Saturday, 5 December 2009


With the press reaction to England’s World Cup draw, you would have though that they were nailed on to be at least finalists (due to be played at the Soccer City Stadium Johannesburg, pictured) in next years tournament. Admittedly this is a kind draw for England, its not as hard as say group D (Germany, Australia, Serbia & Ghana) or Group G (Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast & Portugal), but an easy draw?

England’s first opponents will be the USA, who themselves will see this a a good group to escape from. The quality of American football has risen out of all recognition since they made their first finals appearance in Italia 90 for 40 years. It’s also only 8 years ago since they pushed Germany for a semi-finals place. They have familiar faces plying their trade here and in mainland Europe, Tim Howard at Everton, and closer to home DaMarcus Beasley and Maurice Edu at Rangers. The USA will probably end up vying for qualification with England, and as well as stories of their previous World Cup meeting being brought up, a 1-0 win for the US in the 1950 tournament, we will have the merry go round of Beckham facing some of his colleagues from LA Galaxy.

That’s not to say that the other two sides will be pushovers. Algeria were the standard bearers for African Football in the 1982 & 86 World Cups, this will be their first appearance since then. I would suspect that Algeria will be a tidy, technically good team, and a danger to anyone who wishes to underestimate them. In England’s favour, this will be the first in a pair of games played at sea level. A game England should win, with should being the operative word.

England’s last group game will be against Slovenia, who will be playing in their second World Cup (having lost all three games in 2002). Again England should beat Slovenia. But then again Slovenia is here by beating Russia on away goals, and by finishing ahead of the Czech Republic in the qualifying groups. They appear to be an archetypal “Banana-skin” team, a side England should beat if they approach the game properly.

Should England qualify from that group, they have been paired with Group D in the Second round. Should they finish top, they will face the runners up from Group D, seeded to be either Serbia (the country formerly known as Yugoslavia) or Ghana. Serbia bested France in Qualifying and have a tradition of producing technically gifted sides, while Ghana were the only African side to qualify for the knock out stages in Germany. They will be bolstered by having Inter Milan’s Muntari and Chelsea’s Essien in their midfield. If they get past them, England will be seeded to face a possible quarter final against France or Greece, with a possible semi final against the winners of the Netherlands/Brazil seeded quarter Final.

However if England finish second in their group, they will probably face the Germans in the Second Round. In the unlikely event of them getting past the Germans in a knock out game (England’s last victory over the Germans in a knock out match was, yep, that game), along comes another of England’s bogey teams Argentina. Should they get through that one (and yes, the last time England beat Argentina in a knock out game was during that tournament as well), England will be seeded to face either Italy or Spain.

Yes England have a kind draw, the problem is that other groups have not so kind draws so the path outlined above could easily change. To say that it’s an easy draw is still wide of the mark though.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

SPOTY Time Is Here Again...

Once again the BBC has announced the shortlist for their flagship sports review show, no longer called Sports Review of The Year. It’s an interesting list full of semi-obscure faces that are at least champions or have won something this year. Yet there isn’t really a stand out obvious winner.

The BBC will of course push for Jenson Button to win. They paid out a lot of (questionable) money to capture the rights to Formula 1. In the first season of that contract, long time favourite of the British motorsport press Button won his second Grand Prix. Then kept on winning… and winning until his team suffered a mid season slump, by which time it was probably a question of when he would win the Championship rather than if. Button will get a lot of press, I wouldn’t be surprised if he won.

Andy Murray will do well, but he isn’t the cast iron certainty he would be if he filled that Slam sized hole in his trophy cabinet. The Heavyweight boxer David Haye might do well, especially as he has been promoting himself recently in the mainstream media, with appearances on Jonathan Ross. However if Lewis Hamilton’s tax affairs was an issue for some last year, surely Haye’s tax affairs should be an issue this time around. Ryan Giggs will pick up votes from Manyoo fans, if no-one else. Cavendish, Daley and Tweddle will struggle for votes outside fans of their own sports.

Outside of Button, there are a couple of candidates who might win, especially as Athletics provides more than its fair share of Sports Personality… winners. Jessica Ennis won the Heptathlon at this years World Championships, the first British athlete to win a major Heptathlon since Denise Lewis became Olympic champion in Sydney. Phillips Idowo also struck gold at this year’s World Championships, finally coming out of the shadows of Triple Jumping great Jonathan Edwards. However Button’s main challenger may well be Englands Cricket captain Andrew Strauss.

This time last year, Strauss was preparing to head off to the West Indies as part of a squad led by Coach Peter Moores and captain Kevin Pieterson. Then with days before the tour departed Moores and Pieterson had a spectacular falling out. Moores left his post and Pieterson quit as England captain. Strauss was given the job as England captain. It looked to be a short term affair as England inexplicably lost by an innings at Sabina Park, and continued to lack a cutting edge on the flat pitches across the West Indies. But the reason Strauss is here is because he survived to take England into the Ashes, as things turned out a victorious Ashes series. Strauss’ himself made a vital contribution to the series, he was the leading run scorer of the series, with 474 runs at 52.66, he made 1 century (his 161 helped set up victory at Lords) and 3 50’s.

I think Button will win, Strauss may well finish second. Either Ennis or Idowo might make it into the top three. Haye might well make it into the top three as well. But I suspect that the public relations push for Button will be too strong.