The Unofficial World Cup Awards Ceremony 2010

Zuma and Blatter stuck in the Spanish mosh-pit Photo: REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

So there we have it. The new World Champions are Spain after a fiery encounter with The Netherlands in Soccer City. Many people expected a classic but in the end, the contest itself was marred with several horrible tackles and neither team really living up to the hype.

You can’t really argue that Spain were overall the best side in this tournament, purely for their retention of possession and their overall belief that a goal would come if they kept with the same style. But within that, some players clearly underperformed namely Fernando Torres, who looked out of sorts and dejected when he pulled his hamstring right near the end of extra time.

The Dutch game plan, to stifle Spain worked for the most part although they can count themselves lucky to have 10 men at the end. Both holding midfielders in Van Bommel and De Jong were forced to press the midfield strangehold and since both men tend to have short fuses, some horror tackles followed. De Jong’s kung-fu kick to Xabi Alonso being the worst of the bunch. Alonso will certainly have the imprint of that Adidas F50 on his chest today. A small price to pay for being world champion.

Howard Webb, I thought did an decent job considering the circumstances. Both sets of players were intent on stopping the other side by any means. You could argue he didn’t have the bottle to send off more, but history shows us that Webb prefers to keep a full compliment of players on the field at all costs (see Nemanja Vidic in the Carling Cup Final this season). Marca disagree with me calling Webb ‘abysmal‘. Dirk Kuyt claims that he cost them the World Cup, which is very rich considering the fouls Holland committed.

Webb was forced to be ‘card happy’ because of the nature of the game. Linesmen Darren Cann and Michael Mullarkey were superb throughout and that should be commended. Maybe Webb could have been slightly better (on one occassion booking someone despite not seeing the foul) but overall he was ok. Very controversial I know but Webb kept his cool, unlike the Dutch.

Holland had their chances but they couldn’t put them away. Arjen Robben was one on one with Iker Casillas twice and couldn’t finish either chance. He looked the most threatening of the Dutch, as Sneijder had a game to forget and I still think he’s been good, but not worthy of the Silver Ball. The Golden Ball, for the tournament’s best player went to Diego Forlan, a very good choice as he led Uruguay to the semi final.

Overall, the best side eventually found the goal in extra time through Andres Iniesta, who’s had a phenomenal tournament considering he got an injury right before it. Strange that a side which is renowned for flamboyant attacking play kept a clean sheet right throughout the knockout round.

I’ve decided to compile my own list of special awards to commemorate the first World Cup in South Africa. It’s been a great World Cup, full of shocks and hopefully these awards will reward the talent but also remember the truly stupid moments as well.

The Plastic Fan Award

Bill opts for a cuppa rather than half-time Bovril. Thank god he doesn't have a vuvuzela, I've heard his sax work

Honourable Mentions – Mick Jinx Jagger who supported England against Germany, USA against Ghana and Brazil vs Chile. That’s supporting three teams in three separate continents and only one of em won.

Winner – Marcel Desailly for his love of Ghana, despite leaving the country as a teen to play for France, a side he played for over 100 times. To be fair, after the whole French debacle, I don’t really blame him.  Kofi Annan is the true winner of the Ghanian Diplomat award.

The Jose Mourinho Award for Most Entertaining Manager

Watching Diego has been a highlight in itself at this World Cup

Honourable Mentions – Marcelo Bielsa for services to 3-3-1-3, Fabio Capello for being irate throughout and Raymond Domenech for a spectacular balls-up, and refusing to shake Carlos Alberto Perreira’s hand after South Africa beat his side 2-0. Nothing like a bizarre Frenchmen

Winner – Diego Maradona has to win this award. He exceeded my expectations just about, although don’t ask him to employ a defensive strategy. It still annoys me that Veron was left out against Germany. He looked very dapper in his chrome suit and his antics during games were a joy to behold. Off the field, he provided the funniest press-conference in recent memory. Diego Corner is a wonderful place.

“Just look at his face”

Greatest Spectator Award – Ghanian Pot Man wins this award by a landslide. He was seen at every Ghana game, complete with his famous cauldron sat firmly on his noggin. What puzzles me slightly is what’s brewing in his cauldron. I’d like to think it’s some oxtail soup but more likely is just plain firewood. Passionate man.

