Wednesday, 30 June 2010

World Cup pauses for breath

We can at last pause for breath at the South Africa World Cup 2010 as, for the first time in 19 days there are no games today. The first group round is concluded and so is the first knockout round. The quarter finals begin after a two-day break on Friday.

Who's looking good?

We have eight teams left, and my pre-tournament favourites, Argentina and Brazil, are both still there, and a final between the two South American countries is still distinctly possible. Of the Europeans Spain dispatched a disappointingly negative Portugal (who only managed to score in one of four games at this World Cup) yesterday, and they look to be getting stronger. Germany, we (in England at least) know all about and they are such strong tournament competitors that one could easily see them going all the way. Holland have yet to play anybody really good, but now they face Brazil, who will probably be too good for them.

So in the quarters we have:
Holland v Brazil - I say Brazil.
Uruguay v Ghana - Uruguay
Germany v Argentina - Argentina
Paraguay v Spain - Spain

That would give us these semi-finals:
Brazil v Uruguay
Argentina v Spain

The South Americans have so far out-performed the Europeans at this World Cup, and I expect them to continue to do so.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Blatter apologises to England for goal that wasn't given

Breaking news is that Fifa president Sepp Blatter says that the debate on goal-line technology will be reopened when the International FA Board meets in July.

He has apologised to the Football Association over Frank Lampard's disallowed goal in England's World Cup defeat by Germany. The ball clearly crossed the line in the 4-1 loss when the score was 2-1. England might have been outplayed, but an equalising goal could have changed the whole pattern of the game.
It seems obvious to me that 21st Century technology should be used to ensure we get the right decisions in football. Technology is used in rugby, cricket, tennis, ice hockey, motor racing... Why should football remain in the 19th Century?
Fears of hold-ups in play can be allayed because two potential solutions ("Smart Ball" and "Hawkeye") can relay the information to the referee in less than a second. "Goal" or "Play-on" in an instant. and no arguments.
No, the use of technology cannot be repeated down to all levels of the game (one of FIFA's concerns), but they should not kid themselves that a park game is as important as a World Cup game. This is not something to start at the bottom. Start at the top with decisions on ball over the line for goals and see where it develops from there.
A final point of irony. Assistant referees are all too keen to raie their flags for a throw-in when the ball so much as touches the touchline (it should really be completely over it), but they seem reluctant to give a goal unless the ball actually hits the net!

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Premier League stands in the way of a good England side

I've been listening to a radio phone-in on BBC FiveLive this morning. From 9am the only topic has been "What's wrong with England?" This after the dismal failure of the England team who lost 4-1 to Germany in the World Cup second round yesterday.

The mood of people phoning was bleak and angry, with solutions ranging from changing the game at grass roots level to sacking the manager.

Personally, although manager Fabio Capello make some mistakes (see below), I think the problme is more deep-rooted than at managerial level. The FA thought the solution upon sacking Englishman Steve McClaren was to bring in a 'show us your medals' soaraway successful foreign manager in the form of Capello. It was patently not the right answer, and papered over the cracks of a failed system.

Capello's main errors were these:
  • Took injured players to the tournament.
  • Took out-of-form players not even in their club team.
  • Failed to change the system when it was evident that playing Gerrard on the left and Rooney with a strike partner was failing.
  • Repeatedly played or brought on the worst two players in the squad: Emile Heskey and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Neither should even have been in the squad.
However, the main problem is that the players are not good enough. There is not a large enough pool of good players for Capello to pick from. Let us banish, once and for all, this myth that any of the English players are World Class. None would make it into a Best of the World squad of 23 players.

The reason that there are not enough good English players is that there are not enough English players playing in the Premier league.

Dave Whelan, chairman of Wigan Athletic, was on the programme and said that the Premier League should run the England team. Oh My God! He then went on to say that the England team should have an England manager, and England coach. "England, England, England," he said.

The Premier League is not run by English people. In the main the clubs are OWNED by non-English, the teams are MANAGED by non-English, and the teams have mostly non-English PLAYERS. Indeed, there has even been moves to PLAY THE GAMES on foreign soil! Yet Dave Whelan says the Premier League should run the England team!

The result would be no friendlies, no gatherings, top players not released for some England games. In other words a step so far backwards it would be out of sight.

The real answer is move the other way and insist on English ownership, English managers and Englsih players.

But it won't happen. Because the Premier League (which does already hold most of the power) won't let it. Already it's too late because the owners have no interest in the England team.

Get used it to it - the England national team will be a third-rate team for decades to come.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Italy hit rock bottom

There have been some poor Italian teams in the World Cup before, but the team in South Africa 2010 took the biscuit.
In 1966 Italy lost to North Korea 1-0 in the group and went home early as a result.

