Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TFC Corner

With the world's soccer attention focused in South Africa I've been neglecting our Toronto FC. Granted MLS was on a world cup break for 3 weeks but TFC made their return to the pitch on Saturday against the Landon Donovan/Edson Buddle-less L.A Galaxy.

The last time we saw the Reds they were involved in a dower 0-0 draw with the Kansas City Wizards. This result brought TFC's unbeaten run to 8 games in which they have only conceded 4 goals. For a team that looked like they couldn't stop anyone from scoring at the beginning of the season, head coach Preki has moulded the team into one of the strongest defensive units in the league. However there was a slight concern that TFC could not wrap up what should have been 3 points against a woeful KC.

Saturday would prove to be a stiffer challenge as the Galaxy came to BMO Field with the best record in the league. What the 15,000 fans saw was another dower 0-0 draw which produced very few chances and sloppy play. Credit must be given to the Reds back four and keeper Stefan Frei who once again were strong when called upon. However there is now a concern that TFC is lacking a bit of a offensive spark upfront.

In training sessions Preki preaches the elements of two touch passes and quick movement of the ball in order to create openings in the defence. However this is not translating to the pitch on match days as at times the attacking play looks lost and punch less. Many including myself have been looking for Preki to play a formation closer to a 4-3-3 that would emphasise the attack. This in theory could be done with O'Brian While in the centre flanked by Chad Barrett and Dwayne De Rosario upfront.

This of course would fly in the face of Preki's desire to build a strong game plan from the back out, but he must realize that too many draws could be just as damaging to a playoff run as losses are.

Although the team is right up against the salary cap it might be time for TFC to look for a offensive DP player to help the team's attack and boost their playoff chances. Earlier this year I made a case for the signing of French star striker Thierry Henry. It seems now Henry is set to sign for conference rivals New York Red Bull, which would leave Toronto behind in the arms race so to speak. This obvious issue would be trying to convince a either aging or about to be aging football star to sign in Toronto. Some suggestions that with a large Portuguese population in Toronto, former Portugal international Nuno Gomes would be a fit with the club. I can only see a move for him as a positive, first it will help you on the field in regards to quality; but second and maybe most importantly he can help develop a young striker in O'Brian White who is still improving his link up play.

Now a move for Gomes is just wishful thinking on my behalf at this time, but TFC will have to address this issue at some point in the near future if it hopes to score more goals and qualify for the playoffs for the first time in club history.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Round of 16 thoughts so far

As I was out with family yesterday I only had the opportunity to see bits and pieces of the two games, because of this is I will not be offering an opinion on the two games. All I can really say about them is congrats to Uruguay and Ghana, two teams I did not have making it this far. If you had the opportunity to watch them let me know what you though of the games, especially the Ghana v USA match, I heard it ended up a classic.

As for day two of the round of 16 your intrepid footy analyst was back on the couch watching England v Germany and then the sexy match up of today, the rematch of the best match in the 2006 tournament Argentina v Mexico.

Germany 4 England 1: (Germany advance to quarter finals)
This was pretty much the worst case scenario for both teams coming into the round of 16 as neither really wanted this match up as early as this. Especially England who had hoped to finish first in their group and avoid this hard of a game. Now I must admit that I have a soft spot for England and was hoping for a victory from the the Three Lions, because of this I watched the game again taking my bias out of it. Once I did that it was clear that Germany were the better side on the day. Yes the Lampard goal that was ruled no goal was absolutely one of the worst calls I have ever seen in a World Cup, and yes it may have changed the complexion of the game a bit. However the match was not lost on that call really, it was actually lost in two key areas, tactics set up by manager Fabio Capello, and defensive play. I will go about trying to explain how this was.

First Capello's tactics in this game weren't horrible, but they were misguided against a strong squad like Germany. The squad lacked ideas and many times were very narrow in attack. England's best chances, and the goal scored were set up on wide play from James Milner. When the team was narrow it was easy for Germany to close down on Rooney and Defoe, which in turn made the link up play ineffective. Also when you cannot spread the field you leave yourself open for counter attacks which three of Germany's four goals were scored on. In this, all credit must go to Germany who countered brilliantly mainly through Mesut Özil who again is proving to be the young player of the tournament so far. When the German manager moved him a bit more to the right after half time, Özil was able to take advantage of the space left by the advancing England right back Glenn Johnson.

Speaking of the defensive backs, they did not have a great day, John Terry and Matthew Upson in particular. On the first goal by Klose, Terry uncharacteristically misplayed he flight of the ball which allowed Klose to walk in the back door. Upson ended up being out muscled by Klose for the goal. On the second goal it was a combination of excellent German movement and sloppy coverage by Terry and Johnson left Lukas Podolski wide open on the left wing to score.

I know this will not sit well with the England supporters, many will use the disallowed goal as a rallying point to say that England were robbed. I agree with them; England was robbed of THAT goal, but not of the match. Not enough credit is being given to Germany who yes rode of bit of luck but who overall were the better team on the day, and they outclassed England. To read another point of view on England's world cup proformance read BBC chief football writer Phil McNulty's assesment (Click on his name)

Argentina 3 Mexico 1: (Argentina advances to quarter finals)
This was to be the sexy match up of the day as both teams liked moving forward. The first 10 minutes provided just that, with Mexico holding the majority of the play at the time....then controversy hit again. Carlos Tevez scored on a flicked header off floated shot by Messi. The issue was that Tevez was quite clearly offside. After some confusion between the ref and the line judge the goal stood. Mexican players complained for a good two minutes and pretty much lost their head after that. Argentina took over the match at that point, plus it didn't he;p that the Mexican defence handed Argentina the second goal on a poor back pass by the defender.

Overall Argentina bossed the game and until the last 10 mins looked like they could really run up the score on Mexico. By the way if you get to watch a replay of the game, Tevez's second goal which made it 3-0 was a lazer, and Henandez's goal that made it 3-1 was a lesson on how to turn a defender. My one criticism of the game would be Argentina's lack of zest going forward at about the 75 minute mark. This seemed to coincide with the substitution of Carlos Tevez who provided alot of the spark and work rate upfront. Never the less Argentina manager Diego Maradona seems to have pulled off another managerial master class in planning and tactics....yes I said it.