Best ‘British’ Goal scored – Wesley Sneijder vs Brazil

This award is to commemorate the stupidest phrase coined by the amateurish ITV commentary team, narrowly beating Mark Lawrenson’s ‘Hollywood pass’. I should probably blog about that alone, considering the ITV production over the month was so poor. Interesting to read that their final only got 3.8 million viewers compared to 18 million at the BBC, an indication of their quality perhaps. Anyway, any bullet header was given the moniker ‘British goal’ because as we know no other league can score a header from a set-piece.

The Jaap Stam Man of Steel Award – Xabi Alonso

See above video for reason. He’d have to be made of steel with that impact from Jong Kong Phooey (credit to David Stubbings for that superb pun he likely read in the Daily Star)

Das Wunderkind Award – Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil

Honourable mentions to Ghana’s Andre Ayew and Kevin Prince Boateng but it’s clearly these two. It’s hard to separate the two of them, so I haven’t. Both were key to Germany’s path to third place, and Joachim Loew should be praised for giving some under 21’s into the side. And boy did they grasp the opportunity. I wasn’t a big fan of Thomas Muller before the tournament but he worked brilliantly in Germany’s 4-2-3-1 formation, nabbing 5 goals and 3 assists on his way to the Golden Boot. Mesut Ozil was the spark of the front four and his positioning off the ball is absolutely superb. He’s not too bad on it either. If Bayern sign Ozil, they could have a magnificent side.

Ronny Rosenthal Award – Yakubu

Yakubu may well claim he was offside or that he wanted to destroy the Evian water bottle (other brands of water are available) but it’s a tremendous miss that kickstarted a national ban inadvertently. Chris Iwelumo claimed it was worse than his. Firstly, no it wasn’t. Secondly, having arguments about worse misses is ludicrous and lastly, Yakubu may well be remembered for something else in his career.

Most Patriotic – North Korea Jong Tae-Se for crying during his national anthem against Brazil. It was a wonderful moment that’s been ridiculed since. But playing for such a small (but most glorious) nation like North Korea on that stage must be emotional.

Least Patriotic – Any member of the French national squad. This also wins the Funniest Moment of the World Cup as France decided to revolt against their manager. They refused to train, Anelka packed his bags and sulked back to his West London flat and then they crashed out of the group stage. This tournament will be repressed from the memories of Frenchmen but savoured in crystal clear fashion by everyone else, especially for the Irish.

The Golden Zizou – Felipe Melo wins this award for a good player going into meltdown at a key moment. He was pretty much single-handledly responsible for Brazil’s exit, after scoring an own-goal (it was a own goal not Sneijder’s) and then stomping a mudhole into Arjen Robben. Dunga must be angry with him after he lost his job because of it. The best part about this was Brazil legend Ronaldo telling him not to return to Brazil in a tweet. Modern technology eh?

The Dennis Bergkamp Wondergoal Award

Honourable Mentions Gio Van Bronckhorst’s thunderbolt effort from 35 yards and David Villa’s solo run against Honduras.

Winner – Fabio Quagliarella’s wonderfully pointless deft chip against Slovakia. Brilliant goal that left Jan Mucha knowingly lobbed. He played in one game and did that, maybe Lippi should have shown more faith in the Napoli man. I’ll guess we’ll never know.

The Dimitar Berbatov Award – This is a special award for the front man who didn’t turn up. Honourable mention to Fernando Torres but he became a World Cup winner. Therefore Wayne Rooney wins it. Never really threatened the goal and provided a lacklustre performance. Let’s hope for better things in 2014 from him, it’ll probably be his last chance.

Unsung Hero Award – Antolin Alcaraz for being Paraguay’s rock in defence which saw them reach the quarter finals, narrowly losing to Spain 1-0 in the end. Paraguay didn’t exactly set the world alight, but were solid throughout. Roberto Martinez’s decision to sign him pre-tournament from Club Brugge could be a masterstroke.

Quick, lock him in there

Unwanted Hero Award – Paul the Octopus. Unanimous winner, he’s nothing special. Just because swims to the right hand side box every time and the whole media goes crazy. I don’t condone death-threats to cephalopods but I’m glad to see the back of an animal who didn’t even bet on his predictions. Has he not seen Ray Winstone’s massive disturbing face telling him of all the markets? Come on Paul you could have bought a nice new tank with that.

The Harlem Globetrotters Award – Germany easily win this award for entertaining team. Pure counter attacking football with loads of goals. ‘What more do you want?’ as Lawro would say.

