runs to plan, with the International Olympic Committee taking a keen interest with the 2016 Games in Rio on the horizon. Have no fear the Blatter publicity machine will make sure the world knows that the event was a ‘triumph’. The most corrupt man in a sick circus that rolls into town every four years.

But I digress…

Brazil has hosted the World Cup before, that being back in 1950. As host nation Brazil made it to the Final, but the perfect ending never materialised, as Uruguay shocked their South American neighbours winning the game 2-1. The shock of that loss was partly expunged when Brazil beat Uruguay during the Groups Stages of the 1970 World Cup, but may only be fully laid to rest if they can win the competition in the revamped Maracana later this month. Now 64 years later, the weight of expectation will once again fall upon the Brazilians. Will the pressure prove too much or will they rise to the challenge to take the title for a sixth time? Which Brazil will turn up? Will it be the one full of the glorious skills of the teams of 1970 and 1982, or will it be the cynical teams that graced the World Cups in 1974 and 1978 and lost its head in 2010?

Well today the journey begins as Brazil take on Croatia. Brazil qualified for the tournament as hosts, whilst Croatia had a little bit of work to do to reach the Finals. Croatia were in Group A from which Belgium emerged winners and took the automatic qualification place. Croatia went into the Play-offs for the eight Group Runners-up with the best record and were drawn against Iceland over two-legs. The first game in Reykjavik ended 0-0, but a place in the Finals was secured with goals from Mario Mandzukic and Darijo Srna.

Whilst the Brazilian squad is littered with familiar faces from England and the rest of Europe (only four of the squad play for Brazilian clubs), the Croatian squad might not be quite so well known to the English audience. Defender Dejan Lovren has been at Southampton this season, whilst Nikica Jelavic has been plying his trade at Hull City, but those are the only players currently in the English Premier League. Others who have dallied with the EPL and all bizarrely with a North London connection include Stipe Pletikosa who played a single League Cup game for Spurs (against Arsenal) in 2010/11, defender Vedran Corluka who had spells at Manchester City and Spurs, midfielder Luka Modric who also played at White Hart Lane and Eduardo who had a spell up the road with ‘The Arsenal’.

Back in 1950, Brazil opened the competition with a 4-0 win over Mexico. Whilst I can’t see a repeat of that score in 2014, a 3-1 win for the host nation is not out of the question.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – introduction

It seems common now that in the build-up to any major sporting event, the media focus on the problems of a particular venue. So in recent times we have had stories of the 2000 Athens Olympics with stadiums barely finished before the Games started, the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi having accommodation that was ‘filthy, unhygienic and unfit for human habitation’ and the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 where the focus was on the ‘fears about crime, inadequate infrastructure and the pricing out of ordinary fans’. As recently as 2012 and the European Championship Finals in Poland and Ukraine, the media was telling us that the tournament was one that was going to be dominated by ‘racism and violence’.

And it is no different as we approach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The papers, television, radio and internet have been awash with stories about stadiums and the country’s infrastructure struggling to be completed on time and a number of deaths as workers labour around the clock to try and meet the deadlines. Within Brazil, there are continuing protests around what has been spent on the hosting of the World Cup and the long-term poverty within the country. Concern has also been raised about hooliganism, although the focus has not been on (as in the past) those from Europe, but from within Brazil itself, as the recent death of a fan at one of the World Cup stadiums in Recife illustrated.

However, history tells us – or rather the media tells us – that come the start of the competition, all these ‘issues’ suddenly vanish. Do we as football fans actually care? Is it all simply about beer, BBQ’s and En-ger-land?

Perhaps for once, it would be good to stop and think about what has happened in Brazil. What about all those who have died in the building of the stadiums and the families left to struggle? What about all those who have been ‘cleansed’ from the streets of Brazilian cities? What is the financial and economic reality of hosting the 2014 and then the 2016 Olympics for the ‘ordinary’ Brazilian citizen?

These are questions that many people will not consider as Brazil take on Croatia in the opening game tomorrow, but before we all simply become swallowed in the media glow of the 2014 World Cup, it might be good to stop and just consider what lies below and what the real ‘legacy’ of Brazil 2014 will be.