World Cup Preview – Group H

So, we reach the final group and a look at the team considered the favourites by many. Spain have built the best squad they’ve ever had, rich in quality in pretty much every position. Their time is surely now for the European champions to amend the failures of the past.

But don’t count out the other sides in this group. Chile qualified impressively and play with some real creativity on the wings. The golden generation of the 90’s may have passed but Chile’s progression under Bielsa makes them a reasonable threat. Honduras make their World Cup debut, but have been hampered by injuries to key players, Wilson Palacios and David Suazo. Their fitness is key for them. And finally, the perennial overachievers Switzerland are back as well, with a well organised side.

SPAIN

Two years ago, Spain finally overcame the curse that had dogged for more than 40 years; no trophies in the cabinet and nothing to show for the amount of talent they’ve nurtured over the years. But in Vienna, they showed the rest of Europe that they meant business. And hopefully for them, the momentum they’ve shown since, only losing one competitive game will lead Spain to their maiden World Cup

STRENGTHS

Where to start. The back, Iker Casillas is very consistent for both club and country and has cemented his place in the top 5 keepers in the world. And the back-up in the shape of Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes prove that there’s no worries in that department, I’d be happy to have any of them and a case could be made for starting with Valdes.

The centre back pairing of Puyol and Pique is strong and effective, with the latter improving a lot this year, so much so he should be the best centre-back in the next couple of years. Add to that the full-backs of Capdevilla and Sergio Ramos, that back-four is unbelievably talented and will be a fortress to break down.

The midfield is superb as well. The delightful duo of Iniesta and Xavi will be everpresent and hopefully feeding Torres and Villa with constantly amazing balls. (Iniesta is struggling to be fit for the first game however) Xabi Alonso is also in the centre for Spain and has had a terrific season. The selling of Alonso was criminal for Liverpool and the main reason for failure this year. Finally, on the left should be Valencia’s David Silva, who’s wanted by several European heavyweights. He can be a nightmare for full-backs and also terrorise as a traditional number 10. He could be the ace in the pack.

I should also highlight Jesus Navas at Sevilla. He’s a dynamic dribbling winger, who if given time could be a great impact substitute.

Then there’s the most deadly partnership in international football in David Villa and Fernando Torres, both with superb scoring records. Expect them both to firing in regularly in the group.

Try getting the ball off this side. The Spanish Armada may just steam-roll the opposition.

WEAKNESSES

By going through every position and concluding that they aren’t weak in any department, finding any weakness is tricky. Even the bench looks superb, with Fabregas, Sergio Busquets and Pedro all in waiting. But the form of Torres is worrying, he’s so injury prone. Another concern for me is overconfidence, it can break the best of teams and it happened to Spain at the Confederations Cup last year.

Being hyper-critical here, the right-back area could be the best place for teams to attack. Sergio Ramos has strange positioning at times but this is a problem across many of the better teams at the tournament.

KEY PLAYER – David Villa

The now Barcelona frontman was prolific for Valencia and his international record is phenomenal as well. 38 in 58, he’ll want to get several here. Superb first touch, very intuitive and a killer finish. He really does have it all.

MANAGER – Vicente Del Bosque

Minus the superb bushy moustache of the past, he’s another veteran looking for one last hoorah. Likes to mix up his side and has several back-up plans say if Torres got injured. Tactically astute.

ODDS – To paraphrase John McCririck, ‘You’re odds on you are’, best odds probably about 4-1

PREDICTION – Should make the final with the side, but I reckon they might be derailed unexpectedly. We can always hope for an upset.

CHILE

This team would have been considered my ‘dark horses’ for the tournament had they not been paired up with ‘The Group of Death’ for the second round. But, Chile bring a certain ‘Crazy Gang’ factor to the tournament. The only side to operate a 3-4-3 formation. Their manager is slightly bonkers and they have some great footballers in their side. Maybe just maybe, they could provide a shock.

STRENGTHS

Free-roaming attacking football. They scored 32 goals in qualifying, aided by top scorer in the CONMEBOL, Humberto Suazo. The 3 up front were devestating in qualifying, rampaging through several defences with their youthful wingers. Former Liverpool player, Mark Gonzalez may not have had a happy time at Anfield but he prefers the free-flowing football of Spain, and is allowed to do that under Bielsa.

The manager could change the formation to allow Matias Fernandez to operate a roaming attacking midfielder which should reap dividends.

WEAKNESSES

I’m not confident of clean sheets for this side, especially with such an attacking formation. The back-three could be found out here and none of them looking particularly threatening. Chile will have to adopt the ‘we’ll score one more than you’ mentality if progression is to happen.


