Every World Cup in my lifetime can be etched by specific memories. Even purely from an England point of view these moments can be elements of time where joy was the overriding feature - there's Michael Owen's goal against Argentina, David Beckham's penalty (and of course sending off) against Argentina, Joe Cole's spectacular strike against Sweden...but in truthfulness, all this World Cup will recall for me from an Englishman's point of view is Robert Green's butterfingers and Frank Lampard's goal that never was.
There was no moment of glory. No fleeting glimpse of things to come as we progressed and improved. England left without ever showing us pride.
Those who happy-clapped optimism and believed Gareth Barry was the answer to all our problems were dumb-founded and truly thought Emile Heskey deserved his place in the England team...It's not the despair that kills you, it's the hope, or sheer ignorance that England's squad does not hold a candle to Spain, Germany, Argentina, the Netherlands or Brazil.
But what will we, the football fanatic, take away from South Africa 2010? The sound of a vuvuzela? Hardly an inspiration and a memory that will burn your retinas for decades to come. Strictly referring to World Cup's since 1994, where was Zidane's headbutt? Bergkamp's last minute winner of sheer brilliance? South Korea reaching the semi-final? An unheard of from Saudi Arabia scoring a wondergoal? Maradona's celebration...oh wait, that was sort of there.
Cristiano Ronaldo, flopped. Wayne Rooney, flopped. Didier Drogba, flopped. Lionel Messi, flopped. Thierry Henry, flopped. Fernando Torres, flopped. It was down to David Villa, Diego Forlan and Wesley Sneijder to try to restore our faith in the beautiful game.
We opened with a promising game. Siphwe Tshabalala became the name on everyone's lips. He quickly faded, but his work was done. He'd started the World Cup with a bang. But soon it became apparent this was the World Cup of work rates rather than flair. The watching world begged for a new piece of skill to be named after the unsuspecting performer. Emile Heskey fell over.
The tournament progressed and goals eventually arrived. 0-0's turned into 1-0's. The Spanish became masters at it. Emmanuel Adebayor's phone went off. We all laughed. It was as exciting as it got...
Raymond Domenech made the French a laughing stock. We all enjoyed that.
Wayne Rooney complained about the fans who'd paid thousands of pounds to travel around the globe to watch a pathetic performance. Mick McCarthy just complained all the time.
Robbie Earle went home early from a World Cup for the first time since Jamaica was eliminated in 1998. Theodore Whitmore wasn't there to support him though.
Luis Suarez became the first footballer to be banned from a continent after his last minute goal line save...if Asamoah Gyan hadn't smashed the following penalty into the crossbar, nothing else would have been said about it.
The Jabulani was given as much airtime as a Presidential candidate. We longed for a goal from distance. Finally we got them, and they looked just as good as ever before. Giovanni van Bronkhorst may be nearly 50, but he may never have hit a football as sweetly.
And then the final arrived. Nelson Mandela turned up. Mark van Bommel did not foul him.
The final saw little more than relentless foul play, specifically from the Dutch but the Spanish were equally as guilty at times. Was it fate that the World Cup final to be remembered for refereeing decisions was officiated by an Englishman?!
But let the Dutch take their orange-mist away from their eyes - their team was second-best. Fact. Nigel de Jong should have be sent-off instantly for his assault on Xabi Alonso (lower-league fans will note Gordon Greer's sending off for Swindon against Charlton in the League One Play-off Semi-Final last season as an exact replica). By it's very definition, Arjen Robben should have been sent off for a second yellow for kicking the ball away...after his pathetic tantrum to Howard Webb previously. In that moment he instantly became everything of the game of football that is laughed at and hated by fans of other sports - players disregarding officials as worthless and acting as if they're always right, not being able to accept a decision going against them. Grow up.
If anything, Andres Iniesta's very late winner was fitting. This competition lacked the last-minute drama of nostalgic based yesteryears. But Iniesta's winner sparked scenes of jubilation that truly fitted a football match, rather than the cruel miss of a penalty kick, which would have been the case ten minutes later had he failed to find the net. Sometimes matches as big as this are better off sorted out by someone scoring rather than by the immortal line "oh, he's put over." Often preceded by the line "the English defender steps up to take the spot kick."
There is no such thing as a 'bad' World Cup. If such a thing happened, it would not still be watched by billions of people around the globe. But ultimately for all South Africa gave us in terms of hope, excitement and sheer joy, the footballing world provided midfield stalemates, burnt-out geniuses and repeated conversations about video technology. There were shocks. Who honestly put money on Italy going out of the group stages? Germany to put four past Argentina without response? New Zealand to be the only unbeaten team in the whole tournament?
Brazil will host it next. In all probability they will win it in their back yard. We will watch. We will cheer. We will collect our thoughts, calculate the fairest outcome and then say "how can that be offside referee, you wanker?!"
And then Emile Heskey will provide expert punditry on ITV.
(also written on optajoke.wordpress.com, by me of course!)
There is, on another opinionating website, a World Cup topic that requires a prediction as to which team will win. This review was originally written in response to that topic, hence its insistence on making foolish forecasts.
"Never make predictions. Particularly not about the future," is a quotation ascribed - as an internet trawl has just revealed - to a whole variety of people, which only goes to show that it's difficult to predict with any accuracy who's going to say what, even after they've said it.
Whoever originated the saying, it's advice that I am going to ignore. Never fear, I'm not going to predict the past. Experience has shown that if you do that no one seems much interested, dismissing you either as a historian (if your prognostications prove correct) or a nutcase (if not) and an object of ridicule in either case. Ah, but the future, that's different; people are endlessly interested in speculation about what's going to happen next. What's more, if you're lucky and get it right they applaud you for your foresight and perspicacity, whereas if you get it wrong they tend to forget what you said in the first place, especially if you surreptitiously edit your review.
Now we're down to the last eight in the World Cup, with several of the surviving teams looking like serious contenders, it seems timely to start thinking about which country might actually win. This is not something I would have attempted at the outset of the tournament, when it would have entailed evaluating the credentials of no fewer than thirty-two teams, a mind-numbing task and far too time-consuming when there was all that wall-to-wall football to be watched. Moreover, I might have risked serious embarrassment by tipping some bunch of no-hopers like England, Italy or France; somehow I doubt that even surreptitious editing could have erased an error on that egregious scale. This way, whichever nation I nominate, I can at least afterwards say: "well, they did reach the quarter-finals, didn't they?" And if that sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy, let me point out that lots of fortune-tellers, futurologists and economic forecasters seem to have built lucrative careers on much the same principle.
So who are these contenders in the quarter-finals? In forthcoming order of appearance we have
Brazil v Netherlands
Ghana v Uruguay
Argentina v Germany
Paraguay v Spain
I'm glad that Brazil v Netherlands comes first, since this looks by far the most interesting pairing, except of course for Argentina v Germany. Come to think of it, Paraguay v Spain has appetising aspects too, and even Ghana v Uraquay is not entirely devoid of interest despite appearances. Nevertheless, the prospect of Brazil v Netherlands should set any football fan's pulse racing, matching as it does two nations traditionally noted for their flair, and this does not necessarily mean that it will prove to be a dreary anti-climax. Let us first consider:
Brazil. "Which would you rather have, Brazilian samba football or these trophies?" Jose Mourinho, then manager of Chelsea, reportedly once asked the club's owner Roman Abramovich when the latter complained that success was being won by dour defence rather than inspirational attack. The answer proved to be Brazilian samba football, but that's another story. The point here is that even the Brazilians don't rely solely on samba football for success these days. A lot of strictly comes with the dancing. Dunga, now their manager, was in his playing days a defensive midfielder - that least Brazilian of positions - and has instilled some of the associated discipline throughout the team.
This is a Brazilian side that holds its formation, tracks back and harries opponents when they have the ball, rather than biding its time and waiting for the chance to show off its skills. Such discipline reduces their dependence on their stars, which is just as well for them, since the much-heralded Kaka has been below his best, and Robinho's wayward talent has been harnessed in a way that managers of Manchester City, past and present, can only envy. Artisans rather than artists, men like Elano and Gilberto Silva, have held the midfield together and covered when Maicon and Dani Alves foray down the flanks, while centre-back Lucio and goalkeeper Julio Cesar have been among the top defenders of the World Cup so far. Ah, but those two have been playing their regular football for Mourinho at Inter-Milan, haven't they?
Meanwhile, what on earth is going on in the Netherlands camp? Where are the routine rumours of fallings-out, feuds and hissy fits? From time immemorial Dutch footballers have sought to enliven their country's somewhat stolid stereotype by behaving like petulant prima donnas once they are assembled as a squad for a major tournament. This time, though, they seem to have lapsed into a tedious togetherness, but are no less effective on the pitch for that. If what they are playing isn't quite the free-flowing "total football" of the vintage Dutch sides of the 1970s and 80s, it's well-organised and effective. As with Brazil, hard work and coordination seem to have replaced style at the head of the Dutch agenda. Van Marwijk, the coach, has been criticised at home for this, with one newspaper apparently saying the team now plays like a chain gang; if so, it's one with no weak links.
The defence lacks star names, but as a unit it is solid. Midfield is solid too, with Van Bommel and De Jong restraining their own attacking instincts to give Sneijder free rein to roam. Up front, Kuyt is a tireless workhorse (workhorses always are tireless, aren't they, otherwise they're not picked), while Robben and Van Persie contribute pace and opportunism respectively. This team could go far, but I don't think it will, not when faced with Brazil.
** Torr's forecast (Torrcast?): Brazil 2 Netherlands 0 (or 2-1 if the Dutch goal isn't disallowed) **
This brings us to the last remaining African representatives in the first ever World Cup to be held on African soil: Ghana. The Black Stars, as they are known, though Dark Horses might have been a more fitting nickname. With their one internationally famous player, Essien, ruled out through injury and having shown indifferent form in warm-up games, not much was expected of the Ghanaians, which is perhaps the best way to start a tournament. In any case, they have done well to progress as far as they have. Perhaps the usual suspects - selfless teamwork and good organisation - are responsible in this case too. Everyone seems to be doing it nowadays, except England, Italy and France, of course.
At this point I'm tempted to search online to remind myself about the Ghanaian players who have actually played, but perhaps that's best avoided. Who wants the clarity of their perceptions clouded by the facts? Most of the Ghanaians ply their trade in Europe, but few are regular starters for the biggest clubs, or household names. There are people called Boateng who are quite good, one of whom plays for just-relegated Portsmouth, where Muntari also used to play before going to sit on the substitutes' bench at Inter Milan. There's someone called Gyan, who scores a few goals for mid-table Rennes in France. Pantsil plays for Fulham and is not bad despite that and his name. All told, you wouldn't think they'd amount to much, though maybe this is one of those mathematically improbable occasions when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Much the same might be said of Uruguay. This is, of course, a nation with a glorious World Cup history, but the trouble with history, as Ben Reich once said, is that it's all in the past. In Uruguay's case, not even the very recent past. Looking at their squad, you'd think this was mainly a gang of honest journeymen, gauchos rather than caballeros, and you might be right. Forlan up front has enough flair, or at least hair, to stand out, and seems to have forged an effective partnership with Suarez. Their midfield looks purposeful but rather anonymous (this means I haven't managed to remember any of their names), while their defence, marshalled by Lugano and Godin, is formidably tough and takes no prisoners. What could they do with Ghanaian prisoners in Uruguay, anyhow?
With all due respect, it's difficult to see either of these two teams going much further in the competition. Generally, if you have to rely on all due respect you've had your chips. Of course, a Greek team without stars or even asteroids managed to win Euro 2004, but that was a once-in-a-lifetime rule-proving exception, or so I'm determined to believe. The rules dictate that one of these two has to go one stage further, and I'm going to plump for Uruguay on grounds of geography. No, not continent, but hemisphere. Teams from the southern hemisphere seem to be the only ones able to anticipate which way the Jabulani ball is going to spin and swerve; it's probably something to do with Coriolis effect and bath-water swirling the wrong way down the plug-hole south of the Equator. Ghana, despite being African, is stranded on the wrong side of the line, and I therefore anticipate their goalie looking on bemused as the crucial free kick curls inside the post.
