Archive for July, 2010

The Netherlands versus Spain: MysticalDescent’s view

July 14th, 2010 No comments


Netherlands Flag


Spanish Flag

1) Stekelenberg

1) Casillas

2) van der Wiel

3) Pique

3) Heitinga

5) Puyol

4) Mathijsen

11) Capdevila

5) van Bronckhorst (Braafheid, 105)

15) Sergio Ramos

6) van Bommel

6) Iniesta

8) de Jong (van der Vaart, 99)

8) Xavi

10) Sneijder

14) Alonso (Fabregas, 87)

7) Kuyt (Elia, 70)

16) Busquets

9) van Persie

7) Villa (Torres, 105)

11) Robben

18) Pedrito (Jesus Navas, 60)

So it is that one of the most disappointing World Cups for a long, long time has finally come to pass. It seemed appropriate that such a low quality World Cup was rounded off with a dire final. We all knew that we should expect the same sort of tedious football from the Spanish that had steered them all the way to the final, but the cynical and sometimes just plain vicious Dutch play came as a shock to everyone. Could there really be a better way to finish off the tournament that gave us the vuvuzela, awful defensive football and more diving and cheating than ever before?

As in almost every game that Spain have played at this World Cup, the first half was an absolutely dire affair that would have most people who don’t have a vested interest in the match sticking needles in their eyes and trying to purge the thought that there might be a game of football going on somewhere. The only thing that punctuated the awful, West Brom style halfway-line-ball fest tended to be a stupid ‘challenge’ from van Bommel that took out the man with the ball a mere afterthought. Aside from that, from the quality of the game you would assume that you were watching a fourth division match. The Dutch were incapable of stringing two forward passes together, let alone breaking down the Spanish defence, and so spent some time playing long balls to a non-existent target man. Holland playing a long ball game is like Stoke trying to play halfway-line tippy-tappy; both sides have the wrong personnel for such a tactic and so it proves to be a completely ineffective disaster. That’s not to say that the Dutch were ever in any danger from the Spanish. They were perfectly competent at keeping the ball on the halfway line, but when the opposition are quite happy to keep you there without applying any pressure, anybody can do that. When it came to making a forward pass, they just gave the ball to Iniesta who either kicked it out for a goal-kick, passed it backwards again or gave it away to a defender. The newspapers were absolutely lauding the boring, offensively inept Spanish display, but I genuinely cannot see what was so wonderful or why it is something to aspire to. Sure it’s effective, but that’s because Spain have the right players to make it work. A side equally attuned to a different system could probably overcome them, especially if they possess a plan B, something that the Spanish sorely lack. I have no doubt that the German team in four years time will eclipse this year’s Spanish team. I maintain that we should be looking to emulate the Germans rather than the Spanish, not just in terms of tactics, but in terms of mentality and what we require of our players. We could also learn a few lessons about getting rid of ‘stars’ if they are performing for themselves rather than the team. I’m looking at you, Gerrard and Lampard.

Having just mentioned van Bommel’s fouls, it seems a good time to discuss the role of the referee, Howard Webb.  Personally, I think he got it absolutely spot on, with the only real mistakes he made coming at the end. That said, I think it’s rather galling that the Dutch are now complaining. A more dramatic continental referee would probably have sent off a number of Dutch players in the first half alone, so the Netherlands was lucky to have a sensible referee who doesn’t throw cards around like confetti and encourage diving. One thing that most people seem to be really complaining about is that de Jong was only booked for kicking a Spanish player in the chest. Sure, it was spectacular and looked vicious, but I think Webb got it right. He didn’t go out to do a full on stamp in his chest, he went for the ball and misjudged it. We have the high foot rule for a reason, to stop things like that happening. That is why a dangerously high foot is punishable by a yellow card. Correct call from Webb. A tremendously difficult game for the referee to control made worse by the fact that the players seemed to abandon all responsibility in ensuring that the game was played out in the correct spirit. The Dutch were cynical and I am more than convinced that van Bommel was not playing ‘hard but fair’, but was just going out to make sure he kicked lumps out of his opponents. The Spanish, meanwhile, spent the entire 90 minutes throwing themselves at the floor, often pretending to be injured. Webb can be pleased with his performance, but the players should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