Now for the big one – The Johan Cruyff Award. The award that is presented to the overall best player of the tournament (although unlike Cruyff now has a World Cup medal).

It has to go to Xavi. This is also a recognition of his talents over the past 5 years in general really, there’s no one who’s better at passing in the world or holding onto the ball, and ultimately this is what won the World Cup. Along with Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, the Barca trio looked phenomenal.

So, those are the awards, I’ll see you in 2014 if the world hasn’t ended. My tip is Brazil as it’s in Brazil


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World Cup Preview – Final Fight

Jules Rimet

So after a month of packed full of national team scandals, old powers returning to their glory days and Diego Maradona being Diego Maradona, we finally reach the zenith of the World Cup: The Final.

There’s also the 3rd place play-off, a game not many sides care about but often produces decent games, France 98 being the best example there.

Most people are licking their lips at the prospect of a new World Champion being crowned. The Netherlands for all their talent they’ve produced since the Total Football generation deserve it. But so do the greatest international side for approximately 10 years, maybe more. I wouldn’t mind either side winning it, mainly as finally one of them gets rid of the ‘underachiever’ tag.

I thought both semi-finals were brilliant in different ways, with the better sides coming out on top with the exertion of pressure paying off to defensive organisation.

Holland vs Uruguay was a pretty tepid first half, enhanced by the goal of the tournament from Giovanni Van Bronckhorst. He’ll bow out of the sport on the grandest stage in world football.  A fitting final match for a great left-back. His goal as rightly pointed out by Clive Tyldesley (who was flying solo on commentary as Jim Beglin was poisoned by him pre-match) was indeed a very different goal to the one the Dutch scored against Italy in Euro 2008. That’s correct Clive because all goals are different. Audacious drive is the best way to describe it.

Gio joins Bergkamp and Van Basten in the 'Dutch Wonder Goal Hall of Fame' Photo:Daily Mail

Gio rallied the Dutch troops ahead of Sunday’s showdown. He said:

The last game in my career and it’s a World Cup final. What can you say? It could not be more beautiful. I hope it will be the most beautiful game of my life. For everyone, it will be the game of their life. By quitting I can close the book on a whole part of my life. I will do everything I can to with the team and staff to bring the World Cup to the Netherlands. That would be a fantastic finish.”

Zidane probably said the same thing four years ago. But I hope for Gio’s sake he doesn’t follow in the same tradition.

Uruguay played a lot better than I thought they would minus Suarez. Their equaliser in the first half showed us that once again the Dutch defence is flawed, especially down the middle as Cavani dragged them out of position for Diego Forlan to fire in. Stekelenburg could have done better as well.

The changing point was Marwijk bringing on Rafael Van Der Vaart for the injured Demy De Zeeuw. Holland pushed forward and got their reward. The second goal was slightly controversial, but the offside was so marginal. You’d be a massive pedant to lambaste the referee for that. He and the linesmen got worse things wrong. The third goal was a superb team move as Holland finally attacked down the left.

Uruguay shouldn’t be too disheartened because they’ve been superb throughout. Diego Forlan’s finally being recognised as a superb player, but anyone outside English punditryland would know he’s been prolific for about 5 years now.

On to Germany Spain, which was in my opinion, the best game I’ve seen this World Cup. Why? Passing perfection from both sides, but Spain were unreal at times. Sergio Busquets had 97%, Xavi 94% and Alonso 91%. They just don’t relent at times. On the flip side, Germany defensively were superb to hold them at 0-0 for so long, with Metresacker, Friedrich and Khedira sticking to David Villa like they were his own bodyguards.

Pedro had a good game as well, although tainted by not passing to Torres who had a airfield’s length of space. I’d still play him over Torres against Holland. He gives them pace and other options, which should work as Villa will not be as hounded during the final. I don’t rate the Holland back two as much the German’s defence. If Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel tackle well, it could be a different story.

Germany can be very proud of their campaign, and I’d take a sneaky punt on them winning Euro 2012. They are bound to get stronger with more experience. The main reason they lost is because the link-up between Klose and Podolski was eradicated due to the tremendous Sergio Busquets intercepting like crazy. Spain’s defence was tested at times and they’ll probably have a tougher task against Sneijder and Robben.

