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.

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World Cup Preview – Semi Final Time

So much for that South American dominance. We saw it all in the quarter finals; Brazil’s total dominance in the first half followed by their complete capitulation in the second, mainly due to Felipe Melo. Surprisingly, this new Dunga version of Brazil who from now on shall be called Euro-Brazil, couldn’t defend anything in the air or from set-pieces. And of course Wesley Sneijder took full advantage of this. The Brazillian FA action in the aftermath was blunt and swift, Dunga was sacked within the amount of time it takes to get a takeaway pizza to your door. Still, Dunga should easily walk into a top European job.

The funniest post match quote was indeed from wanted man Melo who said:

“Anyway, I’ve had a good World Cup and today I had a good first half with the assist for Robinho’s goal. If we had won the World Cup, I would have given myself a 10 out of 10. We didn’t do it, so I will content myself with a six.”

Modest Melo. But really a six? A SIX? I can barely think of six things you did correctly. Even Gilberto Silva had a better tournament. Sorry, Melo my tournament view is clouded by a stamp like Rooney in 2006, well because that’s all Rooney’s done at a World Cup. He also said:

‘If I had meant to hurt Arjen Robben, he would have had a broken leg’

Felipe Melo in less hostile times for Brazil

Dead hard Felipe Melo, which is exactly the right stance to take when you have probably every Brazilian on your back for pretty much single-handedly destroying the national team’s tournament. Still, he’s got pre-season at Juventus to look forward to. Juve are a shoe-in for the losers of the World Cup award. Buffon injured, Cannavaro (who’s retired in Quatar now) and Chiellini having shocking tournaments. Only Christian Poulsen and Tiago seem safe.

I’m still not convinced by Holland. Yes, they are a much better side with Arjen Robben but they look so so poor at the back. They’ll still make the final but Germany or Spain should prosper with the attacking options at their disposal.

Next followed quite possibly the most controversial moment in the World Cup since Diego Maradona palmed it past Peter Shilton in ’86. Maybe.  I don’t want to go into this too much, but I agree with Zonal Marking (great tactical analysis site by the way) who said that the punishment of Suarez doesn’t fit the crime. He denied a certain goal, which he possibly could have headed, that sent Ghana out. Sure, any other person would have done the same thing after 120 minutes of football, but he cheated. Plain and simple. If Ghana are out, Suarez should be out for the same amount of time, not the one game he’s going to miss, like Thomas Muller will for two harsh bookings in 5 games.

People may say “Oh, he got caught, he’s been punished so he didn’t cheat”. That’s like saying a convicted murderer isn’t as bad as another murderer on the run. Fifa, please sort this out. We need the equivalent of a penalty try in rugby or even an direct free-kick on the line with no goalie plus stricter punishment. Then and only then will goal-line handballs stop.

That being said, Asamoah Gyan’s attempt at glory by smashing it through Fernando Muslera didn’t work. Ghana’s mindset was rattled and they lost on penalties. A sad end for Africa’s last team but they can be proud of their efforts, without doubt.

I have a bone to pick with ITV ‘pundit’ Marcel Desailly. You can’t support two nations. You played 116 times for France. I do realise you were born in Ghana but you made the choice Marcel.

Marcel Desailly clearly playing for France

Saturday’s games were slightly less controversial. Germany established themselves as tournament favourites after destroying yet another side with a weak defence. All credit to them, their counter-attacking football was masterful at times. A sad end for Diego Maradona but I’ll stand by original opinion that the man shouldn’t manage. I firmly believe that any manager would have got Argentina this far. Maradona has certainly exceeded my expectations, and also provided us with some superb touchline and press-conference moments.

As for Germany, they’ve done exactly what I’d thought they do. Get down to business without any fuss. Extraordinary that they’ve done this without their best player of the decade Michael Ballack (although this could well be debated with Miroslav Klose’s goalscoring record) and first choice goalkeeper. Thomas Muller is my pick for player of the tournament. Not only exceptional on the field but very articulate off it, as this proves. He said:

“England have so many top stars in their squad that they will always be part and parcel of the international football scene. But there are so many ‘alpha males’ in their squad. It is difficult to have so many alpha males and have them row in the same direction. You don’t only need chiefs. You also need a few Indians.”

