World Cup Preview – The rest of Group D

Group D certainly is a tough group to call. Germany and Ghana are both missing arguably their best players from the heart of midfield. Meanwhile the other two teams, Serbia and Australia are really starting to push forward as solid international sides. This could go either way.

AUSTRALIA

It has taken several years, but Australia have finally gained the respect of the elite nations  The turning point was on a cold wintry night at Upton Park in February 2003, where Australia dismantled a full strength England side. It made the global press sit up and take notice.

That game also marked the international debut of Wayne Rooney and also Sven Goran Eriksson’s worst night in charge of England, where he lived up to his tinkering nature and gave 22 players caps (including Francis Jeffers)

It was last time out in Germany 2006, where they made a big impact under super coach Guus Hiddink. Placed in a group with the footballing behemoth, Brazil, they came out runners up. The match with Croatia is often remembered for refereeing mistakes rather than the convincing show they put on. They were cruelly eliminated in the first knock-out stage by the champions elect, Italy, after Fabio Grosso dove in the last minute for a penalty, which Francesco Totti duly converted. Within that tournament, Australia felt the highs and lows of World Cup football. This tournament, Australia hope to erase the memories of that World Cup exit, and certainly hope progression is on the cards.

STRENGTHS

Several players ply their trade at some top European clubs, most notably Tim Cahill at Everton and Mark Bresciano at Palermo. Australia didn’t lose during their qualifying campaign (which saw them play in the Asian Confederation, as this gave them a better chance of qualifying, rather than playing off against an South American team) although the sides on show here will be a much tougher challenge. Their goalkeeper, Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer has become more consistent in both the league and European competition (and in my opinion is one of the best keepers of the Premier League) and has excelled under the tutelage of Roy Hodgson.

The Australian midfield looks like the best part of the side, assuming Pim Verbeek plays the 4-2-3-1 formation he used in qualifying. Both Vince Grella and Brett Emerton (Blackburn) have improved with age and will provide a tough obstacle to overcome. Jason Culina, who plays at Gold Coast, should also help this experienced side keep the ball in midfield.

WEAKNESSES

The Australians don’t have a quality front line. Often whoever is left up top is isolated. I expect Josh Kennedy to lead the line and the majority of you may be asking who he is. Kennedy is a journeyman of mediocre European teams, most notably Wolfsburg, Nurnberg and Karlsruhe. Finding Europe a tough nut to crack, he know plays for Nagoya Grampus (the side managed by Arsene Wenger before Arsenal). I don’t seem him scoring many goals, so Tim Cahill will be key to them progressing.

Question marks also surround the form and fitness of Harry Kewell who hasn’t been on the radar since 2005. Verbeek only picked 3 strikers, this risk may prove costly.

Australia's answer to Rocky Balboa

KEY PLAYER – Tim Cahill

Time and time again, Tim Cahill pops up with important headers for club and country. He’s certainly one of Everton’s best players, and ultimately Moyes’s best buy as manager. His leap is superb for his size, and Australia could be very dangerous from set-pieces. However, the Serbians and Germans both have strong centre-backs which should be told to keep Cahill out of the game. He is that dangerous at times.

MANAGER – Pim Verbeek

A veteran manager, who will make his 3rd successive appearance at the World Cup, having assisted Guus Hiddink in 2002 and Dick Advocaat in 2006. Unlike Hiddink, he opts for cautious attacking play which could be a good strategy. An unbeaten qualifying campaign proves he’s got national support as well.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 125/1

PREDICTION – If Australia adopt the team spirit they had in 2006, they’ll make it out of the group. I don’t see it happening this time.

SERBIA

Serbia undoubtedly have the most talented side they’ve ever had. In 2006, they entered the tournament with a sensational defensive record in qualifying (one goal conceded in ten games) but the experience is largely remembered for them buckling in that tournament’s ‘Group of Death’, including a 6-0 defeat to Argentina. In South Africa, the squad is largely unchanged but importantly, the majority of that side has gained experience at top European sides.

STRENGTHS

This side is littered with high-calibre players and the right balance between strength and speed. Nemanja Vidic has excelled at Manchester United since 2006 and is often considered one of the best no-nonsense centre backs in Europe. Branislav Ivanovic has become a regular at Chelsea, and was undoubtedly the best right-back in the league.

Champions League winner, Dejan Stankovic is the captain of this side and also their playmaker, creating great moves from the centre. Milos Krasic (who has an eerie similarity to Raiden from Metal Gear Solid 2) has burst onto the scene at CSKA Moscow and provided a superb performance against Manchester United earlier this season. He can be a real handful on the wing and expect him to show his flair in South Africa.