** Torrcast: Ghana 0 Uruguay 1 **
Next we have a classic match, Argentina v Germany. So classic that there have even been World Cup finals featuring the same protagonists, most recently in 1990, a scrappy game settled in Germany's favour by a disputed penalty and sending-off, an incident that still rankles in some quarters twenty years later (see footage of the incident and associated comment thread at www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsbXRqT19IY for some light entertainment). Argentina certainly have a more convincing squad of players now than they did then, including one or two luminous talents that even the managerial skills of Maradona have failed to dim. (Naturally, it goes against the grain to admit that Maradona might be doing something - anything - right, so I do not intend to do so.)
Whoever their manager might be, any team with Samuel, DeMichelis and Heinze at the back is going to frustrate opponents. Any team with Mascherano (unless it's Liverpool) and Veron (unless it's Man Utd or Chelsea) in midfield is going to win possession of the ball in dangerous areas. Any team with Messi, Tevez and Higuan up front is going to score goals. And any team that can afford the luxury of leaving players like Aguero and Milito on the subs' bench is to be envied; what a shame it's too late to offer them English nationality. This is one formidable outfit.
Germany are also a formidable outfit. It would be easy to typify their success as yet another example of the efficacy of thorough preparation and hard collective graft, especially as it chimes with what is expected of the national stereotype. But the methodical side of the German character can sometimes distract attention from its incisiveness. This is a team that attacks swiftly and sharply, much as Guderian's panzers did to outflank the allies from the Ardennes to Dunkirk in 1940, catching opponents off balance and giving them no time to recover.
Much has been made of their youth, but the team has been built around a resilient framework of experience: Lahm, the captain, in defence, Klose and Podolski in attack. Schweinsteiger, who is marshalling midfield imperiously in the absence of Ballack through injury, may be only 25 but he's been around at the top level for several years now, similarly Mertesacker at centre-back. Anyway, with names like that you simply know they're not going to be pushovers. Less familiar, and of course less typically German, are names like Ozil, Kedira and yet another Boateng, who is unaccountably not playing for Ghana, but they have been smoothly and effectively integrated into the German way of doing things. Against the prodigious weight of Argentina's talent, though, I don't think the German way of doing things will quite be enough to tip the balance, and I anticipate a repeat of another World Cup Final scoreline, that of 1986, which was of course:
** Torrcast: Argentina 3 Germany 2 **
So last but not, let us hope, least we have Paraguay v Spain. What can be said about Paraguay that has not already been said? Not a lot, not by me anyway, since I know distressingly little about them. If Ghana are the dark horses of the competition, Paraguay have taken their own equine colouring one shade darker still, becoming practically invisible. They have people called Torres and Veron playing for them; these are not, however, the Torres and Veron of whom you have heard, unless you are a footballing anorak on an outsize scale, but others of less prominent provenance. Panama also have Roque Santa Cruz, who used to be a competent striker for Blackburn Rovers and now understudies for the first choices at Manchester City. The rest of their team slip through the memory like plankton through a fishing-net.
Having big names in the side is, as this tournament has shown, no guarantee of success, but relying on small names alone is even less of one. Arguably, Paraguay can't be bad or they wouldn't have reached this stage. They've beaten Slovakia and Japan, not exactly footballing names to conjure with, and drawn with New Zealand and Italy, the latter a result that looks far less impressive now than it did at the time. Viewed in retrospect, the draw may have been kind to them. Whatever clichés one might reiterate about wholes and parts, Paraguay look overdue for an exit.
Historically, Spain have often afforded an example of the contrary cliché, also espoused by England, whereby the whole is less than the sum of the parts. Only once in a major tournament - which happens to be the most recent, Euro08 - have the Spaniards fulfilled their promise. The trick, all too rarely realised, is to coax and coach players drawn from the two great rivals, Barcelona and Real Madrid, into playing effectively together for the same team. The current Spanish management reconciles the two by having the heart of the formation based in Barcelona - Puyol and Pique in central defence, Iniesta and Xavi in central midfield - dotting a few representatives of Real around them, while leaving the cutting edge in attack to two strikers - Torres and Villa - who play for neither club. These are all outstanding players.
This approach to integrating their top talent works well for Spain most of the time, though it did come uncharacteristically unstuck against Switzerland. Let us assume that such unpredictable lightning will not strike twice in the same place; let us assume that Torres and Iniesta will be fully fit, which has not always appeared to be the case in the games to date. On these assumptions, this fixture should be no contest. Even if the assumptions don't hold, Spain would still be strong favourites. Personally, I don't think that originating in South America will be enough for Paraguay to turn the tables, hence:
** Torrcast: Paraguay 0 Spain 2 **
~ * ~ Post-Quarter-Final Update ~ * ~
Well, I did say that "forecasting anything beginning with an F (fate and fortune as well as football) is fraught with fallibility and never foolproof", didn't I? Just as well I'm not a betting man, it seems, though those who are might in future like to bribe me to jinx favourites by tipping them. Having jinxed Brazil and Argentina - without, alas, having received any backhanders for doing so - I now need to reconsider the outlook for the final stages, even if it means jinxing someone else. In which case, who better for the treatment than our recent conquerors, the Germans? With a further fanfare of vuvuzelas, therefore, I offer you the following torrcasts, notoriously unreliable though these now may be, for the remaining fixtures:
~ Semi-finals ~:
Netherlands 1 Uruguay 0
Germany 2 Spain 1
~ * ~ Post-Semi-Final Update ~ * ~
Well, that worked a treat, didn't it? And so, for my final stab in the dark:
~ Third Place ~:
Germany 2 Uruguay 1
~ Final ~:
Netherlands 1 Spain 1
With Netherlands to win on penalties after extra time.
© Also published under the name torr on Ciao UK, 2010
As Baz Luhrmann never quite said, we must accept certain inalienable truths about the World Cup.
** The new ball will be roundly slaughtered, branded a cheap "flyaway" toy and blamed for seventy per cent of the mistakes made, although players have made and will continue to make exactly the same mistakes without it.
** The French and/or Dutch will fall out with ... well, everyone. Especially themselves, thereby disastrously, marvellously self-destructing.
** Pele will predict twenty-nine different teams will win the World Cup. He will inevitably be proven right in one case, and accept the plaudits for his shrewdness.
** The African teams will be tipped to enjoy unprecedented success. They will also all go out at the group stage.
** Players will be caught in the shin, somehow grievously injure their faces and be miraculously healed by other players being shown yellow cards.
** The Germans will bore everyone to tears and be written off as pedestrian and uninspired, before going on to quite possibly win the damn thing.
** A previously-unheard-of player will light up the tournament with his silky footwork and winning style, be signed by a hopeful Premiership team and prove to homesick and inept in equal parts.
And of course ...
** England will lose (to Portugal or Germany, probably) in the most glorious, pitiful, dramatic way possible (on penalties, then), will find a scapegoat and the English media will photoshop their heads onto all manner of insentient objects.
About halfway into the World Cup now, most of the above have been proved wonderfully, undyingly true once again. But one or two haven't. There have been, as we enter the knockout stages, some fantastic displays, some utterly atrocious ones and a welcome end to the monotony that for the first few days of the tournament threatened to make the tournament notable only for the addition of the word Vuvuzela to the collective lexis.
~*"~ The Good ~*"~
Apart from a stunning demolition of Australia by Germany that had the rest of the world a bit worried for a moment, and the trouncing Portugal gave North Korea that assured Pyongyang has probably seen its last live televised game for about forty years, the game's traditionally "big" nations have been a major disappointment - in their place though, a host of lesser lights have lit up South Africa and leapt up the fantasy league standings.
South Korea and Japan have proven themselves to be equally tenacious opponents away from their feverous fans on home turf - and there's one to tick off on cliché-bingo; Asian teams may only be described as "tenacious", "determined", "enthusiastic" or "plucky" - faintly patronising, sweetly insulting terms that suggest they're capable of little more than trying quite hard. Those funny little Japanese. This World Cup looks like turning the tide of perception on that one, though - Japan have beaten two good teams in Cameroon and Denmark, destroying the latter in a display that marked out their team as being a strong, intelligent counter-attacking side and spotlighted Keisuke Honda as an early candidate for previously-unsung-star of the World Cup (see El-Hadj Diouf and Mehdi Mahdavikia). Skilful and adept from dead balls (as proved by the opened floated past Thomas Sorensen in Rustenburg), Honda only recently signed for CSKA Moscow, but it wouldn't be an enormous surprise to see suitors circling around the forward.
Continuing the theme of plucky (sorry ... spirited ... and gifted) underdogs, New Zealand have performed exceptionally considering the relative paucity of riches at their disposal. In their finest hour, a 1-1 draw against Italy (in which the Italian response to Shane Smeltz's early goal came via an extremely dubious penalty), the All-Whites defied a team full of World Cup winners - their own ranks being led by the aforementioned Smeltz, whose high-point in serious football was a spell of five goal-less games for Mansfield Town, then in English football's lowest tier. New Zealand displayed all the mental attributes bigger and supposedly better nations have lacked in South Africa; a positive attitude untainted by whining and hard-luck stories, enormous mental reserves in the face of adversity, a genuinely united team spirit ... admittedly, it's easier to draw on these attributes when no-one expects you to produce anything noteworthy, but there are plenty of teams that could take some serious lessons from their displays.
Much has been made of the failure of European teams to lift the World Cup outside of the continent, and the rule has been proved this time round. While Europe has toiled, though, South America has delivered in great style. While Brazil and Argentina are widely expected to shine, the form shown by Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay has been a welcome surprise; all these teams have qualified for the last sixteen, and all have impressed, suggesting a winner is most likely to come from the continent that have traditionally dominated non-European World Cups.
~*"~ The Bad ~*"~
One moment you're insulting the best player in the world's mother, getting headbutted in the chest and lifting the World Cup, the next (well, four years later ...) you're finishing bottom of your group behind Slovakia and New Zealand. For Marco Materazzi, the 2010 World Cup has been something of a come-down. He's not alone of course - both of 2006's finalists (France and Italy) have crashed out, although at least the Italians maintained some degree of dignity in doing so. For France - well, their capitulation was branded "[without] the slightest trace of a soul", "a total fiasco", and "pitiful, ridiculous and shameful" by their national press, and this is perhaps being slightly kind. It's a shame that Ireland, so controversially dismissed by Thierry Henry's barely-disguised fleeting switch to rugby, haven't been given the chance to appear on the game's greatest stage, where they'd surely have shown more pride, dignity and effort than the shambolic Les Bleus. It's hard to pick the lowest ebb from the debris of their campaign, but the refusal of manager Raymond Domenech to shake his opposite number Carlos Parreira's hand (in what was his last action in charge of the team) marks something close to the nadir.
The problems the teams faced - France's appalling attitude aside - have not been so dissimilar. Aging teams (Fabio Cannavaro appearing at 36, playing in the United Arab Emirates, but not for the money, honestly), over-reliance on spent forces (Henry's waning gifts, Gattuso, Camoranesi and Zambrotta for the Italians), inadequate replacements for national legends (Yoaan Gourcuff failing to step into Zidane's sizeable boots as hoped; the Italian forward line toiling to little effect without Totti and Del Piero) and complacency at having already achieved so much have all contributed to weighing down the teams to such an extent that they appeared laboured and leaden-footed. If the fall from grace of such big names is to some extent a shame, it's opened the way for fresher, more inspiring teams to take their places.