Man of the Match Xavi congratulates Carles Puyol for his bullet 'British' header. Photos Getty Images/Clive Nelson

Xavi was man of the match for me. The man’s so consistent and that wasn’t his best game he’s had, but still tremendous. Opta Joe, the Twitter stat oracle that he is tweeted that Xavi touched the ball every 46 seconds which shows you how much Spain dominated and how central he is to his plans.

He said:

“We dedicate this victory to Spain. If we play on Sunday like we did today, we will have a great chance.We played as we wanted to. Now it is a final against Holland, a great team playing great football with great players in midfield and up front. We will have to impose our personality and football on them.”

So on to the prediction. I’m don’t really see the point of predicting 3rd place but I’ll go for Germany 2-0, if you really care.

The Netherlands vs Spain

Soccer City, Johannesburg, 19:30GMT

Probable Line-Ups:

Netherlands [4-2-3-1)  Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathjisen, Van Bronckhorst, Van Bommel, De Jong, Robben, Sneijder, Kuyt, Van Persie

Spain [4-2-3-1] Casillas, Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila, Iniesta, Alonso, Busquets, Xavi, Pedro, Villa

  • Strangely enough the two great nations have never faced each other in a competitive match. Both sides have steadily improved as the tournament progressed and you can’t argue that these two are the best currently in the world.
  • I see the game being very similar to the Holland Brazil game. Spain will relentlessly attack in the opening exchanges. If they stick to the same side, and they should do, then the midfield need to keep the ball as we know they can. The Barca midfield engine is key to this. Holland’s best shot is to counter when possible and use Robben down the right. Capdevila is the weak leak, although that’s extremely harsh considering the talent around him.
  • Spain feel like a Barcelona without Messi, loads of build-up without cutting edge. Villa will need to stay central without Torres. If Holland outmark Villa anywhere near as good as Germany, they have a decent chance.
  • Wesley Sneijder is my pick for the Ballon D’or. He’s Holland’s focal point, an extraordinary playmaker. If he’s allowed time, he can punish and also feed Van Persie. Pique’s looked shaky at times and this could also be exploited
  • Overall, I think the might of the Spain midfield will come out on top, and Spain’s pressure will eventually make way for their maiden World Cup.

Prediction: 1:2 (yeah Paul you octoprick, I’m ballsy, I predict the scores. Hope you enjoy being calamari soon)

There we have it. The World Cup previews have reached a climax. It’s been a great tournament and I’ve certainly enjoyed writing about it. So many moments to cherish, especially France floundering.

I’ll be back on Monday for a World Cup Awards Ceremony, which will rival the Oscars in terms of Kate Winslet moments. Raymond Domenech, you might not want to attend. Actually, Frenchmen beware.

And another happy moment for me. Miroslav Klose didn’t beat Ronaldo’s record. I like Klose but Ronaldo was phenomenal in the 90’s. So I leave you with his 15 landmark goals.

World Cup Preview – The Quarter Finals

Well that round certainly lived up to the hype. Many many talking points, but it seems fairly obvious to start with Germany vs England. I had a slight inkling that England were going to get a spanking but due to my blind patriotism, I decided to undermine my prediction.

As I said, the game would all come down to who was covering Ozil. In this case Gareth Barry took up that role and provided a truly underwhelming performance. He was meant to be the shield for Terry and Upson; that shield was metaphorically made out of crate paper and Germany stook 4 past the woeful defence. I felt sorry for David James as he’s played pretty well but had a pretty poor defence in front of him. I don’t even want to go into the whole Lampard goal as it would have made no difference at all to lacklustre England.

Downbeat England during Germany game

I could do a blog about everything that went wrong and how we can look to other national sides in an effort to improve the development of young players. But several respectable journalists have done this to much better effect than I could ever do, so I’d merely be reiterating them. Plus I could ramble all day about what’s wrong with the FA which is boring.

On to much less depressing issues. Paraguay and Ghana made the Quarter Finals for the first time. Ghana were brilliant against the U.S. and Kevin Prince Boateng continues to impress me. He’s made the step up to international level look effortless. Paraguay edged past Japan on penalties in quite possibly the dullest game so far, but to their credit, they provided a penalty master-class.

The heavyweights of Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Holland all came through their games, some easier than others. Brazil were relatively comfortable against Chile, and Chile can surely be proud of this campaign after bringing some flamboyance and also some hard tackling when pressing. Argentina Mexico was a great game, sealed with a terrific strike by Carlos Tevez. Unfortunately this game will be remembered for the second officiating blunder of the day, when it really should be remembered for being a terrific spectacle. Javier Hernandez scored a great goal as well, and I hope to see more of that at Old Trafford this season.

