World Cup


1) What will Messi do? Thankfully most people watching the World Cup have appreciated that although he hasn’t scored, Messi has been playing really well. The mad genius of Maradona has decided that if teams are going to attack Argentina’s weak defence, they’ll leave themselves open to his 5 attackers.

This is the problem Germany has. Firstly they don’t have a true defensive midfielder. Khadira could take advantage of the space in Argentina’s centre, by advancing forward,  but that would then give space to Messi to work his magic.

2) Oezil and Muller: Both were fantastic against England. Oezil will have to face Mascherano, who will defend him in a way that Gareth Barry could only dream of. I’d be surprised if he has a great game.

Mueller on the other hand could star again. De Maria is not a naturally defensive player and Heinze isn’t the quickest of left backs – with Mascherano occupied by Oezil, Mueller should have the ability to find space.

3) Maxi or Veron? These two give Argentina completely different options. Maxi is more athletic and will do a better job defensively, although he isn’t a natural central midfielder. On the other hand, Veron can stretch Germany’s defence with his range of passing and provide Argentina’s attackers with better supply. Of course, at this point I’m supposed to mention that Ever Banega combines the qualities of both players and should at the very least have been in the squad.

Clearly football is played on the pitch and not on paper. However, knowing about formations can help understand what the key battles are going to be. In this game, both Brazil and Holland play 4-2-3-1.  This has the potential to lead to stalemate, although as Jonathan Wilson has written, the European version is different from the Brazilian one. Anyway, lets see what the 3 key matchups are.

Who is marking Robinho? The two Dutch holding midfielders will be looking after Kaka so Van Bijl needs to keep track of Robinho. As Wilson writes, the problem he has is that Robinho does not play as a pure winger so Van Bijl may need to follow him inside, which he may not be used to.

Robben v Bastos: Holland haven’t looked great in the World Cup but Robben always looks dangerous when he picks up the ball. I’m not sure that Michel Bastos can check him 1 on 1. If he can’t then Felipe Melo will need to push left and double team him. This could then create space for Sneijder against Gilberto.

Brazil’s Right Side: Maicon marauding down the right is a key part of Brazil’s strategy. He has some problems in this game. Firstly, Dirk Kuyt playing wide left will push up on him and try and prevent him getting the ball. This would normally be a dangerous strategy for Holland as it would create space for the subtlety of Elano or the drive of Ramires.

With both missing Dani Alves is playing there. Undoubtedly he’s a great athletic right back, but whether he can intelligently use the space given to him will be a key to the game.

No matter how much the game has developed globally, some things will take a little longer to change.

Case in point with the last group stage matches this week, which concluded that it is highly unlikely that experienced sides that have been traditional World Cup performers will be leaving South Africa any time soon.

I think the goal that Germany scored put a punctuation mark on what all traditional footballing powerhouses have that the other up and coming sides don’t. It’s the inevitability of genius to shine through in moments of extreme pressure. After all this is what these gentlemen get paid millions of Euros to do the whole year round, why should one summer every 4 years be any different.

While the majority of neutral fans were hoping for a series of upsets that would have put their own teams up against far weaker opposition, it is somewhat embarrassing to be retrospectively recalling statements like “there is no way England is going through”. It is almost like they have fates direct number and can give it a call whenever things are on the brink.

As much as you hate to see rivals going through that are traditional powerhouses, the truth is all of that talent amounts for something at the end of the day and hence the group stages final outcomes have been largely predicable if one used their head instead of their heart.

For those of you that have since forgotten the username and password to your online World Cup bracket, don’t be too disheartened. There is always the knock out round where your most hated teams won’t get that pathetic second chance.

In a few short days, we will know exactly what the World Cup looks like but there are already a couple of potential classics that are emerging from the Group Stage, some confirmed and others in all probability.

Uruguay Vs. South Korea

As a match up, this game is probably one of the best matched of the group stage thus far. Both have had a tough way through their campaigns with plenty of scares and brilliant moments. The South Americans though, have all but qualified for the knock out stage and my head spins trying to figure out who has the best chance of going all the way amongst them. In terms of a result, I would expect Uruguay to edge this one at least.