It's hard to discuss negatives within an African World Cup without looking at the continued struggle of the continent's teams to make a real impact at a tournament. Since Pele's infamous and much-derided prediction that an African team would lift the World Cup by 2000, Senegal's quarter-final showing in 2002 remains the high-water mark. Ghana have equalled this now, and face a favourable side of the draw; a semi-final berth is not out of the question, but this would be flattering on a team that, while arguably the best, if not most exciting team of the continent, are still some way off comparison with the big guns of the game.
That said, this hasn't proved a great tournament for big guns, so who knows ... Ghana are a hard-working, well-drilled unit, while the Ivory Coast were unlucky to come up against Brazil and Portugal so early on, and impressed before being eliminated. The hosts were never likely to progress, although emerged with some credit, claiming a major, if somewhat tainted scalp in France with a 2-1 victory, while Algeria proved durable if unambitious and Cameroon stunk out their admittedly strong group. The final African nation, Nigeria showed their known ability in flashes, but suffered from a poor opening showing and endured a brief, unfulfilling stay. What does the future hold for Africa? Improvement, most probably - but it's a slow development that the continent's teams are making, belying expectations of a sudden twenty-first century explosion across football's top table. Brazil et al are yet to find themselves wiping Africa-Gateaux from their eyes.
~*"~ The England ~*"~
What to say about England? So much, and so little - there's not a lot of new insight one can bring to a discussion of England's failings.
Once again, the nation has departed the World Cup without ever really turning up, leaving us feeling like the world hasn't seen the "real" England, the one that stormed through qualifying and roasted Croatia over a lovingly-stoked fire of passion and talent, the one that we know *is* there, somewhere. However, with this being the latest in a string of dismal, depressing failures, and a good eight years having elapsed since our last impressive World Cup performance (a 1-0 victory over a fading Argentina in Japan), perhaps *this* is the real England when the pressure's really on - the winning eleven from qualifying the real imposters.
This begs the question, then - why are England so mentally weak? Who knows, but the problem appears to be chronic.
The commentator presiding over the BBC's showing of the 4-1 drubbing at German hands claimed defiantly that "no-one would take more than one or two of Germany's players for the England team." He was embarrassingly wrong, of course - I'd take the entire German team, even if the "German" part's kind of sketchy in a squad comprising three Poles, two Ghanaians, a Tunisian, a Brazilian, a Bosnian, a Turk and a Spaniard. What Germany have, if not an abundance of heavily-hyped superstars, is a team that plays like one; that knows how to function as a unit and is more important than any individual. This being a concept England just can't get to grips with.
Alongside this persistent failing, there are more specific ones. England - with their oldest-ever squad - looked tired, uninspired and something else negative ending with -ired. Players like Gerrard, Lampard and Terry have tried and failed several times now to reproduce their club form on the biggest stage - we can safely assume now, surely, that it's never going to happen for them. The young talent is there for England, it's just ignored; of the squad that reached the 2009 Under-21 European Championships, only two were chosen to go to South Africa, and only one (James Milner) made it onto the pitch. Fabio Capello seems to have little faith in the up-and-coming footballers of the country, a position which seems strange when a reliance on experience has worked out so badly.
In truth, though it's disappointing to see your country exit, the World Cup won't miss England, for whom a brilliant performance, like the top of a mountain, seems perennially just around the next corner without ever arriving. Perhaps a new generation will bring more rewarding efforts to an ever-eager, expectant public. For our part, we could do with managing our expectations a little and accepting that perhaps our team aren't all they're supposed to be. But hey, half the fun of the World Cup's getting absurdly over-excited about your country's chances, be they giants or minnows, or, in England's case, something quite different entirely.
~*"~ The Best of South Africa 2010 So Far ~*"~
~*"~ Sara Carbonero ~*"~
Spanish keeper Iker Casillas may seem to have it all - millionaire lifestyle, stunning girlfriend, captain of the best international team in the world, so perhaps he can take being brought down a bit. Strange that it was the aforementioned girlfriend who did it, though. A touchline reporter for the sports channel Telecinco, she interrogated her boyfriend as he left the pitch after Spain's shock 1-0 defeat to Switzerland; "How did you manage to cock that up?" she jabbed. Casillas looked quietly furious. There must have been some tense silences over the dinner table that evening.
~*"~ Joachim Loew's outfits ~*"~
Best-dressed award can only go to one person - or two actually. German manager Loew and his mini-me Hans Flick have turned out in a series of dapper, co-ordinated outfits that suggest a Germany-Topshop partnership is alive and well. Looking like a model for an affordably-priced menswear catalogue, Loew has brought some much-needed sartorial class to the World Cup.
~*"~ Vuvuzelas ~*"~
Some people love them, some people hate them. Everyone will forget them within about a week of the Final. As much as they've become almost inextricably linked with the competition, give it a couple of months and there'll be one fat guy at St Mirren honking away to the great irritation of everyone in a five-mile radius.
~*"~ And The Worst ... ~*"~
That thorny issue of goal-line technology and/or instant replays cropped up again, with two damning acts of evidence in quick succession - Frank Lampard's not-given goal against Germany and Carlos Tevez's wrongly-given goal against Mexico. Actually, it's not a thorny issue. Just about everyone agrees - the game needs technology, the officials need help. But Sepp Blatter doesn't want it - and given that Blatter is that most deadly combination of moronic and powerful, it's not likely to happen any time soon.
Well what to say. England are out. They've stumbled and got up again and now they have fallen.
Overall England didn't play well enough. Didn't raise their game at critical moments and didn't draw on the experience of having the oldest squad in the competition.
Where do we go from here. Capello says that the system worked in qualification, though with Croatia arguably the strongest opposition in the group that's not much of a defence and we only scraped wins against some of the other teams.
Should he stay or go. Well it all depends on if the FA want to rebuild or give this squad one last go at Euro 2012 (if we qualify). Looking at the squad only Rooney, Milner, Lennon, Johnson, Hart and Dawson are 26 or under and Rob green is 30. The rest of the squad are 28 or over. Based on those stats perhaps the under 21's should be promoted and gain experience, their youth may not make them so frightened.
Decision making technology? Why not? Over the line or not, offside or not? Football is the biggest televised sport in the world and every other sport has technology in decision making. Yes it may disrupt the flow of the game, but if the captain can speak to the ref about speaking to his linesman that takes seconds, all the officals have mikes and the fourth official is a qualified referee too and he only needs to look at a monitor for 5 seconds to make a decision. That's all it takes, if he needs longer there's no call, if he can do it in 5 seconds the right decision can be made.
In both matches yesterday bad official calls affected the match. In the England game the fourth goal was going to be crucial when England got one back to make it 2-1, we scored it but it was not given. It would have been 2-2 at half time, instead Germany scored the fourth goal and then it was all over. In the Argentina game Tevez was clearly offside and Mexico had been arguably the more offensive team up to that point, they were rattled by the incident and then an error by the Mexico defence compounded the erroneous goal and again it was pretty much game over. England certainly chased the game and got caught on the counter-attack, Mexico tried to play as a they had before but you could see they were a bit shell-shocked up to half-time. Then a wonder goal from Tevez finished them off although they kept battling.
Yes the Germans were more clinical and a bit of bad luck you've got to take as part of the game but bad decisions when they're so blatant is a kick in the stomach.
The Vuvuzela: love it or hate it, it's part of the South African World Cup experience.
With each major footballing tournament, the fans of the teams try to embrace the culture of surroundings in which it's held. To create an atmosphere at football matches, the South Africans have used the Vuvuzela to create noise at football matches.
So, fans have been flooding in their thousands to buy these, not only in South Africa but also here in England too.
In South Africa you can buy one for about 60 Rand, which is equivalent to around £5.60; above it says the "hot offer" is £9.94 from Amazon, which is a fair price to pay and similar to those on you local high street. I haven't seen too many of the large, full-size ones, although some supermarkets do sell them.
Typically, Vuvuzelas are around 65cm (2ft in old money), though they can vary in size and you can find smaller versions. Obviously because it's made of plastic, it's easily breakable, so don't be too rough if you're wacking it about, not that you should be.
In terms of sound, it produces one monotonous sound as you're blowing into it, but obviously blowing at different speeds and for different lengths of time makes the pitch different, but in general a monotonous sound is produced. It's quite a light thing and although long, it's easy to hold. You don't need to apply too much force when blowing to make some sort of noise.
A recent survey showed that a standard Vuvuzela can produce a sound up to 130 Decibels, which is just under the equivalent of Jet take off, apparently. (According to my research)
I find that because of the sheer number of people blowing into these overgrown horns, they are detracting from the game of football; instead of the cheering, all you can hear are the Vuvuzelas.
Many high profile footballers have blamed poor team performances or bad moments of play on the Vuvuzela - these include Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrice Evra. The latter has blamed the Vuvuzela for France's poor perfomance, citing issues of poor communication with his team mates due the noise these cause. I, for one, don't agree with Mr Evra. You're 11 men on the pitch that speak the same language. Highly trained, over-paid athletes, and you can't kick a football between two posts because of some noise? Yeah, somehow I don't agree...
There has been pressure on FIFA to ban the Vuvuzela, because of the noise level which detriments the game of football, and also because of the associated health risks. In the opening ceremony of the games, the announcer asked all owners of a Vuvuzela to refrain from playing, as he couldn't be heard.
FIFA do have the powers to ban the instruments, which in one respects I feel they should, since it detracts from the quality of the game, but on the other hand, it's the South African spirit, and the world cup is being hosted there, so we should respect their traditions and cultures.
The BBC received over 500 complaints from viewers, with those complaining claiming that the Vuvuzela has interrupted their viewing experience, and the BBC (as well as ITV) are looking for alternate ways to provide coverage of the games without the Vuvuzela noise, while still maintaining full commentary. I find this drastically ridiculous, what a waste of money. You stick with the South African spirit, annoying as it can be. If you don't like it, don't watch it. They're not blowing for the whole 90 minutes, so it's not so bad.
However, my problem with it is here in the UK. I can cope with it on the tele, but youths wandering the streets of our towns with them, blowing furiously to try and disrupt the general calm of our neighbourhoods. They then proceed to think they're funny by hanging about in groups and blowing them all in one go. I know they're a bit of fun, but it'd be nice for people to consider others; not everyone's bad mind you, just the minority spoil it! Some pubs have banned them too; others haven't, so you might not have any being blasted in your ear at various intervals of the match.
In the wake of the Vuvuzela revelations, it has been banned from Wimbledon and other major sporting events, such as the Millennium Stadium and the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Relating back to health and safety concerns, there has recently been an article in the news about a woman who ripped her windpipe from blowing on the Vuvuzela, so use it with caution!
So, why have I rated it two stars?
Well, all the hype surrounding it has actually meant there's a lot of attention on the Vuvuzela which means there's less focus on the World Cup. For me, as a passionate football fan, I'd rather them talk about the football, not the Vuvuzela. Also, inconsiderate people don't have respect for others and blare it out everywhere in the street, which isn't needed. Also, there are the risks associated, like pain to your ears and your throat.
However, I should also point out that this symbolizes what South Africa is about, and that you can't take it away from them, so it should still remain in the World Cup, even if it does annoy some people.
The World Cup, what more can i say, we only get the pleasure to see such a magnificent event every four years, but my is it worth the wait. A full month of football, any fan's happiness (wives and girlfriends be prepared to give the remote and your viewing of tele up for a while, unless you too of course like the game yourselves, not to be biased, haha).
This Year South Africa have the Pleasure of hosting the World cup currently with 9 stadiums some looking magnificent in design and aesthetics.
Three matches a day spread out at the times of 12.30pm, 3.00pm and 7.30pm. (UK times of course). I got shivers of excitement just before it started as football plays a big part of my life and always has since a kid.
The World cup is made up of 32 national teams competing for that prize cup everyone wants they're hands on. All of us have our favourite players in club football over the world but now is the chance to see them play for their national teams, what more could a fan want!!. There's big teams such as Brazil, a team littered with immense talent and flare about they're football, Spain again a team to watch out for, always a threat with star striker Fernando Torres up front. Italy the current World Cup holders, can they defend they're prize possession after a four year wait, only time will tell. Argentina, Germany, Portugal and England other teams to watch out for as they look to end Italy's reign.