Looking forward to the rest of the week! Let me know what you think will happen or on any of the games from this weekend.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shout! for England Video

Thanks to Jemima for finding this England World Cup song for me. Features rapper Dizzee Rascal and James Corden.


A True upset.... with a possibility of more

"I take full responsibility; "If the squad went out with fear in their legs and hearts it means the coach didn't prepare the match well tactically or psychologically."- Italy manager Marcello Lippi after being knocked out of World Cup 2010.

Today we saw the biggest team of this year's world cup bow out of the tournament as the reigning, defending world champions Italy were defeated 3-2 by Slovakia. The result left Italy with the dubious record of not having won a single game in a world cup for the first time in its history. Although the ending of the game was very exciting from a neutral point of view, it also exposed a lot of when went wrong for the Azzuri in the group stages. Coach Marcello Lippi picked a veteran team for this tournament excluding younger starts like Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Balotelli. Also Lippi was leaning on injured midfielder Andrea Pirlo to create the majority of the offensive chances for Italy. With Pirlo out for the first two games against Paraguay and New Zealand the Italian attack looked pedestrian at times, lacking in any real creativity. It also did help that creative players like Fabio Quagliarella and Antonio Di Natale only saw limited action in the tournament.

However what might be more shocking was the defensive display from the team. The Italian back four when put under serious strain buckled much easier than one would expect from the Azzuri. Although much of the focus for this defensive failure has been placed on aging captain and 2006 world player of the year Fabio Cannavaro, the entire squad as a whole seemed to lack the essential discipline required. An example would be a third Slovak goal in which the team as a whole fell asleep on the throw in allowing the Slovak player to run onto the ball untouched to flick it over a diving Federico Marchetti.

The combination of the two plus the poor team selection and tactics of Lippi has lead to this disaster for the Italians, and looking forward things may get a bit worse before getting better for the Azzuri. The majority of this squad will retire from international competition in the next four years, many will retire this summer leaving a void in talent on the national side. The above mentioned Mario Balotelli is a potential world star for Italy if he can get his head screwed in straight and actually chooses to play for Italy at the senior level (Balotelli was born in Ghana and may still play for them). Aside from Balotelli there is a sense that Italy is lacking in young talent to take over on the senior national team. This is not exactly true, however they will need time to become comfortable with the jump to world cup level football. Regardless Italy will have little time to feel sorry for itself as European Championship qualifying begins in August, we'll see if new manager Cesare Prandelli can bring in some new blood to help ease the already deep wound of World Cup 2010.

Joe Ross of thescore.com has a great breakdown of what happened and why, Ross is one of the better Canadian football bloggers out there right now. Click here to see his take on things.

On a side note I might have to be writing the same type of upset analysis for Spain tomorrow if they don't win against Chile. if this were to be the case Spain would become one of the biggest upset squads in World Cup history given its high odds of winning the entire tournament. 2010 South Africa is proving to be one of the most intriguing tournaments in years.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Brazilian Magic

It will come as little surprise to most readers that Brazilian footballers tend to be the most eye catching in terms of skills and dribbling. Sunday's display against Cote d'Ivoire was just the latest in the log storied chapter of mesmerising Brazilian football. The scary part about Sunday's preformance is that it was not even close to their best. Just in case you've never seen the power of the Brazil way I've embedded two video's below for your enjoyment.


World Cup reflections: Week 2

Week two has provided us with more goals as requested by the viewing public, it also provided us vuvulaza-gate, missing North Koreans, a Jo-burg bomb scare and more surprise results than anyone could have expected. Who would have thought that Spain, every one's favorite to win the whole tournament would lose to Switzerland when having 70% of the possession? Also who would have thought that North Korea would play so well against Brazil? Yes they lost 2-1 but most people we predicting a cricket score in Brazil's favour. These results and others proves the old adage looking good on paper means nothing once you're on the pitch, just ask England.

So let me say a few words about the Vuvulaza, if you are not up to speed this is a long plastic horn that has been causing your T.V to sound like a hoard of bees are attacking your ear buds. There have been many complaints about the use of the vuvulaza the teams, the media and by you the viewers. Personally I have no real issue with the device, in fact I think it adds to the atmosphere of the match. However as the majority of viewers are not use to the sound of the vuvu, I can see how people get annoyed with it, but we should keep in mind that this is the way South Africans view and enjoy the game. The fact that there was a move from the media and teams to have the vuvulaza banned can be chalked up to cultural insensitivity. I didn't hear anyone complain when Swiss fans brought 5,000 cow bells to Germany 4 years ago and almost blew out Ukrainian fans ear drums!

Also last week, there was the strange case of the 4 missing North Korean players from their game against Brazil. This was noticed when North Korean officials handed in their teams sheet before the match and it only have 19 of the possible 23 players on it. Of course this sparked massive rumors that the 4 players had defected with the wildest one being that they had already gotten as far as Egypt. As we learned a few days later it was all a clerical misunderstanding. In the Asian champions cup teams are only allowed 19 players on the match day team sheet, team officials thought it was the same case for the World Cup. All four players a now back in training, but do not be surprised if we hear about a few players trying to make the jump out.

As for the results, we saw a few more goals, a few huge upsets and more Ronaldo hissy fits.

First off Spain lost...it was a massive shock as the team is the odds on favourite to win the tournament. However before we start to write off the Spanish as the great underachievers again let us put things into perspective. Spain bossed the game, the Swiss only had two chances on target although one went in and the second one should have gone in. Spain had the lions share of the position and should have put away a few of the great chances they had. Spain will be fine everyone, don't start changing your pool picks yet.

So...England...just to inform you the World Cup has started and if you don't realize it soon, it will be over for you before you seemingly know it. The Three Lions performance was insanely poor, there really is no other way to to say it. They had no creativity, I can't see where the goals are coming from even with Wayne Rooney in the line up. Plus he didn't help himself be criticizing traveling England supporters right after the Algeria match. Fabio Capello has it all to do in order to get England through to the next round, and it doesn't help when the former captain John Terry yaps to the press about his dislike over team selection and strategy. Like I've said in previous posts regarding England they always crumble under the enormous weight of expectations of its supporters, and it seems this tournament will be no different.

France...check out my post from yesterday if you want my opinion of the French national team. Let's put it this way, not good.

