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 – Clockwork Oranje

When every World Cup comes around, everyone places an outside bet on Holland. Based on their qualifying campaign, it seems a very safe bet. Their football is certainly entertaining and at times, dazzling for the spectator. But when it comes to tournaments, the Dutch will often begin with performances full of flair and vigour, but then collapse in the late stages. So can this crop of flying Dutchmen eradicate the memories of old?

For so many years, Holland have been the nearly men of international football. In the 1970’s, they were the creators of Total Football and had the maestro, Johan Cruyff as the master of that system. The 1980’s saw other great players emerge. Rijkaard, Gullit, Van Basten. All superb footballers who had an hand in Holland’s only tournament victory, Euro 1988.

The 1990’s saw Dutch club football reach its heights, with the Ajax youth system reaping dividends. Bergkamp, the De Boer brothers, Kluivert, Davids, Overmars. I could go on. But they didn’t win anything internationally either.

The point is Holland produces some of the best footballers of their respective generations. But they’ve never won the big one. The question is why?

This decade has seen the Dutch decline set in, after failing to make the World Cup in 2002 (under arguably their most successful manager Louis Van Gaal). They were arguably the most fluid side at Euro 2008, dismantling World champs and runner-ups Italy and France. These goals show the pure tactical class of the Dutch passing system and also their ability to counter attack like no other side.

But once again, Holland fell short after they were undone by their former manager and national team specialist, Guus Hiddink.

This time round, Holland possess arguably the most dynamic frontline out the European teams. Wesley Sneijder has had a sensational season at newly crowned Champions League winners Inter Milan, and was in my opinion, the best footballer in Europe this year. He was the creative engine behind that side and similarly here, he will look to link up with Robin Van Persie. Van Persie, by his own admission has had a injury-plagued season, but there’s no denying what he brings to the side: a accomplished striker. If he reaches peak fitness in time, then he can be deadly.

The wings in the adapted 4-2-3-1 formation will often blaze forward in an aid to help Van Persie. Arjen Robben, like Wesley Sneijder, has excelled after leaving Real Madrid, scoring some outrageous solo efforts. His form could well be key to Dutch success in South Africa but if reports are to be believed, he’s suffered a hamstring tear. On the right should be Rafael Van Der Vaart, who chose to stay in Madrid. He offers may options as well, and could also cut inside with devastating effect.

Oranje is the colour for these passionate fans

Bert van Marwijk has balanced his side well. The glamour up front is well supported by bruising determinism and experience behind. Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong will likely be the holding midfielders, each bringing different aspects. De Jong has proved at Manchester City that he’s a superb no-nonsense tackler, which City really needed. Van Bommel is an enforcer but also a great passer as well. Tackling isn’t exactly his strongest attribute and he has  a short fuse.

The subs bench also looks good as well. Ibrahim Affelay has been a revelation for PSV, and will be a useful impact sub when called upon. Dirk Kuyt’s work ethic is often underrated and he would also easily slot into Van Marwijk’s system.

Holland’s defence however worries me. Some players are way past their prime, particularly captain Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, a superb servant over the years, but I doubt he could cope with particularly fast wingers at left back. Andre Ooijer also falls into this category, and both him and Gio are 35. They both provide vital experience and composure to the defence, but speed is lacking at the back. This could see Johnny Heitinga partnering Joris Mathijsen in the heart of defence.

If the Netherlands had a world-class centre back, like so many other nations, then they would be classed as one of the favourites. Brazil have Lucio, England have John Terry (on his day can superb, just not this season) and Spain have Gerard Pique. All 3 are great centre-backs, although I’ll gladly except one has been haphazard at times this year.

Holland need a defensive rock similar to Jaap Stam, a player who would cast fear into opponents. They don’t have that.

The goalkeeper situation is worse however. Since Edwin Van Der Sar retired from international football, Holland have struggled to find a replacement. Maaten Stekelenburg lacks the leadership qualities of predecessor and he often looks shaky at times. This could prove to be disasterous, but he’s the best option viable to Van Marwijk.

If Holland’s defence perform as well as they did in a easy qualifying group, then there won’t be a problem. Unfortunately, for them as they well know, this stage is much tougher. Injuries will be a factor as well, the side is ridden with players prone to injuries.

So, is the future bright for Holland? Certainly, but they’ll need a lot more luck on and off the field, if they are to make the final in Johannesburg on July 11th.

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

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