Believe it or not i like to watch a lot of the underdogs matches though as it consists of some players not as well known who may have possible potential for the future and always they try that little bit harder knowing that they are underdogs as i say making them try to prove the evil critics wrong and cause upset among the favourites. Always guarantee's a great spectacle. Some of the outside teams if you'd like being Nigeria, Korea, Chile, Ivory Coast, Uraguay and Ghana. Some show casing big name players such as Didier Drogba for Ivory Coast and Diego Forlan for Atletico Madrid.
O and I've forgot to mention, get your fridges topped up with alcohol to accompany you through the best month in four years haha. LIFE IS BRILLIANT!!
By the way, is it just me or are those Vuvuzela's getting rather annoying now. It was alright for the first couple of days but its just like a constant buzz in your ears now, like a rash just wont go away haha. Awk well it wont spoil things for me, You've got to take the good with the bad!
Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of 2010
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, World Cup Football would be
it. The long term benefits of World Cup Football have been proved by
knowledgeable Bookmakers whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable
than my own meandering experience...I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of Emile Heskey; oh nevermind; you will not
understand the power and beauty of Emile Heskey until he has faded.
But trust me, in 20 years you'll look back at photos of Emile Heskey and
recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before
Emile Heskey and how fabulous he really looked...
...Wayne Rooney is not as fat as you imagine.
Don't worry about the Goalkeeper; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to save a toe poke by bending down slightly too late.
The real troubles in your Goalkeeper's life are apt to be things like never catching a cross that turned out to be a shot; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Wednesday, like Spain.
Do one thing everyday that scares John Terry.
Don't be reckless with other people's Cheap Supermarket Car Flags, don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don't waste your time on North Korea; sometimes They're ahead, sometimes They're armed with rusty nuclear weapons...
The game is long, and in the end, it's only with Renta-Chinaman Supporter being told when to cheer.
Remember the compliments your team receive, forget the adverts and endorsements; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old Football Shirts, throw away your old football pants.
Don't feel guilty if you don't know what team are the Blue ones
...the most interesting teams I know don't know who their own number 22 is; or what their girlfriends really wanted to do with their lives.
Some of the most interesting 40 year old WaG's still don't.
Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees, you'll miss them when they're gone. Just ask Ledley King.
Maybe we'll Win, maybe we Won't, maybe we'll have penalties, maybe
we won't, maybe we'll beat Brazil, and just maybe Nelson Mandela will dance the funky chicken on his 100th birthday...
What ever you do, don't congratulate Fabio Capello too much or berate him either - his team selections are half chance, so are everybody else's.
Enjoy your Vuvuzela, use it every way you can...don't be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it's the greatest instrument you'll ever
Dance...even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.
Read the Referee's Names, even if you don't follow them. Do NOT read Greeks, they will only make you feel dizzy.
Get to know your French team, you never know when they'll be gone for good.
Be nice to the Australians; they are the best link to Football Past and the
people most likely we'll beat in the future.
Understand that World Cups come and go, but for the precious few wins you should hold on.
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle and speech impediments because the older your favourite player gets, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.
Watch the Italians once, but leave before it makes you bored; Watch Slovakia once, but leave before it makes you squeamish.
Accept certain inalienable truths, Balls will rise, Coaches will philander, Gerrard too will get old, and when he does he'll fantasize that when he was young balls were reasonably heavy, Linesmen were noble and he could actually see Lampard.
Respect the Scottish Supporters. Don't expect them to support you.
Maybe you have a Flat screen TV, maybe you have a HDTV subscription; but you never know when either one might cut to an advert for a car.
Don't mess too much by styling your hair like David Beckham, or by the time you're 40, it will look like Ken Dodd.
Be careful whose Tickets you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Especially if your salesman is Robbie Earle
Lineker is a form of nostalgia, presenting Match of the Day is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than
it's worth. Like Adrian Chiles.
But trust me on the World Cup Football...
After many weeks of speculation as to who would and would not be going to the World Cup in South Africa, Fabio Capello has finally decided on his 23 man squad that will hopefully bring England their first major trophy since winning the 1966 World Cup on home soil. After two under par performances in their last two friendlies against Mexico and Japan, certain players looked as though they may have played themselves out of the squad instead of cementing their place in it. Although England won both of these friendlies, the overall team performance was not that of a team who would be considered among the favourites for the tournament.
Fabio Capello took the strange decision of waiting until mid afternoon on June 1st to unveil his squad. This meant that throughout the day, the rumour mill was in full flow as stories began to get leaked as to who was in the squad and who had missed out. By the time the squad was officially announced at 4pm GMT, certain media sources had already given the squad up to 2 hours earlier. Those missing out were Scott Parker, Michael Dawson, Adam Johnson, Tom Huddlestone, Darren Bent, Leighton Baines and perhaps, most surprisingly, Theo Walcott. Parker and Dawson were not given any pitch time in either of the two friendlies so their exclusion was expected but the other players can all have grounds for being disappointed at not making the final squad, especially Walcott who figured quite heavily in both games but his final ball let him down and ultimately cost him his place in the squad.
England's 23 man squad is made up of 3 goalkeepers, 8 defenders, 8 midfielders and 4 strikers.
Of the goalkeepers, it is still not certain as to who will start the tournament against the United States on June 12th. Robert Green was the main keeper during the qualifying campaign and probably just starts as favourite ahead of David James who, despite being relegated with Portsmouth had a very good season. Hot on their heels is one of the best young English keepers for a long time, Joe Hart. This tournament has probably come a couple of years too early for him and unless, there is an injury or suspension to the other two keepers, Hart should be sat on the bench for the entire tournament.
The defensive players that England have chosen are very interesting. Capello has managed to talk Jamie Carragher out of international retirement, almost three years since his last England performance. Ledley King has also earnt a recall even though a long term knee problem means that he struggles to play two games in a week, let alone the three qualifying games England face in a little under two weeks. Although there is no denying King's quality, he will probably only be subjected to substitute appearances as a backup player to the normal central defenders, John Terry and captain, Rio Ferdinand. Along with Terry and Ferdinand, the first choice back four will be Glenn Johnson at right back and Ashley Cole at left back. Making up the defensive line-up are Matthew Upson who can count himself very fortunate to be in the squad ahead of Michael Dawson and Stephen Warnock who goes into the tournament with only 8 minutes of International football experience.
If England are to win the tournament, the midfield are going to have to deliver. Individually, England are blessed with some fine midfielders but they need to gel together as a team. Stephen Gerrard and Frank Lampard are World class players but have yet to combine in an England shirt like they do for their clubs. With the pace of Aaron Lennon or Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right wing and James Milner or Joe Cole on the left, England should be able to get plenty of quality balls into the box to attack. Gareth Barry has been included in the squad although the injury he suffered whilst playing for Manchester City against Tottenham in the final week of the domestic season means that he will probably miss all of the first round matches, making his inclusion in the squad somewhat risky. Michael Carrick is the final member of England's midfield and can count himself somewhat fortunate to be in the squad after some poor performances of late.
As England are only taking four strikers, each one must be in top form when the games start. Wayne Rooney, currently is one of the top three or four players in the World and will need to be on the top of his game if England are to reach their potential. With a couple of niggling injuries over the past couple of months, the whole English nation is waiting with baited breath to see if Rooney can recapture his mid-season form which made him unstoppable. Alongside Rooney will probably be England's gentle giant, Peter Crouch. Crouch is a very ungainly player but has the knack of being in the right place at the right time and his England goalscoring record is right up their with the best of them. Jemaine Defoe had a super start to the season, including scoring five in one match against Wigan. Recently, however, the goals have dried up for him which is slightly concerning. Defoe will probably start on the sub's bench and will be reliant on other people losing form in order to get a starting position. The final member of the squad is Emile Heskey. Heskey has not even been a regular starter for his club side, Aston Villa this season but Capello is a great admirer and believes Heskey can do a different job to the other strikers and included him purely on that basis.
Potentially, this squad can go all the way in the tournament but they will need to stay clear of injuries and suspensions if they are to realise their dream and bring back the trophy to an expectant nation.
The month of sport, just as the Summer starts that most men in the world go mad for. The Fifa World Cup started in 1930 and has continued every four years, with the exceptions of 1942 and 1946 during World War II.
The World Cup Qualifiers start just under 2 years before the World Cup Finals start, with over 200 countries attempting to get in the top 2 in their Qualifying Group, it is normally very competitive at the matches.
When the top 2 of every group are put through to the Finals the best Runners-Up's play in the Play-Offs to get into the Finals. You may remember Thierry Henry handing the football to cross the ball into the box to put Ireland out of the World Cup.
Uruguay won the first ever World Cup, Brazil have won the most World Cups (5) and Italy are the current holders and have won 4 overall.
There are atleast 5 or 6 countries going for the 2010 win but we will have to wait an see who wins on the 11th July 2010 in Johannesburg!
My 23 players
Today (11th of May), Mr. Capello announced his 30 man squad for the world cup. He has to trim the numbers down to 23 and so here are my 23 players.
So Capello's picks are:
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, David James, Robert Green.
Defenders: Leighton Baines, Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Ledley King, John Terry, Matthew Upson, Stephen Warnock.
Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Tom Huddlestone, Adam Johnson, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Scott Parker, Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Forwards: Darren Bent, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney.
So no great surprises there, I suppose the return of Ledley King and Carragher hasd been strongly tipped and the addition of Adam Johnson a nod to his strong second half of the season after his transfer to Man City from Middlesbrough.
So we have to pick 23 players. We have to pick 3 goalkeepers so we can take the three named here as read I think. All of them have been in reasonable form for there club and represent the best available at the moment.
The picks are Leighton Baines, Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Ledley King, John Terry, Matthew Upson, Stephen Warnock.
We have 10 players here and I think we can assume Capello will pick at least 7 and maybe eight players. So who are definites?
Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, John Terry, and Matthew Upson, all have been constant Capello picks. There are injury worries over Cole and Ferdinand but both are certainties for the squad at least.
So we have to pick 2 or 3 players, for me they would be Ledley King - probably the most talented defender England but with dodgy knees, Jamie Carragher - fully commited and can play centre half and full back, you know he won't let you down and if there is an eighth defender then I'd go for Michael Dawson who I think has had a decent season for Tottenham.
Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Tom Huddlestone, Adam Johnson, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Scott Parker, Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Again there are definites - Gerrard, Lampard, Barry (if fit), Milner and for me Joe Cole. So again if we have 7 picks my other two are Walcott for his pace and Lennon because he can take players on and give you an option if the team is struggling.
Capello has picked five and I can see all five going, so that's Rooney, Crouch, Defoe, Bent and Heskey.
So my 23 are
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, David James, Robert Green.
Defenders: Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Ledley King, John Terry, Matthew Upson,
Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Theo Walcott.
Forwards: Darren Bent, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney.
The "Greatest Show on Earth" will arrive in South Africa this summer, the latest stop for a festival of football that just keeps growing. The Rainbow Nation promises to provide a colourful spectacle with 32 nations clashing for football's top prize.
With it will come the inevitable patriotic posturing as once again the levels of expectation for our under-performing boys rise as we hope desperately for our first tournament win since 66 and all that.
This year optimism has been fuelled by an almost flawless qualifying campaign masterminded by heavyweight of world football, Fabio Capello. He claims anything less than a semi-final place would be a failure. The bookies have already made us third favourites. Is this justified for a team who only two years ago failed to make the grade as one of the best 16 teams in Europe? Can a team whose sole success was on home-soil 44 years ago become only the 2nd country to win the World Cup outside its own continent?