Up front is Birmingham’s new signing, Nikola Zigic. Think Peter Crouch, but taller and twice as potent.

WEAKNESSES

It doesn’t really matter the amount of talent at your disposal if the man between the sticks isn’t up to the job. Vladimir Stojkovic was loaned out to Wigan this season and made 4 appearances. A goalkeeper with a lack of matches doesn’t bode well for them. Serbia have also been very dodgy in preparation for the tournament, losing t0 outsider New Zealand and drawing against Poland.

KEY PLAYER – Dejan Stankovic

The Serbia captain will hope to be the gel in this youthful side. He is renowned for accurate passing and starting moves in the attack. He can also deftly place from long range as this goal proves. His opportunities have been limited this season as Wesley Sneijder’s form was superb, but there’s no doubt ‘Deki’ is the instigator in Serbia’s strong and flowing play

That goal. The preceding pitch invasion haunts me

MANAGER – Raddy Antic

Fondly remembered for sending Manchester City down in 1983 with a late goal. It also sent David Pleat galloping on the Maine Road pitch in his beige suit, a sight etched into the memories of fans for many years to come. A sight I don’t want to relive. Antic’s policy of involving younger players could prove astute especially against older teams. He’s got the balance spot on.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 66/1

PREDICTION – The potential is there. The pressure is mounting. Should make it out of the groups at least.

GHANA

The Ghanaians will have been rocked by Michael Essien’s withdrawal from the side, after a massive injury lay-off this season. It will be interesting to see how they cope, and also if any younger players, especially in defence, manage to make some headway on the biggest stage.

STRENGTHS

Despite missing Essien, the midfield is still full of good players. Inter Milan’s Sulley Muntari will be given the role of creator and he will hope to provide the drive forward. Captain Stephen Appiah will hope to avoid constant fitness criticism and deputise where Essien played. He is clearly talented, a former Juventus player after all but he’ll need to rekindle that form.

Kevin Prince Boateng has already made a impact at the World Cup even before it started, after his rash tackle on Germany captain Michael Ballack. A decent season at Pompey might see him make his debut at the tournament.

WEAKNESSES

The strong defence of the African Cup of Nations, which was held together brilliantly by 20 year old Sammy Inkoom, looked terrible against tougher opposition. They lost  a recent friendly to Holland 4-1. Hardly an indication of how things will play out, but its clear that their defence might well struggle to hold teams with great strikers.

Also, Wigan keeper Richard Kingson has never impressed me at his spell at the Latics. And he will be first choice. I expect Ghana to get hammered once in the group stage, most probably by Serbia.

The frontman is profilic for Ghana

KEY PLAYER – Asamoah Gyan

A perfect lone striker that bagged several goals at the African Cup on Nations. It remains to be seen in the supporting cast can help Gyan hit the net here.

MANAGER – Milovan Rajevac

Unknown Serbian that took over 2008, but has turned this side into a very tactically aware unit. Can also be complemented for giving all 23 members of the squad time to prove their worth.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP –  100/1

PREDICTION – No Essien = No progression

Join my next time where I preview the Dutch, a team often backed to end their trophy draught. Are they realistic favourites after a superb qualifying campaign?

I leave you with my favourite World Cup song this year. Simple but effective is always the best way I’m told.

And also the  funniest moment in World Cup History

Advertisements

Rampant Rooney and The Magnificent Seven

Good afternoon fellow pointers. Yep you are all pointers, because at this blog, the followers have to have a stupid name.

It’s been a fairly interesting weekend full of lower league champions being crowned and top flight sides falling down to the Championship (most of which were effectively confirmed in since 2010 began.) Plus we saw The Magnificent Seven at Chelsea for the third time. By that I mean seven goals were scored, not that Bronson, Brynner and McQueen are season ticket holders. It would be a sight nonetheless.

I’m rambling about a 1960’s film I haven’t seen, akin to Carlo Ancelotti claiming he wanted to see Clash of The Titans.

Come on Carlo, no one wants to see it unless you like a kraken or Liam Neeson. Speaking of Krakens

How I miss Barry Davies in the modern age.

Let’s kraken……(see what I did there)

1. Wayne Rooney is named PFA Player of the Year

I’d be foolish to argue against this decision. Footballers do know who deserves the award and without any exception, Wayne Rooney has been the best player this season. 26 goals in 30 in the league is an outstanding contribution to a team that, in my opinion needs more creativity and an other striker to complement. Sorry Berbatov you don’t cut the mustard for me and it’s time for Fergie to cut his losses. Big losses.