Another major upset last week as Serbia edging out Germany 1-0 after striker Miroslav Klose was sent off in the first half. Now I think the sending off was harsh as the first yellow card he received was a bad call by the ref, but credit Serbia for capitalizing on that and then hanging on for dear life afterwards. Like Spain, Germany will be alright after this loss they just have to be a bit more disciplined in their defensive play.

South American teams are bossing the tournament so far Argentina turned on the style and thumped South Korea 4-1, Brazil looked like Brazil winning 3-1 over Cote d'Ivoire and Paraguay and Chile look almost certain to progress to the next round. Out of all those teams Paraguay have been my favorite to watch so far. This is a team that when they get rolling are really hard to stop going forward. They also have a very organized defensive structure that allows for a quick counter attack when needed. Look out for this team as it seems Paraguay is emerging as a dark horse team.

My final words are reserved for the African squads who with the slight exception of Ghana have mightily disappointed so far. I spoke about this a few weeks ago but my one fear around the African squads was the pressure of play on "home soil". The world and FIFA more specifically want more than one African team to make the knockout stages of the tournament, this is now seeming unlikely as Cameroon is officially out and baring a miracle the hosts South Africa are as well. This leaves Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Algeria as the hopes for the continent. The Ivorians,Nigerians and Algerians need some serious help from other teams in the group to get through, whereas Ghana really only needs a tie in their last group game to get through. This in theory was to be the coming out party for African football with at least three teams making it though in most experts brackets. However this breakout looks more likely to happen in four years time at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil; Especially for Ghana and Nigeria who have extremely good under 20 squads to restock the senior teams by that time. Here's hoping from some miracles but it seems that Ghana will once again be the lone flag bearer for Africa in the round of 16.

Week three will conclude the group stages of World Cup 2010, it promises to be a serious week of jubilation for some and heartache for others, can't wait!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

A French Disgrace, Or Irish Justice?

"Everyone in the whole world is mocking us now. I'm gutted, because we're not playing football any more" - Franck Ribery, France midfielder

I'm not going to spend too much time talking about this issue but I felt I needed to address the absolutely ridiculous behaviour of the French national team at this year's world cup. If you are not up to speed on how the French are doing in the tournament let me sum it up one word... horribly. This team is laden with talent some countries in this tournament would die to have, some of the African nations especially as some of the French internationals were born in their countries. They have lacked any sort of guile on the field, the managing has been poor and the attitude of the players likewise. For a nation that essentially got into this world cup via a hand ball; you would think they would come to the tournament trying to prove the naysayers wrong by putting in confident performances.

However the opposite has happened and now the team faces the real possibility of not making it through to the round of 16 if they draw or lose to South Africa on Tuesday. Also to compound their issues the players and management are in a row with each other over the dismissal of star striker Nicolas Anelka from the team. Anelka who has never been a managers favorite mouthed off to manager Raymond Domenech during half time of France's 2-0 defeat to Mexico Thursday. For Domenech it was the last straw in a series of bust ups going back to Euro 2008. He hoped this would help the team focus and eliminate a distraction from the dressing room, however all it has actually done is gavlvinize the players aganist the manager. Plus now lead by captain Patrice Evra they are refusing to train for the up coming match on Tuesday. Evra himself had a bust up with fitness coach Robert Duverne which lead to them having to be physically separated (see video below).

Now it natural to at times have disagreements with how things are being run in football, but having fist fights and leading a player revolt by not training is simply unacceptable. It screams unprofessionalism and selfishness at the highest levels. When you are picked to wear your country's shirt and represent its people at the biggest sporting event in the world you own a certain responsibility that is greater than your individual misgivings. The fact of the matter is the reputation of the 1998 World Champions is damaged on the world stage, its supporters who to their credit have called out this terrible behaviour deserve better, the World Cup deserves better.

Although I had picked France to go through I am whole heartily hoping for a South African victory, I also hope France decide not to show up and mail in the game. This group of players and management deserve the ridicule and embarrassment a loss like this would bring. It will also bring to light the unjust way France qualified for the tournament in the first place; they may not have gotten far if they made it but there is no way the Republic of Ireland would ever embarrass the game like the French are right now. I'm sure Irish players are sitting back and feeling a bit of justice is being served, however I'm sure they would love to up in France's place and win some respect back.

After this World Cup legendary former French player Laurent Blanc will take over as national team manager, and if I were him I would never even think about selecting the majority of these players again for Euro qualifying. He will have a very difficult task of not only rebuilding the squad, but rebuilding the pride within Les Bleus.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where the ladies at?

It will not be too much of a surprise when I say that Football is very much an old boys club. Women had not been well represented in the game until the late 1980's when FIFA finally sanctioned the Women's World Cup, which to this day is still under valued as a tournament. This post however is not about the women's game as it is still growing in size and competitors; I'm talking about how women are being represented at the "big cup". For all its talk of bringing equality and fair play to the game FIFA has seemingly forgotten women in this equation. If you scan the FIFA officials, team officials, venue managers, broadcast partners you will be very hard pressed to find any females period. It is true that this is the men's World Cup and the biggest tournament on earth, but that should not excuse the powers of world football to exclude women. In fact a tournament this size should be a showcase for breaking the male mould of the World Cup.

There is one way women are being shown in the coverage of the World Cup...it is of course sexy girls dancing in the stands. Now I cannot fault the ladies for being there and supporting their team. No one can seriously argue that fans in the stands are putting down the progression of women in football. What and who you can fault is the media outlets and football structure that does not recognize the accomplishments of women in the modern game. How long can football survive without female representation at its highest levels? If you look at the 32 national that are competing in this years World Cup not one of the heads of the national football federations is female. The top 5 board members of FIFA are all male. There are no female referees or linesmen. None of the English language match commentators are women (Could not find stats of other languages). There are no known female match coordinators. See what I Mean?

Truth be told it will be difficult to see when change will happen within the world game. FIFA is usually slow to react to anything that does not immediately increase the bank account. The National FA's may react faster but if history proves anything the big football nations will stand pat. So it's up to the private corporations to force FIFA and the FA to change. However the question will be do corporations want to hurt their chances of getting their brand in the biggest most watched sporting event in the world? For the future of the game I really hope so.