English teams have been a strong force in the Champions League for several years now, meaning our top players have experience in playing huge games. Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Steve Gerrard, all experienced European campaigners, could be put in the "World Class" bracket and provide a solid nucleus to the side.
Despite this, there are question-marks hanging over the team. The position of goalkeeper has yet to be filled convincingly. The first choice back four of Terry, Ferdinand, Cole and Johnson have struggled with fitness and form at different times this season. Gerrard and Lampard have still yet to form the kind of cohesive partnership that could see their explosive club-form replicated on the world stage. Rooney finally looks jaded after a magnificent season and could have run out of steam at just the wrong moment.
Overall however, England have a first choice eleven that could potentially be the envy of most of the teams in the tournament. With experienced players proven at the highest level in Europe, one of the world's top strikers and an impressive qualifying campaign (in which they managed 34 goals in 10 games) behind them, they shouldn't be lacking in confidence. Whether the fear that crippled their performance at the last world cup remains has yet to be seen.
Fabio Capello has impressive club pedigree winning 7 Serie A Titles (although one was later revoked) for three different Italian sides and the Spanish title twice with Real Madrid. He also has one Champions League title to his name.
Seen as a ruthless disciplinarian, he acted quickly in removing the captaincy from Terry and tightening up after previous lax regimes. However, his flexibility will be further tested when the World Cup draws near; he has repeatedly said that only in-form and fit players will make his England team. Ledley King, Owen Hargreaves, Steve Gerrard and Ashley Cole may test that resolve.
He has proven adept at getting the best out of his players wherever he has been and has had teams which play in a variety of styles. He quickly garnered the respect of both his players and the public in this country and cuts an authoritative and determined character.
One thing is certain; if England aren't successful this year, there will be no "Wally With A Brolley" and no vegetables (Swedes or Turnips) to blame. Capello is a proven winner.
Capello has of course denied it, but the draw couldn't really have been much kinder to England.
The only downside is that England, traditionally slow starters, begin their campaign against their toughest group opponents the USA. The inconsistent yet determined American team have plenty of experience in playing against the England boys in the Premier League and are capable of a shock result as they showed with their victory against Spain in the confederations cup. The Americans, despite goalkeeper Tim Howard, are vulnerable at the back but will look to catch England cold in a game in which really they have nothing to loose.
My prediction: England 1 USA 1
Algeria come next for England and although there is some talent in the team with Nadir Belhadj and Rafik Safai and they will be determined to impressive in the native continent, their defensive frailty and a erratic goalkeeper should provide a fairly comfortable victory
England 3 Algeria 0
The organised Slovenians are next up. Adept at keeping the ball but lacking much in the way of creativity, it will be a question of patience for England in breaking down the stubborn defence. Could be a game made for Peter Crouch
England 2 Slovenia 0
ENGLAND GO THROUGH AS GROUP WINNERS
It's difficult to see who England will face in the Second Round. With Germany likely winners of Group D it could be anyone out of Australia, Serbia and Ghana. I imagine England will be keen to avoid the Australians and in any case, I fancy Ghana to finish above them in their own continent. Imposing and defensively sound, the Ghanaians will be another tough nut for England to crack, but you would expect them to have just about enough
England 2 Ghana 1
Realistically, England's likely opponents in the last 8 should be France, although it's very possible the ageing French team may already have slipped up and been eliminated by then. The French team are well past their best and are short on confidence. Coach Domench is probably the least popular manager to make it to the World Cup; they were poor in a very average qualifying group and cheated their way past a limited Irish side in the play-offs. The omens don't look good and I imagine there's many a French supporter that would be relieved just to get to the quarters.
England 1 France 0 aet
So into the semis and not a penalty in sight for England! With expectations at home no doubt reaching fever pitch, likely opponents Brazil may prove a step too far. Brazil have household names in Robinho, Ronaldinho and Kaka but, unusually, have a rock-solid defence marshalled by one of the best goalkeepers in the world. After a tiring season for many of our players, and a tough quarter final, the Brazilians have the potential to pass us to death. England have a character and a passion that not many teams will match but the journey will end here for Capello's boys.
England 1 Brazil 2
There is plenty to be optimistic about this summer. It promises to be a wide open tournament with 6 or 7 potential winners. There is no doubting that England fit into this elite group and look a safe bet for a quarter final place at least. From there, anything can happen and if the team has some momentum and Rooney and other key players are on song, England have a manager with the experience and confidence to go all the way. England will be able to play the fast tempo football that comes naturally to them in the South African Winter, providing the players aren't too exhausted from a long, arduous season.
Whatever happens to England, we will be in for a month of unprecedented hype as the media circus descends upon South Africa and football once again dominates the front and back pages. WAGs, barely literate newspaper "insider" columns, dull autobiographies, obscure ex-footballers, and half-dead ex-managers will compete for their moment in the spotlight in the most over-the-top and over-exposed event the world has ever seen. And I can't wait for it to begin!
On a global scale the Fifa World Cup is the biggest sporting event you are ever likely to witness. Whoever and wherever you are you can't avoid the hype and excitement that this tournament creates. Love it or hate it in June and July of 2010 the world cup will simply be everywhere!
This time around the competition is going to be held in South Africa. This is the first time an African Nation has had the privilege of hosting the event. But the big question is, who is going to win? In the lead up to the tournament millions of dollars will be spent betting on this massive event. So who are the likely candidates?
Here is a list of the top ten most likely winners of the world cup. These are not personal opinions, they are consistent with what the professionals say. So starting at the tenth most likely we will go through the list all the way up to the favourites. You will also see exactly why these teams are tipped. So starting with the tenth favourites here we go;
10) Ivory Coast - No I'm not kidding! These are the surprise package of the World Cup. A small country but packed with massive stars. Players such as Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou are deadly in front of goal. A powerful line up that play with style and freedom. Although most people will write them off from the start, they make well spring a few surprises.
9) Portugal - A team that have done well in the last few tournaments and have a massive star player. Christiano Ronaldo has the ability to win games for the Portuguese, with his dead ball ability and blistering pace he is a player who can cause real chaos to the opposition. Other than that the team is weaker than in previous years so again they are seen as outsiders.
8) France - After winning the Cup back in 1998 most of the big names have now retired from the game. However they do have a good young squad with decent potential. If the young stars hit their form at the right time France could be right up there at the end of the tournament.
7) Holland - Known as the greatest team never to win the Cup, Holland have been underperforming for years. They have a strong workman like squad who will always give 100%. Players like Dirk Kuyt and Robin Van Persie will give their all and with the flair of Arjen Robben, on their day Holland are capable of beating anyone. However there are a few weak links in the squad which could cost the team in the long run.
6) Italy - The defending champions and another team that are not to be underestimated. They were not tipped to do well four years ago but proved everyone wrong. They work hard and are strong in defence. A team that on it's day is very hard to beat.
5) Germany - Write the Germans off at your peril. They are a team that know how to win. They may not be packed with massive names but they are a strong well organised unit. They play with their heads rather than their hearts and this often sees them through. If their star forward Miroslav Klose plays well they will be a danger for any defence.
4) Argentina - A country with a massive world cup pedigree. Although they only just scraped through qualifying the team is tipped to do well. The team itself has a few weak links however they have a secret weapon. Lionel Messi is currently the greatest player on the planet. With his stunning pace and ball control he can rip a team to shreds. The entire team can have a shocker but if Messi turns it on then Argentina can beat anyone. Managed by the ever controversial Diego Maradona they really are a team that could either win it or go out in the group stages. A really exciting prospect in either case.
3) England - It's forty four years since England last won the Cup. They are a team always tipped to do well but they always seem to under perform. This time round they have star players such as Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard who are all capable of winning matches. A good solid backline and a deep squad mean that this is a team that could easily go all the way. It's seems to be whether or not they have the mental strength to beat the big teams, but on their day they certainly are capable.
2) Brazil - Having won the tournament five times, Brazil are the most successful team in the Cup. A country that lives and breathes football, the expectation is always high and even the poorest of Brazilian squads always has a chance. This time round they have a strong squad and with players such as Kaka, Ronaldinho and Robinho they have a great chance of lifting the cup. A technically strong set of players who have pace and flair and the ability to create chances out of nothing. Brazil are sure to be right up there at the end of the tournament.
1) Spain - It is a little surprising that a team who have never won the World Cup are favourites. However they won the European Cup two years back and have one of the strongest squads the world has ever seen. Players such as Fernando Torres, Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabergas, Xabi Alonso and David Villa have the potential to destroy any opposition. On paper Spain should walk this tournament but they don't have the benefit of experience. They are not used to being there at the end of the World Cup and this poses the question do they have the mental ability to play well when the pressure is on? That said, you would be a brave man to bet against them!
So there you have it. Some massive teams that all stand a chance of lifting the cup. One thing to remember is that the favourite team rarely wins, football can be very unpredictable and you never can tell what will happen in the big games. Whatever happens, 2010 will be a summer to remember.
(The Sun headline the day after the draw)
As Tiger Woods dreaded opening up the next advent calendar door last Christmas, yet another blonde shouting 'surprise' behind it, ticking another five million off his endorsements, the curse of Gillette has struck again. Thierry Henry started it all off with yet more Gallic cheating in the World Cup qualifier against Ireland, whilst poor old Roger Federer awaits his fete in 2010. To be fair they deserve all they get for making those bloody awful adverts. They are even worse than Ian Botham and Alan Lambs British meat adverts!
Tiger may have hit a water hazard after a bad drive and ended up in the trees but he's far better off than many that look up to him, like those kids in South Africa, the host of soccers World Cup. This is a real chance for Africa to start erasing those poverty stereotypes and putting on a real show, Africa's coming of age, huge commercial interest on RSA because of that emerging market. If this comes off then their growing domestic game could become very big indeed, an African select eleven more than capable of winning the World Cup with the talent pouring out of that particular continent right now.
'Fabio Capello' (by Givenchy for men) has got a big Italian smile on his face as England got the easiest group possible in South Africa. His team won every game that mattered to top their qualifying group and will do the same here, USA the only resistance.
Game one - England v U S A
Rustenburg at altitude of 1500m (top of Mount Snowdon)
Date -- Saturday June 12th at 7:30pm
Game Two - England v Algeria (Cape Town)
Date - Friday June 18th at 7:30pm
Game Three - England v Slovenia (Port Elizabeth)
Date - Wednesday June 23rd at 3:0pm
******** Last 16 for England *******
The tournament is moddled on the Champions League with 32 teams entered this time, eight groups of 4, the most ever entrants. The winner of England's group will play the runner-up of Group D in Rustenburg on Saturday June 26th at 7:30pm. The runners-up in C play the winners of D in Bloemfontein on Sunday June 27th at 3:0pm.
So its England v Germany/Australia/Serbia or Ghana....
-England Quarter-Final scenarios in order of likelihood-
England v France or Argentina
England v Nigeria or Mexico
England v Uruguay or South Korea
England v Greece or South Africa
England's last 16 game is a stinker at altitude and as tough as 1998 when we played and lost to Argentina in that amazing game under Hoddle with young Beckham getting sent off. If we do get to the Q/F its Soccer City in Joburg at 6200ft up or sea level at the beautiful Cape Town. I think we know we won't get past the quarters though.
- Other teams -
The World Cup is just as much about Brazil as it is England for the fans here and although they have lost that wonderful Samba style over the years they still look cool in those shirts. In their group they have North Korea, Ivory Coast and Portugal. It looks a tough group and who ever thrashes N.Korea (their first WC for 44 years) the most may go through.
Argentina have ironically been bu**ered up by their best ever player and just scrambled through under Maradona. They have Nigeria, South Korea and Greece to negotiate. I still don't think they will win that group though, with or without Messi. England v Argentina is on the cards guys.
European Champions Spain are in the comfort zone with Honduras, Chile and Switzerland to see off. Holland, who won every game in their qualifying group, plays six times African qualifiers Cameroon, and then experience campaigners Japan and Denmark, as easy as it gets. Defending champions Italy also have an easy ride with Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand.
