I'm not going to South Africa. So instead I'm gonna try and watch a bit if not all of every game at work, or at home or in a bar or wherever. On the telly. With a beer. And I'm gonna predict who I think is gonna win. And talk about football stuff. So there.

Sunday 18 July 2010

That Was World Cup 2010 That Was

A new host in a new continent gave us a new winner of the World Cup. But this World Cup won't go down as a classic.

Despite venturing into new territory, games didn't sell out. Empty seats at the ultimate sporting event looks bad. Yeah, getting to South Africa isn't easy. Air prices went sky high. Hotel rooms doubled in price overnight. But where there's a will, there's a way. Fans will get there somehow if they're interested enough. The USA sold the most tickets - encouraging for the development of the game over there. England were well backed of course. As were Argentina. Germany. Holland. Spain - largely thanks to their success.

But there were few classic games to remember this tournament by. The final was a disappointment. The stand out game was probably Ghana v Uruguay in the quarters. Drama aplenty. But there were no 4-3s. Most teams seemed to play just one up front with two out wide. Because it worked. England played two up front and went home early. The days of the two-pronged attack seem over. The days of a pair of defensive midfielders sitting in front of the back four acting as spoilers seem to have arrived. A shame, because that comes at the expense of an attacker.

Surely this tournament will usher in the introduction of goal-line technology. The Lampard Line Incident should see to that. And surely it's time to throw the book at players who dive. If TV pictures pick up their cheating, let's punish them after the game. See if that stamps out the professional footballers' amateur dramatics by 2014.

It's Brazil next. So another winter World Cup. Let's hope it's more of a wonderland of great football and well supported games than South Africa gave us. Just don't forget to pack the vuvuzelas.

Until then... or until Euro 2012...

Monday 12 July 2010

1st: SPAIN

I didn't think they had it in them. I thought the pressure of being favourites would get to them and that they'd fall early on in the knockout stages. And after their opening game defeat against the Swiss, I allowed myself to feel a little smug at not having joined the throng putting their money on the current European Champions.

But that opening defeat gave all of Spain a swift reality check. This was not going to be a walk in the Durban park, nor a stroll on the Cape Town beach. There was work to be done if they were to fulfill their potential.

And though the Spanish never put any team to the sword the way the Germans did, they always did enough to find the win. Their defence was experienced and understood each other. They knew they had a pair of hands - and as it turned out legs - they could rely on in goal behind them. And they had an embarrassment of talent in midfield to choose from. Fabregas on the bench if you please.

Up front, but out wide, Villa stepped up to the plate while a woefully out of touch Torres struggled on through, regularly being substituted on the hour mark as he failed to make his mark.

The squad was easily the best on show at this tournament. A mixture of experience and flair. All comfortable on the ball. And all deserving of the title World Champions.


Should have gone each way, shouldn't I? The octopus said it would be Spain and I knew in my heart of hearts that the Spanish were the more deserving team. But had this gone to penalties - which the final was just minutes away from doing - then my prediction could have been realised and my ton won.

Twas not to be. Van Persie was stranded up front throughout this - surely there was a case for Huntelaar to join the fray at some point?

The talk throughout was that this Dutch side wasn't a patch on the runners up of '74 and '78. The purveyors of total football. And even the Van Basten, Gullit, Rijkard era of players could claim to be better than this crop. But this crop made the final after going on an unbeaten run that stretched to over 25 games. And they won all six of their games at this tournament, seeing off Brazil en route.

But to win, all their players needed to be at the top of their game on the day. And none of them really were. Sneijder misplaced too many passes. Kuyt failed to take on enough players. Van Persie failed to stamp his authority on the final third. But it is Robben who will feel he could have and should have won it for his country. And but for the flailing legs of Casillas, maybe he would have.

For Holland, maybe it'll be fourth time lucky. But given there were 32 years between the second and third times, who knows when that fourth chance will be...

