Tag Archives: Group D

South Africa 2010 round up so far and what’s still to come..


With just the final round of group games remaining there are only 90 minutes of World Cup 2010 left for half the teams. Lets take a look forward to the remaining games and reflect back on what’s happened thus far.

Anelka & Domenech -the men at the center of the French controversy

In Group A it would appear that both Uruguay and Mexico have all but secured their spot in the final 16  and a draw between the two of them tonight would see them both go through. However a draw for Mexico would see them finish 2nd in the group meaning a show down against Argentina in the next round – obviously not ideal, so it makes for an interesting final game and gives a glimmer of hope to both the rainbow nation and a largely underwhelming French side. For South Africa, it appears they will be the first host nation to fail to emerge from the group stages and for the French it would be a travesty if they actually scrape through. They have been beyond disappointing thus far and clearly their much publicised internal problems are effecting the performances on the pitch – there must be plenty of Irish fans around the world who cant help but smile – fair play I say!

The Webmaster suggests Mexico will have the goods tonight in a narrow win which will see them top group. Hopefully the narrow defeat will still leave Uruguay in 2nd spot leaving them the unfortunate task of facing Argentina. South Africa and France to draw sending the French team to their holiday destinations, where they clearly want to be, and leaving the South Africans to join the rest of the country in the stands; blasting on Vuvuzelas.

Maradona's faith pays off - Higauin hits a hat-trick against South Korea

Moving on to Group B Argentina are sitting pretty at the top of the group and as long as they avoid defeat tomorrow they will go through in first place. Two pretty solid performances so far see them on 6 points and gives them an opportunity to give some of the remainder of the squad a run out tonight. The Greeks face the tough task of needing at least a point from the game against Maradona’s men to stay alive. When you combine their inability to score with the class of the Argentinian outfit their chances look slim. It is also likely that South Korea will handle any fight from Nigeria and go on to win their final game.

The webmaster predicts Argentina will make light work of the Greek side, recording another win and topping the group on 9 pts leaving them to meet Uruguay in the next round. Whilst Korea’s victory will see them finish in second place and through to the final 16 to face off against Mexico.

Capello brings squad together - time to perform!

Group C appeared to be the easiest group of the lot and the fact the likes of England and the USA have struggled highlights the disappointing nature of the tournament so far. Admittedly USA were robbed of a victory against Slovenia, with an outrageous ruling out of a late winner – the ref had almost blown the whistle before the free-kick was taken. Unfortunately unlike the webmasters’ predictions, England have reinforced their status of chokers with two disappointing performances against USA and Algeria. Despite the poor performance so far, a victory against Slovenia will see them sneak through, so all hope is not lost. There also appears to be a rift in the English camp, a claim that the players have denied, but there is no doubt the pressure has mounted on Capello and his men and they certainly need to turn it around against Slovenia.

The webmaster suggests that both England and USA will pull of a victory in their final game leaving USA in 1st place ahead of England on goal difference – meaning England will face the tough task of Germany in the next round.

Have we seen Harry for the last time?

Mathematically anyone in Group D can still make it through, making for a very interesting last round in the group. Germany started off so well with a convincing victory over Australia but were then shocked in the second game by a determined Serbian side who managed to pull off a very unlikely victory, especially after a poor performance against Ghana. Australia have been on the receiving end of two arguably harsh red cards that has put a massive dent in their world cup campaign. After a disappointing effort in the first game they came out against Ghana with a bang. Everything started so positively and grabbing an early goal put us right back in the mix, but Kewell’s red card and the resulting penalty really put us under the pump. In all fairness Australia still deserved to win the game and really did a fantastic job with only 10 men for such a long period – if only Wilkshire actually tried to score instead of passing to the keeper, things could have been very different. Personally the webmaster felt Ghana were very disappointing – surely they had to try and go for the win against a 10 man Aussie team especially knowing a win would have secured their spot. They now face the task of coming up against Germany in the last game.

Based on the performance against Australia, the webmaster sees Germany recapturing the form they showed in the first game and brushing aside Ghana with ease. This will leave qualification open for Australia to pip both Ghana and Serbia at the line. The webmaster cannot decide between a draw or Australian win, but either way it will then come down to goal difference for the team in 2nd and 3rd.

Sneijder Celebrates after scoring against Japan

Moving on to Group E: we see the Netherlands who are one of only two teams that have already booked their spot in the  final 16 – along with Brazil. The dutch have had two solid performances but have definitely not hit full tilt just yet and will be banking on the return of Arjen Robben to spark some more life into the side come the knock-out stages, if not against Cameroon. Japan and Denmark face off in their last group game which could prove to be an exciting one with the winner going through. A draw would send Japan through most likely in second spot as long as Holland can secure at least a point against a Cameroon side that hasn’t really turned up.  Cameroon are already knocked out of the tournament after two lacklustre performances against Denmark and Japan and are just playing for pride against the Netherlands in the last game.