KEY PLAYER – Humberto Suazo

A very capable attacker at the forefront of this Chilean side. He will have to repeat his scoring feats of qualification and spur on his side. Another player struck by injury but set to start tomorrow against Honduras.

MANAGER – Marcelo Bielsa

Notoriously mental but in a good way. Nicknamed ‘El Loco’, he’s idolised in Chile after taking them to South Africa. Great tactically and masterminded a win over Argentina in qualifying. He’s apparantly a football fanatic, complete with a massive video collection in his house. Educated and erratic it seems.

He said: “”I think we have done all the necessary steps to prepare for this important competition without major difficulty, or just the normal difficulties at least. We are fine and we are ready to begin.” He’ll want to change the abiding World Cup memory of a group stage exit with Argentina in 2002.

Encourages attacking football and rookies to make their mark. I love the fella.

ODDS – 50/1

PREDICTION – Will get out of the group but run into Brazil unfortunately. Should be entertaining nonetheless.

HONDURAS

A country full of political disrest, this World Cup could unite the nation. Although clearly seen as a rank outsider, they could upset some big teams here. Qualified 3rd in their group, they are the weakest team from Central America. Still beat Mexico in qualifying however, so they aren’t that bad.

STRENGTHS

The Wigan scouting network plucked some gems from Honduras, most notably Wilson Palacios. Had the pleasure of seeing him playing for Spurs against Preston in the League Cup this season, and he controlled the game. His presence was unrivalled and he’s a gritty midfielder not afraid of hard tackles. A delight in the modern game really. Although that game was merely a walk in the park compared to facing Spain.

Maynor Figueroa is another great player, capable of scoring from his own half. Doubt that’ll happen again but he’s a decent enough defender.  Hendry Thomas took over from Palacios at Wigan, and is of a similar mould. Tad bit slow though.

They also have a player called Georgie Welcome, this year’s prestigious winner of the Footballer Name of the Year. Used to player for Arsenal…..in Honduras

WEAKNESSES

The rest of the team doesn’t look strong enough to mount a challenge or even a reasonable threat in the group. They are incredibly defensively minded, and I don’t see David Suazo getting enough support. Could be thrashed if they let their heads drop.

KEY PLAYER – David Suazo

The Inter Milan forward was loaned out to Genoa last year. Bags of pace but has been average this year. Has the talent but not the execution.

MANAGER – Reinaldo Rueda

The only manager who’s never played professional football. Hints that he lacks the knowledge to suceed but to get this side to the World Cup is a pretty impressive feat.

ODDS – 700/1

PREDICTION – Bottom of the group

SWITZERLAND

Switzerland made it to South Africa in pretty uneventful circumstances. They only scored more than two goals once in qualfiying, and that was against Luxembourg (3-0). A pretty mediocre group with Greece the only challengers. No testing teams there and since qualifying, they’ve lost every single one of their friendlies and then bizarrely pulled off a 1-1 against Italy. Hardly great preparation really.

STRENGTHS

No one can argue the strength of their manager but we’ll get onto him in a minute. His organisation of this side is superb, operating a fairly basic 4-4-2 to great effect, meaning they could be tough to break down.

The midfield also looks fairly industrious with some good young players within it. Tranquillo Barnetta can play almost anywhere across the midfield, and is fairly adept as a holding midfielder. Likewise Gokhan Inler will help the Swiss maintain possession.

WEAKNESSES

Saying the defence could be a great unit is dependant on a lot of things, mainly Phillippe Senderos actually playing to his potential. He’s had to my knowledge one good season in football, for Arsenal quite a few years ago. He’s sluggish and makes a lot of mistakes.

I’m very worried by the strikeforce, or the apparent lack of one. Alexander Frei isn’t what he used to be and the qualifying stages proved that Switzerland couldn’t score, and it’s only tougher from here on in.

KEY PLAYER – Gokhan Inler

The diligent Udinese midfielder doesn’t get a lot of  goals, but he’ll be key to possession which could be the swinger against the other lesser sides in the group. Fairly creative as well.

MANAGER – Ottmar Hitzfeld

One of only three managers to win the Champions League with two different teams (Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund). A former mathematics teacher, who can frustrate teams with his superb tactics. Has a very full trophy cabinet over the years, one of Europe’s best.

Claims they can beat Spain. He said: “We could be one of the teams that could make one of the favourites tumble. The probability is there.”Every player of the Swiss team has an opportunity to showcase his talent. At one point we are going to beat Spain and why not now!” Hopelessly optimistic, I like it.

ODDS – 200/1

PREDICTION – Not enough firepower to get them out of the group.

With that I’ve previewed each World Cup side. Stay tuned for more World Cup related blogs once I’ve finalised a genuine idea.

I’ll leave you with my favourite moment of the World Cup so far. Cue Ghanian fan with a cauldron on his head.