The 2010 World Cup Final: Spain 1-0 Holland (AET)

A messy one. A violent one in places. 14 yellow cards and a red. But a hatful of chances for both sides to win it inside the ninety. Robben will forever regret his two one-on-ones with Casillas, the latter getting limbs and feet in the way to keep his team in it.

There were missed chances by the Spaniards too. Ramos should have scored from a free header. But you have to allow for this in the biggest game of them all. Where the tension is at its highest, and the fear of losing at its greatest.

Alonso was the victim of a karate kick that should have seen De Jong see red. And the goal, with just minutes to go in extra time. Sure the Dutch should have had a free kick at the other end. But so much happened between that and the goal. The Dutch had plenty of chances to regain possession before Fabregas found Iniesta and he the glory of the back of the net.

And so many people's tip - the Spaniards - triumphed. The first team to do so after having lost their opening game. And my tip the Dutch, almost disgraced themselves with their bully boy tactics. They knew they were the inferior team, but they still showed skills and still created chances that demonstrated why they warranted their place in the showpiece game.

The headlines may go to the lad who ran on the pitch at the start and tried to steal the World Cup trophy. Or they may be given to Nelson Mandela who made a welcome appearance before the game. But although the game itself wasn't much cop, the Spanish won't mind. They go home with the trophy and the knowledge that they are the best team in the world, and may remain so for some time to come.

Sunday 11 July 2010

ITV wins Theme Tune World Cup

As we enter the last hours of the tournament, it's time to declare that I prefer ITV's World Cup song to the BBC's. I've no idea what half the lyrics are, but it's uptempo. It repeats the word Africa a lot and it has a feelgood factor. Still not a patch on 1990's Nessun Dorma, mind. But what is?


The question still is how do they do it? No one would have fancied the Germans to get this far before the tournament. Not even their own fans I suspect. And the loss to Serbia seemed to confirm that the 4-0 against the Aussies was a blip.

How wrong we were. Serbia was the blip. Taking teams to the cleaners was the norm. Australia. England. Argentina. All had four fired past them. Smash and grab every time. Blink, and the Germans had ended your World Cup before you knew it.

Thomas Mueller (who?) was the star of the show and they missed him when he was suspended against Spain. Klose is just a striker who saves his goal sprees for the big stage. 14 now across three World Cups, equalling Germany's star of the seventies Gerd Muller.

Whatever state the German squad is in for the 2014 World Cup, just bet on them to reach the semis at least, and your money should be safe.


This World Cup's surprise package. But for the hand of the devil as Suarez is now being called, they wouldn't have got this far.

But they have bragging rights in their continent for four years. They got further than Brazil and Argentina, no small feat. Couldn't ever say they were a great team, but they came through a tough Group A and then were fortunate enough to find themselves in the weakest quarter of a World Cup knock out draw seen for many a year. South Korea. USA and Ghana. What team would not have licked their lips and looked to the semis if faced with that trio of beatable nations?

But the winning still had to be done and Forlan proved he's a striker of quality that Man Utd may have been a little hasty in letting go. Such a big performance for such a small nation. It may well be another generation before Uruguay gets this far. But the squad deserve the heroes' welcome they will surely get when they touch down in Montevideo.

3rd Place Play-Off: Germany 3-2 Uruguay

What it is to be freed from the shackles of the fear of losing. Neither of these sides sat back or played it cautious. Because there was not much at stake. Sure, a bronze medal for the winners that you may show your grandchildren in a few years time. But no one ever impressed many by saying 'I played in a World Cup Third Place Match'.

But these games are often good to watch and this one was no different. Defensive solidity seemed secondary to having a go, so we had a five goal thriller that could have gone to extra time had Forlan not smashed the bar with the very last kick. A pleasure to watch, and you just know tonight's game will be far less open, but far more significant.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Us English Will Seek Glory Anywhere We Can

And the news that our very own Howard Webb will officiate the final is a small but significant victory for us. An Englishman will be on the pitch in the World Cup Final for the first time since 1974, when Jack Taylor was the man in black.

