Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Are good full backs a necessity in the modern game??

Last nights game involving Brazil and Chile showcased 3 of the best attaching full backs in the world; the strange thing being that they all played for Brazil (Daniel Alves was selected on the right of midfield to partner Maicon on Brazil’s right). On the left they have had Bastos who is looking really impressive after a very good first season with Lyon.

Before the world cup many of the pundits tipped the side with the best full backs to win the world cup. The recent tournaments have produced Thuram and Lizarazu for France, Cafu and Roberto Carlos for Brazil and Grosso and Zambrotta for Italy. The attacking flair these players possess along with their defensive attributes make them such pivotal members of successful sides. The Brazilians belief that the best technical players should play in this position is not entirely correct but something that the European sides should take note of in future tournaments. Their overlapping runs often contribute to goals and chances when the opposition defences become stretched.

It has been fantastic watching Maicon and Alves this season playing for the top 2 clubs in Europe and continuing their form on the world stage. Maicon is undeniably the best full back in the world and it is no wonder that Mourinho is desperate to take him to the Bernabeu. The emergence of Bastos has really made Brazil serious contenders and with those 2 assisting the likes of Fabiano, Kaka and Robinho it seems almost inevitable that Brazil will win their 6 title.

Monday, 28 June 2010

England found wanting.....again.....

Yesterdays encounter in Bloemfontein demonstrated everything that is wrong with English football. The lack of technical ability was really highlighted by the youthful German side that look like they could dominate International football over the next few years. Having trounced the England under 21s a year ago 4 players had progressed straight into the full side for this World Cup. Where is the next English player of any note coming from? In Neuer, Ozil, Khedira and Boateng the German’s possessed hungry young players who are desperate to repeat last year’s success on the biggest stage of all.

Once again every England player and fan is trying to blame anyone but themselves and Capello’s tenure as England’s manager will surely come to an end in the next few days. The FA will face a tough task proposing this job to anyone after the last 2 weeks. Why can they play in the Premier League so well and then play this poorly for England? The answer lies in the psychological make up of some of the players as well as the fact that they simply are not good enough. How can these players play at the top level when none of them can put their foot on the ball and pick a pass in the final third. Ozil already looks a more accomplished player than Gerrard and he is only 21.

If England are to improve many of the current players should make way for the younger players coming through. They need experience playing at this level and the European Qualifications should be a training exercise for the young players. Get Wilshire in the squads and let him train with Rooney etc so its not such a big jump in a few years. It is time for the likes of Ferdinand, Terry, Lampard, Gerrard and Barry to be put out to pasture. The supposed ‘Golden Generation’ have delivered nothing and have had their chance. It must be time to start from scratch, surely England will not get any worse??

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Tournament favourites starting to purr

Over successive nights we saw Brazil and then Spain start to demonstrate why they were the favourites coming into the tournament. The Brazilians were not at their best on Sunday night but still managed to brush the Ivory Coast aside with ease. Dunga will be especially pleased that Luis Fabiano ended his international goal drought with 2 fantastic goals. Robinho is demonstrating the form that resulted in many leading pundits to tip him as a world great in his earlier career. He looks like he is really enjoying himself which makes such pleasing viewing.

The real plus was the assist Kaka provided for Elano at the end. Although some of the punditry has been abysmal on the BBC and ITV Clarence Seedorf made a very good observation after their opening game. He commented that Kaka was not at his best as he didn’t dribble the ball to the by-line and look for a pull back; instead he simply off played the ball to Bastos at left back. On Sunday he ran to the touchline and provided an inch perfect pass to Elano for their third. Even though the sending off was disgraceful Dunga will be content in knowing that he looks like his form is returning at the right moment.

Last night the Spaniards showed exactly why they are so good and are such favourites for the trophy. The ease with which they pass the ball round is something only the Argentineans have come close to. They created opportunities at will and but for some below par finishing the score could have reached double figures. Torres is suffering in the same way as Kaka but his overall performance last night contributed everything but the goal he craves; it will come no doubt. The tournament hasn’t been quite as entertaining as many had hoped and expected, however, if these 2 can avoid each other in the 2nd round the football looks like its going to improve considerably.

