6 Players to Watch in Premier League 2010/11

Well it’s time for that obligatory Premier League Preview. However due to lack of time and the fact that several esteemed journalists (and some not at all esteemed) have previewed the league, I feel it’s best to highlight 6 players who have all the tools needed to be proficient and efficient in the Premier League.

It’s been a strange transfer window really. Very quiet bar the big spenders Manchester City and also a case of ‘chase the hottest prospect around Europe’ game (Loic Remy, Mesut Ozil) in which several managers have participated in and ultimately coming up with no signing.

I’ve imposed certain rulings here. Firstly I cannot go with obvious suggestions that media darling pundits have, so this means Javier Hernandez will not be selected due to the fact the world and his dog know he will be good this year and if you’re a eagle-eyed World Cup viewer, you’ll know exactly what he will bring to Manchester United. This also means no David Silva, Jack Wilshere, Gareth Bale, Joe Hart et al.

The other ruling is that I’m going to try and highlight players outside the Big Four if possible unless I feel a certain player at a big club deserves attention. So sorry Joe Cole, but I wouldn’t have picked you anyway despite the fact that you are clearly more  skilful than Lionel Messi, according to your club captain (surely a contender for Biggest Heaping of Pressure on an Overrated midfielder.)

So here we go, 6pointer’s guide to 6 players you should put into your fantasy football team if you can:

1. Mauro Boselli (Wigan)

I’ll be honest I was worried about Wigan at the beginning of this transfer window. Several players have left the club after their contracts expired, such as Mario Melchiot (who was beginning to become a liability anyway) and Paul Scharner. Other key players had jumped ship too, like Titus Bramble joining his former manager Steve Bruce at Sunderland.

Martinez had a massive summer scouting mission ahead of him. Fortunately, he’s managed to make some great signings. Antolin Alcaraz from Club Bruges, was instrumental in Paraguay’s World Cup success, forged upon a tightly knit defence. Ronnie Stam has signed from FC Twente, who’s continually improved there as a right-back and got a Holland call-up too.

But one thing that Wigan have always lacked at this level is an out and out frontman, who’s capable of consistently performing. Step forward Mauro Boselli. Signed from Estudiantes for an estimated £6.5million, he swaps the bustling streets of Buenos Aires for a wet and windy Wigan.

He’d managed to build quite a reputation for himself in Argentina, scoring 32 goals in 57 appearances for Estudiantes. He’s an intelligent striker, who knows exactly where to be at the right time.

Martinez describes him as ‘a goalscorer, who lives to put the ball in the back of the net’ and if he links up well with Hugo Rodallega or Jordi Gomez, I feel we might see a barrage of goals at Wigan this year.

Why Terry Venables thinks they’ll be 19th I don’t know, when Martinez has added some quality to a pretty ropey side. Boselli has even made a Argentinian call-up. You may see this as Diego Maradona experimenting, after all he’s used about 50 players in the last 2 years, but you have to some sort of quality to challenge that front-line.

He could flop like so many South Americans before him in this league, but I feel the top scorer in the Copa Libertadores in 2009 might just be this season’s best purchase, and will warrant a big move the year after.

EDIT – 23/9/10 – After seeing Mauro Boselli, live in the flesh, discount any information you see here. He looked sluggish against Preston. Sean St Ledger kept him in his pocket the entire night pretty much. Don’t listen to me, I have sinned.

2.Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea)

Ok, I’ve broken the Top Four amnesty. But I don’t think many people realise the quality of this young English centre-forward. This decision was mainly down to his performance in last week’s Community Shield, where came on 2nd half replacing Nicolas Anelka. I feel this might happen a lot this year, since I think Anelka is under serious threat of finding himself at another club. He’s hardly had a good summer either, and I think his time at a top level is coming to an end.