The second half started off much the same as the first, but the turning point was when the Dutch substituted Kuyt for Elia in the 70th minute. Kuyt was doing a reasonable job out on the wing, not pulling up any trees but getting himself involved in the game, protecting his full-back well and taking part in attacks. Sticking on the quick Elia was obviously intended as an attacking move by the Netherlands, but ultimately it was a poor move. He had the look of a young kid who had just wandered onto the pitch and he clearly wasn’t up to a match at that level. He could barely get himself into the game and when he did, he would just give the ball away. When it came to substitutions, however, it was obvious that the Dutch were attempting to change the game while Spain just kept plugging away with Plan A. The Dutch defensive midfielder de Jong was swapped for van der Vaart so as to press to win the game before penalties, but the Spanish just made like for like substitutions, replacing Alonso with Fabregas and Villa with Torres. The result was that the game did open up a little, with Robben having two very good chances to seal victory, but Spain still looking generally more assured. As the Dutch players began to look visibly worn and tired, it seemed that the Spanish tactics of attrition were working; they had held onto the ball for the majority of the game and the Dutch were exhausted. It didn’t really surprise me that it was Spain who took the lead and went on to win.

So there we have it then. The World Cup is over and Sepp Blatter has gotten himself onto all the trophy presentation photos. I’m sure FIFA have found this World Cup to be incredibly profitable and that the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor have enjoyed their free holiday in South Africa, but for the rest of us, it’s a tournament to forget. So much so, that from the end of this sentence, I shan’t be mentioning it again. Thanks for reading.

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Spain are better at football than everybody else

July 12th, 2010 No comments

The bridesmaids became brides.  The kittens became cats.  The ugly caterpillar metamorphosised into a majestic brightly coloured butterfly.  The rebirth of an entire football culture was completed this morning in Johannesburg, after years of trying, finally, Spain won the World Cup.  It’d be hard to claim they don’t deserve the honour of world champions.  A 100% record in qualifying and only conceded two goals in the tournament.  True, they started their World Cup Finals campaign with a disappointing defeat to Switzerland but they dusted themselves down and rectified things…. in exactly the same way that England didn’t!  They are now the only team ever to win the World cup having lost their opening match. 

Unlike many people I thought the final was a good game.  It was an intense war of attrition.  It was Johan Cruyff, the man who has significantly influenced both these nations football cultures, who once declared that football is a game you play with your brain.  His analaysis has rarely been more appropriate.  It could be argued that by sitting deep Holland had ruined the game as a spectacle BUT what are they supposed to do? Play open and let Spain walk all over them? Like when Stoke City play a big team, we aren’t there to entertain we are there to try and get something. And despite Spain’s dominance of possession Robben squandered the best chance of the match.  That wasted opportunity will haunt Robben and his nation like Rensenbrink hitting the post in the dying seconds in Buenos Aires in 1978 did.  It could be another thirty years until the Dutch get so close to the biggest prize of all.  But Casillas was there to make the save, proving that in a successful team every player does their bit.  And Casillas is a chronically underrated bit!!

Howard Webb got some criticism much of it unfair in my opinion.  Had he played by the strict letter of the law yellow and red cards would have been handed out willy nilly and he’d have received as much criticism for ruining the game. He had to make allowances for the various factors and overall did OK.  The real glaring error was failing to give Holland that corner.  Van Marwijk was fuirious about Webb after the match.  Well he would be wouldn’t he. 

After all the speculation regarding Nelson Mandela’s appearance it was great to see him attend.  The word was that he would be presenting the trophy.  It must have been a downer for Casillas who must have been expecting Nelson Mandela’s stature and greatness receive the trophy off Blatter!!   They must have wondered why they bothered!

So, thats the end of that then.  In the end Dunga’s pragamtic approach didn’t work for Brazil.  Domenech really is as rubbish as has been implied for several years.  Maradona really does have little tactical knowledge… but it took a while for confirmation of that!!   Lippi’s ageing squad couldn’t hack it, despite it only being seven games and amzingly, New Zealand were the only unbeaten side in the competition.   BUT England were definitely  absolutely rubbish.

Brazil 2014 next.  1235 days to go.  Anyone coming?