Does club form really matter part II

England’s game tomorrow night against Slovenia must result in victory or they will exit the 2010 World Cup in the group stages. The display on Friday night was dreadful and one of the worst witnessed at this tournament. Against an impotent Algeria, England failed to muster any conviction as once again Gerrard, Lampard and the rest demonstrated they should not be playing international football.

The Algerian’s were first to every ball and passed the ball around nicely; showing England how it should be done. The poor and slightly out of form Rooney looked around him in disbelief at his team-mates who looked like a pub side turning out on a Sunday afternoon. He is clearly lacking some match fitness but the look on his face halfway through the 2nd half said it all. As the most gifted England player he was supposed to shine in this tournament, instead he is playing with 2nd rate players who cannot even pass the ball into his feet. If England are to advance they must play to Rooney’s strengths and keep the ball on the ground and play it into his feet where he will affect the game more significantly than Heskey will ever do.

It is unlikely England can play as badly again tomorrow and they should get the win they need to advance. Serious questions have emerged though following the unsatisfactory performances of the first 2 games. England severely lack the technical ability to retain possession and clearly lack the hunger and desire to succeed at International Level. If they do fail tomorrow it would only be right for a few of them to retire from England duty, none more so than the captain Steven Gerrard who should be up for the award of most overrated player in history!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Who would have thought?

Spain have come away from their opening game against Switzerland with a loss….yes, this isn’t a miss-print. Although they controlled the game, they lacked a cutting edge in the final third until Torres and Navas were introduced. The build up was too slow in midfield which gave the Swiss ample time for their defensive players to get organised.

This is not the start anyone had envisaged. Although their remaining games should be straightforward they have achieved what only USA have done in the last 2 years and beaten the reigning European Champions. Next up they face Honduras who they must beat emphatically to regain confidence and also re-create the fear factor for their opponents. Coming into the tournament everyone has had them as clear favourites which is clearly something they struggle with. There are a few minor problems with individuals in the squad, Iniesta is not match fit and will need the 3 games in order to hopefully find that.

La Furia Roja will surely qualify through the group but the news will trouble Brazil who would have hoped to top the group and avoid them in the next round. The top managers and teams are not concerned with who they face as they need to beat the best in order to win the championship but Dunga will have taken note of this; Del-Bosque will also be aware what this defeat could mean for his side. Surely Spain cannot fall short like this again….

Monday, 14 June 2010

The Azzurri

The defending champions opened the defence of their title with a 1-1 draw with Paraguay this evening. After going 1 nil down to Alcaraz’s header in the first half they subbed Buffon at half-time, made a couple of tactical adjustments and deservedly came away with a draw. Danielle De Rossi’s equaliser was probably the minimum they deserved for their 2nd half performance.

Lippi’s side is by no means a vintage Italian team but they will prove tricky opponents in the knock out stages. They lack a truly world class number 10 that they have had in the recent past such as Baggio, Del Piero or Totti. Andrea Pirlo was missing this evening but will certainly provide Italy with more incisive attacking options in the coming games. One thing they really seem to lack though is any pace in the final third which will cost them dear against better defences.

At the back the seem as solid as ever in build up play but look vulnerable at set pieces where they lack the height of previous teams. If Cannavaro is still capable of producing something near his best they have a chance of getting further in the competition than some had expected. Italy will need some fortune if they are to triumph on 11th July but few would back against them, I think a quarter, maybe semi final exit is more likely.

The Dutch need Robben

Another one of the World cup favourites have finally appeared at the finals and have picked up 3 points in their first game of the group against Denmark. An own goal in the opening moments of the 2nd half followed by a simple tap in for Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt ensured a comfortable victory for the Dutch. Although it was a very routine opening performance the lack of width was certainly a problem and they only started to look really dangerous once the impressive Elia came onto the left wing.

It is assumed Robben will feature in the group but will ideally be left for the knock out stages. He offers what the Dutch lacked today; someone to run directly at players and get them to commit. Although Van Persie sees himself as a lone striker he does not possess the physical attributes to play that role and would be more suited as a support striker or winger. He has quick feet but has never fulfilled his potential due to the number of injuries he has picked up during his career.