The Dutch were there on that day too, up against the West Germans, who beat them. Webb and his side crew have done well, not putting a foot, flag or whistle wrong it seems. Do us proud, Howard, just like our players didn't.

Semi-Final: Spain 1-0 Germany

And so the German's fine, fine run of form comes to an end. It was inevitable really. Like the team they'll face in the third place match on Saturday, the Germans over performed. They confounded the critics. Exceeded expectations. Came so close. But in this game they seemed to have been stunted by the superior Spanish. They seemed more cautious than they had against England and Argentina.

They certainly missed Mueller, one of the players of the tournament who was suspended for this one. But Spain were the better side, they took the game to their opponents, and Puyol's bullet header was unstoppable. And so they will face my Dutch tips on Sunday. I'd really love the Dutch to win for fiscal reasons, but you've got to fancy the Spaniards...

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Semi-Final: Holland 3-2 Uruguay

With this tip in the bag, it's hard not to feel a little smug that one of the teams I predicted would make the final has made the final.

And they deserve to be there. Six wins out of six. Responsible for knocking the much-fancied Brazilians out. And now Germany or Spain to face in the final.

The scoreline flatters the game. Like many of the games at this World Cup, it wasn't that exciting, although De Zeeuw got kicked in the head, Van bronckhorst scored a fantastic goal, and the team I put a tenner on at 9-1 at the start of the tournament are in the final. Now I'm thinking I should have gone each way.

But that's by the by. Envy the Dutch fans and the anticipation they have of one of the biggest days of their life on Sunday. I hope they win for the sake of my pocket...

Monday 5 July 2010

1990 And All That

Watched Gazza's Tears: The Night That Changed Football. Moving stuff. back in the days when our defenders were called Terry and Stuart, not Ashley or Rio. Where we had a player who could take on other players. And a striker who banged in the goals in the big games for his club AND country.

Yes, we only scraped through the group stage, and needed extra time twice to get to the semi-final. But these were players who really wanted to wear the three lions and win for them. Players who shed tears when they were shown the exit. No one cried when we went out this time around. No player. And few fans, I suspect.

Maybe 1990 -2010 will be seen as the high point of popularity for football in England. I think it's all downhill from here, and the current crop / crap of players only have themselves to blame

Sunday 4 July 2010


I'm only an armchair fan. How was I to know the Paraguayans would get this far? How was I to know the favourites of their group, Italy, would collapse so spectacularly? Paraguay never looked like winners of the tournament. How could they when none of their strikers managed to score?

But Greece won the 2004 Euros by looking like they weren't going to win them. So after that, it's difficult to rule any team out. But Paraguay are out, despite having a great chance to have their former masters, Spain, sent home in disgrace. A penalty miss away. Like Ghana. Like Japan. All it takes is a kick to decide your fate. And although Paraguay progressed as far as they ever have, they never looked like getting any further. They'll be back next time, I suspect. For more of the same. More so near, yet so far.


Expected Maradona to cry when their exit was confirmed. Sadly, he must have saved his tears for the dressing room. But having looked like they could have gone all the way, the Germans outfoxed, witted and played them. 4-0 was comprehensive and no less than the poor performance deserved.

Where was Messi all tournament long? Double, tripled marked. Foraging deep for the ball, sometimes as deep as back in his own half. The skills were there. The ball stuck to his foot as usual. But the keepers seemed to know where he was going to shoot. They were always there to make the save.

The Argies liked to dive and make a fuss as usual, at the most innocuous of challenges. Higuain scored a few, but against no one of note. I never thought this squad was good enough to win it. Never thought Maradona would have the tactical know-how to beat the better teams. And so it proved.

Q-F: Spain 1-0 Paraguay

A litany of missed penalties. That's what the quarter finals brought us. And there were two more here. One apiece. But all the regret will be with Paraguay. Theirs came first. In the second half. The chance was there to snatch the lead and sit back and soak up the desperate Spanish pressure. But it wasn't to be. Straight down the other end and Alonso converts then has to re-take because of encroachment. The next - saved, but surely Fabregas was tripped by the keeper during the follow up? Not given. Then another Spanish attack. A shot against the post. Xavi was it? Bounces straight to David Villa, the golden boot lighting up his eyes. He shoots, he... no - off the post, along the line. Off the other post. And in. Joy from Bilbao to Barcelona. Madrid to Malaga. But wait. It's the Germans next...