In 1982 Italy won the World Cup, didn't win a single game in their group - drawing all three - but managed to hit form and dump Brazil out of the cup before going on to beat West Germany 3-1 in the final.

In 1994 they lost to Brazil in the final on penalties, but were hugely unimpressive in the group, qualifying only in third place at the expense of Norway on goals scored, with all four teams finishing with four points.

In 2002, Italy once again scraped out of the group with one win, one draw and one defeat, but then lost on a golden goal to South Korea.

This time they couldn't squeeze out of a truly poor group and finished bottom, behind Paraguay (who look reasonable, to be fair), Slovakia and New Zealand. Never at any stage in the past two weeks have Italy looked anything like a team who might threaten to come good. Some navel gazing is bound to follow.

It's a World Cup of immense interest, without hitting any particular heights of excellent football or a high goal count (an average of 2.16 goals per game in 44 games to date). France and Italy have fallen, and Spain today will probably have to beat Chile to progress. Meanwhile South American teams are making hay...

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Poor refereeing backed by ineffective FIFA

Not all referees are as god as Pierluigi Collina of Italy who was renowned as one of the best referees of his generation. However, while much of the refereeing at the 2010 South Africa World Cup has been reasonable, some of it has been quite poor.
It may be a FIFA directive, but the overreaction of referees to supposed 'use of the elbow' has become almost epidemic. The sending-off, for example, of Brazil's Kaka last Sunday was ridiculous. All he tried to do was prevent himself from getting hurt by an onrushing Ivory Coast player, who then crashed to the floor in death throes with something apparently akin to a smashed skull - when in reality his head wasn't touched at all.

The real culpable player was the Ivorian, not Kaka, yet Kaka is banned for one game and the Ivorian goes unpunished.

The failure of referees to inists on supposedly less critical rules followed leads to players questioning the 'bigger' decisions. Hardly any referees has insisted on throw-ins and free-kicks being taken from the right place, yet the rules are quite clear that a re-start should take place where the infringement took place. In this World Cup tht has been the point at which trowers can start their walk forward to where they run to take the throw, or where the free-kick taker chucks the ball forward forom where he'll take the free-kick.

Howard Webb's failure to book the player from the wall (Spanish, I think) who nearly beat the free-kick taker to the ball (thus being way less than 10 yards from the free-kick) was shameful.

Thus getting away with minor rule breaches, the players move on.

There has been far too much 'simulation' of injury in the World Cup, yet the guilty go unpunished. As for holding in the penalty box by defenders when there are free-kicks of corners, it is, frankly, laughable.

Rather like the players who go unpunished, FIFA need to get a grip.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

4-5-1 is the route to success for England

And so we come to England's final group game in the South Africa World Cup 2010. Will it be their final game of the tournament? They really need to win; a draw probably won't be good enough.

The two performances so far have been poor, then dreadful. A vast improvement is needed against a Slovenian team who top the group, only need a draw, and are bound to play defensively. This is bad news for England who are very poor at breaking down packed defences. Good performances always come against sides who come out to play - even if the results still don't always match!

What is the reason for the terrible form so far in the competition? Against Algeria no player could really hold his head up high and say he had played well. Is there unrest in the camp? Are player egos getting in the way of team harmony? Has Capello 'lost the dressing room'? Is the formation wrong?

I think the formation is wrong, and so is the continued use of two of the poorest players in the squad - Heskey and Wright-Phillips - together with the lack of use of Joe Cole. I believe a 4-5-1 formation would bring the best out of Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard (the latter of whom has performed abysmally so far).

A team of James; Johnson, Terry, Upson, A.Cole; Lennon, Lampard, Barry, Gerrard, J.Cole; Rooney might have a chance of prising open Slovenia's defence. If Capello is stubborn and persists with 4-4-2 then I think we can wave South Africa goodbye.

A 4-5-1 might just give us a win, and, incredibly, might just open the door to a semi-final - so long as we avoid Germany en route.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

FIFA is to blame for the lack of goals

We have now had 14 games in this World Cup. There have been 23 goals, giving us a paltry average of 1.64 goals per game. Twenty-eight of the 32 teams have now played, and 11 of them have failed to score a goal.

So far, it is without doubt the most boring World Cup ever. Where are the goals? Where is the excitement?

Why is this and what could FIFA do about it in future?

I guess there are several reasons why there are not many goals.

It could be the much talked about ball which, rather than causing problems for goalkeepers, is actually proving more of a problem to outfield players, many of whom are overhitting the ball in a number of situations. In future, FIFA should introduce the ball 12 months befor the World Cup and give every nation the opportunity to use it. And they should stop getting lighter balls. What is the purpose of that? They are just less controllable.

