Thursday, 24 June 2010

The second of our look at the conclusion of the group stage of the World Cup looks at Group’s E to H.

Group E

Netherlands      +3      6
Japan                 =      3
Denmark           -1      3
Cameroon         -2      0

The Dutch will win group E with a draw against Cameroon in Cape Town. All eyes will be on the other match in Rustenburg, with a draw enough for Japan to qualify for the knockout stages for the second time. Due to their inferior goal difference, Denmark need a win to keep up their record of qualifying for the knock-out phase of each World Cup finals they have qualified for. Both matches take place tonight at 8:30pm (local time, 7:30pm BST)

Group F
Paraguay          +2      4
Italy                 =         2
New Zealand   =         2
Slovakia          -2        1

A win for Paraguay against New Zealand in Polokwane will see them qualify as Group F winners. New Zealand have to do better than Italy to qualify. Italy have to beat Slovakia in their match at Soccer City to ensure qualification, and avoid the fate of Brazil in 1966 and France in 2002 by avoiding elimination as defending champions at the group stages. Slovakia need win and hope that Paraguay win to see them into one of the qualification spots. Both matches here take place this afternoon at 4pm (local time, 3pm BST).

Group G

Brazil                +3      6
Portugal            +7      4
Cote d’Ivoire    -2       1
North Korea     -8       0

Portugal only need a draw against Brazil to ensure qualification as Group runners up. A Brazil win in Durban would let in Cote d’Ivoire, who would need a heavy win against North Korea in Nelspruit to snatch an unlikely qualification spot. Truith be told though Brazil and Portugal are playing for winning Group G in Durban. Both matches here take place on Friday at 4pm (local time, 3pm BST).
Group H

Chile               +2      6
Spain              +1      3
Switzerland     =        3
Honduras       -3        0

Chile need a point from their match against the European Champions in Pretoria to ensure qualification to the knockout stages. Spain need a win to qualify and to overtake Chile as group H winners, possibly avoiding Brazil in the process. Switzerland needs to beat Honduras by a larger margin than Spain manages against Chile, to overtake Chile in qualifying for the knock out stages.  Both matches take place on Friday at 8:30pm (local time, 7:30pm BST)

After that, it’s proper knock out football. Sudden death. Oh and I’m sure we’ll see penalties.

Monday, 21 June 2010

The World Cup So Far (Part 1)

This week sees the World Cup effectively enter the sudden death phase, as teams race for their positions in the knock out phase.  So now would be a good time to look at the state of play in the groups, starting tonight with Group’s A-D.


Group A

Uruguay +3 4
Mexico +2 4
France -2 1
South Africa -3 1

Uruguay and Mexico require a draw to qualify for the Last 16.  Handily enough, they play each other in Rustenburg so you might think that a cosy 0-0 draw will be on the cards.


Err…  not quite.  On the horizon will be a possible Second round clash with Argentina, which both sides might be anxious to avoid.  Heavy defeat for one side might let France or South Africa (both playing in Bloemfontein) in for an unlikely knockout berth. Both Mexico & Uruguay have been the class sides in this group, and will be dangerous floaters in this draw. Both games are 4pm (local time, 3pm BST) kickoffs tomorrow.


Group B

Argentina +4 6
South Korea -1 3
Greece -1 3
Nigeria -2 0


Argentina require a draw against Greece in Polokwane to qualify as Group B winners, and you would imagine they would get it with their 4-3-1-2 formation firing along quite nicely.  South Korea need to beat Nigeria in Durban and hope that Greece don’t win to take the second qualifying place.  Nigeria’s cause is not entirely hopeless, a win against South Korea coupled with an Argentinean win might see them leapfrog both South Korea and Greece on goal difference.


Both of these games kick off tomorrow night at 8:30pm (local time, 7:30pm BST)


Group C

Slovenia +1 4
USA = 2
England = 2
Algeria -1 1

A win for Slovenia will see them win Group C, and possibly avoid Germany, their opponents England must win, and hope they do better than the USA in order to win this group.  England, as you might have gathered, have not started brilliantly, but are past masters at getting out of groups while not playing well.  Slovenia V England will take place at sea level in Port Elizabeth.