I think Capello has his squad set in his mind and there will be few changes or surprises. Michael Owen pushed his case with that nostalgic hatrick in Germany on the same Wolfsburg ground he got that memorable one for England in the legendary 5-1 game, and older strikers not uncommon in World Cups. Raul and Del Pierro are heading for their fourth World Cups alongside Beck's. But there's no room for sentimentality and Defoe is the updated version of Owen and will be picked ahead of him. I would like to see a couple of ball winners added though, too many ponces in the England midfield if you ask me, their huge salaries too much of a comfort zone to fall back on if they do play badly. I would love a Jimmy Bullard type in their mixing it up, hard work and will to win always better than big reputations in the camp, someone like Shawcross of Stoke at the back and Milner in the middle to put Lamps or Gerard on the bench.
Wasn't it interesting that old man Beckham was caught on film last month inhaling for his asthma, the smog of L.A. and the altitude of Rustenburg sure to need some breathing assists for some of the veterans in the World Cup. Interestingly, if you don't suffer the ailment, the inhalers still help you breathe better and so improve performance, a suspiciously high number of athletes claiming asthma conditions, Paula Radcliffe and Rebecca Adlington to name but two Brits. 50% of Olympic cyclist in Atlanta suffered from asthma and over half of the cross country skiers claimed asthma symptoms in the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998 so to use inhalers and you do wonder how they manage to be so asthmatic up in their in the clear air of the Alps where most were bought up. One suspects a steep rise of asthma declarations for South Africa 2010 and no doubt one or two cough remedies taken when they shouldn't have been. I'm not accusing Beck's as his body language was innocent when he talked about it but we know by Andre Aggasi`s revelations that he was taking Crystal Meth and for some reason the highly sophisticated testers didn't detect it, the integrity of the sport protecting the cheats.
My starting eleven for June 12th
Don't believe what the South Africans are saying that South Africa is fairly safe for tourists. Its not. 46 million blacks want what the 4 million whites have and it's not pretty. If you go downtown Joburg at the weekends and your a tourist you will probably get mugged. Travel in groups and don't let women walk alone in Joburg. The whites and rich blacks live behind high walls and electric fences and barking fighting dog's growl behind them. I worked in a backpacker's hotel in Cape Town for 10 months as barman/night guard and it was a challenge to say the least. I wasn't allowed to use the hotel gun but others were. It was waved a few times at the locals. They would try to steal everything, diving gear, luggage, surfboards and washing off the line, regularly disappearing over the wall . If you are a tourist at the footy you are a target guys. Cape Town, on th eothe rhand, is the safest city and no worse than a US one but if you go to the wrong areas violent muggings are the norm. Four times I had to call an ambulance for guests. This was in 1998 and crimes have apparently got worse ten years on.
As soon as the draw was complete, flights, hotels and hire car prices quadrupled for the World Cup weeks. It could cost up to 800 Rand a day for a car now. One piece of rubble kicked up on South Africa's less than great roads and chips the paintwork you could be charged all manner of access if you don't take the full insurance. England's ticket allocation in Rustenburg is not 4000 to avoid trouble but because that's how many hotel beds they have up on the veldt. England will take ten times that so Rustenburg will need a least 10,000 tents there. The infrastructure isn't great in RSA either and when I drove on there roads I remember that even the main road from Cape Town to Joburg was unlit at night, your headlights lining you up on the road ready to hit something. Wildlife and drunks would regularly catch the beam of those lights. South African drivers love a drink, the reason being they just get fined and not banned most of the time.
The trains are good between cities but there's no real local town to town network and they were still operating a 'voluntary' class seating system on the train - tourists in first and blacks in third. Buses and coaches travel across country but again its long distances and infrequent and so tiring. Local buses were hopeless when I was there and you used to have to use the minibus taxes the black guys used, a very rustic experience to say the least. These are fine to use on the beach runs but not safe for tourists to use in most places. You have to pass your fare forward to the driver when he's doing 90mph around the corners as he then passes the change back through the paying punters. Have the right money. Chickens and all sorts fly everywhere!
Cape Town is a fabulous and stunning city with great beaches and lots to do. The Green Point Stadium is near the beach and also the Victoria & Albert Waterfront tourist area, the safest place in Africa by far. Cape Town is like a southern US city in racial make up and so not too dangerous. Base yourself there if you can. I wouldn't want to stay too long in Rustenburg as its mostly mining country. Port Elizabeth, for England last group game, is an industrial town by the ocean that's 50% black and not as safe as near bye East London higher in the hills. The Garden route up the coast from Cape Town is stunning though.
A possible last 16 game at Bloemfontein will need some serious travel pans as its back up on the veldt near Pretoria and so wintry. I need not tell you any more about a Q/F in Joburg, a truly scary place in all but two or three suburbs. Not that we will get there anyway.
It's got to be Spain to win guys! They have quality all over the park and are matching England for teams progressing in the Champions League to be playing at the right level leading up to the finals. Alonso...Fabregas...Torres...etc...
~ ~ Well, the 2006 FIFA World Cup is over and now all footy fans are looking to the European Championships in 2008, the qualifying stages of which start later on this year.
~ ~ So was it a good World Cup, and did Italy deserve to win it?
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it with the sole exception of England (yet again) failing to deliver on their unquestioned potential, and once again crashing out on a penalty shoot-out to the Portugese and their diver extraordinaire, the much maligned Ronaldo. (Wholl take a bet hes played his last game for Manchester United, despite Sir Alex Fergusons protestations to the contrary?)
Did Italy deserve to win? Hmmm. You couldnt fail them on their defensive record and their ability not to let other teams score, but from the point of view of entertainment they were about as interesting to watch as a pool cleaner raking the leaves out of Becks and Poshs pool!
I would have loved to have seen France winning the final, not least as it would have been a very appropriate end to the career of the great Zinedine Zidane, who rather blotted his copybook with the now infamous head butt which comprehensively floored the Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the final. But apart from this I think that France played some of the most attractive football of the tournament, and would have been worthy winners. (Of course, it had *NOTHING* to do with the flutter I had on them before the tournament even began, and which would have reaped me a nice wee windfall had they won!)
~ ~ Nothing to be ashamed about, as they got through to last eight with a much depleted strike force, (is Crouch *REALLY* one of the best strikers in English football?) and a manager with about as much of a plan for victory as a bumble bee. Mind you, Im not a 100% sure his successor, Steve Maclaren, is going to be much better! Bad choices of players by a bad manager even before the competition even started didnt help. England scored probably one of the goals of the tournament when Chelsea player Joe Cole hit a wonderful lob shot against Sweden.
Beckham has probably played in his last World Cup, and was a shadow of his former glorious best, but I think you have a new superstar in the making in the form of the young Tottenham player Aaron Lennon, who was outstanding when given the opportunity to pull on the England jersey.
But at the end of the day, and despite the passion and tears of the players, England once again failed to live up to their potential.
~ ~ The home team, and probably one of the surprise packages, in as much as they went into the World Cup on a poor run of form that gave no hint of the fine football they often played throughout the tournament. Miroslav Klose, their main striker, won the Golden Shoe award as the top scorer with five goals to his credit. Eventually went out to Italy in the semi-finals, but were a team committed to an attacking style of football, and as such were very entertaining to watch. (Germany versus France would have been a *FAR* better final in my honest opinion.)
~ ~ Past it; too old a team; poor manager. These are just a few of the descriptions in the media about the French before the World Cup began, and in fairness during the group stages they did little to suggest that any of the media pundits had got it wrong. But then they suddenly woke up against Spain and Brazil in the knock-out stages, and began to show the form that had made them worthy World Champions back in 1998, and European Champions in 2000. In my opinion, their match against Brazil rates as one of the games of the tournament, with an absolutely virtuoso performance from their captain Zidane, which will live in my memory as one of the best individual performances by a player that Ive ever seen. Unlucky (in my opinion) to lose in the final against Italy on penalties, and still one of the major forces in World football.
~ ~ One of the best defensive sides in the World Cup, with a outstanding manager in Marcello Lippi, who seems to be able to get the very best from his players. They did exceptionally well considering the huge shadow hanging over them in the form of the match-rigging scandal at home in Italy, although in my opinion were far from the best side and shouldnt have run out eventual winners.
~ ~ An entertaining team to watch until it came to the final third of the field, when it suddenly became painful witnessing their feeble efforts to finish off the job and actually put the ball in the back of the net.
And what can you say about their amateur theatrics and diving. Ronaldo was by no means the only offender, (although he was by far the worst) and it made it impossible to view them with anything other than contempt.
Their Brazilian coach Scolari, with his constant complaints to the match officials and his theatrics on the touchline, was probably the role model for his players.
I was devastated when they beat England, and absolutely delighted when France disposed of them in the semi-finals.
~ ~ Co-favourites along with Argentina to win the tournament, Brazil failed to inspire throughout, with possibly their best (and most entertaining) game being against the under-dogs from Africa, Ghana during the first match of the knock out stages.
They were well beaten by France in the quarter finals with a smasher of a goal from Thierry Henry, but at no stage did they turn on the samba style of attacking football we all love so much.
~ ~ At the Group stages Argentina really looked the part, knocking in no fewer than six goals against Serbia and Montenegro, and looking as though they could go on to fulfil their pre-tournament favourites role. They eventually went out (after a penalty shoot out) through sheer force of will on the part of the Germans at the quarter final stage.
~ ~ After a very poor start in their opening match against Spain which they lost by four goals to nil, Ukraine went on to prove that a good defence and an ability to play the long ball will always bring some success, even against far superior teams. Their performance reminded me of Ireland at Italia 90 when they were being managed by Jack Charlton. Keep em under pressure, and lob the ball into the penalty area at every possible opportunity.
By managing to reach the quarter finals against Italy, where they were comprehensively beaten by three goals to nil, they far surpassed anyones expectations of them in the tournament, including probably their own!
~ ~ What a breath of fresh air. This African nation were the surprise package of the whole World Cup, and their all-out effort and attacking style endeared them to many fans. (Myself included) Their match against Brazil in the last sixteen, which they eventually ended up losing three goals to nil, was one of the most entertaining of the tournament.
In my opinion, its only a matter of time before one of the emergent African nations actually go on to WIN a World Cup, as many of their players take up posts in the European Leagues and gain valuable experience.
~ ~ Most of the other teams would fit into the no-hopers category I mentioned in my title for this review.
So there you have it. My take on the 2006 FIFA World Cup. All comments welcome.
© KenJ July 2006
World Cup Germany 2006 was a memorable tournament for many reasons. The first final in seemingly eons that hasnt featured either Germany or Brazil, debut appearances at the tournament for many smaller nations, a record number of red cards and THAT incident at the final. In fact, its could be forgotten that some football was actually played at the tournament.
Before proceedings began, the favourites were easily reigning Champions Brazil. Their South-American rivals Argentina were looking solid as well, and if you were to believe the English press then Sven Goran Erikssons side were also favourites, in fact if the pundits, especially on BBC, were to be believed, England were already in the final before a ball was kicked. The enigmas would be usual super-powers in bizarre situations such as France, who were immense in 1998, but went home from 2002 without scoring a goal, Italy, who were in the middle of a match-fixing scandal regarding some of their top club sides and the hosts, who had looked shaky in the warm up matches. Naturally Spain had a fantastic squad, but lets be honest, not a World Cup goes past without people talking about their failure to deliver at the highest level. By all rights the Czech Republic could have been tagged as favourites, but its their duty to fulfil the presss quota for could they be the Dark Horse side of the tournament comments.
With regards to players, Brazil had an interesting attack, with Ronaldo facing questions about his weight and Ronaldinho being tagged by many as the greatest player in the World, so much was expected. His Barcelona teammate and Argentinas New Maradonna, Lio Messi was also a player much was expected of, and it would be interesting to see how respective France and Portugal captains Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo would perform. The English press was full of hype regarding Wayne Rooney, would he play? Would he be fully fit? Just how many goals would he score? The spotlight was also on near enough the entire Italy side, but especially Romas Francesco Totti to see if he could recapture his fantastic club form for his country, especially coming back so soon from a potentially career-threatening injury.