A surprise? In this tournament maybe not

So we have our first major upset of the 2010 World Cup tournament as Switzerland beat Spain 1-0 in Group H action. Yes Spain were pre tournament favorites, Yes Spain boasted a vastly stronger line up then the Swiss and Yes Spain dominated position in the game. However the Swiss proved to be a strong organized team who capitalized on the one moment of sloppy play by the Spanish. Also as this years tournament has shown us at least in this first round of group games, a strong organized midfield will tend to win you matches (The exception in this case is Germany).

You also have to credit the Swiss with having a game plan for the Spanish and sticking to it. There is a lot of pressure from just about every media outlet for teams to ratchet up the goals in the tournament as we have seen many goalless draws or 1 goal games. This can be misconceived as boring or negative play on all sides, but there have been some fascinating games so far that have been lacking in the goal department. What makes Switzerland's victory so interesting was the coverage of it; it seemed that the commentators were hoping for a Spain victory. There was more talk about the stars of Spain than the fact that the Swiss were winning the game.

Lets not get ahead og ourselves, it's just the first round of the group stage and Spain will right the ship. However do not be surprised if we see a few more upsets in this tournament then in previous ones.


Monday, June 14, 2010

The Weekend wrap up

So unless you were living under a rock for the past two months in the build up to it, this past weekend was the first of the 2010 World Cup. On first impression based on the lack of goals and the amount of ties one would assume it was a complete dud beginging to the tournament. However if you watched the games in full you would have found that most were enteraining from a tactical stand point.

The opening match between South Africa and Mexico was a fantastic back and forth match which provided the the goal of the tournament so far from Bafana midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala. His left footed rocket on the counter attack was magical. The moment was amazing as well as it seemed the entire crowd, aside from the Mexicans was rooting for Bafana Bafana. The fact that the the match ended in a 1-1 draw was surprising as many (including yours truly) believed Mexico would take this game. In fact South Africa should have won it in the dying minutes of the game as striker Katlego Mphela hit the post of another impressive counter.

The second game of the day on Friday between France and Uruguay was was completely bad from a goal/drama perspective. However the one thing that was interesting was the tatical decision by France manager Raymond Domenech to leave star left sided midfielder Florent Malouda in favour of Sidney Goviou. Considering Malouda and starting striker Nicolas Anelka had an excellent season with Chelsea in which they were each other playmaker was an eyebrow raising decision; but this is Raymond Domenech we are talking about here.

All I'm going to say about Saturday's games are that until Robert Koren scored; their match with Algeria was near sleep enducing as neither team really looked like they were playing not to lose.

Aside from Germany, who I'll talk about later. Argentina was the most impressive team of the weekend. The only reason the score was only 1-0 was due to Super Eagles keeper Vincent Enyeama who make 5 or 6 big saves. 4 of which were from the foot of Leo Messi, who continued to prove why he's the best player on the planet. Honestly it should have been 4 or 5 scored for Argentina.

England...oh England start of strong like they always do and score with the first minutes, then slowly let the U.S back into the game culmanting in another England goalkeeping howler by Robert Green. Now everyone has jumped on Green's back and basically have written off his career, but little credit is being given to the U.S who played a fantastic game. They weren't to flashy but they were effective and could have won in the second half. England should have won in the second half on a Emile Heskey break away...but it was Emile Heskey...nuff said!

South Korea looked great against a shockingly bad Greek side, all I really can say abou this one is that Greek supporters should not be happy with the effort of some members of the squad who after Ji Sung Park's second half goal looked like they threw in the towel. Georgios Samaras being the biggest culprit, at time he jogged around as if it were a training match.

Was very pleased to see Ghana win despite me picking Serbia to go through. This is not saying I have anything against Serbia, but I wanted to see an Sfrican team win over the first weekend. With that said Ghana could have lost this game as Serbia had some really good chances, including a reflex save on Milos Krasic in the dying minutes. No doubt on the handball either it was a clear handball.

Germany...look...scary! 4-0 thumping of Australia, Low played the young kids and they shawn, espically Mesut Özil (in my 5 next stars list) Thomas Müller, Sami Khedira and Holger Badstuber in defence. Honestly Germany could have scored 6 or 7 in this one as the Aussies were completely outclassed. I have to admit though the Tim Cahill sending off was harsh, that second foul for which he received the second yellow for wasn't all that much; it was just sold very well by the German player.

The last note I want to leave you on is about the crowd atmoshphere. I was mentioning to people at the football factory where I watched some of the games; on most World Cups the crown level in terms of noise is usually low aside form the supporters of the two teams. In this World Cup that is completely different, the crowds are active either dancing or cheering or blowing on the vuvuzelas (I'll be writing about the vuvuzela phnominon). I believe that this could be a World Cup that comes back to the true fans of the game. I wrote about this for the Star.com a few days ago but with the way tickets have found their way into the hands of locals makes the atmosphere a truely natural viewing experience.

Let's hope that the rest of the games this week provide us with a few more goals and maybe some serious upsets.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Group H preview

The final group for South Africa 2010 is an interesting group to preview as it has the overwhelming favorites not just to win the group, but the whole tournament in Spain; plus three teams on the rise in Honduras, Chile and Switzerland. I won't even bother to gloss over the fact that baring a massive collapse Spain will take maximum points in this group. The real intrigue is the race for 2nd place between Honduras, Chile and Switzerland. Picking between the 3 is a real toss up as either of the teams could make it through.

I'll get the obvious one out of the way first. Spain is a class apart in this tournament, only Brazil and Argentina can match the talent on this team, and I'll even be as bold as saying that this is the most talented team from the front to the back. Put it this way when a world class player like Cesc Fàbregas sits on the bench because the two guys in front of him are 5 times better than him; you are blessed with an embarrassment of riches. The defending European champions come into the tournament having only lost once in the past 17 matches. Until their defeat at the hand of the Americans at the Confederations Cup last summer, they had gone 35 matches unbeaten with 32 of those wins. The sheer power of Spanish football is at a level only matched by the Brazilians, which leads many to believe that this will be the final on July 11th.

With all due respect to strikers David Villa and Fernando Torres, the key player that makes this machine work in Xavi (Hernández). The Barcelona midfielder is probably the best passer of the ball in the world, he keeps the team in line and distributes to the right players at just the right time. His vision of the pitch is second to none, as time and time again it's his passes that play in Villa and Torres for the goals they score. Xavi also plays a key role in linking the wing backs into the action as well, and because he makes so few mistakes with the ball it allows his fellow midfielders the push further upfield.