Spain vs Germany: MysticalDescent’s view

July 8th, 2010 No comments


Spanish Flag


German Flag

1) Casillas

1) Neuer

3) Pique

3) Friedrich

5) Puyol

16) Lahm

11) Capdevila

17) Mertesacker

15) Sergio Ramos

20) Boateng (Jansen, 52)

6) Iniesta

6) Khedira (Gomez, 80)

8) Xavi

7) Schweinsteiger

14) Alonso (Marchena, 90+3)

8) Ozil

16) Busquets

15) Trochowski (Kroos, 62)

7) Villa (Torres, 81)

10) Podolski

18) Pedrito (Silva, 85)

11) Klose

In beating Germany 1-0, Spain secured not only the first ever competitive fixture between themselves and the Netherlands, but also reached their first ever World Cup Final. After indifferent Dutch showings throughout the tournament, Spain has been pretty quickly installed as the favourite for the final. The Germans should get over the disappointment pretty quickly, though, as the young side and style of play they unleashed upon the tournament will surely bring plenty of success in at least the next two World Cups, so long as they find a goalscorer to replace Miroslav Klose.

Like the other semi-final, this was a game where you could really gloss over the first half in a few words. Spain seemed to be attempted to bore the opposition into submission by keeping the ball in their own half for 10 minutes before attempting and messing up a forward pass. Germany, meanwhile, were happy to sit back and suck up as much pressure as necessary, as they did against England, before breaking or winning set pieces. However, neither team got enough players forwards and the ultimate effect was that most attacks were sucked up by the defences and very few chances were created until Germany pressed for a goal towards the end of the game.

It is probably therefore telling that my man of the match was, by some way, Puyol of Spain. This isn’t just because of his goal, but because of his dominant performance at the back. Indeed, it was actually after the goal when he really began to shine, as Germany pressed on and pumped balls into the box. Many defences would have panicked, but the Spanish backline just would not falter thanks to the calming presence of Puyol. There was one instance where a German swung a fantastic ball into the box that ordinarily one of the German forwards would have got on the end of and scored, but Puyol managed not only to get there, but to get the ball clear as well.

As for the other players on the pitch, none of them really stood out. Ozil struggled to make any real impact, while Villa was marked out of the game. Iniesta was fine passing the ball sideways, but his final ball was almost always lacking. Pedro seemed to have gotten ‘Playground Showpony Hero Syndrome’, often getting the ball in good positions and deciding to take on 3 players instead of just creating a chance by passing or having a shot. Both teams defended in great numbers, but the passing from both teams was surprisingly sloppy. As I’ve already mentioned, the final Spanish ball, often from Iniesta, was usually intercepted with ease by the German defence, but the Germans just seems to panic when they broke away. They just made clumsy, unforced errors as they tried to get it up the pitch, miscontrolling the ball or passing it behind the player’s run.

It’s hard to go much further without going to town on Spain’s style of play. It’s gotten them results so far, but so long as you don’t get taken in by the media hype as journalists queue up to extol the virtues of the ‘Spanish way’, you cannot deny that it is an incredibly boring spectacle. Anybody can pass the ball sideways in their own half for the majority of the game before attempting something daft that gives the opposition. The media seem to have missed the fact that Spain last night tried to play just as England did against Germany, albeit with a different formation, with the biggest difference being that Spain didn’t have three defenders who can’t actually defend. Indeed, if everybody played as Spain have played this tournament, something that certain figures in the media are clamouring for, the game will be dead within the decade. Does anybody on this planet, anybody at all, go to football so they can watch how well one team keeps the ball in their own half, and how well they can fall over and con the referee? It really is unbearable to watch. Spain’s progression through the tournament has not been due to their style of play, but more due to the fact that they have very clinical strikers who can score goals with very few chances in open play. They created little from open play against Paraguay and last night had to rely on a goal from a set piece to go through.

None of this really bodes well for the final. The Dutch have some good players in Sneijder and Robben, but Robben in particular is inconsistent as hell and they just haven’t really managed to turn on the style at any point in this tournament. I don’t have an awful lot of faith in their defence either, so I see the Spanish stifling the game and scraping another 1-0 win. Hopefully I’ll be wrong and both teams will turn up ready to put on an attacking performance with the likes of Sneijder and Iniesta really shining. Unfortunately, I foresee cagey, defensive football with both teams more concerned about not messing up the chance they’ve got to make history. That’s a shame.