Q-F: Argentina 0-4 Germany

Wow. I had an inkling the Germans would win this. Narrowly in extra time. But not this. Not four-nil. Not making the Argies - some people's favourites - look like England. Makes our loss look a little less disgraceful.

How do the Germans do it? Every time you look at their squad and think that's one of the weakest squads they've had for a long time. Rene Adler out. Ballack out. Dodgy defence. But they have Schweinsteiger. Podolski. And they have Klose, who shouldn't bother playing club football. Just wrap him up and bring him out every two years for the major tournaments the Germans will always qualify for. He is the ultimate international goalscorer who you wouldn't necessarily want in your club side.

Argentina had a few chances but the Germans knew what they had to do. As against England they always seemed to have loads of players streaming forward when attacking and loads of players tracking back when defending. And Schweinsteiger pulled off the run of the tournament to set up one of their goals.

Respect to the Germans. From an Englishman.

7th: GHANA

Ah, Ghana, dear dear Ghana. You should not be out so soon. You dominated against Uruguay. You deserved your win. Your place in history as the first African team to make the semis. You went for it. You showed skill. Maturity. Defensive solidity. You were the pride of Africa. You were a crossbar's width away from still being in. You were the victims of the 'hand of God' 21st Century style. You put your country on the map. You made the World Cup exciting. You will be the first African team to win the World Cup. You know it.


I never subscribed to this 'Brazil are going to win it, Brazil are favourites' line of enquiry. Cruyff summed it up well - they've lost their magic. Their players, the majority of whom play their club football in Europe, are no better than the best of Europe. They play like a European team - that's the way Dunga likes it. Flair has been sacrificed for function. No longer do Brazil have that wow factor. Sure they have some skilful players. But the loss of Elano was felt, the misfiring of Kaka kounted against them. Robinho showed everything that was missing from his time at Manchester City. But why leave out Adriano? Ronaldinho? These guys could have still done a job. Could have opened up a defence. Could have stopped the exit being this early. Could.

Saturday 3 July 2010

Q-F: Ghana 1-1 Uruguay (Uruguay win 4-2 on penalties)

How close. How close Africa came to getting their first ever World Cup semi-finalist. And how they deserved to get there. This game will go down in the annals. Not for being a classic in normal time, but for the events in extra time. The Uruguayian number nine stopped a certain winner in the last minute of the extra half hour, deliberately handballing on the line. He received the obligatory red card, but the tears he was shedding turned to joy as he looked over his shoulder on his way down the tunnel to see Gyan blast the resulting penalty against the crossbar, the Uruguayan keeper subsequently tried to make sexy time with.

There was no chance of Ghana winning the penalty shoot out that ensued. Their backs were broken by that miss, their resolve dissipated. When will players learn that a one or two step run up for a penalty just isn't enough. The Ghanian captain's penalty was truly awful, but when the Uruguayian blasted over the bar there seemed a chance of a reprieve. It was not to be. This was not to be Africa's World Cup, merely the World Cup that Africa hosted.

Q-F: Brazil 1-2 Holland

A bad time to be putting on what looked on paper the best of the quarter finals.

But from what I saw from my desk, this wasn't exactly a cracker. Brazil looked the better team for great swathes of the match, with Kaka coming close a couple of times. Brazil's goal reminded me a lot of a goal England conceded against Germany last weekend - a long ball splitting the defence down the middle and a sweeping finish from Robinho.

But I've tipped the Dutch to win this, and I was cheering them on and cheering in the own goal and the Sneijder header that followed. I think it was Cruyff who said this week that Brazil have lost their magic, and this game proved it. The Europeanisation of football has meant Brazil have lost their individuality, their identity, and now their place in this year's World Cup.