The most important thing for Spain is to get out of this group games without major injury. As players like Torres, Iniesta and Xavi himself are not at 100%. It is also worth noting the past two European champions have not fared that well in their quest for the world title. France won it in 2000 and had a poor showing at World Cup 2002, and Greece won in 2004 and didn't even qualify for 2006. I doubt Spin will have the same fate as France in 2010, but stranger things have happened.

After a difficult 2009 in which the country had it mind far from football due to the Military coup, the country can unite behind their World Cup bound national team. The country could end up having a lot to cheer about in the end as this team could shock some people with a longer than predicted run. As CONCACAF's third representative team (at Canada's expense) Honduras has a fairly strong team with a decent midfield and very good strikers upfront.

The keys for Honduras will be to control said midfield as their back four is their biggest weakness. The two players that will have to accomplish this are Wilson Palacios and captain and former Toronto FC player Amado Guevara. Palacios will provide the steel in the midfield, winning the ball with strong tackles while getting the ball forward to the playmakers. Guevara will provide the cut and thrust for the team going forward. He will have to set up the wingers and the strikers with his excellent passing ability. When going forward he will have two excellent strikers to choose from in David Suazo and the ageless Carlos Pavón.

Honduras will provide a stern test for any team in this group, even Spain, however I believe their back four could let them down in the end. However if the defence can pick up their play, this team could be the Turkey of 2010.

The Swiss are becoming a mainstay team at the World Cup, each year producing better talent which is increasing the possibilities of a second round birth. The squad this time around is a mix of long term veterans and some young taken who will be well served by getting the World Cup experience. On paper you would think this team would just fall short of having enough to make it out of the first round, and frankly I would have to agree.

However if the Swiss are to get through they will need to score a lot of goals; something they are not exactly known for. If you need proof of this check out highlights of their 2006 round of 16 game against Ukraine, possibly the worst World Cup game ever. The squad will rely on vet Alexander Frei to bang in the goals upfront, however since he plays alone up top at times he could get isolated which will lead to a lack of the offence they need. This means that a lot of the pressure will be on the defence as was the case in 2006. They must keep other teams from executing their attack in order to progress, they do this by playing a high offside trap which if they are not in sync with each other could leave them exposed at the back.

I believe that the Swiss will just miss out on the round of 16 due to a lack of offensive ability and pace which this team sorely lacks. They will be in every game however the skill of the three other teams leads me to to say that the Swiss will finish at the bottom of this group.

The South American runners ups in qualifying are another team coming into the tournament on a good stretch of form. Having won its past 7 matches in a row the team is playing some of the best football in the world you probably didn`t know about. Although the squad does not come into the tournament with a ton of star names on the roster, the team collectively is one of the strongest dark horse teams in the field.

The biggest name on the team is striker Humberto Suazo who plays in Spain for Real Zaragoza. Outside of him you have a good nucleus of players who have alot of experience playing with each other on the pitch. This was key during qualifying as they kept the same lineup for basically the entire run, unlike Argentina which changed its squad every game and almost didn`t get in. The key to success for Chile is its team play, when playing as a collective unit this is a very hard team to beat. When compared to the other teams in the group is see Chile having an edge against Honduras and Switzerland, while giving Spain all it can handle.

The only issue Chile could have is in controlling the midfield, especially against Honduras and Spain. Chile have great play makers, however they lack that player in the centre of the park who can influence the game by making the hard tackle to win the ball. This could end up being key in the group. With that said though I see Chile moving on to the round of 16.

Predictions: Spain top the group, with Chile edging out Honduras and the Swiss for second place.

Wow it`s been a long month taking a look at these groups and throwing in my two cents. It`ll be a relief to finally stop talking and watch how the 2010 World Cup shakes down. Knowing my luck none of the teams i picked will go through and we`ll have a North Korea v Slovakia final.

Cheers and lets the madness begin!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Going back to the roots?

When FIFA released the details of their ticket scheme for the 2010 World Cup, I was very critical of its policy of releasing them first to corporations. The idea being that FIFA could sell travel packages to companies with box seats wrapped in for the execs and excellent stand seats for other members of the company. However as the recession hit companies backed away form buying these lavish ticket packages, plus many stayed away do to the possibility of crime in South Africa. It opened the door for regular everyday citizens of South Africa to purchase tickets that would not be available to them in normal circumstances.

Now one can argue against the fact that FIFA offered what in a sense were poor man tickets, priced, selected and distributed in poorer areas of South Africa. However it actually can be applauded for releasing many of the unsold tickets to the general public at the discounted rate.

At first the method of trying to sell these discounted tickets was flawed as they were only available online. As most of the poorer peoples of South Africa had no access to the Internet it stayed a fairly exclusive event. Then after finally consulting with local officials FIFA made them available in selected local grocery stores for cash. At this point the tickets began to sell out, what this will bring to the world cup is a true fan experience in the stands.

World Cups in the past have been accused of having fairly dead stadiums while the atmosphere outside the stadium as electric. The hope this year is that the there is more of a balance in terms of the atmosphere. As David Bond writes in his blog for the BBC; this could be the beginning of a move to back to the fan oriented World Cup in which the fan will rule the stadium, not the corporation.

Check out David Bond's blog by clicking on his name.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Group G preview

In every world cup there is a group that gets tagged with the "group of death label". For those not in the know this means that the particular group in question is stacked with usually three extremely strong teams, which if drawn in different groups would probably be favorites to advance to the round of 16. This year the group that is being tagged with this label is group G. With perennial favorites Brazil, European power Portugal, African favorite Cote D'Ivoire one of these favorites dreams will end in the very first round. North Korea as also drawn in this group however so little is known about the isolated nation that it is very hard to preview them. This should be one of the most interesting groups to watch as three attacking teams and one unknown wild card could cause some serious fireworks in the opening round.

The 2006 semi finalist will be looking to repeat their feat of four years ago with a newer looking team then the one selected in 06. Portugal in the past 10 years has become a serious player in world football producing some of the most individually gifted players in the world. From Luis Figo to Pauletta, Simão to Cristiano Ronaldo, this squad does not lack talent. However what it might lack this time around is the discipline and the coaching prowess that was around in 2006. Gone is the experienced Luiz Felipe Scolari who seemed to squeeze the best out of his players during his reign. In is Carlos Queiroz who as great as No. 2 at Manchester United during their 3 title run, but has lacked the cutting edge running a team on his own. The team at times looked out of sync during qualifying for the tournament, and at times struggled to score against opposition they should have beaten pretty easily. They felt it to a last minute play off in order to seal qualification.