USA Vs. Ghana

Both of these sides managed to get through by the folly of their teams playing on the other side of the draw. To be fair though the USA probably did a better job of taking control of their fate than Ghana but waiting till the 80th + minute to score really wasn’t telling of their overall performance, which was as usual consistent and organized but a tad wasteful. Ghana on the other hand, now have the opportunity to rescind on their policy of stupidity surrounding bringing on Muntari in the 70th minute exclusively and instead starting him for this one. We hope. This one is a coin flip, but what the neutrals will want from this match is a team capable of creating an upset down the road and if the confederations cup proved anything, its that the USA are definitely capable of just that. USA to take it in extra time is my prediction.

Germany Vs. England

If the Germans were stuck with the choice of England or the USA to play against, I’m not sure whom they would choose. Both had their pros and cons through the group stage. We are however in for a real treat with this one because I expect both teams to play this one like it is the World Cup Final. While I expect Fabio Capello to step down from the England FA coaching spot after this one if you know what I mean, we should also be cognizant of Germanys loss to Serbia and England not having conceded many goals in its mediocre campaign thus far.

As for who will win, who cares honestly just as long as the post match press conference has  Franz Beckhanbauer lampooning Fabio Capello or vice versa. Incidentally, don’t be too shocked if the players beat their respective patron saints to it with a few controversial tackles on the pitch to punctuate their dissatisfaction with the way each other have commented on their respective football styles.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what sitting in on a fight at the Colosseum must have felt like. It’ll just look a little richer in High Definition or even better if you’ve got one of those fancy 3D TVs that all the cool kids have.

Argentina Vs. Mexico

If there are two teams out there that deserve to have not had to face each other for the second world cup running in the same stage of the tournament it is these two. Arguably one of the best goals ever scored in World Cup history was fired in courtesy of Maxi Rodriguez who will be back to haunt the Mexicans in this second encounter. The last world cup saw these two  produce one of the best contests of the tournament and this time the stakes are even higher.

Mexico will be seeking vindication of their South American rivals while Diego Maradona will be intent on his side scoring enough goals to put to rest any claims that the last strike that decided their win 4 years ago against Mexico was no fluke.

As for a prediction, it is absolutely impossible for me to make one that isn’t emotionally influenced, so I’ll be watching this one to enjoy the game that is football and nothing else.

Groups E,F,G and H

Possibilities for the rest of the draw seem endless with Brazil perhaps having a run in with the Spaniards far earlier than anyone would have thought and the Netherlands seem helpless to avoid a run in with an inspired Paraguay, not able to decide whether the alternative which is a run in with Italy would be worse.

The only depressing note is that the Ivory Coast will see themselves almost inevitably edged out of the group of death owing to goal difference which is a bitter pill to swallow unless a miracle goal haul for Brazil and the Ivory Coast manage to neutralize the 7-0 thrashing of North Korea. That is, if their team hasn’t already defected in fear of being executed once they get back home for what will no doubt be declared as shame brought on the nation by them. A sick, but not so remote thought.

One doesn’t need to consult an astrological chart to know that as a former player, Raymond Domenech should have done a better job of handling this situation across the board

While the World Cup has already provided enough upsets to have worried half the worlds fans already, I firmly believe we have just seen the tip of the iceberg!

Drama on the field has been aplenty too, another essential part of World Cup folklore. Tim Cahill and Kaka’s controversial red cards are at the top of my list in terms of on-field incidents but this World Cup has given us some rare insight into activities within the dressing rooms of some of the worlds top sides.

Leading the pack on the subject of having caught the ugliest of spotlights has to be the French team at this World Cup. Sending Anelka home for insulting a member of the coaching staff was probably on hindsight the single stupidest move that the French Football Federation (FFF) could have made.

That the players banded together to take a stance on the issue and boarded a team bus instead of participating in practice in the run up to their final group game, was somewhat of a double edged sword in my mind. There has been talk of dressing room tension in the French squad in the run up to this world cup from the very outset, so none of this should have come as a surprise to any of us.

The unity shown by the squad in their decision not to practice, serves to highlight in my mind that perhaps the problems in the dressing room were never really between the players, many of whom share commonalities in their playing in the same leagues and even the same teams.

As an aside though I want to go on the record to say that I think refusing to practice is the single most unprofessional act they could have used to protest. How that helps ANYONE I am at a loss to understand. Back to it though, it would seem it is the coaching staff within the French camp that is causing the friction that has resulted in nothing short of a  full blown inferno they are now facing.

The question is how do you recover from this kind of an absolute disaster in public relations and image? The most effective approach is to hope that something equally alarming happens that diverts focus from the French teams troubles, but the truth is, unless a player loses his life on the pitch or fans in South Africa are the victim of a terrorist attack, I cannot see any way out of this one for France. Moreover at that kind of a cost, not even the French Football Federation would wish for something as horrendous as that to happen.

