Wednesday, 30 June 2010

World Cup Observations - Part 4: The last 16

Uruguay's diminutive striker Luis Suarez was the match winner against South Korea and all of a sudden all and sundry are (rightly) lauding him for his frighteningly prolific goal-scoring record for both club and country. So much so, if he is still banging them in for Ajax next season having failed to secure a money-spinning move from Amsterdam to one of Europe's bigger leagues then I, amongst others, will be very surprised.

Ok, so a great record goal scoring record in the Dutch league isn't necessarily a precursor for an illustrious career. If Suarez ends up in the Premier League, he (and the club that sign him of course) would be hoping he is closer to a Ruud van Nistelrooy than a Mateja Kezman/Alfonso Alves.


With all the diving, cheating and play-acting we've been unfortunate to witness from our gravitationally challenged heroes throughout this competition, it was refreshing to see Ghana's Asamoah Gyan demonstrate the importance of not going down under the slightest bit of physical contact as he powered his way to scoring his side's winning goal.

It's sad to think that the vast majority of players in this tournament would have thrown themselves to the ground, rolled around, and gestured for a card following Carlos Bocanegra's challenge. Not Gyan though. And he got his reward.

As a result, the Black Stars edged out Uncle Sam's good ol' US of A, bringing misery to their biggest fan, one Bill Clinton.

Hasn't felt this down since he last heard the name 'Lewinsky'?


USA's Landon Donovan performed well enough against Ghana and throughout the tournament to suggest that his cameo for Everton last season (ignoring his horrific miss against Spurs of course) may not be the last time we see him in European football. He can put his unhappy spell in Germany behind him now, I reckon.


Speaking of Germany, you'd think that having the iconic name 'Müller' and being thrust into the heart of the national team would be far too much pressure for a relatively inexperienced 20-year old to handle.

Well, you'd think so anyway. You certainly wouldn't expect said youngster to show up in a World Cup last 16 game against England and be the best player on the pitch!

This game was supposedly billed as men against boys but it was Germany's 'boys', Müller, Ozil, Schweinsteiger, and Podolski who taught our 'men' a lesson.


They'll have their work cut out against a rampant Argentina though. Who said Maradona didn't have a clue about management? Although with all that talent up front, my mum could probably achieve what he has so far and she's an awful football manager (one would imagine).


But of course, World War 3 (sponsored by The Sun) may have turned out differently. How about that video technology then?

In light of recent high profile controversies it looks like Blatter the Hut has U-turned faster than a Liberal Democrat and suggested that FIFA will now look at the possibility of bringing video technology into football. While this would be a good thing if he actually pushes it through, I have to say I was less than impressed with his public apologies almost implying that the Mexico and England injustices were special cases. Surely he should be apologising for every wrong decision made by officials over the last couple of weeks? Don't the Ivory Coast, Chile and the USA (twice!) deserve apologies too?


On the evidence of his brief but impressive appearances in South Africa and his form in the second half of the season to propel Bayern to Bundesliga glory and the Champions League final, where does Arjen Robben currently rank on the list of the best players in the world and perhaps more importantly, how good would he be if he wasn't so unfortunate with injuries?

Another functional but effective performance from Bert van Marwijk's side saw Robin van Persie throw a hissy fit when substituted. It wouldn't be an international football tournament without some bickering in the Dutch camp. They'll be hoping to get over any spats and pray that Robben is fit for their impending quarter final against eventual winners Brazil.


Having slated Ronaldo and Rooney's performances in this tournament and their failure to justify the praise they get as being the 'best in the world', I don't think Fernando Torres can get away without criticism. One of the Premier League's most lethal strikers has looked about potent as a agoraphobic widowed 78 year old who has lost his viagra prescription and doesn't know how to work the internet.

Long-winded and tedious metaphors aside, 'Nando' has no goals, no assists and not even shown any encouraging signs with his performances so far. Spain's Euro 2008 final match winner has been playing like he's never even seen a football before and with some of the awful touches he's displayed thus far, you'd be forgiven for thinking he had hexagon shaped feet... made of clay!

With the tournament entering it's final stages, if the Spaniards are to repeat the success of two years ago then they will surely need Torres to find himself some kind of return to form.


And finally, as someone who smashed a decisive penalty against the crossbar in a shootout for my Saturday team last season (we lost), I have nothing but sympathy for Japan's Yuichi Komano.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Something about England

So Apple have released their fourth generation iPhone. This a few short months after unveiling their iPad tablet thingy. At the recent E3 event, Microsoft told us about the Kinect – their brand spanking new gaming console where the the player's body acts as the controller!