And that is why Germany will now win the World Cup. Belief, team-spirit and ultimately a well-oiled machine. Germany are that good at tournament football, they’ve got a word for it: Turniermannschaft. Hard to back against them lifting the trophy for the fourth time now.

There is nothing of note to say about Paraguay vs Spain. Except several posts were hit and several penalties were missed. David Villa scored the winner and enhances his reputation whereas the rest of the global superstars have put in forgettable performances.

After that mammoth ramble, here’s how I see the semi-finals going:

Uruguay vs The Netherlands

Cape Town, Tuesday 6th July  19:30GMT

Possible Starting Lineups

Uruguay: [ 4-3-3 ] Muslera; M. Pereira, Scotti, Victorino, A. Pereira; A. Fernandez, Arevalo, Perez, Cavani; Abreu, Forlan

Holland: [4-2-3-1] Stekelenburg, Boulahrouz Heitinga, Mathjisen, Van Bronckhorst, Van Bommel, De Zeeuw, Robben, Sneijder, Kuyt, Van Persie

  • With Luis Suarez serving that suspension, Uruguay could either press Diego Forlan further forward or bring in Sebastian ‘El Loco’ Abreu. His penalty was superb against Ghana so he might get the nod plus it would mean keeping the system that’s got them this far. Uruguay will also miss their captain Diego Lugano and left-back Jorge Fucile. Both key players at the back. Diego Perez will have to play a blinder to keep the Dutch front four at bay.
  • Holland’s second half against Brazil was magnificent, and I was really impressed by Dirk Kuyt’s workload. Wesley Sneijder has been a brilliant play maker for the Dutch. Although Holland will miss Gregory Van de Wiel and Nigel De Jong, both bringing tough tackling to the side. This means we should see Khalid Boulahrouz and Demy De Zeeuw to replace them. Neither as threatening really.
  • I think Holland have enough to see off Uruguay, especially considering the amount of injuries Uruguay have. Holland finally hit peak-form against Brazil, and once Clockwork Oranje starts, it’s hard to stop. Expect Arjen Robben to maraude and marvel.

Prediction – 1-3

Germany vs Spain

Durban, Wednesday 7th July 19:30 GMT

Possible Lineups

Germany (4-2-3-1) Neuer, Lahm, Mertesacker, Friedrich, Boateng, Khedira, Schweinstiger, Trochowski, Oezil, Podolski, Klose

Spain (4-4-2) Casillas, Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila, Iniesta, Alonso, Busquets, Xavi, Villa, Torres


  • A repeat of the Euro 2008 final, these sides remain the two heavyweights in Europe. Germany have matured since then, and have been the best team in South Africa so far. Spain have underwhelmed slightly, but that’s pretty harsh considering they were given the favourite tag likely right after that Euro 2008 victory.
  • Germany’s main weakness is the back two and goalkeeper yet they kept out Argentina. Germany’s defence is better than many think, arguably because of the assistance of Sami Khedira, an unsung hero. Bastian Schweinstiger was given free-roam against Argentina and I don’t expect that happen here as much as Xabi Alonso will be able do what Javier Mascherano couldn’t.
  • Spain need to drop Fernando Torres, they won’t but should. Spain improve in the 2nd half of nearly every game I’ve seen as they bring on Cesc Fabregas or Jesus or Pedro or Llorente or David Silva (so many options). They didn’t need two holding midfielders in the earlier games and improved dramatically when they adopted another attacking midfielder. Although here, I think Del Bosque will play it safe. but has hinted that he could drop him.
  • Will Germany struggle without Muller? Possibly. Will they sit back as several players are one booking away from missing the final? Certainly. But I really fancy Germany here, especially Klose continues his great form and also if Schweinstiger is allowed to control the game especially with Muller missing. The momentum gained from the victories over England and Argentina could give them the impetus a la Italy in 2006.

Prediction 2-1

See you next time where we will discuss a Uruguay Spain final, as my predictions are always wrong. I wish I was 5-0 like Paul the Octopus.

Here’s the best thing of the World Cup so far….Heinze Smash

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.