In the view of the webmaster Netherlands will progress in first place after another victory over Samuel Eto’s Cameroon, setting up a likely round of 16 battle with defending world champions Italy. Japan should be able to at least draw their game against Denmark which will see them against Paraguay in the next round.

Something tells me we wont see this again - thank god!

In Group F we have seen Paraguay almost sew up their spot in the final 16 with impressive performances against Italy and Slovakia. In their final game they are coming up against a resilient New Zealand  team who are determined not to lose, however as long as they avoid defeat they will go through in first place. Captain Ryan Nelsen has proved a colossal force at the back for the All Whites making them very tough to break down. Incredibly, if New Zealand could pull off another draw as well as Italy drawing with Slovakia with the exact same result the decision of who goes through will come down to a drawing of lots!!! This is because New Zealand and Italy will be tied on points, goal difference, goals for, goals against and the result between them was a draw – ridiculous but here’s hoping!  Alternatively if New Zealand win they will go through anyway. The current world champions, Italy, have been a massive let down so far in a world cup which has highlighted below par performances from some big teams. They have been highly unconvincing but will still get through with a victory over Slovakia in their final game. For Slovakia their is a glimmer of hope, should they beat Italy they will progress alongside Paraguay.

Whilst the webmaster would love to see 0-0 draws in both games so we can draw lots to see which of New Zeland and Italy will go through (you know you want to see that!), it appears unlikely and if it happens both games would be rather boring. Rather the webmaster suggests Paraguay will beat New Zealand and Italy will beat Slovakia sending Paraguay to meet Japan in the next round and Italy to face off against Holland.

Portugal celebrate one of their seven goals

Moving on to Group G, where we have Brazil who have already qualified for the round of 16 but could lose out on first place if they lose to Portugal in the final game. Brazil overcame a very determined North Korean outfit in their first game before a more convincing display against Ivory Coast in the second game. They will however be without Kaka in the game against Portugal after a sending off on the back of a ludicrous second yellow late in the game against Ivory Coast. Whilst Kaka has been largely disappointing thus far, his presence will still be missed. Portugal on the other hand started quite poorly against Ivory Coast, where they barely posed an attacking threat, but lifted to another level last night as they humbled North Korea in an embarrassing 7-0 victory. They were simply electric once they got going last night in a performance that has seen them almost guarantee a spot in the next round. Even if they lose to Brazil in the final round it would take a huge win for Ivory Coast over North Korea to swing the goal difference back in their favour. Ivory Coast had started so well against Portugal and in the view of the webmaster were unlucky to not come away with 3 pts from the game. A disappointing result against Brazil coupled with Portugal’s massive win last night has virtually put an end to The Elephants’ campaign. North Korea are already knocked out of the world cup  and will be determined to show their worth against Ivory Coast in their final game.

The webmaster feels the Portugal/Brazil game could be too close to call and could possibly end in a draw which would suit Portugal as I’m not convinced either will want to win, with the reward for coming first, a showdown with pre-trounament favourites, Spain, in the next round. Ivory Coast should have the goods and defeat North Korea but will still bow out due to goal difference.

Gelson Fernandes celebrates a shock winner against Spain

Finally, Group H is left in quite an interesting position. Chile currently sit top of the group with 6 pts, but are still a chance to miss out on the knockouts. They come up against Spain in the final game where a single point would confirm top spot for the Chileans. For Spain it is virtually a must win game as if they fail to win and Switzerland can secure victory over Honduras, the pre-tournament favourites will be on their way home. In what has been the upset of the tournament, Spain managed to lose their first game against Switzerland. They dominated possession but just could not manage to put the ball in the net. A comfortable 2-0 victory last night over Honduras has put them back on track, but Chile pose much more of a threat and Spain will need to step it up quite significantly to secure 3 pts. For Switzerland last nights result was a disappointing one however a victory over Honduras by 2 goals or more should send them through irrespective of the result in the other game. Mathematically Honduras could still go through in 2nd spot should Chile beat Spain and Honduras pull off a big victory over Switzerland, although it appears unlikely.

The webmaster suggests that Spain will overcome Chile in the final game and that Switzerland should also beat Honduras in their final game which will leave Spain, Chile and Switzerland all tied on 6 pts. This will then come down to goal difference to work out who finishes 1st and 2nd. If both Switzerland and Spain win by 1 goal that would see Spain top the group on a better goal difference with Chile and Switzerland tied on goal difference, goals for and goals against and Chile would go through due to their result between each other (1-0 to Chile last night). Leaving Spain to face Portugal and Chile to face Brazil in the next round – PS I might have got this wrong.. feel free to let me know if I have!