Germany aren’t as good at football as Spain are

July 8th, 2010 No comments

Will the Dutch finally emerge from the stains of the 70s?  Down the years, the ongoing style of their play has been tarnished  by internal bickering creating at times laughable self induced implosion yet the elephant in the room of the collective Dutch football psyche is the memory of Munich on July 7th 1974.  Even lifting the European Championship trophy (ironically in Munich) has only papered over the cracks.  On Sunday they have the chance to exorcise their demons.  Their style is more pragmatic than their predecessors of 36 years ago but if the post semi final euphoric scenes in Amsterdam are a any barometer they are prepared to forego that for a chance of a crack at the big one!  Mind you, despite modern pragmatism, Cruyff or Neeskens would have been proud of Van Bronckhorst’s opener. 

If ever there was a 1-0 thrashing it was the semi final between Germany and Spain.  Germany missed the forward mobility of Muller but it’s unlikely his presence would have altered the result.  For minutes on end Germany just couldn’t get the ball.  Pedro was important.  His movement dragged the German defence out of their comfort zone.  Del Bosque proved he  could make the big decisions by omitting Torres from the starting line up and the decision making throughout the team was just as excellent.   The real decisive factor was that all the possession Spain had, and there was plenty of it, it was all for a purpose.  They played positive skillful football and played with their mind.  The irony was that for all the style and skill in this brilliant generation of players, the goal came from the old warhorse Puyol from a simple a method as a header from a corner!   And when Germany did press Spain didn’t just get men behind the ball… they had men behind the ball defending.  There was five of them everywhere.  And when it was required Casillas did his job well.   Class throughout the whole team.  I wonder how Raul feels seeing his compatriots making their mark on history.  His nation’s rich potential only started to be fulfilled when he’d been dumped…. coincidence?  Both semi finals were cracking games.  Well worth getting up at 4am for!!  

That sodding octopus was right again.  Paul is turning out to be my least favourite octupus ever…. and that’s saying something.  Never mind squelching around in a tank, if he had any sense he’d be at the bookies raking the money in.  What a waste of talent. 

It’s been a groundbreaking World Cup.  The first to be held in Africa.   The first time the hosts have failed to get through the group stage.  If Spain win the trophy it’ll mean the only unbeaten side in the tournament will have been New Zealand.  If Spain win it’ll be the first time a team has lost the first game and gone on to win the competition.  And whoever wins  it’ll definitely be be the first time a European team has won it outside Europe.   History being made all over the place.  Milestones appropriate to what has been an excellent tournament. 

Alex Ferguson has spoken out to say the pressure on Wayne Rooney was too high.  Well it’s understandable he’s defending his player but the point has to be made that Rooney was happy to declare he was about to ‘Write the Future”.  The pressure was intense but could it be any other way at an event of this magnitude?  The weight of expectation may well be overpowering at times but in choosing to do those adverts, for which we can assume he received handsome financial rewards, Wayne willingly contributed to his own burden.

The Netherlands vs Uruguay: MysticalDescent’s view

July 7th, 2010 No comments

UruguayUruguayan Flag

NetherlandsDutch Flag

1) Muslera

1) Stekelenberg
3) Godin

3) Heitinga

16) Pereira

5) van Bronckhorst

22) Caceres

12) Boulahrouz

5) Gargano

6) van Bommel

11) Pereira (Abreu, 78)

10) Sneijder

15) Perez

14) De Zeeuw (van der Vaart, 46)

17) Arevalo Rios

7) Kuyt

7) Cavani

9) van Persie

10) Forlan (Fernandez, 84)

11) Robben (Elia, 90)

So much for Dutch magic and total football. Not only was chance creation at a premium, but the Dutch players doled out cynical tackles at almost the same rate as they were throwing themselves at the floor. Admittedly the third goal was a beauty, but it took a speculative shot from long range and a goal that should have been flagged for offside to overcome a Uruguay side missing two critical players in Suarez and Lugano. To say that the Netherlands never really turned up does a disservice to a hard working Uruguay side with a very effective defensive gameplan. Regardless, whilst the game fairly entertaining, the Germans and Spanish were probably licking their lips at the prospect of playing either team.