***THE GROUP STAGES***
The tournament began in style as the hosts defeated Costa Rica 4-2 in an exciting game full of wonderful forward play, but scandalous defending. The other game from that group saw Ecuador surprise the somewhat fancied Poland with 2 goals in a game they never looked like losing. Both winning sides from the opening day progressed from their group, the Poland being one of the first teams officially ruled out of qualification As the group stages went on, teams fortunes went up and down like the temperature, with the Czech Republic dismantling the USA in their first game, before suffering a shock 2-0 defeat at the hands of Ghana in their second match, which ended up costing them a place in the last 16, as the Africans, in their first World Cup, joined the Italians, who made their usual unspectacular yet effective start to the competition, in progressing from the group.
The question marks raised over France seemed justified as they once again failed to score in a rather dull game against Switzerland which showcased the failings of Manager Raymond Domenechs system, which employed Thierry Henry in an unfamiliar lone-striker role. After bossing the game against South Korea, the Frenchs inability to kill off their opponents came back to haunt them as a late goal saw them snatch a point. There were memoirs of 2002, as the Koreans benefited from a French goal unfairly chopped off, but there was none of the blatant favouritism the Asian side used to reach the last 4 of the 2002 World Cup here, and they left the tournament to accommodate Switzerland in the last 16.
Despite the fact is was the group most British viewers(with many Scots supporting Trinidad & Tobago, another World Cup newbie) were engrossed with, Englands group was quite easily the most boring group of the tournament. 10-man T & T pulled off a shock 0-0 draw against the Swedes and England, despite an impressive first-half, seemed content to do nothing against an equally uninteresting Paraguay for the majority of their game. In fact the fighting spirit of the ridiculously underdogs from T&T was about the most exciting thing about the group, but sadly they only left the tournament with that single point and no-goals, falling 0-2 to England, despite coming close when the scores were level(and Peter Crouch requiring hair-pulling to score the first goal, 10 minutes from the end), and losing by the same score to Paraguay in their final game. Englands final group match against the Swedes to see who would win the group was perhaps the most exciting match of the group, with Joe Coles wonder strike being the showcase moment of the 2-2 draw, most exciting be default due to its scoreline.
The toughest group of the tournament saw 2-time Champions Argentina take on Marco Van Bastens Netherlands, Serbia & Montenegro and another new-to-World Cup side, the Ivory Coast. The majority of games in the group were close fought, although Argentina cemented their place in many peoples eyes as favourites after a 6-0 demolition of Serbia & Montenegro. It turned out the Netherlands, another side with quality to go all the way, but a side traditionally plagued by in-fighting, who would join them in the last 16.
The Spaniards made an uncharacteristically good start to the competition, thrashing the Ukraine, Andriy Shevchenko and all, 4-0, before reverting to their usual selves and chancing their luck against Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, but managing to progress. The Ukraine did manage to recover from that opening defeat and follow them into the knock-out stages, but it was rather evident that the new Chelsea striker was the only really classy player in the side, so they would probably struggle if pit-against a superpower.
One of the lesser spoken of, in this part of the World anyway, groups saw Luis Felip Big Phil Scolaris Portugal take on Mexico, Angola and the controversially present Iran. While Scolaris side progressed fairly easily, they were really the big fish in a relatively tame small pond. Mexico acquitted themselves as a decent side however, and managed to join them in the last 16.
Finally came the group all eyes were on. Brazil, Croatia, Japan and Australia. How many were Brazil going to humiliate their opponents by? Who was gonna be their top scorer? As it turned out, Brazil were relatively tame, and the job fell on more than one occasion to AC Milan midfielder Kaka to help get the goals necessary to pull through. Pull through they did though, and it was Guus Hiddinks Australia, in their second ever World Cup, who joined them. The group didnt go without its share of memorable moments from the men in yellow, but it was the Aussies who upstaged the samba stars in terms of headlines, from 3 goals in the last 5-Minutes to turn the game against Japan on its head, to English referee Graham Polls spectacular blunder in awarding a Croatian player 3 yellow cards, and NO red while playing them.
***The Last 16***
While a few small frys did manage to sneak in, the Czech Republic aside, all the major nations made the journey to the last 16 of the competition. Despite the slow start, Brazil were still favourites, and they found themselves facing up to Ghana in a hard fought game which they did eventually come out on top of, albeit much to the disgust of the Ghana coach, who felt the referee would have been as well in a Brazil shirt.
Sadly the last 16 was marred by 2 of the most depressingly dull games of all time. While England v Ecuador, which the English won courtesy of a David Beckham free-kick(a rarity these days) game was rather dull, nothing, NOTHING could have prepared viewers for the debacle that was Switzerlands game against the Ukraine. It was debated by the pundits if either side were really interested in actually winning, and while I felt the criticisms of the Ukraine were a bit harsh, Switzerland were guilty as charged. If you would like things put in perspective, the Swiss have a player in their ranks who plays up front for SS Lazio in Italys Serie A. They play him in defence. Its that kind of team. The game went to penalties, and even then it became questionable if Switzerland really wanted to progress, as they managed to miss ALL of their penalties to allow the Ukraine a passage to the Quarter Finals.
Italy raised controversy-eyebrows everywhere when an iffy penalty awarded to Fabio Grosso in the dying seconds against Australia, and dispatched to the net by Francesco Totti, saw them progress, but little is mentioned of the fact they did so after suffering some injustice of their own, with defender Marco Materazzi, who would prove a controversy magnet later in the competition, was sent off for what was a yellow card at best offence fairly early into the game. Complaints about refereeing were also somewhat bold from Guus Hiddink, who bossed the South Korea side who defeated the Italians in the midst of disgustingly bad refereeing in 2002.
Indeed the officials in the tournament were high profile, mainly due to most of them adhering to FIFA boss and megalomaniac Sepp Blatters instructions to the letter and letting cards fly. This was most evident in the Portugal-Netherlands match. This should have been one of the showpiece matches, 2 good sides pitting their wits against one another, one manager who has done it all and one new to the job. Instead it ended in a fracas as the referee sent off 4 players and booked basically everyone else in what was a very messy encounter settled by a Maniche goal for Portugal before the carnage kicked off.
2 matches that caught the eye for the right reasons were France-Spain and Mexico-Argentina, the former an evenly contested duel of 2 heavyweights settled by the rebirth of French footballs talisman Zinedine Zidane. After a slow start and a suspension, many wondered if the last we had seen of Zizou would be a shadow of the man who almost single-handedly dismantled Brazil in 1998. But in this game he came back with a vengeance, and capped off a wonderful performance with a goal in the 3-1 victory. The latter saw Mexico strike hard and fast, taking a lead over the highly fancied Argentineans in the opening 10 minutes through Barcelonas Rafa Marquez. The lead was short lived, as Argentina hit back minutes later through Hernan Crespo, and while that was where the goals ended for the 90 minutes, fans were treated to an exhilarating display of back and forth football, settled in extra-time by a wonder strike by Maxi Rodriguez to see the 2-time Champions progress.
Germany-Sweden was perhaps the most 1-sided of all the games, as 2 early goals from Lukas Podolski killed off the Swedes, who later saw a man sent off, and Barcelona striker Henrik Larsson awarded a laughable penalty, where karma caught up with him and saw him blast it miles away from Jens Lehmans goals.
This was where things really started to heat up. Before the tournament, England had named Phil Scolari as the man they wanted to follow Sven in the hotseat, which he sensationally snubbed. His Portugal side were now drawn against England. This wasnt Scolaris only history with England, having seen his Brazil side dump them en route to winning the trophy in 2002, and steered Portugal past them in Euro 2004. The host nation were taking on the new favourites Argentina, the 1998 final got a rematch as France took on Brazil and the Italians saw themselves facing the last remaining minnows in the form of the Ukraine, whose star player had spent the last few years calling Italy home.
England-Portugal was looking like challenging Ukraine-Switzerland for the title of the most boring match of the competition, with both sides looking incredibly normal, and rarely threatening, until some excitement emerged in the form of Wayne Rooney, Englands great hope, being sent off in the second half. Now, while the English media, in particular ITV goon Clive Tyldesley, is in denial, Rooney clearly stamped on the groin of Ricardo Carvalho. A cynical move, and one as deserving a straight-red as anything seen(so far) in the competition. Laughable amounts of press and hatred have also been levelled at Portugals Cristiano Ronaldo, who approached the referee after Rooneys assault and was pushed away by his Manchester United team-mate. Youd never get an English player haranguing the referee claimed Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and Gary Lineker in the studio post-match(despite the fact Owen Hargreaves got booked for it in that very match), and much was made of footage of Ronaldo winking to Scolari after Rooneys dismissal. Apparently it indicated a sinister ploy on the part of the youngster to get his club team-mate sent off. You know, no chance of it maybe being him acknowledging instructions from Scolari or anything, the fact he switched position immediately after was just a coincidence. However, the game didnt end with Rooney letting himself and his team mates down, with David Beckham leaving the game injured, and Aaron Lennon taking his place and contributing more threat than both Beckham and Rooney put together had all tournament long. He looked exciting, and made fun of Portugals numerical advantage and made several good moves into the box, but sadly he was 1 man on a largely uninteresting team, and the introduction of Peter Crouch basically consigned England to not scoring in open play. However, they did hold on bravely through extra time, mainly due to Portugals inability to actually structure a decent attack than anything else really, but then came the shoot-out, something England dreaded more than anything else.
Naturally they blew it, as always, but it was the nature of Englands loss this time that was surprising. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are the 2 men in the squad Id have no doubts about slotting a penalty away, but both, along with Jamie Carragher, failed to bear Ricardo, and England found themselves out of the competition, and many cries of its Svens fault and its Ronaldos fault rung up. The irony is that neither scapegoat was truly to blame. Sure Erikssons tactics were questionable at times, but hell, Marcello Lippis were at times, and Domenech persisted with a useless system too and got places. Much has also been made of the fact that I 3 competitions Eriksson failed to get England beyond the Quarter finals of a tournament, which England seems to regard, in a laughably arrogant fashion, as being some form of failure. A word for you all, England do not have a divine right to win every tournament, the last 8 of a World Cup is a more than respectable placing. To get their twice in 2 World Cups is a pretty good record Id say. Yes every team would like to go further, but I can name 8 nations I rate higher than England, so reaching that stage, especially while playing so dreadfully, with only Joe Cole, Aaron Lennon and John Terry really acquitting themselves well, is quite an achievement actually. Maybe more fingers ought to be pointed at Wayne Rooney, who went home from the tournament with 0 goals and a sending off, yet remains smothered in cotton wool by English fans and press. Being in an unfamiliar role is no excuse for standing on and grinding a mans balls. Thierry Henry and Francesco Totti both face it, and simply got on with their job.
Thankfully, the memories of the actual football played in that tepid match were washed down by Italy hitting something that came close to their stride, brushing aside the Ukraine 3-0, with free-scoring at club level Luca Toni finally breaking his International duct to add to a Gianluca Zambrotta strike. To be fair, the Ukraine tried, and came close twice, but Italys surgical dissection of teams on the break has outdone bigger and more fancied sides, but Shevchenko and company far from disgraced themselves, they just came up against a better side.
Germany and Argentina put on another entertaining game, albeit a more evenly matched contest, which saw the teams drawing 1-1, even after extra-time, and needing the dreaded penalties to settle things. Its worth noting that Germany are as bad at Penalties as England are as good at them(in other words, they always win on them), and this was to be no exception, as Arsenals Lehman, usually a weak link in Arsene Wengers side, having grown in stature as the tournament progressed, and proving Jurgen Klinsman correct in selecting him by saving several spot-kicks to see the hosts through to the semi, where they would meet Italy.