Basically, the roundabout point I'm trying to make is that we live in an era where technology is king yet today we are sat here talking about the simple fact that all but two people (and ultimately, the most important two) failed to spot something as basic as a ball crossing a white line.

I think that might have been in. Can't be sure.

For the most part, sport has done well to embrace technology. We have Hawkeye in tennis, the third umpire in cricket and video refs in Rugby to assist officials when it comes to making those difficult to spot decisions.

So why in the biggest and best sport of them all, a multi-million pound business that is watched the world over and has so much at stake, have we failed to incorporate something as straight forward as a video replays to prevent the kind of glaring and embarrassing refereeing errors such as that in the England-Germany match. Of course, I'm talking about Frank Lampard's 'ghost' goal. Such farcical decisions harm the integrity of the game and for me, are a much greater injustice than something like diving.

We're no longer living in the dark ages. It's not a logistical problem. To simply have some means of determining whether a goal has been scored or not wont require any drastic change to the way the game is played. Goal line cameras and sensors have been mooted but it doesn't even need to be that complicated. Blatter the Hut reckons technology will undermine the authority of the officials so why isn't the otherwise redundant fourth official able to view such incidents on a pitchside monitor and consult their colleague in the middle when a mistake is made?

In the Europa League last season, UEFA piloted goalline officials. Really, how difficult would it be for FIFA to implement the same thing for it's flagship tournament and prevent such major mistakes being made?

Far from undermining a referee's authority, surely assistance will mean they get the big decisions right and thus garner more of their much sought after 'Respect' from players, fans, managers etc. They'll be less inclined to 'even things up' when something goes wrong.

Enough is enough and surely it is time for a change. Mistakes like that just make a mockery of the game.


England were soundly and deservedly beaten by a better German team and to use Lampard's disallowed goal as an excuse is quite simply that, an excuse!

I'm not going to sit here and use that as a reason for the pitiful, limp and at times completely pathetic showing from our 'heroes'. The overall performance from England almost deemed the goal irrelevant. People say that 4-1 flattered the Germans. Wrong. Our 'equaliser' would have flattered us given how the game had started.

Yes, at 2-2 the outcome may have turned out differently (the scoreline certainly would have) but who's to say we wouldn't have still been hammered? There's no way of ever knowing how the game would have turned out and given the humiliating manner of the defeat, I'm less inclined to believe anything other than a German win would have still been on the cards.

For arguments sake, if we are to say that the disallowed goal was the reason for the defeat, then that doesn't paint a very positive picture about English football. This is hardly a first in football. All over the world at various levels of football, teams have goals wrongly disallowed on a regular basis and you can bet your bottom dollar that they don't all wilt away and throw in the towel the same way England did. What happened to the famous English fighting spirit? A goal disallowed at 2-1 hardly signals the end of the world and there was more than enough time left in the match for the team to come back into the game. To dwell on that goal just shows a weak and defeatist mentality. We'll never achieve anything if we will forever whinge about perceived injustices. It was one mistake, if we're good enough, we get over it, win anyway and forget about it. I honestly expected better from Capello.

That's some top notch defending there lads...

England played without any hunger yesterday. It wasn't a case that they were overawed by a vastly superior Germany team but were simply outclassed in all areas of the pitch. England have a pool of talented players who simply didn't perform. Too many individual errors were made by pretty much everyone.

At the back, Glen Johnson showed that he can't defend against any attacker with even an ounce of pace and ability. The John Terry myth was ruthlessly exposed. His positioning and organisation were a shambles. Matthew Upson, despite his goal, looked like a player that had been playing for team that spent last season battling against relegation... oh, right. The ease with which Germany carved open the back four for Podolski's goal had me dumbfounded.

In midfield Gareth Barry's performance would have been funny had it not been so inept while Gerrard and Milner were almost completely anonymous.

Up top, Rooney, not for the first time this tournament was terrible and continued his goalless run for his country on the big stage. But alas, the boy wonder is untouchable yet again when it comes to criticism. It's not his fault, he has 'fitness issues' don't you know?

Fabio Capello seems to be baring the brunt of criticism. This is to expected. As manager, he picks the team, sends the players out and is ultimately responsible for the result. People have questioned both his tactics and team selection but in truth, he was let down horribly by the players he trusted. Is he accountable? Most probably but I don't see how Fabio is to blame for John Terry not being able to judge the flight of the ball to win a header before the opening goal. Nor is it Fabio's fault that Gareth Barry insisted on finding a German shirt with every single pass he made. Yes, he picks the players but it falls on them to do the job they are sent out to do.