Spain and Portugal was fascinating tactically. Portugal looked the better side until Del Bosque brought on Llorente, who played well unlike Fernando Torres. Portugal capitulated and David Villa sneaked in past a lax Simao. Holland provided an efficient performance against Slovakia. Holland looked a lot better with Arjen Robben, and he scored the first in a 2-1 win.

I’ve left Uruguay last for a reason. I genuinely believe they could make the final. The front 3 have been sensational and it’s great to see Diego Forlan finally cast that lazy tabloid tag of being ‘forlorn’. Without doubt one of the best players this year.

So onward to the Quarter Final previews:

The Netherlands vs Brazil

Port Elizabeth, Friday 2nd July 15:00 GMT (BBC)

  • A reincarnated Total Football vs Dunga’s defensive policy. Maybe they’ll both cancel each other out. Ranking 4th and 1st respectively in the world, this has all the makings of a classic.
  • They last met in a World Cup in 1998, which was also a tight affair with Brazil coming out on top on penalties after Phillip Cocu and Ronald DeBoer both missed their spot kicks
  • Holland now with Robben look better with that injection of pace. Brazil have gone about their business with little effort but Luis Fabiano’s found his goalscoring boots at the right time. Juan and Lucio have done well and I think Van Persie will have to play a blinder to break them down
  • I don’t think Holland have been tested yet defensively and that will be their undoing if Robinho and Luis Fabiano play well.

PREDICTION – 0-2

Uruguay vs Ghana

Soccer City, Johannesburg  19.30 GMT (ITV)

  • Both sides can see the semi-final within grasp, a superb achievement for them with neither really expecting to form a run like this.
  • Uruguay front three of Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Diego Cavani have been the driving force behind the team, but have been well supported by the defence. Ghana on the other hand have arguably been led by Asamoah Gyan who’s scored most of their goals, his winner against the U.S. being the highlight.
  • I think the Black Stars don’t have enough at the back to keep Uruguay out, especially with some suspensions. They are also missing Ayew wh0’s been solid. Uruguay are missing key defender Diego Godin, the defensive clearance speciallist in the France game.

Prediction – 3-1

Argentina vs Germany

Cape Town, Saturday 3rd July 15:00 GMT (BBC)

  • The second titanic clash of the quarter finals. Diego’s dynamic Argentina versus ‘Yogi Love’s’ youthful Germany. Both sides have been clinical so far and have shown the best attacking football in the competition.
  • The key contest here is Messi vs Ozil. Both have been instrumental in their teams providing the foil to attack and also creating key chances. Both have exceptional off the ball movement.
  • With such great attacking players, both sides look decidedly average at the back. Germany have been flattered by poor opposition, and Manuel Neuer has looked flappable.  Also, at times whereas I still worry about Martin Demichelis but if Diego plays Burdisso, it might tighten them up a bit.
  • It’s only a matter of time until Messi scores. I see it being here. I’ve been convinced by the extrovert Diego Maradona and I think Argentina will edge a classic although I’m going to sit on the fence, and say a Germany win isn’t out of the realms of possibility if they show the camaraderie and efficiency of the England performance.

PREDICTION3-2

Paraguay vs Spain

Ellis Park, Johannesburg 19:30 GMT (BBC)

  • Paraguay have to be considered underdogs here, but their performances so far have been so inconsistent its impossible to say which Paraguay will turn up. They’ve been good defensively however and you’d have to think that’s what will be needed here. Antolin Alcaraz has been the standout centre-back at this tournament for me, which was a great move from Roberto Martinez at Wigan to sign him pre-tournament.
  • Spain have been underwhelming so far. Their tactics need fine tuning, for example I don’t think they need two defensive midfielder, so Del Bosque needs to drop Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso and put in either Pedro, Jesus Navas to add width and ideas.
  • Dropping Torres is also a good move in my book. He’s been terrible mainly as I don’t think he’s match fit. Del Bosque, put in Llorente or Cesc Fabregas behind Villa please.
  • Spain should win this easily but they’ve yet to show anything like they can produce (except David Villa). Paraguay have a certain gritty determination about them, and I think they’ll give it everything but fall short.

PREDICTION – 0-2

So that’s it. Let’s hope my record of prediction continues to be better than Mark Lawrenson and level with Paul the Octopus.