The evening started with the unexpected bonus that Jim Beglin would not be taking up the role of co-commentator for the match. David Pleat asides, I’m struggling to think of a pundit who is as irritating and perpetually incorrect as Beglin. His idiocy is only exacerbated when there’s a ‘big’ team who he can pick out as his favourite and shamelessly cheerlead for, so thank goodness we were spared him making countless excuses for the Netherlands tonight. As for the game itself, the first half was mostly disappointing, with only three real highlights. Obviously, two of these were the goals, while the other was the incident on the edge of the Dutch box that saw Caceres catch de Zeeuw in the face with a boot. Other than that, there was very little to comment on. The linesman in the Dutch half was hopelessly incompetent (more on that later) and the Uruguayans did an effective job of keeping Robben out of the game, while struggling to link up their defence and attack. The idea seemed to be to play 4-5-1 when defending, before switching to a 4-3-3 system with two wingers when attacking. Unfortunately, this usually meant that Forlan was left isolated up front, although he wasn’t helped be the hapless number 11, Pereira, and an inability to pass the ball forwards accurately. Ultimately, there was no get out ball for Uruguay and hence no chance creation.

One thing that this World Cup has done is made a mockery of goalkeepers. Muslera had very little chance with the goal, as it dipped beautifully into the top corner of the goal, but he has looked incredibly shaky and has inspired little confidence in his defence. Stekelenberg is another goalkeeper who I don’t really rate and he made a real howler tonight with the goal. You can claim that the ball swerved an awful lot, but he got a solid hand to it and it was as though all the particles in the ball had suddenly decided to act as waves and pass straight through. It’s not just the lowly rated goalkeepers who are being humiliated though – respected, capable goalkeepers such as Julio Cesar and Thomas Sorensen have also made costly errors, though admittedly Sorensen’s big errors came from free-kicks, his most glaring weakness. Has there been a drop of standards since the days of Yashin, Banks or even Schmeichel? Is it bad luck, a coincidence, or could it really be down to the World Cup ball? If it’s the latter then it’s a shame, because the once noble profession of the goalkeeper seems to be being sacrificed by FIFA in the name of the spectacular on the world stage.

As for the incident on the edge of the Dutch box, Caceres may have caused some damage to de Zeeuw, but it was van Bommel who was lucky to escape the incident without seeing red. Thanks to FIFA’s TV operators deciding that it was only important enough for one replay having already missed it taking place due to showing a replay of something else, I’m not exactly certain what happened, but van Bommel appeared to either strike Caceres in the face with his hand, or headbutt him. The consensus seems to be that it was the former, in which case Van Bommel should have been shown a straight red. Just like Fabregas and Campbell for Arsenal, though, it seems that Van Bommel is magically immune from the wrath of referees. In all seriousness, Van Bommel got away with an awful lot of stuff on the night (perhaps he should consider moving to a cynical team like Arsenal), including him taking out a Uruguayan in the build up to one of the Dutch goals and a little kick out at a Uruguayan as the game appeared to be petering out.

The second half again saw Uruguay struggle to get the ball from back to front, leaving the Dutch to control possession but only create half-chances. The turning point was when Sneijder took a pot shot from the edge of the box that was going wide but got a couple of lucky deflections off Uruguay players, sending it into the bottom corner. The goalkeeper should have done better, but he reacted very late as the ball went straight past van Persie, the Muslera seemed to be expecting to control the ball. Van Persie was clearly standing in an offside position and the linesman should have flagged for offside, disallowing the goal. The decision was actually tighter than I’ve just suggested, but the linesman had spent most of the first half flagging Uruguayan players as offside when they were quite clearly nowhere near being in an offside position. I’m not sure where they got him from, but he was completely out of his depth and Uruguay will feel very aggrieved that he cost them numerous attacking opportunities in the first half and then allowed an illegal goal to stand.

The Dutch third goal was a visible hammer blow for Uruguay, with most of their players jogging around the pitch looking as though they wanted to end as soon as possible. To be fair to the Netherlands, it was a very well constructed goal, with a good passing move leading to a pinpoint cross headed in by Arjen Robben, of all people. After that, the Uruguayan players seemed to give up hope. It was only after Pereira (the good one, the useless left winger had been substituted by now) scored from the edge of the box at the end of the game that the Uruguayans pressed on and really tried to get the game back. It would have been a fantastic contest if they had equalised, as the Dutch had started to take off their best players so that they could rest them for the final. Despite a long throw bombardment and some frantic defending, the Uruguayans couldn’t find an equaliser and the Netherlands made it through to the final. Still, you can’t spend 15 minutes moping around and then complain about losing because you attacked for 2 minutes at the end.

