In the build up to the England v Montenegro game a disproportionate amount of media attention was given to the manager’s decision to reinstate Rio Ferdinand as captain. Fabio Capello must be more baffled than anyone, in most countries the captain is just the most famous player or the oldest. That’s understandable too. In cricket major decisions are required from the captain throughout the match but, as in football, stepping forward for a coin toss and with the correct guess choosing kick off or choice of ends does not merit hours of debate or hundreds of column inches. The false controversy over selecting a captain was no bearing at all on the result. Montenegro are decent team. I’m disappointed but not shocked by our failure to win. They haven’t conceded a goal in this campaign. We know that England are an half decent up and downer sort of side so why the massive shock when when we fail to break sides down? Some of the criticism Capello has faced in recent months has been harsh but after this game he deserves some. Why not put Wilshire on to inject freshness? We didn’t play with any pace and lacked the imagination to break down a stubborn well organised defence. There was a reluctance to change things when the planA was clearly not working. The lack of creativity was partly borne of forwards unable to make diagonalruns to stretch the opponents defence. In fact, our opponents came closest to winning when they hit the bar. An axiom of football is that if you can’t outplay them you must make sure you outnumber them and Montenegro did that well by packing their midfield and forcing our wide players into boxes. Like Algeria in South Africa, the visitors deserved their celebrations. Like the World Cup the majority of blame lies with the players and their inability to vary their game and their seeming refusal to learn to do so. In short, they did a good job on us and we lacked the craft to dig a win out. Wales look doomed but beating England would salvage some pride, we have to be wary in March. We still have a good chance of reaching Poland and Ukraine but Spain and Germany have little to worry about.
Against Russia Ireland were outplayed for long spells. The visitors played with fluidity and passed through Ireland who looked flat footed. The amazing thing is that the final minutes could be so dramatic when the game had actually been so one sided! In Slovakia the Irish started well and took the deserved lead but allowed the hosts a way back. Keane’s penalty miss proved fatal and despite a crash bang wallop second half they have to be pleased with a draw. 1 point is a disappointing return for Trappatoni’s men. Scotland displayed admirable fortitude to stage a stirring rip roaring comeback and battle back to 2-2. However from that point Spain’s winner was sort of inevitable. It was still Scotland after all!
On Saturday Australia beat Paraguay in Sydney in what tabloid hacks would describe as an ‘ill tempered clash’. One of the most unfriendly friendlies in the history of, er, unfriendly friendlies! Arsene wenger would have swooned at the sight of those lunges!
It was disturbing to read of a rise in football violence amongst teenagers. Even here in Australia some youngsters have a sickening infatuation with the whole culture of football related violence. I overheard some talking excitedly about trouble at an Arsenal game and asked them why they were so fascinated by people bashing each other peoples heads in…. they didn’t know. As a teenager, many of my contemporaries seemed to see becoming involved in fighting almost as a natural progression. As if it was a rite of passage. I’ve always felt isolated from that. I specifically remember, even as a nine year old, standing in Glebe Street watching Millwall and Stoke’s hooligans fighting and being confused that so many people felt the need to smash people’s faces in over what was, essentially, wanting a different team to win a game of football. Violence at football has resulted in lives damaged, people even killed. It has given police the excuse ( but not justification I hasten to add) to treat supporters as second class citizens. There is nothing positive about football violence.
It’s exciting to see the news that Stoke City are taking a huge following to Bolton on Saturday. We are enjoying a special time for Stoke City. It used to be quirk that whenever we took a huge away following we’d get beaten, this hopefully won’t re-emerge at the Reebok. My friends here call Stokies ‘Phil Spector’. This is because other games are quite normal and up and down but when Stokies are on TV there’s a constant wall of sound!! I look forward to an incessant din but in this part of the world we can’t enjoy the noise until Sunday morning…. the game will be shown on a delay here!
Typically, as soon as I mention the second round having a healthy goals per game ratio we get two games with one goal between them. It’s pleasing that Paraguay got through, albeit by a penalty shootout. When they played Slovakia the camera scanned on them singing their national anthem and at the end they all cheered and clapped and looked at each other smiling. A brief miraculous moment, players actually ENJOYING participating in the World Cup. Such a refreshing change from the usual surly scowling young men with the weight of the world on their shoulders talking of which… Christiano doesn’t help himself does he? He hasn’t written much future either. He’ll meet his friend Wayne and they can drink champagne and decide who to blame for their lack of influence. Then can blame Nike for not paying them enough to do those adverts. Wayne and Steve Gerrard has decided to pull out of an event in London to find the worlds most skillful footballer, and they have had to lose their payment of half a million quid. Poor loves, lets have a whip round.
The decision of the remarkably named Nigeria president Goodluck Jonathan to suspend their national team is as foolish as it is melodramatic. It seems the decision is more to punish their FA than the players. This is in the wake of their chaotic preparation which resulted in friendlies cancelled and even the plane to take them to South Africa unable to take off. However, FIFA take a dim view of political leaders meddling with football. If the two year ban is upheld it could be that Blatter and his mates decide to bang an extra ban on top. This will harm the players in several ways but most of all deprive the Nigerian people the chance to see their team in competitive action. Hopefully Goodluck is using this as a chance for a spot of self promotion. Otherwise we can only wish bad luck on Goodluck.