This is why I feel Daniel Sturridge is an ideal replacement. He has power and pace in abundance and Carlo Ancelotti found opportunity to play him a lot in the later months of last season, particularly in Chelsea’s FA Cup winning side. He ended up with 4 goals in the FA Cup and finished as the leading scorer for Chelsea.

If Carlo Ancelotti integrates him more this season, we may well see Sturridge challenge for national selection. The future’s bright for this young man I reckon.

3.Jerome Boateng (Man City)

If you were to ask me last season where City needed strengthening, the answer is obvious. The back four last year began superbly but then collapsed as the season progressed. For all your attacking options, you need players capable of offering protection to a solid goalkeeper. Roberto Mancini has acted this summer and brought in German international Jerome Boateng from Hamburg. Of course £11 million isn’t cheap but compared to the £24million City paid for Joleon Lescott, it looks a bargain.

Boateng is a strong and versatile defender, capable of playing really anywhere across the defence. He’ll thrive in this league, as he’s renowned for last-ditch defending. He was unsung really in Germany’s World Cup exploits, the plaudits of a free-flowing attack were well noted but it was underpinned by a strong defence. City should be improved this season as I think their major weakness has been sorted out to some extent.

4.Dani Pacheco (Liverpool)

He’s often been touted as the next best thing at Liverpool, but former manager Rafa Benitez never really used him or got the best out of him when he did. I think under Roy Hodsgon we may see that change. Pacheco was instrumental along with Sergio Canales in the Spanish side that were runners-up in this year’s U19’s European Championship in France. What Dani lacks in height, he makes up double in creativity and all-round trickiness, a general requirement of any Barcelona youth player.

If given the chance this season under Hodgson, he could link up well with a fully fit Fernando Torres (will this ever happen?) and we should see more of the man nicknamed The Assassin by team-mates due to his ability to score from anywhere.

5.Graham Dorrans (West Brom)

I feel it’s only fair to highlight someone from the promoted teams, and while Charlie Adam seems a good pick, I’ve decided to go with the Baggies playmaker. He was unbelievable last season in the Championship, and certainly worthy of his place in the Team of the Year. He’s the linchpin of the side, and his partnership with Chris Brunt was key to West Brom’s promotion last year. He’s an all-round central midfielder with a sweet shot on him too.

I still think West Brom are relegation candidates, after all the club is a yo-yo side, but if they want to avoid the drop look no further to their young midfield driving force. All they need a good striker and they may have a chance to get mid-table. Even if West Brom go down, I get the feeling he won’t find it hard to garner some Premier League interest.

Scotland, there is something to get excited about from a upcoming star.

6. Pablo Barrera (West Ham)

Another player to shine in Javier Aguirre’s exciting Mexican side, this winger could prove a real handful for some Premier League teams. The thing I remember most about Barrera at the World Cup was the torrid time he gave Eric Abidal in the France game (arguably Mexico’s best performance at the World Cup). He looks nippy and a decent crosser too, something that West Ham will need to feed Carlton Cole up top, or maybe Frank Nouble if he’s given a chance.

The 23 year old moved from Mexican side Pumas for £4 million. I’m not totally convinced about West Ham’s plans under Avram Grant but I think Barrera could be a hugely influential midfielder for them.

So there we have it. Let’s see next May how badly wrong I was.

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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 – 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 – 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 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.


World Cup Preview – The Group of Death?

And so we come onto the hotly contested ‘Group of Death’. Three of these teams possess a world class player each. Brazil know everything about the World Cup, and now with manager Dunga at the helm they’ve managed to maintain a technically brilliant side and also strengthen their defence. Portugal made a meal of qualification and just about made it through the playoffs, but with Cristiano Ronaldo in their side, they should go far. Ivory Coast are one of the stronger African sides, complete with a deadly front-line, but the injury to Didier Drogba could prove costly.

Then there’s North Korea making their first World Cup appearance since 1966. Outsiders is a mere understatement here. No chancers is more appriopriate.