When the dust settles though, the finger pointing will begin once everyone is in plain sight and within reach of some fresh cheese in their beloved Paris. If politics and pressure from the top don’t affect the legitimacy of the decision as to whom to blame, I believe it should fall on whoever decided to send Anelka home and inked it. Whoever did that has learnt nothing from the history of national teams that have shaky relations with their selectors and coaches.

Stars that play for their nations team first squad are national treasures. It doesn’t matter what they do, if your governing body has selected them for the team you will just have to put up with them. We’ve had plenty of good examples of this having to be the approach that works, lest the egg not fly onto the faces of the administrators of these teams.

If Shahid Afridi can get back into the Pakistani squad after sampling the succulency of a cricket ball on live TV, if the West Indian team can boycott a major series; only to play for the national team again like everything was a bad dream and if the National Hockey League can overcome a strike that puts the season on hold for 3 months then anything can be resolved without the need for exclusion and expulsion of individuals which just happens to be the point of no return. When will these administrators learn that players sell tickets, not their interference and favoritism.

Bizarrely enough, Zidanes cheering for Algeria throughout the course of this world cup, seems to be fully justified now. I can’t decide whether leaving in the group stage or going through to the next round via a miracle would be better for this French team. Before you begin to feel sorry for anyone involved in this situation please realize that it could have been worse.

The French could have been the defending champions if they had won that penalty shootout four years ago and got knocked out of in the group stage in this world cup.As for Raymond Domenech I honestly hope he hasn’t used up his last astrologically based calculation yet, else he will only have himself to blame.

What an incredible mess!

Here are the video’s in case anyone’s interested. I personally think Wavin’ Flag is really good. K’Naan has a fascinating background as well, so props to Coke for making an interesting choice and not going with a generic pop song.

In the modern game, it is argued, national team coaches can only do so much. The players, after all, are all (theoretically) at the top of their game, they each belong to club sides which keep them in shape and hone their skills, and the national team coach is little more than a cheerleader, along for the ride, watching them do their thing.

This is mindnumbingly, blitheringly, gutwrenchingly wrong.

For proof, I provide you with three exhibits, each seemingly intent on taking something beautiful, and ruining it.

Exhibit A is our old friend Diego, coaching a supremely talented Argentine side that is breathtaking going forward, and which consists of a generation of footballers who could well go all the way, returning Argentina to the pinnacle of the game. Sadly, they have a crippling weakness, and that weakness is the greatest player that country has produced (bar current contenders to that title): one Senor Maradona. The man is, to put not too fine a point on it, insane. As I say, Argentina is breathtaking going forward – they’re also ridiculously exposed at the back. By picking six strikers, and playing as many of them as is possible, Maradona leaves huge, gaping holes in the middle of the park for sides to swiftly counterattack, and watching Demichelis and Samuel deal with this is like watching watching a game of Russian roulette: someone’s going to get hurt.
They may have gotten away with it so far, but don’t expect better sides to not be able to make Argentina pay for the weaknesses not just in the players they have in defence, but in what passes for their entire defensive strategy.

Exhibit B is a man vying with Joachim Loew for the title of best dressed at this year’s World Cup: the ever distinguished, and slightly caddish, looking Raymond Domenech. I shan’t go into the intricacies of his failings, seeing as his France are almost certain to now crash out at the group stage, but his tactics, and stubbornness in sticking to a failed plan, have cost a side which includes the likes of Ribery, Gourcuff, Abidal, Evra and Anelka the chance to go through. The miserable French have simply never looked like scoring, and remind one more of the 2002 World Cup side than the one which went to the final four years ago.

I have, however, saved the maddest madman for last. For at least in the first, we knew his drug addled mind was capable of strange decisions from the outset. In the second, too, there was predictability in his madness, and a dogged determination to stick to what he assured one and all was a plan. Exhibit C, though, has taken insanity above and beyond the call of duty. He is, of course, Vincente del Bosque.
You’d think he has the easiest job in the world. His side virtually picks itself, several play on the same league-winning team, and almost all are near the peak of their respective careers.
Not content with standing by the sidelines, though, it seems del Bosque seems intent on making this side work in a system that would seem nonsensical even to a monkey on crack. Hell, it would seem like folly even to Diego Maradona. Five midfielders (and two wingbacks who spend most of their time in the midfield and up front), and a single striker, for a side that passes the ball around their opponent’s half for a living. Five! Iniesta, Xavi, Silva, Busquets and Xabi Alonso. Just because you have the best midfield in the world, Vincente, doesn’t mean you have to use them all at once. Leaving Torres on the bench wasn’t hubris, it was maniacal. It changes the entire system. Del Bosque has, of course, used this system before, in WC qualifiers and international friendlies, and each time it has shown that it crowds the midfield with seven players, leaving just a single target up front.
That Spain didn’t play at their best against Switzerland goes without saying – but del Bosque seemed adamant to make it as difficult for his side as humanly possible. If Spain are to fulfil their potential on football grandest stage, this insanity will have to cease.