And also that wonderful goal that started off proceedings, which was then followed by a drought. Ah well, I’m still enjoying the World Cup, hope you are as well.

Tot siens.


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Charles N’Zogbia last minute screamer…..and other points

So here we are on a rather glorious Wednesday and not Monday like I said. I’m running the risk of alienating a fan base that doesn’t exist here. I could blame the volcano like everyone else, probably like Pep Guardiola should be. What a modest guy he is.

Well, lets crack on shall we?

1. Pompey is the worst run club in the world

Well, that shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone. But the details of how much debt they had accumulated in their tenure in the Premier League was revealed today. Andrew Andronikou has revealed that the club owe just under £120million, which I’m willing to bet is a bigger value than the entire League 1 or 2 combined. That figure is just astounding. Admittedly in a modern world of football, one which I’m increasingly becoming worried and frustrated about, debt is accepted. This shouldn’t happen but that’s the world we live in (Guest Contributor, Captain Obvious)

Portsmouth are the Goldman Sachs of the footballing world. They owe £3million in image rights to players, which is just mindboggling. Worst still is £9 million owed to agents, such as super agent Pini Zahavi who is owed £2million for his services. The nail in the coffin is the £1million paid to Spurs for Asmir Begovic. You know that well known Spurs goalkeeper who plays for Stoke. Terrible mismanagement in the Younes Kaboul plus Begovic deal meant that they paid the deposit for Begovic’s snubbing.

Before on a certain 24-hour sports news channel, they interviewed a former advisor to Portsmouth, Daniel Azougy, who has been convicted of fraud in Israel. He came across as in want of better words, ‘not having a clue’. Fair play to him I guess, actually going on to a TV station to defend himself. But fact is, he shouldn’t be remotely near a club, even if he was barred from meetings.

Portsmouth fans don’t deserve this at all. A passionate loyal fan base, which has been waning in this dark season. To be honest, I don’t blame them either. The club reeks of dishonesty and fraud. It’s such a shame, and despite reaching an FA Cup Final, an extraordinary achievement considering, I think financial security is wanted rather than FA silverware. I hope the club bounce back but after today’s announcement of the doubled debt, it seems unlikely.

2. Volcanic ash and anti-football beat Barca

Well the first Champions League semi final has been played, between arguably the two best sides left in the competition. And we had a supposed shock according to the British media. Well, not in my opinion. Mourinho’s a pretty astute manager and set his side up to frustrate Barca. A Barca side that embarked on a European coach tour to make the fixture, thanks to the volcano that no one outside of Iceland can say. Eyjafjallajökull, sounds like someone from Mordor clearing their nose.

Mourinho opted for 3 men up front, like he has all season. I don’t rate Milito at all, but he somehow got on the scoresheet. The key man for Inter was Wesley Sneijder, who in my opinion is an exceptional midfielder who can make something out of nothing. Barca weren’t that bad considering what they had gone through to make the game. In fact they went ahead from some terrible defending, mostly from Maicon not tracking back. Maicon came to life in the 2nd half as Barca tired and the Nerazzurri (black and blues in Italian in case you weren’t cultured) won 3-1.

Don’t count Barca out, in the Nou Camp, Mourinho defensive tactics won’t hold Messi down. It did last night, but not in the Camp Nou. No way

3. Wigan can make stunning comebacks, yes Wi-gan!

First things first, Wigan can’t defend well (Gary Caldwell most of the time). Nor can they attack well either (Jason Scotland all of the time). So to get a 3-2 result against Arsenal, after being 2-0 down with 1o minutes left was sensational. It’s been a weird season for the Latics.

Never consistent but occasionally great. Especially against the traditionally top four sides, by beating Chelsea, Liverpool and now the Gunners. Of course, they are often shocking. See Spurs, United and Notts County fixtures. Martinez is trying to play more flair with a side that has Titus Bramble and Paul Scharner in it. It doesn’t work and will ultimately lead to disaster, especially now Newcastle and West Brom are back in the league, who both have better squads.

Side note, Lukas Fabianski doesn’t cut the mustard in England, Wenger to cut his losses on such a keeper who had huge potential.

4.  The title race is back on, for a week

That’s exactly what we needed. More build up towards a title race that no one wants to win. First United steal a win at City, and beat them in the last minute for the 3rd time this season. Then Chelsea succumb to Terry’s increasingly apparent stupidity and fragility at the back. Spurs look to make the Triple Crown this week, and I wouldn’t exactly bet against it. Bale, T.Hud and Modric have been exceptional the last couple of games, and United are labouring over the line. Sky will hype it, probably a 0-0 in the end. United need Chelsea to lose at Liverpool basically

5. Blackburn enter the Goal of the Season competition

One game I didn’t expect to be  exciting this weekend was Blackburn Everton. Both teams have effectively said the seasons over for them. Neither did I expect Jason Robert to unleash a near 25 yarder. Stephen N’Zonzi looks a quality player though.