BRAZIL

Brazil have indeed created ‘the beautiful game’ as we know it. Five time winners and undoubtedly the kings of the World Cup. Renowned for stylish and creative genius, this Brazilian side could be considered the improved article. Why? The defence has finally been sorted out. In 2006, they looked sluggish and were shut out and knocked out by the French, mainly as Zinedine Zidane went on a 1998 style self-imposed rampage.

But this time round, under former World Cup winning captain Dunga, they’ve built the foundations from the back and the new generation have emerged to great acclaim. This could be their year once again

STRENGTHS

The defence. Yes, you heard me correctly. Dunga’s instilled belief into the back four. Captain Lucio, who was the best centre-back in Europe last season, will be looking for his 2nd World Cup win and he brings a certain brutal tenacity to the side. Described as a ‘one-man devastation unit’ by some, he’ll be partnered by Juan and the two have become a reliable duo. Lucio will be the aggressor while Juan will tidy up if needed. Calm and composed, they should be a nightmare for strikers. Maicon could be a key player as well if given license to roam like for his club

Brazil haven’t had the best keepers over the years either but Julio Cesar has changed that. The Inter Milan man is up there with the best. His acrobatic skills are very impressive and he gets the ‘bread and butter’ right as well.

Another side with the trusted 4-2-3-1, the jobs of Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo are key. Set up the rest. The front four look deadly. Nilmar, Kaka, Ramires and Luis Fabiano are all certain to be dangerous. Luis Fabiano has made the lone front man role his own and has 25 in 38 for Brazil. Phenomenal and also my pick for the golden boot.

Even the bench looks superb with Dani Alves, Grafite and Robinho all in waiting. Be fearful other top nations.

WEAKNESSES

I’ve struggled to find a weakness to be honest, but I guess one could be that some top players have indifferent club form. Kaka by his incredibly high standards has been fairly average at times. Robinho spent half the season being subbed at Man City but came back strong for Santos. If a youngster from the bench excels, Dunga should do the right thing and drop either. Might not be popular but the correct decision must be taken. I think Nilmar will excel at this World Cup if given the chance.

I think if they were going to be eliminated it would be to a fellow South American side, mainly because Dunga’s strategy is very European, opting for a more direct style. Not that I’m saying the flair side badly either, but teams like Argentina could be their undoing.


Can Fabiano overcome the goal drought?

KEY PLAYER – Luis Fabiano

The Sevilla striker has been unbelievable for a few years now, for club and country. Out and out target man and both teams he plays in work their system around him. Consistently getting more than 20 goals a season, expect him to ravage his way to the Golden Boot, despite being in a goal drought at the moment.

MANAGER – Dunga

A master tactician who believes in defensive strength. Not exactly popular with natives for the change in style but you can’t argue with results. Clean sheets throughout qualifying, decent front men, Dunga’s formation and line-ups is fairly spot on. Considering that Ronaldinho and Pato both failed to make the squad, for one reason or another, it shows the talent Dunga has at his disposal.

ODDS -5/1 (at best)

PREDICTION – I’ve got them down as winners. A perfect balance of style and substance.

PORTUGAL

Portugal are a perplexing side. They have some great attacking players yet struggled to find goals in qualifying. They don’t have many great defenders, unlike previous years and managed to perform fairly well in that department. After recovering from the group disaster and qualifying in a play-off against Bosnia-Herzegovina, they will have to vastly improve if they are to repeat the run of 2006 and a best finish of 4th at the World Cup. Quieroz has certainly divided opinion with his selection and tactics at times.

STRENGTHS

Cristiano Ronaldo has been one of the best attacking players in the world for a solid three years at least now. He mesmerises players with his step-overs and bamboozles keepers with his swerving shots and free-kicks. Possibly the most complete package in world football. Remains to be seen how Quieroz will utilise him. Could be on the left or right wing or even up front on his own. Personally, the further out wide he is, the more he can run infield and cause havoc.