The USA must beat Algeria in Pretoria to seal qualification.  To win the group, the USA will hope that England beat Slovenia and that their margin of victory is as good as England’s (the USA are ahead of England on goals scored).  Algeria must win by at least 2 goals to at least put themselves in the mix.  These games take place at 4pm (local time, 3pm BST) on Wednesday


Group D

Ghana +1 4
Germany +3 3
Serbia = 3
Australia -4 1

A win for Ghana will see them equal Nigeria’s record of reaching the knockout stages of two World Cup’s in a row.  They only have to beat Germany at Soccer City to do that.  Germany themselves have to win to avoid elimination from the group stages of a World Cup for the first time since…  since…  well ever (they were knocked out on the first round in 1938 by Switzerland, when the whole tournament was played as a straight knock out.  That was in a replay).  A draw would leave both sides looking at the result from Nelspruit.


Serbia need to win to ensure a place in the last 16, simple as.  In their way is an Australian side missing Kewell which showed considerable fighting spirit in getting a 1-1 draw against Ghana, after their 4-0 loss to Germany.  To qualify, Australia need to win and hope that Germany loose.  This group concludes on Wednesday with a 8:30pm (local time, 7:30pm BST) kick off.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Fabio’s Jump The Shark Moment

FIFA World Cup, 1st Round Group C: Green Point, Cape Town: England 0 Algeria 0

While the media are beginning to turn on Fabio, tonight’s game was uncomfortable viewing for many England fans.  To put it bluntly, England were outplayed and made to look like novices against a compact and very technically proficient Algeria side.

All credit should go to Algeria.  If they had a good playmaker and a striker, Algeria would have beaten England, comfortably.  They were comfortable on the ball (as predicted here), they pressed the England players and shock horror!!! they played 3-5-2.  This meant that for the second match in a row, England’s midfield was out-numbered, which again was a contributing factor to England’s lacklustre display.   This was a richly deserved point for Algeria, their first World Cup point since their 1-1 draw against Northern Ireland in 1986.  But they should have had so much more.

For England there are now concerns that they might exit the tournament at the group stages, for the first time since 1958.  For the first time, there is now criticism over Capello’s management style, with his insistence that the team is picked a short period before the game coming in for some attention.  However there are other aspects at play here.  While England has a couple of very good players, they do look too rigid tactically.  They look most comfortable playing a 4-4-2, yet both of England’s opponents have employed tactics which have constricted England.  A change to 4-2-3-1, with Carrick & Barry anchoring a mid-field with Joe Cole, Gerard & Lampard (or A N Other) in more advanced positions, might well be in order.  a change to 3 at the back is unthinkable, entirely because Terry, Carragher et all have never played in a back 3 (Ferdinand of course played in a back 3 at West Ham).

The other thing which did not help England is the league that many of these players play in.  The English Premier League might be the richest, most heavily marketed league in the world.  It is a fact though that is is also a harem scarem league, where good passing technique is often bought in rather than raised.  Arsenal apart, there are no teams who play possession football in the EPL, and most teams play a 4-4-2 (only Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Bolton have moved towards variations of 4-5-1).  It is this lack of variation and lack of technical competence which proved to be a hindrance to England.

There are also rumours that all is not well behind the scenes.  The former England manager Graham Taylor, working for BBC Radio 5 Live noticed that “There’s something not right behind the scenes. I don't know what it is. I have an idea: I don't believe the proper preparatory work is being done. Look at the body language: something is wrong."  This was followed shortly afterwards by David James reply to Capello’s view on why England are playing badly (Capello: “England are playing badly because of the pressure”, James: “Really”).

England have until Wednesday to try and find solutions to their problems.  Next up are Slovenia, who are a technically good, tight passing side who England should…   oh we’ve just seen one of those teams haven’t we?  The worry for England is that they are desperately out of form, need a win, and with Germany’s defeat to Serbia today might still face Germany in the Last 16 whether they finish top or second.  The one crumb of comfort is that England have been in bigger holes and recovered, in 1986 and in 1990.  After tonight’s performance though, the word’s “Straw’s” and “clutching at” comes to mind.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

A Penny For Jimmy Greaves' Thoughts

FIFA World Cup, 1st Round, Group C: Rustenburg; England 1, USA 1

People of a certain vintage will remember ITV’s Saturday afternoon football preview show “The Saint & Greavsie”.  One of the on running narratives on the show was Greavsie’s stream of gags about the standard of Scottish goalkeeping, which with the emergence of Alan Rough, Jim Leighton and Andy Goram  had grown more and more tiresome.  Up to around about 1996, conventional wisdom was that England had the best goalkeepers in the world.  I'm not really sure when that started to become less a fact but more a myth, but Robert Green’s moment tonight (above, left) is the latest in a growing list of howlers for English goalkeepers.