Other thoughts on the World Cup so far:

– England look lost. In their draw against Algeria, in particular, there were far, far too many passes going astray, too little urgency in their play, and an almost complete and utter lack of imagination. Rooney, too, looks far from his best – possibly worn out from a long campaign with Manchester United, coupled with the stresses of carrying a football-mad nation’s hopes on his shoulders?

– Germany are quick, efficient, good to watch, and fallible. Serbia’s win proves that at this level, a good defence is as valuable as a talented strike force. North Korea, too, made that point abundantly clear in their heroic loss to Brazil.

– On Brazil: this side will grind out results, and will keep knocking on the door where other teams (I’m looking at you, Spain) would let their shoulders drop, misplacing passes and firing hopeless long balls into the area. It’s a worrying sign for anyone not supporting them.

– The mass media may be fixated on the World Cup as the story of the moment, but almost no-one writing news copy knows what they’re talking about. See a recent headline on a news channel: “World cup upset: France stunned by Mexico”. I refuse to have to explain why that is, simply put, a ridiculous statement.

If you see this demented man in the street, slap him and yell “4-3-3!!”
until he promises to cease this insanity and be a good boy.

– el kapitan

An accomplishment worthy of the praise of the entire nation

One thing is for certain, World Football has evolved dramatically over the last 8 years. We are witnessing that on a near day to day basis where the word ‘upset’ is being used to categorize one team winning over the other. What  the world is slowly realizing that is on center stage at this world cup however, is that the playing field is getting more and more even day by day.

I’ve mentioned this thought before, but I’ll repeat it for the sake of posterity. The development of local leagues in countries where none existed combined with the global nature of football over the last 8 years means that pretty much any team can beat anyone given a good day on the pitch in terms of performance and a spot of luck.

I don’t think Spain losing was a fluke at all, it can definitely happen again. On closer analysis a greater appreciation of how thin the line between a salvage in the form of a draw and the embarrassment of defeat, is in order. It was about half a centimeter give or take from where Busquets screamer hit the bar. If you can accept that is the kind of margin of difference between the 2nd highest ranked team in the world (Spain) and the 24th, then one has to accept that the World Cup is anyones game.

If Spain and Switzerland weren’t enough to illustrate that point, Serbia’s win over Germany pretty much led any remaining credence to the same with their 1-0 display. It wasn’t the prettiest game of football with enough cards shown to remind you of the contentious Netherlands – Portugal game of 2006.

On hindsight though, one could not have but expected such a physical encounter for a German side, the majority of which play in the Bundesliga where players are anything but gentle. Serbia took the game to Germany, matching them in terms of possession and played an organized defensive game. Which actually served to highlight one of the only predictions Pele ever correctly made when he once said that as the back four of every team become systematically more organized, we are inevitably moving towards a situation where scoring will become nearly impossible. For once, Pele has a point.

There is something else far more satisfying to the average football fan that was neither able to celebrate the upset or rue it, which has to do with another aspect in which the World Cup has evolved. The knock on effect of the margin of victory or defeat slimming down to a mere nothing on the international stage actually exponentially increases the relevance and excitement of this tournament.

While countries have historically supported their teams good or bad with dilligence and dedication, we’ll be seeing that ten fold now that football fans across the globe are beginning to accept the idea that maybe, just maybe the odds of their team winning the World Cup are better than whatever the bookie slaps on them at a billion to one. It’s an important idea that is going to ensure that Football increases its following dramatically over the next decade and beyond.

For the moment though, I just hope Serbia and Switzerland celebrate their wins to their hearts content because there is still a long way to go to the final and we should enjoy every minute of what is the greatest sporting tournament of our time. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the World Cup and that everyone gets a chance to plays some part in the story it tells is what makes it great.

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