I'm not prepared to get on the Italian's case and suggest he should be sacked. Capello is a proven winner and I don't doubt he can turn around this mess given the chance. But that's what he needs, a chance. Managerial chopping and changing is the last thing we need. Besides, who would we even bring in? I'm hearing the likes of Redknapp, Pearce and even Beckham (?) Ask yourself, are these people really better than Capello?

That said, the England football team looks to be heading into a dark period. Much has been made of the demise of the so-called 'Golden Generation'. With the likes of James, Gerrard, Terry, Cole, Lampard all soon to be the wrong side of 30, our lack of strength in depth looks like it will brutally exposed in the coming years. The players coming through are quite simply not good enough to challenge or replace the existing mob.

While Joe Hart may go on to a great keeper, in front of him, the next generation of players look set to feature the likes of Gary Cahill, Adam Johnson, Leighton Baines, Jacks Rodwell and Wilshire and Theo Walcott. Hardly names to strike fear into the hearts of our international footballing peers.

Football can be a painful game at times.

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Saturday, 26 June 2010

World Cup Observations - Part 3: June 22-25

Looking at the draw, it turns out that Uncle Sam's good ol' US of A, Uruguay, South Korea or Ghana are guaranteed a semi final place. Of that Motley Crew, I'm going to take a punt and predict that the Yanks will be ones to make it through to the final four much to the surprise of quite a few people. Beyond that, who knows? World Champions? Not completely outrageous to suggest I reckon (although about as likely as Cilla Black break-dancing on next year's Britain's Got Talent). Of course if it does happen, I'm sure you all realise that the achievement will be solely down to David Beckham.


The Yanks aren't my only pick to pull off a potential shock. Having seen Japan destroy Denmark with three great goals worthy of any World Cup, I feel the Blue Samurai could be a match for absolutely anyone in the competition and could claim a major scalp if underestimated. Let's look at the evidence: Two group stage wins and one very narrow and unfortunate defeat against a Holland side that are amongst the favourites to win the thing. Even that match may have ended differently had it not been for the curse of the Jabulani! Also, lest not forget their last warm up game against England, when they were only guilty of beating themselves (2 oggys remember) rather than being outclassed by a supposedly better team.


Speaking of England, our boys finally got it together and put in a relatively decent performance (let's face it, they could hardly have played much worse than in the Algeria game could they?) to secure a win over Slovenia and qualification for the last 16 against Ze Germans! I'll leave it to the tabloids to get caught up in the xenophobic, offensive and embarrassing anti-German rhetoric and stick to talking about football. England certainly have the players to beat Germany and for me, go in as slight favourites. No, I'm not writing them off (NEVER write off the Germans!!!) but I feel that Wednesday's win ought to spark some life into the players and mean they should go out there with no fear. This isn't the best German side we've seen over the years and with arguably a better manager than them for once, they are there for the beating.

If it goes to penalties though, we're screwed. It's in our DNA not to win those damned things.


It also turns out that England weren't the only ones to finally show up in their third game of the tournament. Take a bow Slovakia. Had they performed like that in the first two games, they would be the ones facing Japan rather than the prospect of a guaranteed loss against the Dutch next week.


Some people seem to be rejoicing in the apparent demise of the Italian football team. Not me. While the French implosion was something of catastrophic genius, the image of one the greatest centre backs in a generation – Fabio Cannavaro – cutting a forlon figure and almost close to tears as he trudged off the pitch following what was to be his final ever international match was a sad sight. Many may rejoice in the Azzurri's poor showing at a tournament but as someone who grew up watching one of the best national sides of the last few decades and one of the strongest domestic leagues in the world (despite it's unfair stereotype of being labelled as 'boring'), I don't think I speak with hyperbole when I say that I feel as though a piece of my childhood has died seeing how poor Italian football has become both at club and international level.

Yeah, sure Inter are current European Champions but with such a scarcity of actual Italian players in their team, is it really a victory for Italian football? I for one am hoping that Lippi's replacement Cesare Prandelli Can go some way to helping restore the team's once lofty position on the world stage.


Three points for New Zealand. Unreal. Hold your heads high my Kiwi brothers!


Given their unconvincing performances during the group stages, you have to wonder if talk of Spain being favourites for this competition has been premature. Far from being the dominant force everyone expected them to be, they may have a fight on their hands if they are to add World Trophy to Euro Trophy in their trophy cabinet.


Watching Brazil earlier, I have to say that seeing Julio Baptista coming into the team as Kaka's replacement rather than Ronaldhino killed me a little inside. Incidentally, a French idiom for orgasm is La Petite Mort – the 'little death'. However, what you get watching the aforementioned Baptista play must be what the exact opposite of an orgasm feels like.