In terms of the key players for Portugal, the most obvious is captain and former world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo. Almost all of the forward play runs through the winger/Forward, he is one of the best dribblers of the ball in the world and he is a dead ball specialist. The issue that most people have seen with Portgual is that they have become over reliant on Ronaldo, at times giving him the ball and just watching him make a move without moving themselves. This at times leaves the Real Madrid man isolated with 2 or 3 defenders around him at all times. When this happens Portugal need players like Simão and Deco to step up a lighten the scoring load off of Ronaldo. At time they have look brilliant in this capacity, however most of the time Portugal struggles to score goals with Ronaldo which in a group this Strong could be the squads downfall.

The smart money will be on Portugal to make it through in the second spot, however there is something that does not feel right about this squad. I do not feel or see the unity that carried them through one of the nastiest games in world cup history, I'm speaking of the quarter final games against the Netherlands in 2006 in which their team unity over came the physical challenge the Dutch posed. Because of that I do not think Portugal will advance...but I've been wrong before.

Cote D'Ivoire:
After impressing at their first world cup appearance in 2006, the Ivory Coast will be hoping the 2010 bring them more luck and a place in the round of 16. Les Elephants are they are known play a high tempo attacking brand of football with emphasis on strong creative play in the midfield, and excellent finishing upfront. Les Elephants had a fairly easy qualifying group in Africa, never really being in trouble through out. Along with Ghana Cote D'Ivoire are considered the continents best chance at winning its first world cup. However just like Ghana it has been drawn into a very tough group with two extremely difficult games in which they must win at least one in order to ensure advancement to the second round.

Like Portugal, the Ivory Coast boasts its own world class player in reigning African footballer of the year Didier Drogba. He is considered to be one of the best forwards in the world, mixing strength and pace with enough finesse to beat most defenders and goalkeepers. Drogba is usually the beginning and the end of Les Ele's attack. Which makes his recent injury, a broken forearm a huge concern to the team. It also leaves a massive hole in their attack which will have to be filled by a number of players.

This is a very talented squad with players who can begin to fill in the potential void felt by Drogba's absence. His Chelsea teammate Solomon Kalou has the ability to be a top striker on his day, though he does not possess the strength Drogba has, he has a bit more pace and is just as good a finisher. Cote D'Ivoire also have some young players who could make a huge impact now that they maybe given the chance to shine by manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. Gervinho is an exciting attacking player that can either play up front with Kalou, or can play on the wing and attack. I'm tipping him to be a potential break out star for the tournament. Goals could also come from the midfield from either Barcelona all rounder Yaya Toure or attacking midfielder Kader Keita.

The race for the second spot will be a serious fight between Portugal and Ivory Coast, and this is a fight I believe Les Elephants will win. I believe the they have a better back four than Portugal, I also believe that in the goal scoring department they can at least equal Portugal. Even surpass them if they can contain Cristiano Ronaldo. So given that and the fact that Les Elephants will be playing in front of a defacto home crowd, I'm inclined to give the nod to Cote D'Ivoire.

North Korea:
Little is known about the national football team, in the same way as little is known about the North Korean way of life. The NK's only world cup appearance was in 1966 where they impressed making the quaterfinals. However this version of the squad is made up of mainly of North Korean league players and a few from the J-league in Japan.

The North will bring a vastly inexperienced squad internationally to South Africa. Since most of the players apply their trade in North Korea most pundits have had little chance to see the quality of its players, or how the team likes to line up. From the few qualifying games available the team plays a defensive style of football. They look to counter off mistakes in the build up play of their opponents in the midfield; they also look to cross in balls from the flanks to their forwards. This is also a very physical team who will not hesitate to “get stuck in” as the English like to day.

Just like in 1966 this team is expected to lose every game in this group of death. However due to the fact that so few people outside of Asia have seen the team perform, I cannot rule out the possibility of an upset draw or even a win. Although that scenario looks unlikely the world cup always provides its share of complete surprise teams. Could North Korea throw a wrench into the plans of the big three teams in the group?....Probably not.

There is very little need for me to go into the history of the greatest national team in footballing history. They are 5 time world champions for a reason; this nation produces the best footballers in the world. Like Hockey is to Canada, football is to Brazil. It is the only nation to have played in every single world cup that has been held, plus it is favourite to win every tournament it enters. However over the past 2-3 years the team has been criticized by the footballing press and by Brazil supporters for playing a less than entertaining style of play. Under manager and world cup winning captain Dunga; the team has started to play a more European style of football in which the result is more important than the beauty of the play. This was a reason given as to why Brazil was unsuccessful in repeating as world champion in 2006.

Brazil along with Spain have no visible weaknesses outside of beating themselves on a given day. This team is stacked in every position and anyone on the Brazil squad can go forward with the ball and score. There are too many key players to mention in once breathe, however I’ll mention one that does not always get the limelight. Team captain Lúcio is one of the best center backs in the world, he his strong in his positional play and does an excellent job in organizing the defensive line. He also can dribble the ball like a skilled midfielder and has no problems going forward; he demonstrated this during last year’s Confederations Cup tournament. He was able to break down teams and set up a few goals for the forwards and score a few himself. Once you also add Kaká, Luís Fabiano, Robinho, Elano etc it becomes hard to see any other outcome but top of the group and a run to the finals.

This team will score goals, the question on the minds of many will be their style of play. As mentioned above the manager has changed the style of play to include a bit more emphasis on defensive responsibility. Some will question if this more conservative style will help Brazil win, but one thing is certain; Brazil will progress to the second round.

Brazil in top spot, Cote D’Ivoire in second. Heartbreak for Portugal and a week out for North Korea.

One more to go! Group H next.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Now for something completely different!

Penguins playing footy...nuff said. Thanks to my girl Erin for the linking this to me!

Click here for a link to the video. After watching this I may have to revist my South Korea advancing pick!


Group F Preview

Group F should be a straight forward group, as the overwhelming favorites are the defending champions Italy and South American powers Paraguay. Both teams are gifted at all parts of the games and should over power group members New Zealand and Slovakia.