So despite some uninspiring games so far we are getting towards the business end of the competition and hopefully that will bring about a more attacking brand of the beautiful game, more like what we got to see last night from Portugal. The webmaster just has three requests for the remainder of the world cup:

  1. the ref’s stop being so trigger happy or rather whistle happy – we have seen far too many yellow cards, some resulting in red cards for really poor decisions
  2. no more diving – I’m so sick of seeing these prima donna’s diving around for absolute rubbish, its plain embarrassing and brings a lack of class to the game we love so much – the webmaster would love to see a straight red card be given for diving, if we impose that for a few matches diving will never be seen again!
  3. no more complaining about the damn ball – it’s a ball, it’s round –> KICK IT! preferably into the goals..  if you’re a keeper –> CATCH IT OR STOP IT! quite simple.

Laughable..

Webmaster over and out.

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Australia not particularly amUSing…


If you missed the action, then have a squiz – our write up of the final Socceroo hit out before their campaign begins in earnest against Germany.

After 120 minutes of watching the bare, dead grass hill at the training facility in Johannesburg, we’re just about exploding with anticipation and exuberance for next Sunday night. Against the Yanks, Australia faced a stern test. As previously noted on FFTD, American are decidedly similar to the Aussies in their style and set up. So, it was pleasing to see the Socceroos dominate possession for long periods. Lucas Neill and his mates were solid, if unspectacular, and seem to be improving slightly with each outing. After a dull opening 20 minutes, the game came to life, with fluent attacking moves by both sides. It wasn’t the usual style for Australia – boring definitely not a valid tag this time round. Expansive would be more apt.

But after just about every optimist in the football world, including yours truly, waxed lyrical that Verbeek’s results only business is perfectly acceptable, the Aussie’s first loss in 9 months, isn’t an ideal preparation for the World Cup finals.

Ratings

Pim Verbeek – 8

It looks as if Verbeek has settle on his preferred starting eleven. His back 4 may as well be carved into Table Mountain, but they’re still a few question marks over fitness of key players and their likely replacements. In the past, Pim has been wary of throwing players straight into the side following lengthy lay offs, and ordinarily automatic selections, Kewell and Emerton, must be pushing hard to make the gaffer buck this trend. Garcia is apparently the most likely replacement for Emerton, with the other possibility apparently being to move Culina right and forward, and give the impressive Valeri a spot next to Grella in front of the back 4.

Enough with the speculation…

It’s difficult to judge tactics based on friendlies, but trailing at half time afforded the world a chance to see the Socceroos reaction. In the 2nd period, the green and gold looked lively going forward and there was a noticeable shift in emphasis towards attack. No more dull piggy in the middle featuring Moore, Neill and the opposition’s front man. Rather, Rukavytsa added a cap to his tally and Chipperfield, most particularly, was given free reign to play further forward. For the last 30 minutes, the Aussies played with two strikers up front (which looked promising) and a back 3. Chipperfield popped up in the attacking box regularly and demanded a fine save from Hanneman to deny him a meat pie. Pim showed that Australia have a plan B. Plan A is clearly a possession game, with plenty of crosses from overlapping wing backs, and a high defensive line that compacts the players into almost half the pitch. This almost eliminates the midfield from the game, which is certainly Australia’s weak point.

The best quality that Verbeek possesses is, undoubtedly, his ability with the media. Always a willing participant, he seems to have years for the press. He’s never one to cut an interview short, or shy away from the tough questions. He gives honest and fair answers. He’s not one to shy away from a little controversy, having already opened fire on everyone from Gordon Strachan to the training pitch. It’s so refreshing to see a polite Dutch man being interviewed on channel 513, especially when compared to the AFL and NRL roughians who are almost illiterate. Verbeek seems to understand that the media need a story, and often it’s better to give them something to work with, then have them chasing players for scraps.

Mark Schwarzer – 7

Not Schwarzer’s best outing, but kept his side in the match on more than one occasion. HIs reflex save early in the 2nd half was vintage Schwarzer, and his fingertip save to deny teammate Dempsey ensured he retains the bragging rights until next time. The shot stopper is denied a better number, as in PTS’ opinion he should have done better in handling the opening goal, which on replays didn’t hit the top corner, but was closer to the centre.

Luke Wilkshere – 7

Wilkshere wasn’t as dominant as he was against the Danes, but his crosses are still world class. It’s difficult to point the finger at one defender for conceding the most goals in a match in forever.