Portugal have a decent centre-back pairing in Carvalho and Bruno Alves, with Pepe acting an intermediary like Rafael Marquez did in Mexico’s opener. All three are very strong defensively.

WEAKNESSES

Quieroz has angered players and the team may not act as a cohesive unit. They lack strikers as well, with Liedson being the best candidate, and he’s indifferent at times and doesn’t scream star quality to me.

Why Duda is ahead of the excellent Fabio Coentrao at left-back is beyond. The weakest part of the national set-up is the manager and it will have to be amended come the end of the tournament.

Injuries have hampered their preparations with Nani being the latest casualty, and they’ll miss his delivery greatly.

KEY PLAYER – Simao Sabrosa

A dynamite midfielder who can create something out of nothing. Amazing that he hasn’t found himself at a bigger club in his career but he’s one of the most effective players in Spain certainly at the moment. Fabulously good at free-kicks (although he won’t take any here) and has a fierce shot on him too.

MANAGER – Carlos Quieroz

Was a great No.2 to Sir Alex Ferguson at United, but he’s found the step-up to management tough. His spell at Real Madrid was forgettable. Only No.2 to Domenech in the Unpopularity Stakes. He could be the reason behind failure here.

ODDS – 30/1

PREDICTION – Could be the first big scalp of the tournament. (Drogba’s fitness depending)

C’OTE D’IVOIRE

Before the draw, I certainly thought that the Elephants would do very well. It is a tough task ahead of them especially with Didier Drogba possibly missing. But they have some gems deep within their squad and should provide tough opposition to the other two big teams.

STRENGTHS

The front three is absolutely superb. We all know how well Didier Drogba did this season at Chelsea, but people forget that Solomon Kalou finally found his feet as well and excelled. With those two players knowing each other so well, it could inspire the rest of the side. Keep an eye out for the right winger in their 4-3-3 system, Gervinho. Super pace and also very creative.

The defence isn’t too bad as well but could find it tough against the other two teams. Kolo Toure and Steve Gohouri are both capable of good performances.

WEAKNESSES

Having said that, other defenders are liabilities particularly Emmanuel Eboue, who would be better off further foward like at Arsenal. Sol Bamba is another example. The Drogba injury could put an end to their chances as he’s that important.

KEY PLAYER – Yaya Toure

The typical anchorman who will be called upon to get the team motoring. He’s been in and out of the Barca side this year but his quality in undeniable. Superb tackler as well, just the sort of player Arsenal need.

MANAGER – Sven Goran Eriksson

Newly installed meaning the Tinkerman has yet to gain any form or cohesion from his players. Not had time to do a lot in his tenure but he knows what the World Cup is like after taking England to the quarter-finals in 2002.

ODDS – 40/1

PREDICTION – The Drogba injury is going to cost them. Group stage exit.

I am not bothering to a North Korean preview mainly for two reasons.

1. I haven’t the absolute foggiest in regards to North Korean football. If I tried to make a half-arsed preview about a side I know nothing about at all. The football team is shrouded in secrecy much like the country itself.

2. I don’t expect them to pick up a point, so I will be merely wasting my time talking about strengths when they will be outclassed.

But what I have decided to is put this link of them visiting the zoo. And also put a picture of the most glorious dictator, Kim Jong-Il. He once claimed 9 holes in one in his first game of golf.

It's all about the confidence for this World Cup, they'll need it

I’ll let you get back to hearing the swarm of mutant bees throughout the games.

World Cup Preview – Group F

Once again, we have a scenario of severe overdog versus three other teams scrapping away for the coveted second spot. Holders Italy come into this tournament with accusations of their team being full of veterans and lacking a creative spark. Slovakia make their first appearance at World Cup mainly due to one player shining in their squad. New Zealand reappear amongst footballing elite for the first time since 1982 (where they were destroyed) and hope to upset the big teams. But the most interesting and also harrowing back story belongs to Paraguay.