The reigning champions enter the tournament with the difficult job of trying to defend their trophy in a stacked field for this year's tournament. Manager Marcello Lippi brings a very strong side with him to South Africa with will emphasize the strength of Italian football, solid defence with a blazing counter attack. It should be noted that the only country to ever repeat as champions of the world are the Italians back in the 1930's.

Lippi has had his team selections criticized in the past, it's been said that he sticks to his favorites who tend to be on the older side. However looking over the squad for 2010 he cannot be faulted for this. From the back 4 to the strikers, Lippi has an embarrassment of riches from which to choose his starting 11. Even if you take into account the fact that Italy will be fielding one of the oldest teams on average for this world cup, the players selected are all still world class and are capable of reaching the final for a second consecutive year.

It helps Italy's chances when who field arguably the world's best goalkeeper in Gianluigi Buffon. Coming into his fourth and more than likely final world cup Buffon can win any match on his own, and if Italy get ahead by one goal it normally is game over for the opposition. Fabio Cannavaro leads the back line for the Azzurri and at age 36 this will also be his last world cup. The 2006 world player of the year and world cup man of the tournament will have to pull out one more incredible tournament if Italy hope to win a 5th world cup and tie Brazil.

As said earlier this should be a fairly easy group stage for Italy, however the test for them will lie in the knock out stage as this veteran team will have to show how truly fit they are in order to make a deep run.

Consistently in the top three in terms of ranking in South America, Paraguay will be expecting to move to the round of 16 for the 4th time in it's world cup history. The team is strong in all aspects pf the game, although its greatest strength is in the midfield build up and service to the forwards. They will also be playing with extra motivation as they will want to honour compatriot forward Salvador Cabañas who will miss the world cup after being shot in Mexico back in January of this year.

Leading the way for Paraguay will be forward Roque Santa Cruz who has been a leading scorer since his international debut as a 19 year old. He along with strike partner Óscar Cardozo will have to put away their chances in order for Paraguay to advance. Aside form Italy the other two teams in the group should pose little challenge to them. If Paraguay have a weakness it is in their defencive organization, the midfielders must be aware of a potential counterattack should their build up breakdown. If they can do that they should take the 2nd spot in the group pretty comfortably.

New Zealand:
The All Whites are entering their second ever world cup as massive underdogs to advance to the second round, in fact more experts have the All Whites going winless during the group stage. The fact of the matter is New Zealand qualified for the world cup in probably the weakest qualifying zone in the world. The team lacks any real creativity in their attack, plus they also lack a true striker that will make defences respect them. This usually equals a three and done team in the world cup.

The traditional rugby powerhouse will be out to show well against the world's leading football nations. The All Whites have a great fighting spirit which could serve them well in their group games. They also have a bit of momentum coming into the tournament after beating Serbia in their final warm up match. If New Zealand are to have any chances of progressing to the round of 16, they will have to continue to play the way they did against Serbia. The All Whites played an organized style with one striker upfront to hold up play until the midfield could join the attack. However as I have mentioned in earlier posts, this can only work if your striker is an excellent hold up player and you midfield is quick enough to transition form defence to offence.

Shane Smeltz will have to be the key for the All Whites. If they hope to generate any offence Smeltz must find space to get open a score when he gets service. This might be difficult as he'll in all likely hood be up front on his own. Which could become a lonely thankless job if the midfield cannot grab a foothold in the game.

For the first time since Independence Slovakia will be appearing in the world cup and bring with them a decent squad with some good young players that will develop through this tournament. The Slovaks are coming off a good qualifying campaign in which they showed some flashes of being potentially a team that could make a surprise run in the tournament.

Slovakia's keys to success will be to play solid defence by playing the high offside trap they like to play, also they will need to be an effective counter attacking team similar to the Italians. Marek Hamšík and Vladimír Weiss will be the players who will carry the brunt of the counter attacking play. Hamšík especially will be the catalyst for any forward play for Slovakia. Once they can get the ball to the forwards Róbert Vittek and Stanislav Šesták will have to be strong in front of goal as they have the ability to break a game open at anytime.

In terms of group match ups the Slovaks must win their game against Paraguay in order to stand a chance of advancing to the round of 16. This will be the game of the group as the same will apply to Paraguay.

I see Italy winning this group though it might be a bit closer than they would like, and I think Paraguay will be just a bit better than Slovakia to progress into the round of 16.

Two more groups to go! Group G next.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

The dark side of the World Cup

With the start of the World Cup a week away most of the talk will center around the teams, match ups and parties surrounding the world's biggest tournament. Even I am starting to fill out brackets and planning my nights out watching matches. However what sometimes gets lost in the hype are the people that end up being effected by the world cup. Stadiums have to be built, concessions sold, space made for all the revelers traveling to support their teams or just take in a world cup. In order for these spaces to be made people need to be moved, in the case of South Africa the poorest of the poor have been swept aside to make way for the advertising Juggernaut that is a FIFA event.

Not unlike what happened during the build up to the Beijing summer games 2 years ago, South Africa has displaced many of the homeless or working poor of its major cities in order to uphold an image of a host city. Whole rows of houses have been torn down in order for new stadiums to be built in Cape Town and Johannesburg. As said in the article I'm attaching to this post, the local governments are claiming that most of the residences destroyed were places not suitable for human occupation. They go on to add that the infrastructure that will be left behind will create job opportunities for the whole community for years on end, even those who were "temporarily" displaced.

The difficult thing to understand when looking at this from the outside, is that with all the proposed money that's coming in to build the stadiums, the anticipated revenue coming in through t.v rights, concession sales, tourism etc, there is no official plan to help re-house the displaced after July 11th. This is the greatest fear from poverty activist, what will happen when the circus leaves town? how does the government of South Africa plan to tackle the issue of affordable housing? (If you live in Toronto this sounds familiar to you too) It seems odd that a government would waste money paying temp works to hand the poor bars of soap, toothpaste/brushes and other toiletries, but won't use a part of that same money and create permanent housing to help solve the issue.

Many South Africans who were jumping for joy in 2004 when they were awarded the tournament are now starting to question who's really going to benefit? The country or the companies who will be advertising, and who have exclusive rights on their products around world cup venues. The plight of independent concession kart owners against the temporary exclusive branded ones is another story for another post.