In the other semi-final tonight, Germany takes on Spain. At the start of the tournament, I said that Uruguay would win the World Cup (ok, so I was a little wrong, but everyone was predicting that they would go out in the group stages and even with two of their best players missing it took a dodgy goal to beat them) and that you can never bet against the Germans, who will make the final. I’m going to stand by the latter part of my prediction and I expect Germany, the stand out team in the tournament so far, to beat Spain pretty comfortably. I just hope that the game isn’t ruined by the eagerness of players on both teams to throw themselves at the floor and pretend to be injured.

The 2010 World Cup’s impact on Team USA

July 6th, 2010 No comments

The 2010 World Cup is now in the books for the United States. What will the history books write about it? Disallowed goals? The England Equalizer? Winning the group? The performance of Landon Donovan on the world stage? I think the legacy of this World Cup will be the emergence of “soccer” as a major sport in the United States. That’s right I think the game has finally turned the corner and will move into the top three here in America. I could not believe the people that were interested here in the States during the World Cup. Old, young, middle aged people were tuning in like never before to take in the international spectacle that is the World Cup. Offices would change the channel from CNN to ESPN to take in the games. Here in the middle of the day US televisions were tuned in at the highest rate ever to the beautiful game, numbers never seen before.

What next now for the game here in the US? Well a push for the World Cup in 2018 or 2022 is the logical progression. World Cup 94 remains the best attended and run World Cup in history and the next one here in the US will be bigger and better. But will FIFA bite? Will the remorse of horrible referees disallowing legitimate goals help our chances? Of course not, but money talks for FIFA and if we can get them to make an objective decision based on revenue and profits than we should be leading the pack for hosting the biggest sporting event in the world.

Even more important than hosting the tournament in the future is the growth of the domestic league: Major League Soccer. With an ESPN contract and steady expansion into solid soccer markets it continues to grow responsibly. Reportedly attendance has been up over 15% since the World Cup. The standard of play is considered at the Coca Cola Championship level which I think is great, and should put it in the top 15 leagues in the world. With the Youth Soccer boom showing no signs of slowing down you can’t help but consider soccer to be on the verge of a boom here in the US. Long may it continue.

Another thing I would like to talk about is how much the national team has progressed. No one can say we had the most talented bunch at this World Cup but I will go out on a limb and say we were one of the 16 best teams at the tournament. If we could just finish we would probably still be playing. The amount of chances we wasted bordered on criminal and you had to feel for Landon Donovan seeing all of his great service being wasted. The main culprit was Jozy Altidore, but that being said I do not want to batter the lad too much. He did a lot of things well at the tournament, first and foremost relying on his strength and size to become a real handful for most defenders. Add his pace and we could see the development of a new type of target man in the game whou could revolutionize the 4-5-1. Crucial this young player makes the right move before next season and gets into an English team with a coach who can mentor and develop him. I vote for Tony Pulis’ Stoke City. A guy can only hope!

Gazza, it was twenty years ago

July 5th, 2010 No comments

Early in the 88/89 season I went to Anfield to watch Liverpool v Tottingham Hotspurts.  Back then every close season saw a flurry of spending by clubs  trying to compete with Liverpool.  Spurs always seemed to be at the forefront of the spending and in the summer of 1988 saw Spurs buy the young prospect Paul Gascoigne. 

1988 was the days before every single moment of every single football match was filmed and each tackle pass and fart analysed by cameras placed at six different angles.  As a result, we knew there was a young talented portly player named Paul Gascoigne from Newcastle and some of his goals were shown on Saint and Greavsie, and he was a bit of a character who loved Mars Bars, but we weren’t as clued up on him as we would be now.  Nowhere near in fact. 

At Anfield, The first time Gascoigne got the ball a collective gasp seemed to encircle Anfield. Was this fat Geordie lad any good?  Well, yes he was, in fact he was better than anyone could have imagined.  He joyously sprayed accurate passes around and whenever Liverpool attacked seemed to be the one who received the ball to initiate a fresh wave of possession. He’d gleefully skip past opponents, ball at his feet, and his grateful teammates would know an incisive pass was on the way.   The Spurs supporters cheered him warmly and if they didn’t he told them to, then emerged with a big grin.  When The Kop chanted to tell him that he was a fat bar steward, he smiled waved and did a silly walk.  The endearing thing about Gazza at this time is that he clearly loved being a footballer.  At the end of the game (it finished 1-1) he ran up to the Kop with a big smile and they responded in kind and chanted his name.  This was in the wake of Englands 1988 European Championship calamity and new talent and faces were needed for 1990 so Gazza was a breath of fresh air. Paul Gascoigne could become a superstar, and he’d enjoy every minute of it. 