Rooney has somehow managed to step out from CR9’s shadow (that’s his name now, trademarked don’t you know. It also makes him sound like a intergalactic(o) robot) and become United’s sole outlet. Theoretically, United shouldn’t be in the title race, but that dogged persistance of Rooney et al means they have a chance. Rooney’s managed to take from Ronaldo in other aspects too, especially in the heading department

This all means Rooney has hit form just in time for South Africa, which means we also have that false optimism from die-hard England fans. I think we have an outside chance but if Rooney’s ankle problems flair up again, I’m worried he could end up retiring in Van Basten circumstances.

Well let’s hope not. Like the picture below, In Rooney We Trust.

Wayne's World Cup?

2. Chelsea send out battle cry to United

Following on from United’s 3-1 victory over Spurs, Chelsea had the pressure well and truly stacked upon their shoulders. But emphatically, Ancelotti’s men fired in SEVEN against feeble Stoke. This is the 3rd time this season Chelsea have bagged 7 goals at Stamford Bridge, the other two fixtures being against Villa and Sunderland. Based on that alone, they should really be champions. All three are very good sides and scoring seven against European elect team. Stoke were hampered by the horrible Sorensen injury, who has had a magnificent season for them.

So onto next week. Chelsea Liverpool will decide the title. The conspiracy theorists amongst you will surely think that Liverpool will lose in order to keep United on 18 titles. However, I think the more underlying issue is that Liverpool have had a poor season, and will likely lose anyway, off the back of the Europa League game. A game which Liverpool also don’t want to win, as they likely feel its beneath them……..tell that to Fulham.

This is anti-football of its worst kind. A team losing because of a bitter rivalry. I wish some fans would man up, and actually accept the glory days are over, well at least under Rafa.

3. Burnley and Hull go down, in a fairly unremarkable season

I’ll keep this brief. Burnley haven’t made the transition to the top flight exactly easy. Early in the season, they looked a decent side under Owen Coyle, who has wins against United and Everton under his belt. Coyle jumps the sinking ship and drives down the M61 to Bolton, where he is again, not remarkable but consistent enough to grab a point a game.

In comes, a manager out of his depth, Brian Laws. Given the uneviable task of fighting the drop, he flounders around and loses heavily a lot. Except once against Iain Dowie’s Hull (who I talked about in a previous blog) and smashed the Tigers 4-1.

That’s about it. Burnley effectively didn’t have the squad to stay up, their best player being David Nugent on loan. Hull didn’t have the team or morale to survive. A fact highlighted by George Boateng, who blames that ill-fated Eastlands half time talk, and Phil Tango Brown.

With reports of administration looming for Hull, Burnley can look back on this season as an escapade that turned sour.

Siyonara Tigers and Clarets.

4. Jozy Altidore emulates Zizou on lesser scale

Think about it. Your last game for the club and you decide to headbutt Alan Hutton. Admittedly, the circumstances surrounding Zidane’s depature were well….more tainted. But anyone would deck Matterazzi if they had the chance. I reckon Mario Balotelli might want to at the moment.

Don't compare me to Jozy. Least I can score

Jozy Altidore has been one of Hull’s better players and I think someone should take a punt on him next year. Anyone fancy a young volatile striker not capable of scoring. Jozy Altidore available to your club, on loan soon!

5. Arsenal vs Man City. Snorefest

I went to the pub after having a kickabout. I wish I hadn’t bothered. It took City until the 86th minute to have a shot and the highlight of the game was seeing the first Faroe Islander to play in the league. I’m getting rather bored of hype, this time being the whole Adebayor returning scenario. It was funny to see Vieira being cheered then ‘Saint’ Emmanuel being booed. Contrast.

GUNNAR NIELSEN. He won’t appear on this blog again, or for City again.

Here’s your 15 minutes of fame.

Arsenal were equally poor and should have probably won. But didn’t underlining their need for a goalscorer in a team full of midfield brilliance. Wenger will surely sign Chamakh in the summer and maybe poach some unknown who enters the footballing conscience in Africa.

He’ll also sign Joe Hart if he had any sense. Englands No.1 keeper surely now.

6. ANNUAL AWARD FOR WORST KIT YET TO BE UNVEILED AND ALSO POSSIBLY NOT REAL

Honourable Mentions

Manchester United Away  (doubt this is real but still terrible)

AZ Alkmaar Away


WINNER: Seattle Sounders ‘Nu-Rave Norwich’ Third Kit (I pray this doesn’t have to be used)

And until next week, I leave you with a goal the dubious goals panel will have a nightmare over.



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