It could be that there is a fear of losing the first game. If that is the case, then we should the games open up in the second phase of group matches, due to start this evening with South Africa v Uruguay. If it does turn out to be true, then maybe FIFA should make it four points for a win, or maybe four points for a win in the first game. Radical! But something drastic needs to be done improve the entertainment and desire to win.

I think one of the main reasons - and it's FIFA's fault - is that the playing field is uneven. No, not literally - the fields are all excellent. What I mean is that the referees and assistants are biased towards defenders. They probably don't even realise they are, but they are. Take this scenario. It's a corner, and two pairs of players are grappling. In one pair the defender is obviously fouling the attacker; in the other the attacker is obviously fouling the defender. The referee can't give both free-kicks. What does he do? He will ALWAYS give the kick to the defender against the attacker.

Another scenario: a slight push on a defender by an attacker and the defender throws himself to the floor; result: a free-kick to the defence. OR, a slight push on the attacker by the defender in the box and the attacker throws himself to the floor; result: nothing given, except a possible booking for 'simulation' to the attacker.

Why are officials biased to defenders? It's because a free-kick to a defender has no consequence. If a 'controversial' free-kick or penalty is given to the attacking team, a goal (heaven forbid) might result and be 'blamed' on the referee for years to come. This thinking is wrong.

Pundits like to say 'if you give a penalty for that, you'd have to give six or seven per game.' Yes? Is that bad? A 3-3 draw instead of 0-0! Or, even better, less fouling and 2-2 from open play!

In future FIFA should tell referees to apply the laws of the game in equal measure for attackers and defenders.

Let's bring goals back into the game.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

New World Cup ball for England, but not for everyone

There's a new ball being used at the World Cup. It's an Adidas Jabulani ball. Here it is.

It would be easy to criticise FIFA for introducing a new ball just for the tournament, but actually they haven't. That's just an English point of view. The BBC says: "The ball has been used in domestic football in Germany, France and Argentina since February, but not in England."

Well now, what's going on? Surely the English should have been working with the new ball in anticipation of the World Cup!

As usual, it all comes down to money. Sponsorship deals to use other balls in the Premier League and even England internationals have meant that England's players have had no practice with the new ball until just before the World Cup.

Those in English football (players, managers, administrators) like to think of themselves as the ultimate professionals with the best preparation. Frankly, at times, they ook like a bunch of rank amateurs.

It is, as we might say, another English own goal.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Fear prevents the World Cup from catching fire

Let's talk about the lack of quality at South Africa 2010.

So far we have seen eight games and a paltry 13 goals. For me, only Germany have looked like a good team, with Argentina coming up behind as a fair team. The rest have been weak and uninspiring. Why is this?

Well, it could be exactly as it seems. From the FIFA rankings we have not yet seen the top five in the World (Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Holland and Italy) - they're all in the second half of the group draw. Germany (6) and Argentina (7) are the next best. England are eighth.

There could be some of the traditional 'fear' of losing your first match in a World Cup and being almost out straight away. If so, this is terrbly negative thinking, and it often blights England's campaigns. Look at the Germans. No fear, go for goals, win 4-0 - and THEY are now virtually qualified for the second round, and can coast through their remaining two group games, arriving fit, ready and in a good frame of mind for the knock-out challenge.

Contrast that with England who took the lead against the USA, but could not sustain it. Blaming Robert Green for the draw disguises the real problems. What if England were to go 1-0 up against a Germany or a Holland in the knock-out stages, and they equalise? What do England do: sit back, let them equalise and draw 1-1? We know what happens after that! Why didn't England, at 1-1, go forward and try and get a winner? Now, they're under pressure to secure a vital three points in the next game.

The same goes for all those others who have settled for draws in their opening games because 'it keeps them in the competition'. Yes, but it keeps them under pressure too.

Let's see if the real big guns in the tournament can set it alight in the next few days.

We're finally here

And so the waiting is over - we're finally here. South Africa 2010 is about to begin.

The World Cup is the greatest show on earth, eclipsing even the Olympics. The Beautiful Game brings the world together for a month from today.

Yesterday I wrote off England's chances, and today I look at the likely candidates.

Let's look at the evidence.

The World Cup winners have been: Brazil (5), Italy (4), Germany (3), Argentina (2), Uruguay (2), England (1), France (1).

The last six finals (since 1986) have been contested by: Brazil (3), Germany (3), Argentina (2), France (2), Italy (2).

Current FIFA top ten rankings are:

Friday, 11 June 2010

Who's going to win the World Cup?