What we're missing out on

Sticking with sexual response cycle metaphors, after all the hype ahead of the two most exciting football teams coming together (no pun intended), did that 90 minutes between Portugal and Brazil not represent the ultimate footballing anti-climax?


While nobody involved in that game covered themselves in any glory whatsoever, not all of them are constantly being lauded as being the 'best player in the world'. Yes, Mr. Cristiano Ronaldo, I'm looking at you.

Once again, the Portuguese superstar fails to actually perform for Portugal. In fact, if you only watch international football, you wouldn't believe he was even the same player that has run both the Premier League and La Liga ragged in recent years and been spoken of in the same breath as the likes of Thierry Henry, Marco van Basten and his predecessor in the Portugal number 7 shirt, Luis Figo. On the evidence of his international games, such talk is nonsense. His scrappy and fortunate strike in his team's 7-0 thrashing of Korea DPR was his only goal in 15 games for his country and his first since February 2009.

CR7? CRap more like!

(Cue a tournament winning run of form and record number of goals from hereon in)


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Monday, 21 June 2010

World Cup Observations - Part 2: June 17-21

1. We all love Brazil. Ask any football fan throughout the world to talk about the best teams, players, goals or matches they've ever seen, you can bet your left kidney that that Brazil will feature in some context. The South Americans pretty much represent what 'good football' should be and are recognised the world over for their approach to the game. Basically, you can't be a real football fan if you don't hold Brazil or Brazilians in such high regard.

The problem with this sycophancy however means that one may be inclined to turn a blind eye when they do wrong. Forget the World Cup, Luis Fabiano showed such brilliant hand control for his second goal against the Ivory Coast that he would walk into the LA Lakers team that won the NBA title last week!

I'm still waiting for the 'experts' to come out and condemn Fabiano as a cheat who should be banned, claim that he has tarnished his reputation forever, suggest the game be replayed or that Brazil should be thrown out of the tournament. No? It seems they get a pass.

Those pretty gold shirts have clearly blinded us all into hypocrisy.


2. Of course, that goal wasn't the only bad decision by referee Stephane Lannoy. Kaka's second yellow card and subsequent sending off had half the world spitting blood to rightly condemn the disgraceful play-acting by Abdel-Kader Keïta that resulted in the red.

However, what seems to be ignored is how often the Brazilians themselves would roll around clutching their ankles, knees and whatever else after almost every Ivorian challenge before leaping up and sprinting away once they got the decision.

If Karma existed (which it doesn't!) then some people would claim that Kaka taking an early bath was a perfect example of it.

Others would suggest it has been eight years coming following this against Turkey...

Coincidentally, Keïta himself plays for Galatasaray meaning he's probably going to go back to his club a hero for extracting some measure of revenge on the behalf of his adopted country.


3. So the Kiwis have gone and picked up a SECOND point in the tournament. This time, remarkably, against the current World Champions. Football in New Zealand may have no kind of future but certainly a less patronising congratulations is in order.

Especially as it turns out that they are now just as good as England.


4. Speaking of the Three Lions...

I don't think this warrants any comment from me otherwise I'll end up writing my rantings until the NEXT World Cup! For the record, I'm obviously disappointed but 100% confident England will get the result they need on Wednesday – despite the best efforts of 'Jay-Tee' – and go through. More learned people than myself can break down exactly why.


5. The fall-out from the England game has seen a fan looking like he's facing conviction for trying to get into the team changing room.

I sympathise with him as it would be easy to confuse the England dressing room for the toilet given how 'piss-poor' we played.


6. There have been rumours of player unrest in the England camp. Not to be outdone, the French took our rumours chewed them up, spat them out and defecated on them before kicking them into touch with a full on civil war! With their strikes, statements and public fallings out, France are doing things in style. Although Nic Anelka going home just means he has a two day head start on his mates who will surely be on the plane come Wednesday morning. I think the French Football Federation ought to add another couple of F's for F****** Farcical.

As much as it looks like France are amusingly about to crash out, I just hope there's no Austria-Germany style Jiggery-pokery and skulduggery in the Uruguay/Mexico match (where a 'convenient' draw will take both of sides through).


7. Last week I mentioned a Dutch-German switcheroo and it continued in the second round of group games as the Germans, after previously adopting their great football style, decided to adopt the Dutch trait of self-destruction with a pointless sending off, a missed penalty (No, I still can't believe it either) and ultimately a defeat.