ITALY

The current World Champions weren’t fancied last time in Germany, and this time they have even less backers at the bookmakers. The main reason for this is Lippi’s reluctance to change his squad. He tried at the Confederations Cup The squad remains largely unchanged from the winning side in Berlin, with hardly any younger players breaking through into the team. On one hand, this means that this side are very well acquainted with each other. But, with an average age of 28.2, it’s clearly a problem. Strangely this is lower than both England and Brazil.

STRENGTHS

As mentioned squad unity couldn’t be any better. This side have played with each other for roughly 4 years, and know their manager’s tactics well. The Donadoni experiment didn’t work out too well, but Lippi knows how to get the best out his team.

Italy have a superb player in every department. Gigi Buffon is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world and the best pair of safehands between the sticks you could want. In defence, Giorgio Chiellini has managed to become of the best centre-backs in the world. The midfield general Andrea Pirlo has the ability to change games when given license to roam. Up front, Lippi has several options to lead the Azzuri. Alberto Gilardino, Gianpaolo Pazzini and Vincenzo Iaquinta are all superb strikers. Antonio Di Natale has also had a superb year in Serie A and should be given a chance as well.

WEAKNESSES

The lack of creativity in midfield never seemed to be a problem in recent years. But with several of Italy’s midfielder not getting enough playing time this season, especially renowned hardman Gennaro Gattuso, they could struggle to keep the ball. Daniel De Rossi could be the man to hold things together now Pirlo has been ruled out of the first two games. The midfield will have to be strong and powerful if Italy are to go far. With Totti now retired, it makes you wonder where an attacking midfielder will emerge from, Di Natale being the best candidate.

The form of Fabio Cannavaro is also worrying. The 2006 Balon D’or winner has been on a career downward spiral since the last World Cup and it will be interesting to see if the Italian captain can lead his side to glory again.

KEY PLAYER – Andrea Pirlo

I bought a Pirlo shirt for this World Cup. I am constantly astounded by the man; his passing technique is beyond belief at times, a free-kick master and all-round superb player. Nicknames L’Architetto (the architect in Italian), he can play as deep-lying playmaker or an attacking role just behind the frontmen. He will be sorely missed against Paraguay and New Zealand.

MANAGER -Marcello Lippi

One of the best managers in the world and of course has won the Jules Rimet trophy. Slight criticism at his loyal support of Juventus players, when their season wasn’t brilliant. Tactically brilliant but lack of Plan B could prove fatal.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 12/1

PREDICTION – I really think they could surprise some people. If Pirlo’s fighting fit by the time they should meet Spain in the 1/4finals, they could shock the world again

SLOVAKIA

Their first major tournament could be a rude awakening for them. But this side deserve their tag amongst the stable of ‘dark horses’. They qualified with a team of talented youth players  and experienced leaders. They are another team who’ve adopted the 4-2-3-1 system (seems to be an international favourite) and they play that formation exceptionally well. Qualifying saw them gain away wins off Northern Ireland, Czech Republic and Poland. Travelling to South Africa could see that trend continue.

STRENGTHS

If Slovakia are to get anywhere in South Africa, their hopes seem to rest on one man, Marek Hamsik. The Napoli man is hot property and shows flashes of brilliance regularly. Other quality players include Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel, who’s figthing to be fit for the tournament and former Chelsea and FC Twente player Miroslav Stoch. Skrtel’s well known for his aggressive tackling and he will have to be at his best if Slovakia. Stoch on the other hand has been superb for Schteve McClaren’s side who won the league.

WEAKNESSES

Not a lot of the first team are given enough chances at their respective clubs. A good example of this is Manchester City Vladimir Weiss Jr who always gets a free pass into the side because of Pop. He’s been on loan at Bolton and failed to impressive.

This may sound fairly obvious but if Hamsik doesn’t turn up, then neither will Slovakia. He’s the link-up man and is the catalyst in their play

Could Marek frustrate the Italian old guard?