Lucas Neill – 6

Neill was undone by the relatively unknown forward pairing for the Yanks. He was beaten for pace on more than one occasion and seems to shout at the referees or his assistants more than himself. Neill’s characteristic marauding runs into the attacking half weren’t evident either. It seems that Neill will be a fulcrum for the Socceroos – he was often the one to snap and play the long ball from his own half. Got plenty of practice passing to Craig Moore too.

Craig Moore – 5

Moore is still unconvincing, and it’s difficult to judge his credentials against the likely candidates as no one else gets the slightest whiff. I personally don’t mind this – it fills the lad with confidence and gives him plenty of time to build a partnership with Lucas. Moore looks slow and poor on the ball. The injury to Kisnorbo all that time ago could prove costly in the long run.

Scott Chipperfield – 8

In the first half, Chipperfield looked more Monash division 7, than outstanding World Cup prospect as he was labelled by PTS. But as the match developed, Scotty provided plenty of quality service and a genuine attacking threat on the left flank. Simon Hill and Andy Harper confirmed the sugar man’s assertions that Chipperfield is a handy striking option, and it could be a handy option if the Socceroos fall a goal or two behind. Chipperfield gives the Aussies a classy left back, who will be a key man over the coming weeks.

Vince Grella – 4

Oh Vincenzo. Grella just about couldn’t have done anything more to risk his starting position in the side. His crucial error led to the opening goal. He gave away cheap possession consistently and another game saw yet another cynical challenge from the Blackburn contracted midfielder. Grella is always looking for the easy option; playing the ball sideways and backwards seem to be the 1st choice every time. No matter if the counter is on… just stand on the ball and look for Neill or Moore behind him. This lack of confidence is becoming a worrying feature of the Socceroo’s play, and Grella is the number 1 culprit. He looks to have a heavy touch, and lacks a yard of pace – if he fails against Germany, Valeri will could be a starter.

Jason Culina – 5

Was dragged on the hour mark after a largely anonymous display. Doesn’t offer the same robust defending as Grella and doesn’t have the pinpoint range of Valeri, so could find his position under fire if Kewell and Emerton are fit. Once again he was pushed wide and further afield by his manager, but was soon replaced by Vidosic. Despite PTS’ doubts, Culina showed he still has the “long range strike” arrow to his bow. Uninspiring.

Mark Bresciano – 7

Bresciano lifted markedly with his all round effort, if at times his execution was lacking. The baldy came under fire by yourcorrespondent2010 after their showdown with Denmark, but hit back with a big effort. He was constantly harrying the opposition, and the only player consistently “closing the space”. He offered enough pushing forward with some decent service and runs off the ball. He popped up in the box in the second half and blasted straight at the keeper.

Richard Garcia – 5

Another disappointing display from the Hull boy, who presents so much to the judging table, but seems to lack any real taste or finesse. Unfortunately, he is another player described as anonymous at best. David Beckham was present in the stands to witness Garcia amass a grand total of 7 touches. He did little to enhance his starting chances and will hopefully make way for a fit and rearing Brett Emerton.

Tim Cahill – 7

Cahill was quiet during his limited game time and didn’t return after the break; apparently nursing a worrying neck complaint. In typical Cahill fashion, he produced a smashing finish to keep Australia within striking distance. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to find enough of the ball in the Australian set up and hasn’t passed to Kennedy once yet. Worrying indeed.

Josh Kennedy – 6

Kennedy is still a legitimate concern. He causes his fair share of problems for the opposition, but hasn’t scored for a steadily growing period. He missed at least one guilt edged chance last night with his noggin and another big chance at his feet. Clinical is unfortunately not the word. To be honest, Kennedy looks lazy, disinterested and out of depth. Constantly with back to goal, and giving away possession on countless occasions, when the bean pole isn’t ruthless with his head, it is difficult to justify his spot in the team. A returning Kewell has started the inevitable grumblings from supporters to start Australia’s golden boy at the top of the formation. By contrast, Harry seems to attract the ball and action at all times, and is always genuinely exerting himself for the cause. The talismanic figure has been sorely missed, and his impact on the side has been underestimated by many. Personally, I’d still give Kennedy the starting spot, and play Kewell as a genuine number 10 from the bench after we trail by a goal at half time against the Germans. (3 – 1 is the tip… same as last time against Japan… Cahill twice, same as last time…)

Off the bench, Valieri pushed his claim for a starting berth, fulfilling the pivot role with consummate ease. One particularly accurate diagonal ball caught the affection of Simon Hill, but his efficiency has long impressed FFTD. Robust in the middle of the field, he is doing his chances no harm. Vidosic had limited chances, but still embarked on at least one of his characteristically long winded runs. Rukavysta was afforded minimal time on the pitch, but had one shot on target and could be a valuable asset when goals are at a premium.