Mohammed Allie wrote an excellent report on the above issues, click on his name to check it out.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

This match report is why Cameroon will not advance!

So I've had a bit of flack online already about omitting Cameroon from the round of 16. Two things in response 1) I know Samuel Eto'o is still on the national team, however it is clear he is not in the right frame of mind. As past experience has shown with him, if his head is not screwed on right he struggles. 2) As I said in the group E preview, they lack ideas in attack. The below match report against Portugal is an example.

Click here for Cameroon v Portugal match report.

I'll be happy if Cameroon becomes another African team that advances...however I just don't see it.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Group E Preview

Group E will will shake down one of two ways: 1)The Netherlands will crush the group, and the battle will be for second place. 2) The Netherlands choke...not for the first time and the group is wide open to the team that plays the best football. This group contains four solid teams in the above mentioned Dutch, Cameroon, Denmark and Japan. All four teams are World Cup veterans who will not be intimidated by the scale tournament. In fact this group could provide the most entertaining matches as each team has the ability to go forward and score.

The Indomitable Lions are entering their sixth world cup, which makes them the African leader in this regard. Cameroon has always been known to have an imposing attack and strong midfield. After a slow start in African qualifying and the hiring of former Paris St-Germain boss Paul Le Guen, the Lions have looked very strong winning their last 5 matches in a row shutting out their opponents 3 times in the process.

There is very little secret in the attack for Cameroon, it runs through world class striker and captain Samuel Eto'o. The Inter Milan striker has 43 international goals and is a constant threat in and around the 18 yard box. However he has recently been critized by former Lions great Roger Millia in which he claims that Eto'o plays harder for his club team then her does for Cameroon. This has prompted Eto'o to respond by threatening to leave the national set up and not go to the world cup. Although I believe Eto'o will back down from his threat, this is a bit concerning for the team as they get ready for the tournament.

Aside from Eto'o the team boasts a steely midfield anchored by Alexandre Song and Jean Makoun. Though both do not provide the most thrilling or "sexy" play, they have a very high work rate that will cause most teams problems in their build up play. The issue for the squad maybe the back four, the ageless Rigobert Song and Geremi Njitap have over four times the international playing experience then the other two backs that will be lining up with them, and with the types of teams in this group they could get exposed if they cannot gel.

Its hard to say is Cameroon will get though to the next round, if Eto'o holds true to the possibility of quiting the national team then no. However if he's in the right frame of mind and the back four gels quickly then this could be a strong round of 16 team.

On paper this is clearly the best team in the group, the 1988 European champions come into this tournament white hot. The Clockwork Orange posted a 100% record in European qualifying going 8 for 8, and have won 13 straight overall, currently they are ranked 4th in the world by FIFA. Although the team is long removed from playing the famous "Total Football" (Click on total football if you want a explanation) style of the Johan Cruyff era, this team still packs an incredible offence punch which could take them far in this tournament. However in its history the Dutch, aside from the back to back finals appearances in 74' and 78', have underachieved at this level. The long standing word is that the only team that ever beats the Dutch, are the Dutch.

The keys to this team are not one or two players per say, though you should look out for strikers Robin van Persie and Dirk Kuyt. It is in the way the midfield and the strikers can interchange positions and create confusion among the defenders. This is a hybrid of total football, true total football allowed defenders to come forward as freely as midfielders. Everyone on this squad has the skill to score goals and the attack comes form every flank. This normally overwhelms a defence and help the Oranje score a ton of goals. However the downfall to this style is that sometimes they can forget to defend properly. This is something they cannot forget to do in this group.

The 2010 Oranje are a very experienced side which should qualify for the round of 16, but they must guard against taking their opponents lightly or they could find themselves in a dogfight to make the top two spots.

For the 4th time the Japanese will be playing at the highest international level. Aside from 2002 when they co-hosted the tournament and made the round of 16, they have struggled to make it out of the first round. 2002 can be put down to the home crowd advantage, but they have struggled outside of Asia. However in 2010 things could change, the domestic league in Japan is improving and is starting to provide quality players to the national team. Plus the stars that play outside of Japan are getting quality minutes which is also benefiting the JFA. The Samurai Blue qualified easily for the tournament, however had a hard time with Asian leaders South Korea in head to head match ups.

The key for Japan will be in the organization in the squad formation. Unlike the Dutch, Japan stays in formation and very rarely deviates from this. Normally I would have a problem with this, as it shows a inability to adapt to what the opposition throws at you; Plus Japan isn't as good as Brazil. However in this group it might be important to stay tight in the midfield as every team in the group can score and in regards to a match up in fire power Japan would rank last in the group. The key man for Japan is midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura. He will have to control the midfield and find ways to either score or set up lone striker Keiji Tamada. If he cannot do this Japan will be in trouble in this group.

Japan's back four will see alot of work in the first round, and it is very hard to see a birth in the round of 16 for them.

Martin Olsen's gang enter the world cup on a similar role as the Netherlands, they topped their European qualifying group which included Portugal and Sweden. There is very little secret to the Danish style of play, for this world cup they will play a straight forward style of European football, strong build up play through the midfield crossing balls into the box for the strikers. The Danes also have a solid defence that could hold the key to them making the second round.

Leading this defence are Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger as the two center backs. As previously stated, this group can score. Therefore having a strong defensive duo like Kjaer and Agger is extremely important to have leading the way. Both are "no nonsense" type of defenders, they stop attackers in their tracks with excellent positioning and awareness. They also can provide a little offence as well, both players are excellent in the air on set pieces and Agger has a cannon for a left footed shot.

The other ex-factor for the Danes is their manager Martin Olsen. He is loved in Denmark and the players are loyal to him and play extremely hard for him. This cannot be over emphasised, as having a good manager who gains the respect and trust of his players during a world cup tend to go along way. If you don't believe this check the history of the last three world cup winners and see how well respected their managers were. He is also very smart tactically. Olsen knows what his players can and cannot do and puts them in the best positions to succeed for the team.

I see this being a tighter group them most experts have it down as, I have the Netherlands going through based on solid offensive play. As my second place team, I'm picking Denmark to go through. It'll be close between The Danes and Cameroon, but I believe the Danes will just have a bit more than the Lions to get through.

Next up, group F!