Whilst the same can be said for Robben his performances this season have suggested he is finally ready to produce his best at the highest level and on the biggest stage. With Sneijder supplying passing of true genius behind the Dutch front 3 they have the potential to unlock any defence. The Dutch should ease through the group after seeing some of Japan and Cameroon but we will not be in a position to assess their title aspirations until their star performer appears in the tournament.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Does club form really matter?

Finally the 2010 World Cup has come to life and who would have guessed it would take the Germans to inject some spark into an otherwise dreary opening 2 days. The new look youthful German side tore the experienced Australian side apart and it should have been many more than 4.

The 2 main threats in terms of goal scoring came from Klose and Podolski. Of the last 15 goals scored in World Cups by Germans, they have scored 10 of them. Both players have not had outstanding club careers, let alone good seasons; only managing 15 goals in 69 games between them. But, when wearing the German shirt they have scored 90 in 173 international appearances which is a remarkable return. If they can continue this remarkable run anything is possible, it is worth remembering that the Germans have appeared in 2 finals and a semi final in the last 4 international tournaments they have featured in and have got to the quarter finals or better in the last 7 world cups.

The really impressive feature about the German performance tonight was the 21 year old playmaker Mesut Ozil. I cannot recall seeing the German’s play with such a creative player before and it was great to watch someone with a little subtlety mixed in with the usual effective performances. He played a couple of exquisite passes into Lahm and Klose in the first half that completely bypassed the Australian back line. Add to that the performances of Khedira and Schweinsteiger and Michael Ballack seems a forgotten name of the past. It is only the first game they have played and tougher tests lie later in the tournament but it was nice to finally see a side play good, effective tournament football. And even at times creative, free flowing football, this is not what we have come to expect from the Germans but long may it continue.

England Verdict

England have come through their first game in the group and picked up a point against USA. The post match analysis consisted of examining and re-examining Robert Green’s error which lead to the USA’s equaliser. It was a very poor mistake from a keeper who always looks shaky and was a surprise inclusion in the squad, let alone a starter.

England’s tactics are entirely based around a pressing game and forcing the opposition to make mistakes. The problem they will encounter is that at altitude maintaining this will prove tricky. In the 2nd half yesterday the USA showed far more capability in retaining possession and does not bode well for England’s campaign. Against the better teams England will be punished if they cannot keep the ball. The fact that Heskey and then Crouch were playing up front does not help as it gives the defenders and midfielders a get out ball every time.

Capello made some mistakes in selection yesterday which meant that he made changes after 30 minutes and then again at half-time when Ledley King could not continue. One wonders whether James Milner will feature again in the group stages after being so over zealous in the initial minutes of the game yesterday. England were clearly pumped up as demonstrated by Gerrard when he scored the opener but getting the correct balance is what he must ensure for the remainder of the group games.

England needs Gareth Barry back in the team if they are to progress further in this competition. The Lampard-Gerrard central midfield partnership did not work yet again. Lampard was played too deep and Gerrard yet again did his best impression of a headless chicken for 90 minutes. Rooney was completely isolated as everything was being played in the air to Heskey, he was dropping so deep in the 2nd half that his effectiveness was completely lost. They need to ensure he is given the ball in areas of the pitch where he can hurt the opposition.

Capello’s England will qualify from the group but they will need to learn valuable lessons quickly if they have any aspirations of going further in the tournament.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Argentina 1 Nigeria 0

Diego Maradona’s men have come through their first game with minimal fuss and 3 points. They should have won more comfortably but for the efforts of the Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama who made 4 or 5 world class saves to deny Messi and Higuain.

The early signs indicate that Argentina will be fantastic to watch going forward but look vulnerable at the back where a distinct lack of pace could cost them against some of the better sides in the competition. They have so many options going forward in Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Milito, Agoura and Palermo that you cannot envisage them struggling for goals. If they come up against a side with quick wingers they could have problems defensively where Samuel will have to continue his Inter Milan form if they are to be triumphant in the final on 11th July.

Higuain had a poor game and I would opt for Milito in the game against South Korea on Thursday. He has been in phenomenal form this season for Inter Milan and would give Messi and Tevez someone to supply in the box more often. There were times in this afternoons game when Higuain, Messi and Tevez were all operating outside the box when attacking which meant some of the play was simply too intricate. Having said that when you have Leo Messi running at players for fun there is always a feeling that the ‘flea’ will somehow emerge through the smallest gap and then advance on goal.