Meanwhile, the traditionally entertaining Dutch earned a 'functional' 1-0 win over Japan. Wesley Sneijder scored an ugly goal to win a match in which the football was about as attractive as Kerry Katona pleasuring herself with a toilet brush.


8. I'm really happy with the BBC's commitment to making sure their TV coverage of the tournament is as much about South Africa as a country as it is about football. That country has been through a hell of a lot to get where they are today and it's bloody important that people know it.

And what's the alternative on the other side? Oh yes, James Fecking Cordon.


9. Who thought that Slovenia v USA would be the Game of the tournament so far? Also will be interesting to see how the Yanks react to being 'robbed' if that disallowed goal ultimately costs them qualification from the group stage. It's no secret that 'Soccerball' is not the most popular sport across the pond so maybe a bit of injustice and righteous indignation will be what it takes to spark more of an interest over there.


10. Those bloody Iberians, eh? While some people dared to muse about the number of upsets so far and shifts in power, they just had to go and ruin the whole 'surprise' nature of the tournament by going out and being so frighteningly dominant in their respective games.

Although a wasteful Spain must be wondering how they didn't eclipse the sphincter-splitting pounding their neighbours inflicted on Korea DPR just a few hours earlier.


11. Speaking of whom, it's a shame there won't be any football highlights in Pyongyang tonight....

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Wednesday, 16 June 2010

World Cup Observations - Part 1: June 11-16

1. Firstly, some idiot reckons David Villa will end up as top scorer...

How did that one work out?

2. After seeing him mastermind a victory over most people's tournament favourites, I'm left scratching my head wondering why Ottmar Hitzfeld's name is never mentioned whenever big jobs in football come up? The man has won more silverware than most of the more 'fashionable' managers out there including not one, but two Champions league titles when you didn't have to face teams that finished fourth in their domestic league. Ok, so he doesn't wear a snappy overcoat or even have a name that I can make a decent puns out of but is that any reason to just ignore him?

With Liverpool currently managerless, the scousers could do a darn sight worse than Hitzfeld.

3. Like the rest of the world, I was left confused as to how a team with no readily identifiable flaws (Sergio Ramos' terrible barnet aside...) and on a frightening run of form coming into the tournament somehow lost to a team whose qualifying campaign included a 2-1 defeat to Luxembourg. Yes, Luxembourg!

My theory is that they have too many good players. Every great team needs a clogger or a passenger. You know, that special someone just shit enough to inspire the better players to play better. When everyone is so good, they just get complacent and expect one of the other world class players to do the job.

4. The greatest name in the World Cup? Chile's Waldo Ponce!

5. I'm sure you are all aware of the annoying sound that seems to accompany every game at this tournament. Yes, the repetitive and mind-numbing sound of people complaining about the vuvuzela's. Possibly the only noise more irritating that the vuvuzelas themselves. Get over it.

6. Also, everyone seems to be complaining about the all new 'roundest ever' Jabulani ball.

Everyone except Diego Forlan.

As an aside, if it is the 'roundest ever' it makes you wonder if they were playing football with big cube blocks back in the 1930s.

7. As someone of African origin, I am personally offended that Emmanuel 'no punctuation' Adebayor has been chosen as the 'voice' of African football on the BBC. Ihopethatno-onereallybelievesthateveryonefromthemotherlandspeakslikethat.

8. A peculiar thing happened this week. The oft-maligned German team who are quite often unfairly labelled with terms such as 'efficient' and 'conservative' went and played some great football and have easily stood out as the most entertaining team in an otherwise uninspired tournament so far. Conversely, their tango loving Orange clad neighbours from across the border whose game is regularly described as 'Schexy', were the ones who turned up and 'played it safe' to secure the win. What next? An England keeper that can catch?

9. However, before getting all uber excited by our German chums, we have to remember they were playing the Aussies who still had Craig Moore (age 74) in their defence. I don't know about the rest of you but doesn't it make you feel all warm inside to see an Australian sports team finally looking so helplessly rubbish at something?

10. Their Antipodeon neighbours somehow actually managed to score a goal in these finals and lose many people a bet by not actually bombing out of the tournament with nothing to show for their trip across the Indian Ocean.

Well done! And I mean that in the most patronising way possible.

Although you'd be hard pressed to find me a Kiwi that actually cares. Or even knows the tournament is going on for that matter.

11. I was in a pub watching Korea DPR not get entirely humiliated by eventual winners Brazil and was surprised at the amount of people who cheered their consolation goal. It's good to see football fans can come together and put aside silly little things like dictatorships and the threat of nuclear war.

12. Finally, before people start calling it “The Maicon”, let's remember that Brazilians have been doing that shit since forever.