KEY PLAYER – Marek Hamsik

Marek Hamsik is a world class player. That’s according to manager Vladimir Weiss. He’s been targeted by Man City and Chelsea, the latter surely interested now they’ve released Michael Ballack. Constantly threatening and creating, he’s one of my players to watch this tournament

MANAGER – Vladimir Weiss Snr

Possibly the most popular coach at the World Cup after bringing this small nation to it. He’s also the youngest coach, meaning he has little experience. Should be commended for bringing the best out of a set of substitutes.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 200/1

PREDICTION – Group stage exit unfortunately. Too many players aren’t match fit.

PARAGUAY

To say the Paraguayans have had a nightmare 2010 is a bit of an understatement. Star player Salvador Cabanas was shot in the head (the bullet still lodged in his skull) in a Mexican bar in January. He’ll miss the tournament but the other players will hopefully strive on in honour of their team-mate.  Cabanas was almost a Wayne Rooney type player in their team, so manager Gerardo Martino has been at work frantically trying to find a new system.

STRENGTHS

Up front may be missing Cabanas, but the back up option aren’t too shabby. Bench-warmer Roque Santa Cruz is a accomplished finisher but will be put on the right wing in the 4-3-3 formation. In the centre will be Borussia Dortmund’s Valdez who might be familiar to England fans after he was impressive in 2006 against them.

The defence was key to them progressing out of the South American qualifying group. The centre backs, Paulo Da Silva and Caceres were very strong and didn’t ship many goals. They even got a draw away against Argentina and were narrowly beaten by Brazil.

WEAKNESSES

The midfield doesn’t look great, with no real player standing out. First choice goalkeeper Justo Villar certainly has had practice at Valladolid this season, but does he have enough quality to stop the Italians. I don’t think so.

Fitness concerns run rife through the media especially over key wing-man Oscar Cardozo.

KEY PLAYER – Oscar Cardozo

An absolute goal machine for Benfica. A prize asset for them although his goal scoring record for country isn’t as stunning. If he performs well, expect interest from all over the Premier League. He is a major doubt however.

MANAGER – Gerardo Martino

Great tactician and a believer in attacking football. He also gets the best out of young players.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 50/1

PREDICTION – Should make it out of the groups, but will run into the well-oiled machine known as the Netherlands.

NEW ZEALAND

For a small nation devoted to rugby, making this year’s World Cup was a tremendous achievement. Aided by Australia’s defection to the Asian zone, New Zealand’s route to the World Cup included facing the footballing heavyweights of Fiji and New Caledonia. The friendlies recently have been the best indication of what  ‘The All Whites’ can offer this summer, and with a 1-0 win over Serbia, they have a reason to be optimistic of an upset. On the flipside, their Confederations Cup exploits last year were terrible after being smashed 5-0 by Spain. Tournament football can be  a cruel mistress at times.

STRENGTHS

  • Organised well in defence, considering their talent pool isn’t great (mostly A-League players).
  • Captain Ryan Nelsen is a tough brute of a centre-back.
  • Have little expectations placed upon you could take you far.

WEAKNESSES

  • Erm, no real potency up front. Only scored one goal in the playoff against Bahrain. Their best striker is Rory Fallon who plays for recently relegated Championship side Plymouth
  • Or midfield creativity

KEY PLAYER – Ryan Nelsen

Blackburn’s instinctive centre-back led his nation this far. Will have to be at the top of his game against far superior sides. His experience in the Premier League is vital to a team full of lower league players.

MANAGER – Ricki Herbert

Ricki Herbert unveils disappointing puppet show

We’re ready. I can’t wait for the opening game. The battle cry from Herbert ahead of the kick-off. Typical Antipodean, all talk little substance.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 2000/1

PREDICTION – Small fish in a big pond. Predators will take the All Whites apart.