Final Verdict

In attack Australia showed plenty of the “attacking fluidity” Pim Verbeek would have been searching for. The Socceroos were patient in their build up (often painstakingly so) and dangerous every time the ball was swung towards Jesus up front. It is particularly  heartening to report, with conviction, that the Socceroos always seem a chance to score when the cross comes in. (Particularly true from the right sided Wilkshire) The other dominant positive was the fitness that seemed to shine once more. At the back end of both halves the boys looked the stronger – true of their last 2 outings as well. At altitude this could be an enormous factor. There were plenty of negatives however. Against a quality opposition forward line, the Aussies leaked plenty of chances. Despite the American’s star striker “Altidore” looking decidedly bored on the sideline, replacements Buddle and Findley caused plenty of problems. They beat the offside trap, scored off a cross and found the backline achingly slow. With comparison to the US, Australia looked lethargic and disjointed up front for the first 70 minutes. Under Hiddink a prominent feature was a defence that started from the strikers. Supremely fit, the Aussies afforded their opposition minimal time on the ball over the 90 minutes. I kinda miss Guus shouting for his players to pressure, pressure, pressure.

Overall, a high-quality match that was played at roughly a 87% intensity. With a final week to prepare, the Aussies will look to apply the finishing touches to a developing machine. England here we come…

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World Cup Preview – Group D – Serbia


THE BASICS

• Nickname: Beli Orlovi (White Eagles)
• Colors: Red, white and blue
• FIFA Ranking: 16
• How They Got Here: Qualified first in a European group featuring France, Romania and Austria.
• World Cup Pedigree: 1st World Cup as just Serbia; 1 World Cup (’06) as Serbia & Montenegro; 8 World Cups (’30, ’50, ’54, ’58, ’62, ’74, ’82, ’90) as part of Yugoslavia.

THE PLOT

Will a team, playing for itself and by itself for the first time in its history, recapture the national pride it lost in their last World Cup? And can a solid performance on the world’s biggest stage help Serbia recover from a past marred by violence and ultra-nationalism? Serbia are a highly fancied side by many experts. Ranked 16th in the world, if the Serbians can get out of their tough group, then they could knock off some bigger name sides. Well organised, well coached, and with arguably the best defence in the World Cup, they were touted as ’06 dark horses when coupled with Montenegro, but failed dismally on that occasion. Can they put all that past them?

*Many people smarter than I have argued that soccer and the national psyche are intertwined. In Serbia, violence and horror is part of their past. Austrian poet Peter Handke described Serbia as “Europe’s most forlorn country.” It was the first nation put on trial for genocide after the war in the ’90s and it has a deep underlying ultra-nationalist rage that destroyed much of the country’s soccer infrastructure. Hooliganism and nationalism have historically gone hand-in-hand in Serbia and this video doesn’t do much to dispel such an argument:

THE DIRECTOR

Radomir Antic

Antic is the only man to coach Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid (the big 3 in Spain – historically). Antic has previously employed attractive brands of football across the Spanish clubs, and is an expert at uncovering talent and helping them to prosper. The 62 year old is a veteran of the world game and is well regarded in many circles.

LEADING MAN

Nemanja Vidic

Is it a good sign that the team’s best player is a central defender? Well, for most teams no, but Serbia’s balance of players pushes them towards a defensive style, and this makes the Man United centre half at the centre of all the action. Vidic in 2009 was one of the best players across Europe. It’s a big statement to challenge for EPL player of the year as a defender. But 2010 has seen a drop in form that is so often associated with big name players after a stellar season – 2nd year syndrome. Nevertheless, a Vidic poor performance is still a good performance for the majority of defenders.

SUPPORTING CAST

Dejan Stankovic (midfielder, Internazionale) is another Inter player that looks to have finally earned his stripes in 2010 as a world class midfielder. He’s a big reason why Serbia’s defence is so formidable. Don’t expect him to venture into the attacking half too far, but he is known for the occasional speculative effort (see goals of the year) Milos Krasic (midfielder, CSKA Moscow) bucks the trend and is probably the Serbian’s biggest threat going forward. He’s a wide player who hit the bakc of the net 13 times in Russia this year – could he be the next Arshavin? (I have no idea, you tell me…) Vladimir Stojkovic (goalkeeper, Wigan) Yet another team that has quality across the pitch with a considerably below par shot stopper. Stojkovic is the 3rd choice at Wigan, who aren’t the flashiest of sides to say the least. Branislav Ivanovic (defender, Chelsea) was a controversial choice to make the official EPL team of the season, but the Chelsea utility is undoubtedly a fine defender. He offers a lot going forward too, and will have a handy combination with Krasic. It will be interesting to see how he fares without his Chelsea friends around him and against some high quality attack (if they make it that far), as Ivanovic isn’t every critics favourite player.