After several appearances in England’s  friendlies he gradually established himself. Bobby Robson described him as being “As daft as a brush”.   This wasn’t a personal criticism it was more meant with affection to show what a livewire character he was around the camp.  He eventually cemented his place in the World Cup squad.   He was a special player at Italia 90.  The real pivotal point was during the game against Holland when he turned his man with skill on the byline and crossed for Lineker. A top quality player who could make the difference for England.  And he often did.  So much went through Gazza, his hyperactive presence charging around Italian football pitches.  We left it late against Belgium, dodged a bullet against Cameroon and finally found ourselves in a semi final against West Germany, and we all know what happened next. 

This week saw the 20th anniversary of that huge landmark game. We’ve never been that close since (will we ever be that close again?) to landing the ultimate prize.  At the end of the extra time, and with Gazza sobbing his broken heart out, Bobby Robson tried to console him by assuring him that “You’ve got your whole life in front of you, this is just your first”.  Of course, Robson wasn’t to know, but it was also his last.  He’d never have believed it as he left that tear drenched Turin pitch, but that proved to be his last ever game in a World Cup Finals.  Sadly, That was the highlight of Gascoigne’s England career. He never seemed to fully recover from The self inflicted injury he recklessly acquired in the 1991 FA Cup Final.  In Euro 96 we saw some flashes of brilliance and in assorted qualifiers we got some difference making moments but we hardly ever saw the happy excited Gazza that used to illuminate football grounds with a flick of a  Geordie boot.

In the build up to the 1998 tournament Gascoigne was clearly unfit. Glenn Hoddle made huge headlines by omitting him from the squad.  But what initially seemed a controversial decision turned out not to be controversial at all.  More just an obvious management decision that simply had to be confirmed.  Gascoigne’s lack of fitness and drinking had become a serious problem, and being  photographed buying a kebab didn’t help.  In his autobiography Paul Gascoigne described his own violent reaction to the news and that his mindset at the time in itself was enough to justify the decision.  He was clearly unhinged and being at close quarters with the squad for a month could have led to all sorts of problems.  And him being too unfit to play effectively meant it just wasn’t worth the risk.  Paul Gascoigne’s life had been unravelling for several years and in Hoddles room at La Manga his England career finally reached a sad undignified end.

Since he finished playing Paul Gascoigne’s numerous problems have been well documented.  He’s rarely far from the headlines and I,like many others, fear the worst when I see his name in a newspaper headline.  As Terry Venables has said “Only Gazza can save Gazza.”

So much has surrounded him but as we acknowledge  the 20th anniversary of that epic night in Turin, and a turning point for English football, I prefer to think of the great Matt Busby’s words when talking about George Best……  “We had our problems with the wee feller, but I prefer to remember his genius” And when I think of Paul Gascoigne I like to think of the Geordie who charmed Anfield and ran Cameroon ragged and scored that free kick in the FA cup semi final. 

20 years.

Germany are better at football than Argentina

July 4th, 2010 No comments

“Football is a game you play with your brain”
Johan Cruyff

At the end Diego Maradona’s Argentina cut sad figures.  The victims of a Germany performance which combined discipline and strategy, with style ruthlessness and panache that, quite frankly, had world champions written all over it.  They outnumbered and overpowered Argentina.  Schweinsteiger carried the Germans forward with pace and skill and the incisive precision  of their overall play proved as victorious as it was thrilling to watch. While watching I couldn’t help wondering how much difference  a holding midfielder with the guile of Cambiasso would have made.  Argentina moved forward and tried to impose their skill on the game with varying degrees of success, but rarely looked likely to break down the German power.  And when you consider the pandemonium surrounding the future writers… Ronaldo, Rooney, Messi and Robinho, bear in mind that with the minimum of fuss, Miroslav Klose got his 100th cap and 52nd goal for his national team and has now scored more World Cup Finals goals than Pele. They reached yet another semi final as yet again they weren’t widely fancied at the start of the competition.  This may not be their time, perhaps 2012 will see them lifting a trophy BUT remember this Germany team is so young they could play at this level for another two World Cups.  Their time will surely come. 