World Cup Preview – Group A

The football season has ended. Some pundits will tell you this season has lacked quality, with the departure of the league’s biggest player, CR-9, it was thought that the league would struggle to compete with its Spanish and Italian counterparts. But for my money, this season has been one of the most level contests going. The gap between the supposed ‘Big Four’ and the rest closed, and Spurs sneaked in for the coveted 4th place. The relegation battle was intriguing for a while, with several sides struggling with payments, and other teams such as Wigan received several thrashings.

But anyway, that’s all done and dusted. The greatest tournament of them all is up for grabs once again, this time in South Africa. So, in a change to the blog, I’ve decided this week to preview a group each day to give you an insight into the vast array of teams that will compete for the trophy. Some hot favourites, other complete long shots, the World Cup truly unites the globe with a veritable footballing fest. And I can’t wait for it.

South Africa is ready, are you?

Here’s a promise, it won’t be as complicated as Alan Partridge’s World Cup Countdown to 94

GROUP A

SOUTH AFRICA

Well it makes sense to start off with the unfancied hosts. When South Africa won the bid for the World Cup, it represented more than just making money, it represented an opportunity to show the world that they had overcome the past tragedies of Apartheid. One thing is certain, Bafana Bafana will make the tournament vibrant and full of colour. The sheer effort put in to make South Africa ready to host a World Cup is astounding.

The pressure is truly on for them as well. No host nation has gone out at the group stage and it’s fair to say that they wouldn’t be in the World Cup if they weren’t hosting. The team has gone backwards since they last reached the group stage in 2002. But, to say they don’t have a chance of making it out of Group A is truly disrespectful. There are some decent players within the side, and being on home soil will enhance their chances.

STRENGTHS – The defence is fairly strong and full of Kaizer Chiefs (the clearly superior version, as opposed to the band) players. Captain Aaron Mokoena will lead the hosts out, after a turbulent year at Pompey and will want to make his side not seem like pushovers. Fulham’s Kagiso Dikgachoi will partner Mokoena in the centre in midfield. He’s used sparingly at Fulham, but given a chance here, he will hopefully prove to be a decent player.

WEAKNESSES – The attack. Only Benny McCarthy seems capable of scoring for them, and he’s been a bit part in West Ham’s poor season. Someone will need to become a hero if South Africa are to make it anywhere near the knock-out stage.

KEY PLAYER – Steven Pienaar

The Everton winger has come off the back of an impressive season, often taking games by the scruff of the neck (see Man City home) and he has finally hit good form after disappointing in Dortmund and Ajax. Whether the contract discussions and constant links to the European elites will distract him, remains to be seen.

MANAGER – Carlos Alberto Parreira

A Brazilian with massive World Cup pedigree, after lifting the World Cup with Brazil in 94. That side were hated by the Brazilians, but South Africa have taken Parreira to heart in his 2nd stint as their coach. Also managed Kuwait in 82, UAE in 90, Saudi Arabia in 98 and Brazil again in 2006. If there’s one man who knows the World Cup, it is him.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE TROPHY – 100/1 at best.

PREDICTION – I put a sneaky bet on with my housemate that South Africa would make it out of the group stage so I’m praying that they do. Realistically, it’s a long shot.

FRANCE

Never has a French side been detested so much internally and externally. After Thierry’s handball in the play-off for a place at the finals, the side, and the man himself has faced a constant barrage from the media over their side. Raymond Domenech has turned a side who were world-class into a unit that struggles. Just by looking at their qualifying campaign shows you how poor this French side is on paper.

STRENGTHS – The spine of the side is full of absolute quality players. Les Bleus midfield contains experienced players in Jeremy Toulalan and Alou Diarra  (both have had great seasons) plus adept wingers in Florent Malouda and the man to watch Franck Ribery. France are also blessed with two superb keepers. Hugo Lloris has been exceptional for Lyon, which has seen him linked with every European heavyweight going and Steve Mandanda has just won the league with Marseille.

WEAKNESSES – Age is a major factor in France’s decline, especially up front. Anelka and Henry aren’t setting the world alight anymore, and are both bit-part players at their clubs. Another problem is the lack of players coming through to replace. Karim Benzema hasn’t made the squad after a poor debut season as a Galactico, and the supporting cast don’t look up to much either. Domenech has called up forgotten man, Djibril Cisse to attempt to find a striker in some sort of form, after all he has scored 29 goals for Panathiniakos this year. I completely understand the decision to not take Benzema. In Euro 2000, France took Anelka, who at the time had been poor at Real. Result being that he didn’t play well in the tournament either.

