FIFA World Cup 2014 – Saturday 21 June 2014

So (thankfully) that’s it. England are definitely out and we won’t have to suffer the media carrying on about the miracle required to make it through to the last 16.

Our fate was sealed by Byran Ruiz who as a Fulham player looked like a delicate flower in the ‘hot-house’ of the Premier League. Yet here on the World’s biggest stage, the Costa Rican captain led his team to victory as he headed home in the first-half in a game where the Italians looked strangely out of sorts. Yet again the standard of officiating was variable and how Chilean referee Enrique Osses didn’t award a penalty to Costa Rica just before half-time I’ll never know. Costa Rica incredibly through and Italy faced with the prospect of an early plane home if they lose to Uruguay.

The second game yesterday saw France play Switzerland. The French have gone about their business in a quietly efficient manner, seeing off the physical Honduras and now an accomplished win over the Swiss. France’s cause was helped though in the opening ten minutes by a nasty injury to the face of Steve Von Bergen which saw him replaced by the lumbering frame of Philippe Senderos. The substitute showed all his usual flair in defence, so familiar to those at the Emirates and Craven Cottage, as the Swiss conceded five goals. Keeper Benaglio also had a poor game, although he did save a penalty. France were 5-0 up at one stage, but conceded two late goals to give the scoreline a touch of respectability for the Swiss.

Completing the day was the other game in Group E which saw Honduras take on Ecuador. This was never going to a classic display of flowing football, but their there is something satisfying every now and again about a physical encounter. As Gordon Strachan observed, with challenges flying about, he felt like he’d got into a time-machine and travelled back to the 70s. Indeed it was a good old-fashioned punt down the field that saw Honduras take the lead, as Carlo Costly collected and blasted home from just outside the area. Ecuador levelled quickly though as Enner Valencia poked in a cross at the far-post after creeping behind a slumbering Honduras defence. Valencia got the winner on sixty five minutes to put Honduras all but out of the Finals, whilst giving Ecuador a shot at progress to the last sixteen.

England? Who?

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.

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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!

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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.

Book Review: Come Sunday by George Nelson

Background and concept

Every four years sixteen European nations compete for the Henri Delaunay (European Championship) trophy. During the summer of 2012, photographer George Nelson set out to visit a number of London venues, (bars, restaurants, clubs and churches), screening Euro 2012 matches. His aim was to ‘follow’ every team with its London residing supporters and capture each experience in pictures.

There were only two self-imposed restrictions. One was a minimum of one venue to each participating nation and the second was the omission of England supporters, bringing down the number of locations to fifteen. The latter was a conceptual choice, as the gathering of immigrant collectives lay at the hub of this venture. The Euro 2012 project also serves as a demonstration of the London’s uniquely diverse make-up, locates several subtleties in cultural variation, yet more than hints at a universality in our relationship with ‘the beautiful game’.

From this vast palette, George settled on a single location in which to centre his book and the first Tatum Special publication. ‘Come Sunday’ hones in on the Italian Euro 2012 experience. On three Sundays* that summer Italian supporters gathered at C’asa Italiana – a penalty kick away from their Basilica-style Church, St Peter’s – as Clerkenwell reclaimed its ‘Little Italy’ status.

*       10 June 2012, Group C, Italy 1 – 1 Spain

24 June 2012, Quarter-Final, Italy 0 – 0 England (Italy won pens 4-2)

          01 July 2012, Final, Italy 0 – 4 Spain



In December 2013 Monte Fresco died at the age of 77. It’s a name that many people won’t recognise, although undoubtedly many will remember his work. Monte was an English sports photographer, and one of his most famous images was that of Vinnie Jones ‘tackling’ a young Paul Gascoigne.

Despite the fact that our screens are awash with football from all over the world, photographs which capture a moment, an emotion or are breath-taking, challenging or beautiful, will always have a place in ‘the people’s game’.

George Nelson in ‘Come Sunday’ has looked to focus on the fans rather than the action on the pitch. Nelson shared three games with the Italian fans, including those which saw, qualification from Group C, the drama of a penalty win over England and the disappointment of defeat in the Euro 2012 Final to Spain.

The book consists of thirty images which capture this journey. Nelson succeeds in conveying the emotion and drama of both victory and defeat, without an image of any of the games. Instead the ‘high and lows’ are conveyed through the expressions and body language of those gathered in Clerkenwell.

Nelson is successful in capturing more than just the football, in that the essence of family and community is evident, as the pictures portray the old and the young, men and women, all united in supporting ‘their team’.

One of the other themes which emerge from this collection is the idea of football as a religion. Not only are the images captured on a Sunday (the traditional day of rest), but the location is linked to the local Catholic church.

The great thing with the images is that you can initially focus on the central figures, but then also can revisit the pictures and understand what is going on in the background, so getting a feel for the context. For instance, the last image in ‘Come Sunday’ shows a mother, coat in hand, ready to take her children home. On the screen in the room, Spanish striker Fernando Torres celebrates victory in the Final as he takes his own child on a lap of honour.

It is a small tome, but is a collection of pictures you’ll want to look at again and interpret for yourself.

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For more information about George Nelson and to buy ‘Come Sunday’, follow this link