So Spain in the semis.  Thursday morning will be the biggest football match in Spanish history. The habitual stage fright that has dogged them for so long has been well and truly shed.  They didn’t play with the swagger they are capable of showing but a wins a win.  They responded well to the exhausting passage of play when the penalties were taken and resilience saw them through.  To demonstrate that in a successful campaign everyone plays a part Casillas late double save was as much a part of their victory as Villa’s goal.  That save denied Paraguay a draw they would have deserved.  In the end Paraguay’s lack of creativity proved costly but overall they can reflect on a splendid tournament.  They have earned the acclaim they will receive on arriving home.  Spain close in on what could prove to be a titanic struggle with Germany. If Spain are at their best Germany won’t be able to get the ball off them.   But Germany’s strategic brilliance is a match for anyone.  Another war of attrition and a game for thinkers.  But the German knowledge that their penalty shootout technique and experience is far greater surely gives them an edge.  Knowing that if you are taken to the absolute end you have an ability superior to that of your opponents must provide a psychological advantage. 

The noticable thing about both South American powerhouses is the first time they faced serious pressure they crumbled completely.  Neither side had a plan B.  Particularly strange that Brazil with Dunga’s studious organisational approach were totally undone when facing a side with the armory to attack them. 
So despite the excitement of all the South American sides reaching the knockout stage we reach the final four with one remaining.  Pleasing to see a nation like Uruguay, who are as football mad as anywhere in the region, achieve something special.  Often there is an outsider in the semis and this time it’s Uruguay but they have earned the right to be there.  As for the aftermath of the Suarez red card, well, cheats didn’t prosper…he was red carded and a penalty awarded.  Some have even suggested a goal should have been awarded.  How can a goal be awarded if the ball hasn’t gone into the goal? If Gyan had scored the penalty it would have all been forgotten.   Although, like I said in my previous post, I still think he could have headed it away!!


Offers on Rory Delap Longthrow Merchandise

Brazilian agony Gyan’s pain Orange ecstasy Agreu’s swagger

July 3rd, 2010 No comments

As  Holland were about to take that corner I was reminiscing about the many virtues of a good near post corner.  Particularly I had in mind the Stoke City 82/83 Big Bren flick on phenomonon!   Then hey presto the Dutch read my mind and bagged the winner.  What happened to Brazil at half time?  The first half consisted of Brazil keeping the ball well and Holland struggling with Brazil’s kaleidoscopic movement.  In the second half Holland increased the pace of their game but it shouldn’t have been too much for the Brazilians to handle.  The clumsy defending for the equaliser shook them and the collapse was well underway.  Being undone by something as simple as a corner won’t please Dunga at all.  Melo’s
daft stamp on Robben was the final significant act of Dunga’s reign.  They never looked like  remotely like equalising.   The plethora of self inflicted wounds bringing the curtain down on their campaign.   Two World cups in a row Brazil have been eliminated in the quarter finals which is a poor showing for a team of their immense stature.  2014 they will surely emerge victorious in their own back yard when they can finally lay the ghost of 1950 to rest.

I watched in the pub and Brazil might be the Man Utd of world football.  For all the Brazil shirts on display there weren’t actually many Brazilian people.  On the stroke of kick off I turned to wish a ‘Brazil fan’ good luck and he replied with a broad cockney accent.  All the more bewildering that the cockney Brazilian seemed baffled to hear some of the Brazil shirt wearers actually talking Portugese!!   The Albert Square soundalike looked on suspiciously.  How can they support Brazil when they are Brazilian?   It just ain’t right guvnor!

The real question about the Uruguay v Ghana game is the red card.  No question the ref was 100% correct to send him off but why did he handle it when it would have been just as easy for him to head it??!  It was going straight for his bonce. Gyan missing the penalty was one of the most pivotal moments of the tournament. In one fleeting moment the dream of an entire continent dissolved.  Gyan will be haunted by that moment forever, although the point has to be made that to step up minutes later and score one in the shootout took admirable character.  Agreu’s clinching penalty was the epitome of grace under pressure.    
Clicking about on the interweb I just found this article.

There were times when the notion that a host city would want England in town was unthinkable.  The transformation is pleasing.  Instead of places cowering at the prospect of an England visit the three lions are embraced. Instead of skinheads with NF tattoos there are family holidays from Carlisle.  Of course there will be some English people who would prefer to see fear in the eyes of locals, but then again, some people still think the earth is flat.  It’s just a pity the team let us down so pitifully.

Paraguayan pride and pundits

July 1st, 2010 No comments

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.