GET YOURSELF LABELLED AS “THE HOTTEST PROPERTY”

Neven Subotic

Subotic is the next vidic. He has the menacing look, he has the build and he has the record to make a big money move to top tier club. He’s only 21 and has already splashed the water in the USA after switching from their U20 set up to Serbia last year. Plying his trade with Borussia Dortmund, everyone in the know says he’ll be the next in a long line of Eastern European defenders to get his name in lights.

THE VILLIAN

Stojkovic

You can just picture it can’t you?

THE FORMATION

Antic the traditional will start with a 4-4-2. A flat back four will sit deep and look to ensure their keeper doesn’t have to anything but stand and look pretty. Goals will come, but not in bucketloads, so it will be interesting to see a plan B if they concede early against a side like Australia, who have a strong defensive set up themselves (am I dreaming?)

THE STRIP

IT’S SORTA LIKE…

“Nightmare on Elm Street”

Rising from the ashes of a horrible event (Freddie getting burned alive, Serbia failing to win a game in ’06), a frightening (it’s not just their imposing-looking players, Serbia had 10 yellow cards and 1 red in ’06) menace is unleashed on the world.

THE ADVERTISMENT

USELESS TRIVIA

Back at home they have 36697 farm tractors per million Serbs – but who’s counting? Useless!

FINAL VERDICT

Back in 2010 on their lonesome and once again picked by many as their dark horse. Last time round they exited in a complete shambles, but look to have rebuilt a strong and robust squad that will challenge every team they face in South Africa. The game with the Aussies will challenge broadcaster’s ability to display more than one red card on the mini-scoreboard on the top left of our plasmas, and in truth discipline could cost them in the long run. 10 yellow cards and 1 red in ’06 saw them missing valuable players for some games, and similar mistakes this time could see them fail once again. The sides attack isn’t terrible, they’re just inexperienced and youthful, but they’ll be able to supply enough goals in PTS’ opinion. Maybe 2014 will be there year, however, as their defenders will still be around and their attackers will have grown up a little. (How many teams have I said that about already… and why is it that Brazil always seems to have the best squad!?!) Can the Brazil of the Balkans break into world football elite? Well, PTS fancies their chances and is predicting them to upset the form guide and finish top of the group. They’re probably a bigger chance to beat the Germans than the super fit Ghanians or Australians. While that sounds funny, it’s true.

No. 1 defensive set up in the land + top class coach + relatively easy draw beyond the group stages – everyone knows who they are now – everyone knows what they’ll do on the pitch – everyone knows they will struggle for goals = Everyone knows they’ll get out of the group and fall at the next hurdle against the English.

THE FAIRYTALE SCRIPT

Qualifying with three nil all draws (yes it’s possible) would be a good laugh. Winning the entire thing without scoring a goal (other than penalty shoot-outs) would be downright hysterical. Truly in a fairytale world.

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World Cup Preview – Group D – Ghana


Another group D side struggling without their main man in the middle…

THE BASICS
• Nickname: The Black Stars
• Colors: White, Black, Gold
• FIFA Ranking: 32
• How They Got Here: Won their African qualifying group, beating out Benin, Mali and Sudan
• World Cup Pedigree: Only their second Cup, they made it to the knock-out phase in 2006

THE PLOT

African sides just seem to run out of luck on the biggest stage. Two world cups in a row, their best sides (Ghana and Ivory Coast) have faced unenviable groups. The competition is begging for a stand out performance by an African side. The football mad continent supplies some of the world’s best talents to the biggest clubs in Europe and it’s only a matter of time before this is reflected on the international scene. But maybe not this year… Arguably the best side in Africa, Ghana exceeded all expectations in ’06 by progressing out of Group D (ironic) that featured Italy, the Czechs and the USA. A remarkably similar group awaits this time – Italy and Germany are veritable superpowers, the US and Australia have countless similarites (physicality, mediocrity, growing domestic leagues, defensive style) and the Czechs are an Eastern European dark house much like the Serbians. This one major difference, however, and that is the absence of the heart beat of the team, if not nation, Michael Essien. Probably the 4th best side in the group, can they surprise the competition once again?