Truth be told England did not deserve to win, and the howler gave the USA a parity they deserved.  Capello decided to start with Green in goal, and decided to go with a midfield 4 of Milner, Gerrard, Lampard and Lennon.  It is this decision to pair Gerrard & Lampard which contributed to the USA’s dominance as much as Milner’s lack of fitness and Lennon and Wright-Phillips inability to tuck in.  The USA played with a tight 4 man midfield, which lacked width but provided the USA with an advantage in the middle of the park.  Capello would have been better off playing Carrick (as Barry is possibly still unfit) as he would have been a more natural anchor for the midfield.

When England did manage to get forward, they found a soft defence, However, England did not put sustained pressure on USA, and seemed incapable of putting several passes together.  It is ironic that in earlier coverage of Argentina’s match with Nigeria, the summariser Mick McCarthy kept mentioning that Veron was a failure in the English Premier League, despite the fabulous passing range he has.  England were crying out for the kind of player to pass the ball.  Certainly England’s forwards suffered from the lack of retained possession.  Rooney was hardly in the game.  Heskey fared a little better, he set up Gerard’s goal after 4 minutes.  His pass finding Gerard in space.  Heskey also had the opportunity to win the game, but shot tamely at Howard.

It is to the credit of the USA that England became bogged down in mid-field, which again comes back to Capello’s decision not to play with a midfield anchor.  Unexpectedly, the USA may also have found out that the England defence are a tad suspect at crosses.  The USA had a couple of chances in the second half, which England (having replaced King with Carragher) were unconvincing in clearing.

The consolation for England is that the USA are the toughest opponents in this group.  Next up for England will be Algeria next Friday.   For Capello, all that he has are questions about his squad, and whether to re-shape his team.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The 19th World Cup Finals

World Cup’s are open affairs, they always are.  No one really knows who the form teams are going to be until the competition starts.  Even then, it is sometimes difficult to pick a winner, the most recent example being the defending campions themselves (right).  For pundits to say that this will be the most open World Cup in years is just, well rubbish.  Most of the comentariat seem to have settled on either Brazil or Spain as potential winners of this tournament.

Brazil are more solid defensively than they have been for many years, and have firepower in the shape of Robinhio and Luis Fabiano.  Pulling the strings in midfield will be Kaka.  The problem with Brazil though is that they may not have enough attacking options.  For me Brazil will fall short of reaching the Final.  Spain by sharp contrast are the current European Champions, and have been playing a fantastic brand of possession football, with Iniesta and Xavi at the heart of it all, pulling the strings and making the bullets for David Villia and Fernando Torres.  The key game for Spain will be whoever they meet in the Last 16 (one of Brazil, Portugal or Cote d’Ivoire), should they come through that they could well win.

The World Champions, Italy, begin the defence of their crown against Paraguay on Monday.  Should they get through their group as leaders they are seeded to face either Denmark or Cameroon, with Spain as possible quarter final opponents, which is where that defence may well end.  Before then, our nearest and dearest begin their campaign.  Despite the media hype and hyperbole, there is a sense, coming from the general English public that perhaps England’s best chance was four years ago.  This is a squad that is similar to the squad that fell short four years ago.  Whether England win depends on three things.  Firstly whether their coach Capello can get the England defence to perform as a unit.  Secondly, how soon they can get Gareth Barry into the side.  Barry is the key because he acts as the anchor in the midfield.  The third thing England success depends on will be the shape Capello goes for, whether it’s the “traditional” 4-4-2, or maybe the 4-1-4-1.  There was a hint that Capello may go for three at the back, which wouldn’t work (most English defenders are used to being part of a back 4, and are unable to adapt).