If Argentina are to win the World Cup they will do so by outscoring teams rather than being great defensively. It will be fascinating to see whether Maradona will attempt to bolster the defence in the coming games or will stick to the current game plan. One hopes that their attacking flair will be what is called upon in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Contenders

With 2 days to go almost every conversation in offices, school, pubs, coffee shops and other assorted venues is starting to focus entirely around the 19th Football World Cup. The anticipation will have reached fever pitch by the time South Africa kick off against Mexico on Friday afternoon. Everyone already has their favourites but in terms of realistic contenders I think there are 3. The reigning European Champions Spain, the 5 times Champions Brazil and the neurotic geniuses Holland.

The way the draw has been done Spain could face Brazil in the 2nd round which is a mouth watering prospect. Their choice of goalkeepers alone sets them apart from the rest in terms of ability with Reina and Valdez fighting with Casillas for the number 1 shirt. The defence will be lead by Puyol and Pique who have formed a formidable defence this season and know each others games inside out. The midfield boasts the top 2 midfielders in the world in Xavi and Iniesta who are ably supported by Silva, Fabregas, Navas, Alonso, Busquets and Pedro; the only shame is that they will only play 3 or 4 of them. In attack they have 2 of the top 3 strikers in the world in Torres and Villa so it’s hard to see them struggling to score goals.

Although Brazil are in Group G, they should emerge as the top team. They aren’t the free flowing Brazil side of the 1970s but Dunga has managed to gel some hard working players along with Kaka, Robinho and Fabiano. In goal they have arguably the best keeper in the world in Julio Cesar and will have Lucio organising the defence in front of him. Dunga will have to choose between the best 2 attacking full-backs in the game in Alves and Maicon. The midfield will be solid and efficient at the base and will supply the flair players such as Kaka and Robinho to feed the strikers.

The Dutch are always a mystery when it comes to international competitions. They possess the technique, flair and organisation required to win these tournaments but always find a way to crash out when it seems like they are destined to win the event. Going into the tournament they have 2 of the most in form players in Europe in Sneijder and Robben who are capable of changing games in a moment. The return of Van Persie will also be a massive boost for the nation, although his career has never reached its potential due to his injuries he is still a wonderful player when on song. They also have steel in midfield in De Jong and Van Bommel who won’t shirk out of any challenges.

I cannot see anyone beyond these teams challenging for the title on the 11th July, if I was asked to pick one I would have my money on Holland. Spain have the best squad and the easiest group but their progress will involve beating all the other leading contenders of they are to make it. If the Dutch can avoid in fighting that we have seen in previous competitions 2010 could be their year.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The England Squad is soon to be announced

The 2 warm up games are now over and everyone is awaiting Fabio Capello’s England Squad. It should be announced in the next few hours and every website, newspaper and football fan is speculating on who should be left out of the provisional 30 man squad. After 2 games against Mexico and Japan everyone is questioning what Capello's final squad will be

It seems increasingly likely that Robert Green is going to be the England no 1 and that both reserve keepers will be retained. In defence Warnock, Upson and Dawson are the most concerned. None of them have featured and the re appearance of Carragher with the versatility he offers looks to have ended their hopes.

Everything is being done to ensure Barry will be part of the squad and it will be a massive shock if he is left out. He has played in 19 out of 22 games until getting injured and appears to be an integral part of Capello’s plans. Reports emerging now suggest that Theo Walcott has not done enough to remain in the final 23 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/world_cup_2010/8713742.stm) which leaves 3 more players. Scott Parker will be one of them, he again has not featured even though he would be the natural replacement for Barry should he not regain fitness in time to play. The final 2 places look to be straight decisions between Carrick or Huddlestone and Bent or Defoe.

I would opt for Carrick and Defoe to complete the final 23. Carrick has played at the highest level before and even though his form over the last 6 months hasn’t been good enough he would be a better option if Barry fails to recover. Up front Defoe has more going for him than Bent and if Capello is taking Crouch and Heskey he doesn’t need anybody else who has a physical presence.

The 7 should be:

Dawson, Upson, Warnock, Huddlestone, Parker, Walcott and Bent

All will be revealed in the next few hours……. Only 10 more days of waiting now