THE DIRECTOR

Milovan Rajevac

In 2008, Rajevac was plucked from obscurity and thrusted into the intense role. Responsible to millions of Ghanians for whom football is more religion than game, Rajevac was an unusual selection, to say the least. With experience limited to domestic Serbian sides, Rajevac decided to give his resume a more global feel with the African gig. At first, much maligned, but at present respected for his results. The gaffer has disproved his critics time and again, most particularly with a final appearance in the African Nations Cups, despite severe injury problems. Many Africans still wish he’d play a more expansive attacking style, but his sharp tactics have made Ghana a well organised team that is difficult to beat.

LEADING MAN

Michael Essien

Yesterday, we spoke about the influence of Michael Ballack to Germany, but Essien’s absence takes the matter to a whole new level. He’s the key man for the side, wether he’s in the side or without. Rest assured, the commentators will mention his name just as much as his replacement. Essien and Muntari anchoring the midfield are more than just vital for the side. If you’ve ever see them play, then you’ll know what I’m on about. They are simply all over the pitch. Serious attacking threats going forward (just by the way, I’m sick of Chelsea fans screaming shoot whenever he’s in the attacking half) and outstanding possession winners, these two can smother opposition’s midfield and dominate entire matches if not tournaments. Essien IS the archetypal box-to-box midfielder. Without Essien, the side will struggle for fluidity in their play and won’t have the same ease of transition from defence to attack. You always want the best players in the world at the greatest show on earth, and it’s a real shame that Essien won’t feature. Hopes of a lengthy cup run for the side must be seriously tenuous now.

SUPPORTING CAST

Sulley Muntari (midfielder, Inter Milan) has an up and down 2010 and rumours have recently circled about a falling out with Rajevac. His partnership with Essien is truly world class and Muntari will have to be at his best to make up for the missing Chelsea starlet. Muntari is an outstanding battler, who is a proven ball winner and goal poacher. He’s scored 15 times for his country and loves to strike on the important occasions. Stephen Appiah (midfielder, Bologna) is the third part of The Black Stars’ three-headed midfield monster. Another solid player, who gives them bucket loads of leadership. John Mensah (defender, on loan to Sunderland from Lyon) is a top-notch defender, who has shown his worth throughout Sunderland’s indifferent EPL campaign. We spoke about him in a past post, as he has been struggling with injuries of late. If he’s not in the side, then you can write them off completely.  John Pantsil (right back, Fulham) is an attack-minded fullback who once incited a near riot by waving an Israeli flag (he played there for several years) during a goal celebration for country. No Moshe, he’s not Jewish. Asamoah Gyan (forward, Rennes) is the main man going forward. Despite on paper looking a little lacking up front, the Africans never seem to struggle for goals.

GET YOURSELF LABELLED AS “THE HOTTEST PROPERTY”

Dominic Adiyiah

Ghana have an exciting future, after taking out the 2009 under 20 world cup. Adiyiah looks to be the pick of that bunch and the AC Milan striker is on the fringes of starting. PTS would love to see him granted enough game time to shw the world his worth. With these kind of footballers, Ghana could become a regular attendee at the World Cup.

THE LIKELY VILLAIN

It’s gotta be Essien. What are you doing son?

FORMATION

I wonder if Rajevac will stick to his favoured  4-4-2 despite the injury worries. Ghana are another group D side, who are physical and big and focus on possession/pressure football. Unfortunately for them, the Aussies, Serbians and Germans probably have the edge in that department. Nevertheless, they are typically fit, and will cope with the rigorous schedule.

THE STRIP

IT’S SORTA LIKE…

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

This may seem a little crude, but the movie lacked its biggest name in Ledger, and Ghana will be lacking theirs too.

THE ADVERTISMENT

USELESS TRIVIA

At over 90 percent, Ghana leads the world in the percentage of women aged 50 to 54 in economic activity. Useless!

THE FAIRYTALE SCRIPT

There are two competing story arcs in the Ghana-Germany game on June 23rd. Both involve Kevin-Prince Boateng. First, he was born in Germany to Ghanian immigrants. Secondly, it was his tackle in Saturday’s FA Cup Final that put German captain Michael Ballack on the bench for the whole Cup. And, while both of those are interesting, nothing can top the fact that if Kevin-Prince and his brother, Jerome (who opted to play for Germany) make the World Cup roster and see the field it will be the first time two brothers have competed against each other in a World Cup. (A five-minute Google search verified this.) How’s that for dramatic? ps. it’s a shame that Ballack won’t face off against Essien in what would have been a titanic struggle.