There are three sides who I have a sneaking suspicion might do something at this World Cup.  I think the Cote d’Ivoire will finish ahead of Portugal, and might get to the last 8.  The Netherlands have a good looking squad, and maybe crucially have a good draw which will enable them to build up some momentum before a possible quarter Final against Brazil.  Interestingly, a few of the Netherland’s key players (the likes of Schneider, Van Persie and Robben) are 26 and already have 40-60 caps.  I also have a sneaking suspicion that Argentina might do something.  Ok, their coach is frankly barking, and has so far displayed very little skills in terms of team organisation and tactics.  But there is a semblance of a spine there.  The experienced Samuel at the back, Mascherano in midfield, with Veron acting as the midfield schemer.  Up front could see Tevez and Aguero with the world’s current favourite footballer Messi playing just off.

I think that the last 4 will be England, Netherlands, Argentina and Spain, with Argentina coming out on top.  Let the games commence.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

World Cup 2010: The 1st Round’s Key Games – Part 1

With the 19th FIFA World Cup beginning tomorrow, Fan With A Laptop looks at the key games which will shape knockout stages of this World Cup.  Part 1 looks at the first two rounds of the Group Stages.

Uruguay V France; Cape Town, 11 June 19:30
The first of the big guns in action, the 1998 champions (and Runners-up four years ago) do not have a good World Cup record against the team who won their last World cup 60 years ago. France lost 2-1 at White City in 1966, while 8 years ago Henry was sent off in a 0-0 draw in Busan.  Uruguay represent very tricky opponents in what will be Dominech’s last campaign as the French Coach.

Argentina V Nigeria; Ellis Park, Jo-Burg, 12 June 15:00
First sight of the Argentineans, featuring everyone’s favourite footballer at the moment, Lionel Messi. Their World Cup bow this campaign comes against the team their manager (need i mention Diego Maradona) made his last World Cup appearance. Caniggia bagging a brace in a 2-1 win in Boston.

England V USA; Rustenburg, 12 June 19:30
It’s England’s first game, what else is there to say. Well… plenty. England are traditional slow starters, but need to be quicker off the mark here as this USA team are ranked only six places below them. Defeat for England here would make it difficult for England to qualify. Should they finish second, they would be seeded to play Germany in the Second Round, while their probable quarter final opponents would be Argentina. Both side’s they have not beaten in the World Cup finals since 1966. Defeat for England would not be as seismic as the loss to the USA in the 1950 finals.

Serbia V Ghana; Loftus Versfield, Pretoria, 13 June 15:00
Group D features 3 sides which made the last 16 four years ago… and Serbia who relegated France to the play-off’s during qualification. Ghana were the standard bearers for Africa 4 years ago. Assuming that Germany will qualify from this group, both of these sides are playing for the other qualifying place, and presumably a last 16 game against England.

Cote d’Ivoire V Portugal; Port Elizabeth, 15 June 15:00
Vying with Group D for “Group of Death” status is this group (G).The Ivory Coast were unlucky enough to be in a tough group last time around, while Portugal went all the way to the semi-final,and are currently ranked third. Both sides will want a good start to this group, as the seed in this group is Brazil.

Spain V Switzerland; Durban, 16 June 15:00
First sight of the current European Champions and many people’s tip to win this tournament. Spain are up against the team who got to the last 16 of the last World Cup despite not scoring and not conceding.  A good chance for Spain to get some much needed momentum.  Their draw for the last 16 sees them play one of Brazil/Portugal/Cote d’Ivoire should they qualify.

South Africa V Uruguay; Pretoria, 16 June 19:30
The hosts second match, and a key match for the tournament. A win for South Africa could see the hosts get into a qualifying position. A draw or a loss could see them out, and a lot of the atmosphere disappear.

Germany V Serbia; Port Elizabeth, 18 June 12:30
A key game in Group D. A Germany win could see them through to the knockout stages. A Serbia win could blow the whole group, and that half of the draw, apart. These two sides have met 5 times in World Cup final’s under different guises, their last meeting was a 2-2 draw in Lens in 1998.

Cameroon V Denmark; Pretoria, 19 June 19:30
20 year’s on from their breakthrough performance in Italy, Cameroon can take a big step towards their first knockout tie since that Quarter Final with a win here.  They start this tournament as Africa’s highest ranked team at the tournament (Cameroon are ranked 19, Egypt are ranked 12 despite not qualifying for the World Cup). Denmark 2010 is not really the same vintage as either the 1986 or 1998 teams, but they do possess experience in Sorenssen, Gronkjaer & Tommason, as well as Arsenal’s Bendtner. Whoever finishes second in this group is seeded to play Italy in the Last 16.