6. I don’t approve of Gary Neville’s overaffectionate celebrations. Especially with Paul Scholes

It should never happen.

Still, it brought the nation to its knees, like the volcano. The passion Gary has there, is unbelievable…….here’s my actual reaction


Messi times, Robben’s renaissance and Zamora’s plane ticket

Apologies, its been a while. Been quite hectic with assignments and whatnot, but this week will be supersmashinggreat. All one word, hey if Ian Dowie can get a word in the dictionary, so can Lord Jim Bowen.

Well looking back at my European predictions, some of them were…..wrong. So this week we’ll steer clear of prediction and stick to pure 100% opinion.

1. Lionel Messi is the greatest player of his generation

Not my words, but Sky’s after his hat trick against Arsenal this week. I’ve been convinced for a while he’s better than Ronaldo, but this performance sealed the deal. 3 hat tricks in his last 7 games; phenomenal for a player that has been criticised by his natives.

Messi has 119 in 204 games for Barca and he’s 22. That’s just unreal. The  media’s view from the first leg was that Messi was quiet, but second leg, every superlative possible was used. He was pretty poor by his own standards at the Emirates, but the fact is the side got a good result at a ground that Arsenal have made into a fortress. If anyone thought Arsenal could get a result at the Camp Nou, they were clearly kidding themselves, especially considering the injuries they have.

Shame really as Nicklas Bendtner played very well.  Anyway, Andy Gray made a bit of a faux pas this week on commentary hinting Barca are a one man side. Not true in the slightest. Xavi and Iniesta are the perfect players to bring the best out of Messi. Barca’s weakened defence were quite good as well, bar the goal. So, Mr Gray trying watching other players as well. There’s other reasons why Pep Guardiola’s made Barca into the best side of the past 10 years.

Well I’m looking forward to El Classico tomorrow. It will be a slobberknocker

2. Kyle Lafferty shouldn’t be allowed to score

Especially if this happens. Shoddy robotics and very poor celebration. Decent enough strike.

3. Arjen Robben is the talisman Bayern have missed for a decade

After waxing lyrical about Barca, I’m gonna throw a curveball and say Bayern may be the side to stop them. Their side just seems destined to make the final after knocking Fiorentina and United out in similar circumstances aka Arjen Robben wonder strikes.

He looks at his best at the moment and looks to have finally settled at a side where he is the playmaker, which wasn’t going to happen at either Chelsea and Real. He doesn’t have the star power like Messi, but the typical attributes that a winger should have. Surely has to be player of the Champions League this year.

Here’s some of Robben’s best mazy running and precision finishing

4. Newcastle need to strengthen to survive

Well the Magpies have silenced their critics with a return to the Premier League (the greatest league the world has ever seen ever). After losing 6-1 in pre-season to Leyton Orient, people were thinking the Geordies would do ‘a Leeds’ but fair play to Chris Hughton and his side, they’ve been great value for money this year in the Championship

Surely a side that has won promotion in record time will be capable of surviving in the top tier. Not in my opinion, the squad has barely changed since relegation. So theoretically they will struggle unless they add a few young talents. I would have suggested Tom Cleverley, but he’s just got a ligament injury meaning he could be out for a while.

They also need to resolve the Carroll/Taylor bust-up, which if not dealt with could have implications next season. My bet is Ryan Taylor will be snapped up by another promotion rival. I don’t think Carroll can make the grade in the Premier League so another striker is needed as well.

5. Bobby Zamora  for England

I’ve thought this for a few months now, but the thing that worries me is his lack of international experience. He could turn out to be like Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent, who when called upon for England haven’t really delivered.

Until Fulham’s Europa League run, I think anyone would agree that Zamora isn’t anywhere near international class. But I feel he could prove a useful squad player for the group stage. I think he should be given a chance in the friendlies beforehand to see if Bobby can turn club form into international class

I’ll put my neck on the line and say the four strikers will be Rooney, Defoe, Crouch and Zamora. Sorry D.Bent, but as last week proves, you can’ take pens against the erratic Heurelho Gomes.

And finally, that vital six pointer

6. Bolo Zenden has scored my goal of the season

The Dutch journeyman of many European greats proves he can still pull out something out of the top draw.

(Apologies for poor quality, but as Andy Gray would say: “What a hit, and I say hit because that’s what it is”)

This goal convinced Steve Bruce to try and sign him for another year. And why not? Experienced, occasional brillance and also falls through orange boxes. What more do you want?

Til next time. It’s all in the game