And so, it's finally here. The four-year wait is over and the World Cup begins today. South Africa has the privilege of being the first African nation to host the tournament. For the next month The Beautiful Game will bring the world together for the greatest show on earth!
Yesterday I wrote off England's chances, but who will win it?

Let's look at the evidence.

The winners of the 18 tournaments have been: Brazil (5), Italy (4), Germany (3), Argentina (2), Uruguay (2), England (1), France (1).

The finalists in the last 6 cups (since 1986) have been: Brazil (3), Germany (3), Argentina (2), France (2), Italy (2).

FIFA's current top ten rankings are: 1. Brazil; 2. Spain; 3. Portugal; 4. Holland; 5. Italy; 6. Germany; 7. Argentina; 8. England; 9. France; (10. Croatia).

Note that the last six finals have been contested by only five countries. Could Spain, Portugal or Holland upset the continuum? Spain might just creep in, but their record in World Cups is worse than Engalnd's! In my opnion it is hard to see beyond these four: Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy.

It is also interesting to note that only South American teams have won the Cup on another continent.

Thus, though they may not contest the final, I suggest you look no further than Brazil or Argentina.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

So what, really, of England's chances?

There's always huge optimism before a World Cup. Since 1996 the St George's flags come out, the paparazzi chase players, staff and WAGs around the world, the newspapers blow hot, and the pundits all say, "semi-finals, at least."
What the pundits base their predictions on I have no idea. England have a pretty poor record in World Cups: one win on home soil in 1966 and one semi-final in Italy in 1990. I think the pundits (mainly ex-players) think they owe some sort of loyalty to the current players, but it's usually misplaced.

Basically England are a quarter final country; eighth in the FIFA rankings now backs that up solidly. Sadly, England - unlike other countries, such as, Sweden (3rd 1994), Bulgaria (4th 1994), Croatia (3rd 1998), Turkey (3rd 2002), South Korea (4th 2002) - never perform above their station. In fact, disappointingly, the sum of England's parts is always less than the whole. They always underperform.

Even Fabio capello deosn't appear to have knocked the current mob into shape. Recent friendly performances have been depressingly poor, and Fabio seems to be finding it hard to contain his anger - cue attack on paparazzi yesterday.

Back to the football, and how might England fare? Some people say it's an easy group. I'm not so sure. England are 8th in the world; the USA are not far behind at 14, Algeria are 30, and Slovenia have recently improved to 25. Its easy to see a draw with the USA, leaving us having to beat Algeria to recover a strong position.

I think England will qualify for round two, but we may have to settle for second place. If that is the case, then the Germans will be likely second round opponents. And we all know what happens next.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Sloppy England likely to pay the penalty

I gotta tell ya: if England don't improve their level of performance pretty damn quick, then we might be going out of the World Cup at the Group stage. Having watched much of yesterday's final warm-up game against the Platinum Stars of South Africa on BBC's internet streaming, I was completely underwhelmed by England.
Yes, it was a 3-0 win, but better teams are going to take advantage of England's sloppy play, inability to pass and control the ball simply, and their failure to move the ball quickly and competently through midfield.

The most worrying aspect, though, is the way they back off opponents and wait for them to make a mistake. This often only happens at a cross or just outside the England penalty area. That's way too deep. Even Platinum were closing England down much higher up the pitch. If England back off in the same way during the tournament, then they are going to have a long wait before such mistakes are made by the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany. The next time they see the ball could be in the back of their own net.

I'd like to be upbeat about England's chances, but I simply can't be. Years of neglect and foreign imports are finally bringing their payback, and it's not pretty.

Monday, 7 June 2010

The excitement of the World Cup beckons

I'm back after a long break! And just in time for the World Cup.

Just four days away, the greatest show on earth will kick off at 3pm on Friday afternoon with the hosts South Africa playing Mexico at the final stadium, the Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg. It's at an altitude of 1,753m, but that won't be a problem for the Mexicans, familiar with playing at the altitude of the Aztec Stadium, Mexico City.

South Africa are the lowest ranked team at 83, but the hosts traditionally perform above their rankings in the finals. Mexico are ranked 17, but their recent form has been patchy. Expect a nervous game played in front of a loud and expectant crowd.

Meanwhile, England play a final warm-up game on Monday afternoon against local South African side the Platinum Stars. It will be a last chance for Fabio Capello to try out the players who will start the tournament against the USA on Saturday evening. Gareth Barry looks likely to miss out, and with Rio Ferdinand out of the competition, Capello has those two bis decisions to make.

England will also be hoping that there is no repeat of the crowd problems that blighted the Nigeria v North Korea game when a stampede left 16 hurt at the game at the Makhulong Stadium in Johannesburg on Sunday. The FA is confident sufficient security measures are in place.

The excitement builds!