Brazil V Cote d’Ivoire; Soccer City, Jo-Burg 20 June 19:30
The last of the key games in the group stages (of the first two rounds of matches) features what might be the best game of the tournament. Brazil 2010 are looking to be a more solid team and are currently rated number 1, but this game will be a test for them. The Toure brothers, Zokora, Eboue, Kalou are very well known to British audiences, even before their striking figurehead (and major doubt) Didier Drogba is mentioned. With Portugal also in this group (they will be meeting North Korea for the first time since 1966), a contender for this trophy will be going home early, while the second placed team will be seeded to play Spain.

Monday, 7 June 2010

World Cup Warm-up – My Memories

So, I'm just back from my holiday’s.  Plugged the lap-top in and switched my wi-fi back on, and i get an e-mail from Craig, the grand fromage from the Last Ditch Tackle blog regarding memories of previous World Cup’s.  Seb from the Inside Left blog has provided his already, so here are mine.  Get your Castle Lager’s in…

First World Cup they can remember (i.e. not Spain 82 when only 1 year old lol)  - Actually my first memory of a World Cup was Spain 1982.  I was 6, in hospital and peed off that all the older patients were hogging the television with this football rubbish.  I wanted cartoons.  I didn’t really get into Football until the 86 tournament, when all the talk was of the “Group of Death”.  The Denmark game I seem to recall was a late kick off (after 11 o’clock if memory serves), but the West Germany and Uruguay games were 8pm kick off’s so I remember those games.  I also remember England’s game with Paraguay was the same night as our Primary 6 disco.

Favourite goal  - Maradona’s first against England, it was worth 2 goals anyway.  The Scottish Football blog has gone for Bergkamp’s against Argentina, which is also worthy of a mention (I would have picked it had i seen it at the time – i was at a wedding that day).  With hindsight, there are also a couple of Brazil goals from 1982 (Zico’s free kick and Eder’s chip against us) which are also worthy of a mention.  Fellow Buddie Archie Gemmil’s goal would have been here, had I been a bit older than 2 years old

Best individual performer at a World Cup  - Whoa… Diego Maradona.  I don’t think anyone since has so firmly dominated a tournament as Maradona did in 1986.  Honourable mention’s should also go to Roberto Baggio who seemed to single handedly drag Italy to the Final of USA 1994, and to Ronaldo (the Brazilian one) who’s 8 goal haul in 2002 was the most by any striker since Muller’s haul in 1970.

Scotland memory – Always seeming to draw defeat from the jaws of victory (like in 1978, in 1982 and in 1990), and always seeming to batter teams and not winning.  Costa Rica and Norway (in 1998) spring readily to mind.

Best game  - Two Brazil V Netherlands games spring to mind. In 1994 we witnessed a see-saw match where Brazil went two up early on in the second half, but were pulled back before Brazil got a winner from a Branco free kick, while the semi final between the two sides 4 years on was also a great game between two of the best sides of that tournament.  Best game involving Scotland was our 2-1 win over Sweden in 1990, the same night as England’s 0-0 draw with the Netherlands.

Worst game  - Hmmm  I have two here, both from 1990.  The worst game I have ever seen was that year’s final – West Germany V Argentina.  The worst game featuring Scotland was the first game against Costa Rica.  We battered them in the first half, but with a combination of Conejo’s heroics and Alan McInally not being able to hit a Coo’s backside with a banjo, Costa Rica were able to hold us to 0-0.  Cayaso then scored to really stuff us.  A mention also for the game against Morocco, not so much because Scotland were absolutely taken apart that night, but more because unjustly Morocco were also eliminated from the World Cup that night, by dint of Norway’s 2-1 win against Brazil.

Nostalgic memories (ie merchandise, cheesy songs, ad's etc) – Apart from a couple of computer games (the Playstation ones for France 98, South Korea 02), not really got any merchandise.  Having said that, I am still miffed that neither BBC or ITV had any Kraftwerk for their coverage 4 years ago, after ITV used some Jean Michel Jarre in 1998.