The defence isn’t the best either with only William Gallas being the only true centre-back as he will be partnered by Eric Abidal.

Key Player – Franck Ribery

Bayern’s star player will hope to translate his club form onto the big stage. He has all the attributes to make an impact in South Africa. He will probably make mincemeat of most right-backs in the group.

Manager – Raymond DomenechRay-Dom adopts Wenger approach 'He did not see it'

Alistair Darling impersonator, with even less popularity. He made the final last time out, but that was with better players; players he chose to ignore this time, such as Patrick Vieira. His PR man has a massive job ahead of him to avoid Ray becoming Public Enemy 1,2 and 3. Well known for his proposal to TV girlfriend, live on air, after crashing out of Euro 2008.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE TROPHY – 12/1

PREDICTION – Should walk the group but tension within the ranks may prove costly to Le Bleus

MEXICO

A massive turnaround was needed in qualifying for the Mexicans. Sven came and Sven left, with a side on the verge of failure to qualify from CONCACAF. But under Javier Aguirre, Mexico improved and continue their run of World Cups since 1994.

They are full of some decent youth players, namely Arsenal’s Carlos Vela, who has huge potential, yet it hasn’t had the chance to be unlocked under Arsene Wenger. West Ham and Manchester United are also represented by strikers Guillermo Franco and Javier Hernandez.

STRENGTHS – Counter attacking. With some many young players, the speed of the team is key, especially when Mexico are under the kosh. They also have experience in Barca’s Rafael Marquez.

WEAKNESSES – Not enough quality throughout the side, to mount a serious challenge for the trophy. They are also known as a dirty side, which is backed up by of course, Rafael Marquez.

KEY PLAYER – Carlos Vela

The 21 year-old front-man hasn’t shown a lot at Arsenal, but in Mexico, he’s the linchpin of the Mexican front-line. Arsenal fans should see more of his quality here than at the Emirates.

MANAGER – Javier Aguirre

The former Atletico Madrid manager found a side lacking confidence and points in their qualifying campaign. after Sven’s defensive play didn’t suit ‘El Tri’. Focuses on counter-attacking flowing play which is sorely needed in this group

ODDS ON LIFTING THE TROPHY – 50/1

PREDICTION – Lack enough quality to go far, so will fall at the first hurdle.

URUGUAY

The first team to lift the World Cup and 2 time winners. Uruguay certainly thrive on the big stage, but their recent record in the competition isn’t as glittering. They missed out in 2006 and will be looking for a marked improvement from Japan/South Korea 2002 after being knocked out in the groups (along with France).

STRENGTHS

The frontline. Diego Forlan is now a veteran in this side, and after leading Atletico Madrid to Europa League success, he’ll want another medal in his trophy cabinet. Alongside him , should be Ajax’s Luis Suarez, who is a terrific player, who will provide the foil for Forlan to pop up for important goals. Like he does regularly.

There is also a decent defence, with Juve’s Martin Caceres being the most talented. He’s made the squad but has been injured for most of the season, meaning his quality will have to outweight his lack of form.

WEAKNESSES

Inconsistency. In qualifying they beat Peru 6-0 but got destroyed by Brazil 4-0. Suggests that they don’t have what it takes to hang with the best countries in the competition.  But this group is wide open, with all teams in for shout of qualifying. They shouldn’t fear France, that’s for sure.

KEY PLAYER – Diego Forlan

He comes from Uruguay. he makes the English cry. The fox in the box who didn’t live up to the billing in Manchester. Coming off the back of a great season, including goals against Fulham and Liverpool in the final rounds of the Europa League, could this be Forlan’s finest performance yet?

Manager – Oscar Washington Tabarez

Great name and an even great following in Uruguay after he took them to Italia 90. Has also managed AC Milan and Boca Juniors throughout his career, so he clearly knows pressure.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE TROPHY – 80/1


PREDICTION – Going to be close, but I think 2nd in the group, thanks to Diego Forlan’s form.

So to go through, France and Uruguay. Both won’t go far. Join me next time for Group B  and to discuss Maradona in general

Ciao. I leave you with one of my favourite goals from World Cup 98.

Adrian Ilie, please stand up

Odds courtesy of bet.fourfourtwo.com