Bastian Schweinsteiger’s digs at Argentina got a staggering response from Maradona, because there wasn’t one! Where you might usually expect him to react by smashing a glass or baring his arse or something, he didn’t react. This is the calm before the storm. You can bet there will be a reaction if Germany knock them out. There is still bad blood after their quarter final in 2006 and nothing stokes the fire like a sense of grievance. If, as is extremely possible, Argentina meet Brazil in the final the terms mind games and antagonistic will have to be re-defined! And antagonism is rarely as antagonistic as it is when Brazil play Argentina.
Reading some articles it seems the punditry on UK TV is rather poor. The most annoying aspect is that in the first few weeks when they said something about one of the more obscure sides players they got ridiculed for being a swot. Before Slovenia v Algeria one of them sort of shrugged and admitted he knew nothing about either team. How lazy can you be? Have they never heard of this thing what was invented called the, er, internet like? This attitude does nobody any favours. In fact they just present themselves as ignorant and insular. It’s not much to ask to provide some background information, otherwise why are they there?
Blatter has apologised for Lampard’s phantom goal, how very kind of him!! Three cheers for good old Sepp. What happens now? This apology means nothing unless measures are taken to ensure mistakes like this aren’t repeated. They are happy to accept technological developments when they develop the new ball the players can’t play with. Or when they have those big videoscreens that carry sponsors advertising. Maybe, just maybe, they can use technology to help the game and not just so they can vacuum up money.
Roy Keane has spoken and said the problem with England isn’t the manager at all it’s that the players. A fair point I agree with but the point has to be made that FabCap has made some big errors. There was that daft Capello index that would have made public his innermost thoughts on his players. A foolish inflammatory notion that was only ever going to divide the camp. In a rare moment of positive intelligent action The FA instructed him to scrap the silly idea. Another mistake was taking four forwards as usual. Surely, he could have taken note of his friend and compatriot Marcello Lippi’s decision to take six forwards in 2006. Instead of doing something different to create different attacking options it was same old same old. The most visible error was the whole approach to the players. It is widely alleged he used to the same unstinting sergeant major approach he uses at clubs and in normal England camps. This is usually his method but a tournament like this throws up a situation a rarely encountered by any manager of any profession. You can’t put the same rigid discipline programme in place for six weeks you usually have in place for five days. Grouped up together for weeks on end the players are bound to get bored and fractious with each other. Apparently, towards the end, FabCap wavered a bit in his dogmatic approach but to get to that point much damage had already been done. He says he wants to stay on as manager, but if there is discussions taking place in the dusty FA rooms his position could be more precarious than first thought. I hope he does stay, but these mistakes mustn’t be repeated if we qualify for Poland and Ukraine in 2012. But, the point has to be made, the majority of the 2010 bucks lies with the players.
Somehow the World Cup is bravely limping and stumbling on without England. And after the slow start it’s become a cracking competition. The six knockout games so far have had an average of over 3 goals a game with no penalty shootouts required. Brazil’s third against Chile was very special. They now face The Netherlands in what could prove to be an intense war of attrition. Argentina v Mexico saw the evil genius Maradona patrolling the touchline with his usual excitable unhinged demeanour. They were fortunate to get the offside goal but when Tevez scored the third he could be forgiven for wanting to tell a certain Shrekky scouser THAT’S how to write the future!
Portugal v Spain later. The first knockout match between two sides with genuine aspirations to win the trophy. Every side in a tournament like this will cause problems but they will both know that with the winner facing Paraguay or Japan there could be much harder ways to get to a World Cup semi final.
“Football is a simple game complicated by idiots” Bill Shankly
So holders Italy rather fortuitously drew with Paraguay. Brazil who are, well, Brazil, only beat North Korea 2-1 with the late consolation being one of the more surprising World Cup moments with European Champions and highly fancied Spain beaten by Switzerland.
Bearing these results in mind, can we please put England’s draw with the USA in perspective?? Of course we’d have liked to start with a win, (who wouldn’t?) but the level of criticism it’s provoked is beyond reason. The fact is that in a competition like this every side you face will present problems, even North Korea!! Looking back plenty of teams have made slow starts and gone on to have a fantastic tournament, not least England in 1990. In 1982 Italy were dire in the group stage then came through the pack and proved themselves to be the best side there. It doesn’t mean everything is all right or that FabCap hasn’t made mistakes or have questions to answer. It does show that it’s more important to respond to a situation than to react to it. There’s still plenty of time to do just that. A defeat to Algeria would be the time for soul searching and navel contemplation. And if it isn’t a swashbuckling 8-0 victory so be it. It’s a marathon not a snickers. Just ask Spain….
Spain’s defeat wasn’t really the colossal shock it’s being made out to be. Until 2008 they were known for bottling at crucial times. Winning the Euro might have settled them down but could also have increased unwanted pressure. Whether they are strong enough to handle that pressure we’ll find out in the coming weeks. If the game against Switzerland is a pointer the answer would have to be that they aren’t. Hitzveld and his team did a remarkable job on their more illustrious opponents. For much of the first half they had to allow Spain to have the ball BUT only in areas they knew they couldn’t get hurt. They went back to the simple principle that they couldn’t out play them so they had to outnumber them. And in the centre of the park Spain rarely got the chance to flow. Great work by the Swiss. Discipline and strategy upsetting the flarier team isn’t always the popular outcome but alternatively Switzerland could have let them play with fluidity and got beaten 6-0. If you were Swiss what would you prefer?? And when someone claims to be a football purist it just tells me they don’t or haven’t experienced the game to the same emotional depth that I do. And YES I am arrogant enough to say that!!
Seventeen games gone and this World Cup is starting to ignite. Let’s hope the momentum continues.