However, the game that defined the Quarter finals would be a replay of the final from 8 years ago. Many expected Brazil to flush away the uneven French, but some, especially a man with ZZ as his initials, had other ideas. To be frank, Ronaldinho received a schooling by Zidane, and the man with the buck teeth should barely be able to look at his World Player of the Year Award after this match. I believe Terry Venables, one of Englands more likable pundits, put it the wizard of was still is. Naturally he played a part in the goal that settled the game, playing a delightful ball in to Thierry Henry who finished, as always, classily. It wasnt that Brazil played particularly badly, and they even managed some good attempts themselves(and with Barthez in goals, anything is possible), but when faced with living up to the reputations, the Nike adverts and the hyperbole, they couldnt, and France were playing more like what was expected of Brazil than they themselves could. In the end the 1 goal settled things, and the French went on to take on Portugal in the Semi.
For the first time since 1982, it was an all European Semi-Finals. What was interesting, was that despite every possible omen being dredged up to try and link the 2006 World Cup to the 1966 one, to show that, you know, England were destined to win it, not one pundit or commentator did I hear mention the fact that it was in fact, the last time Italy won the World Cup that tournament. Indeed, Italy Germany looked a more interesting match on paper, mainly due to how depressing Portugal were against England, but this little tidbit of trivia made it all the more interesting
and boy did it deliver. Despite the fact it was still 0-0 at the end of 90 minutes, this semi final was one of the most pulsating, exciting and magnificent football matches Ive ever had the pleasure, nay, honour, of witnessing. Both sides put their all into it, chances for both teams, and even better was the nature by which it was played. There was no play-acting, when a player went down, they got back up and back into the battle, it was a true spectacle, and what made it better was the referees blatant refusal to be one of Blatters robo-refs and let play go on if possible, and being sensible with his cards. Extra time was played in the same spirit, and was settled 2 minutes before the end, when Palermo left-back Fabio Grosso curved the ball perfectly around Lehman to put Italy 1-0 up. It was one of the goals of the tournament, and in attemting to find a reply, Germany opened themselves up, and Italys trademark ability to slice teams open on the break came to the fore once more, and one of Italys greatest under-achievers, Alessandro Delpiero, delightfully chipped the ball past Lehman for a spectacular finish. To be honest, one felt bad for Germany, maybe 2-0 was a bit harsh on them, but Italy probably had shaded the game for chances, and were worthy winners. It just felt like this should have been the final.
The other Semi wasnt even half as exciting. Portugal were the same drab side that trudged through the game against England, even with Barcelona playmaker Deco back from suspension, and this game was settled when Thierry Henry was tripped by Carvalho and Zidane slotted the resulting penalty home. This was the complete antithesis of the other semi, as France seemed to have researched Portugal well, and realised they didnt have to attack them any more, because Portugal couldnt string together an attack to save themselves, so France took off all of their heavy hitting players, Marseille winger Franck Ribery, who really shone at the tournament, and Henry included. You knew France werent interested in winning when they put on Louis Saha, and the decision almost cost them as a woeful pass almost allowed Portugal an equaliser, but they managed to blow it, and for the good of football, they were denied a place in the final.
***Third Place Play-Off***
I think everyone watching this game had to be rooting for Germany, as they at least deserved some accolade, for THAT game against Italy if nothing else, and because Portugal had been such a depressing side to watch. So it was a relief and justice to all when Germany quite comfortably took the game, with Bastian Schweinsteiger doing the damage to put the hosts 3-0 to the good, before Portugal got a consolation goal courtesy of Nuno Gomez in the last 5-Minutes. The funny thing about this, was that Nuno Gomez, a proven goal-scorer at this level, had not featured in any game I had seen Portugal play. Scolari had persevered with the toothless PSG striker Pauleta, and if he ever made a change it was to put the out-of-his-depth Ronaldo up front, or to bring on the equally toothless Helder Postiga.
The game would be the farewell for both Oliver Kahn and Luis Figo, and both men put in respectable shifts for their sides, and its a shame 2 such legends couldnt have bowed out in a more important game.
The game it all came down to saw the Azzuri, the 3 time champions of the World, whose national game was in the midst of a scandal, against Les Bleus, a team written off as being too old, and employing a counter-productive tactical system. Neither had been favourites before the tournament, yet both and proven themselves worthy as it had went on.
While the game started well, with Italy edging it as a dominant force, another refereeing blunder, within the opening 5 minutes, went against them, with Maloudas blatant dive earning a penalty that Zidane sent crashing off the bar and in. Incensed, the Italians turned it up a gear, and fittingly, Marco Materazzi, the man judged to have fouled Malouda, was the man who got his head to the ball above the French defence. Italy continued to threaten in the first half, with Materazzi coming close from another corner, and Luca Toni hitting the bar. The fact France lost Patrick Viera through injury early on didnt help the French cause early, and they must have been relieved when the half-time whistle went.
However, as the score remained tied at half time, Domenech clearly fired his players up, as the second half they were the dominant force, and while there werent many clear cut opportunities, that was mainly due to a huge performance from Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro.
The game went into Extra-Time, and this trend seemed to continue. Italy even took off Totti, who had admittedly been rather stale, and replaced him with his more defensive-minded Roma teammate Danielle De Rossi, despite their record on penalties, which rivals Englands for badness. They did manage to hit France on the break occasionally, and Luca Toni had a goal chopped off, wrongly, for offside in extra time, but in the second half of extra time, Zidane done something that would make all the headlines, but sadly for the wrong reasons. After an exchange of words with Marco Materazzi, Zidane ran past the Internatzionale defender, turned round, and head butted him in the chest, sending Materazzi crashing to the ground. The referee and both linesmen missed it, but upon the insistance of a furious Gianluigi Buffon, he consulted his 4th official, who thankfully did see it, and the referee had no option but to send Zizou, one of the most iconic footballers of our generation, up the tunnel for the last time in the most shameful fashion imaginable. What made things worse was the fact that minutes beforehand Zidane had forced Buffon into a fantastic save that could have seen him make a mark in a far more positive manner.
The game seemed to go into shock, as the remaining 10 minutes of time were played with little endeavours beyond the middle of the park, and then the whistle blew and Italy had to face their worst fear: Penalties.
Italian football has been plagued by Penalties something awful. The last time a World Cup had been settled by Penalties, it had been when Roberto Baggio, THE iconic Italian of his generation, scooped his kick over the bar and handed the trophy to Brazil in 1994. Again in 1998, the Italians fell foul of penalty kicks, against the French en route to their triumph. Conquering their penalty hoodoo would take some heart.
What made it worse for the Italians was their record against the French. The last time the 2 sides met was the final of Euro 2000, where Italy, leading 1-0, squandered chance, after chance before Sylvain Wiltord hit an equaliser with almost the last kick of normal time, before David Trezeguet scored a golden-goal winner. This was 2 hoodoos in one the Azzuri had to shatter, without their talisman and penalty taker Totti on the field, it was a rather eclectic group who would step up. Underrated and majestic AC Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo, the man who was an unqualified flop at Everton, but became a rock at the heart of the Inter defence Marco Materazzi, the former prodigal son turned underachiever Delpiero, Roma youngster Danielle De Rossi and then another late bloomer, the hero against Germany Fabio Grosso. Ironically it was Trezeguet who would miss the penalty that would hand Italy the trophy.
Sadly Zidanes moment of madness overshadowed Italys victory, and even days later there is no clear answer to what Materazzi said to inspire it. A World Cup defined by a moment of madness, and not any footballing moment. A sad end to the career of one of the greatest players the world has ever seen.
In the end, I thought Italy were worthy winners. In addition to their always magnificent defending, they also took the game to their opponents in many of the games, and while Francesco Totti may not have shown his true ability to dominate games as he does for Roma, he was coming into the competition short of practice, out of his usual role, and undeniably played well in some games. However, perhaps the lack of any 1 star actually highlights one of the likable things about this Italian side is the team mentality of them. No one man stood out, every player contributed equally.
***Players who Stood Out***
For Good, Bad and both.
Zinedine Zidane - Obvious choice. For the first 2 games he was poor, for the 3rd suspended, but this seemed to awaken something in him. He was the deciding factor in the game against Spain, and was the man who destroyed Brazil. Zizou appeared to be the same hero who brought Les Bleus their first World Cup 8 years ago. The man who captained Juventus with pride. And then he rapped the nut in Marco Materazzi in what has already become a favourite animated gif on the Internet. Personifying all that is great about football, and everything wrong within the same 2 weeks will be something Zidane will always be remembered for, that is for sure. The Italian football official who claimed FIFAs award of the Golden Ball to him a disgrace did have a bit of a point though.
Fabio Cannavaro - Defenders dont always get the credit they deserve, but Cannavaro has always been a highly rated player, and as a defender myself Ive always had a high degree of respect for the man as a footballer. Despite his diminutive stature, hes often first to a header, never pulls out of a tackle, and always gets up to support the strikers at set pieces. He was the rock that kept France at bay in the final, and also helped keep Germany in check during that wonderful Semi final.
Gennaro Rino Gattuso - Once deemed by current South Korea manager Dick Advocaat as surplus to requirements at Rangers, despite being held in the highest regard by the supporters, Gattuso further rubbed in just how good a player he is to Advocaat, and further making Rangers fans rue his departure by adding a World Cup to his trophy cabinet. His non-stop running, fearless tackles and good passing makes him a player any team would take on.
Franck Ribery - little known outside his native France, the short Marseille winger made a very good impression upon all who witnessed his surging runs into opposition territory, and scored that vital goal that got them back in the game against Spain.
Cristiano Ronaldo - Ok, ordinarily I hate this smug little git, but he certainly stood out, if not always for the right reasons. While he doesnt seem to have learned anything other than THAT step-over and generic cross, hell certainly be remember for his part in Wayne Rooneys dismissal.
Jens Lehman - the Arsenal stopper has always been a bit unreliable for me, but he really came good for his country in this tournament, and looked solid as a rock. He buried the hatchet and earned the respect of his old rival Oliver Kahn, formerly his biggest critic, yet this competition he labelled his performances flawless. Which says more than I ever could.
Ronaldo - Much mocked by the press for his weight, the Brazilian still became the top scorer of World Cup history, and went home with a lot more goals scored than either Mr. Owen or Mr. Rooney. In fact or the pair put together.
Ronaldinho - Hailed as the Worlds best player before the tournament, the toothy Brazilian really didnt achieve a whole lot this tournament, going home with no goals, and his only memorable moments really coming from being on the receiving end of some of Zinedine Zidanes footwork.
Ricardo - Another keeper Ive always found quite shakey, one aspect of the Portugal keepers game that cannot be faulted is his ability at saving penalties. 3 saves against England, and close calls against England and France, as in he got a touch to each, highlight how good the man is at shootouts.
Wayne Rooney - It had to be included. Most of the pre-tournament talk concerned if he would play or not, but when he finally did wow, disappointment. No goals, nothing spectacular and in fact his only memorable act was the aforementioned sending off. In all fairness, the lad was coming back from a serious injury, but still, if England will build its players up to be Gods, can they really expect everyone else not to laugh when they dont deliver. Rooney should look on the bright side, at least he got on the pitch, which brings us nicely to
Theo Walcott - possibly the most hilarious thing about the tournament. A bizarre inclusion in the England squad was a 17 year old that the manager confessed to never having seen play, he never even got to warm up as a sub, which, when you consider Peter Crouch got a few looks in, really must have hurt the kids morale.
While the 2006 World Cup may seem to have had its headlined dominated by sendings off and bad refereeing than actual football, and it may not have had the same magic as France 98, it was still a tournament that made for intriguing viewing, had one of the finest contests of football Ive ever seen included and saw many hoodoos and traditions shattered. Lets just see if 2010 can top it!
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