FINAL VERDICT

Anything passed the group would surely be a success for the Black Stars. But, if they get that far, then expect them to cause a few upsets (think England on penalties). It’ll only take one surprise win to have every African storming the stadium in euphoric riot. Even without Essien they are still strong, creative and physical. Without Essien, they’ve gone from being genuine dark horse to a similar level to the Aussies. However, their defensive frailties have subsided (watch them concede a howler first up…) and their experience in qualifying last time will be invaluable. They’re proven giant killers, but will need a result in their opening against a fancied Serbia. Kingston, their keeper isn’t exactly a world beater and goal scoring could be an issue. 2010 looks to have come a little too soon, as they have 10/31 players under the age of 21.

African spirit + good mix of youth and experience + decent midfield and defence – Essien – Essien – Essien = Can’t see them getting passed Germany or Serbia. Their second game against Australia will be their major battle.


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World Cup Preview – Group D – Germany


What better place to start in the “vice-group of death” then the Germans. These guys are a genuine title chance.

THE BASICS

• Nickname: Die Mannschaft (sounds awesome, just means: The Team)
• Colors: White, Red, Yellow and Black
• FIFA Ranking: 6
• How They Got Here: Qualified without a loss in a European group with Russia, Finland and Wales.
• World Cup Pedigree: 6 World Cups as Germany (’34, ’38, ’94, ’98, ’02, ’06), runners-up once, third place and quarterfinals twice; 10 World Cups as West Germany (’54, ’58, ’62, ’66, ’70, ’74, ‘ 78, ’82, ’86, ’90), winners three times (’54, ’74, ’90), qualified for the knockout round every time; 1 World Cup as East Germany (’74), qualified for second round.

THE PLOT

The Germans are always there, or there abouts, at the business end of a major tournament. Whether it’s their consistency, perfection or profound winning culture, the Germans are one of football’s downright superpowers. It’s been a stellar year for German football, with strong showings in the Champions League and the Europa League. The Bundeslega has revolutionised itself. Bayern, in particular has a raft of talented players, while retaining their German essence. The German squad is now entirely based in Germany (thanks to Mr Ballack’s withdrawal) making them only one of two squads (England is the other) to enjoy this feat. That means that all the players will be familiar with the same tactical system – typically German – and also have regular contact with each other. This is one united front, that will be a threat for the title – as always.

THE DIRECTOR

Joachim Low

Low enters the tournament under consistent pressure. Despite leading the side to a final at Euro ’08 and by all reports, being the mastermind behind their third place in ’06, Low is disliked by many. He’s more of a tactician than an inspiration, but his low profile isn’t necessarily a weak point; look at Maradona. (Did you see what he said about the toilets!??!) Germany is the most decorated soccer nation in Europe and with that pedigree comes certain responsibilities. Low knows that a trophy is the bottom line.

LEADING MAN

Miroslav Klose

This spot was reserved last week (when I started this preview) for Chelsea’s midfield boss Michael Ballack. Maybe it’d be more appropriate to leave this section blank? Who will step up into the role? The side is full of players who, for their club sides, often play second fiddle to genuine superstars. The German players at Bayern, such as Klose, are overshadowed by those Dutch and French dudes. In South Africa, the experienced players will have to step into the limelight. Klose fits the bill. He’s done it all before, and already has a double figure goal tally in World Cups. If Klose fires then the Germans will be almost impossible to beat.

SUPPORTING CAST

Bastian Schweinsteiger (midfielder, Bayern Munich) is only 25, but seems to have been around forever. He’ll wear the captain’s armband without Ballack around, despite a poor season in clubland. With injury trouble in “the number 6 role” (It’s a German term for the two holding midfielders that their side always includes) Bastian will have to be the major bread winner and creative muse going forward. Lukas Podolski (forward, FC Koln), is another player who has had a turbulent couple of seasons. The Polish born striker always seems to save his best for the adopted country and will be looking to rekindle the form that had him as the world’s hottest talent once upon a time. PTS is an enormous fan of Philipp Lahm (left back, Bayern Munich) who is consistently overlooked by his colleagues. Don’t worry about Evra, Cole, or anyone else, Lahm is the best in football. In ’06 he was arguably player of the tournament and his wide overlapping runs for Bayern were a dominant feature of the Champions League. He’s like the Duracell bunny (for all you Australian advertising moguls) and just never seems to run out of puff. He can also play either side of the pitch. Lahm could destroy sides like Australia, who don’t offer much going forward, and will allow Lahm to be employed as an extra midfielder more than a defender. Christoph Metzelder (defender, Real Madrid) and Per Mertesacker (defender, Werder Bremen) make up the hard to break down center of defense and are known in Germany as “die bruder schnarch und schleich” (“the sleepy and the slow”). Not sure if that’s really what I’d want to be labelled as, but don’t worry, these guys are good.

GET YOURSELF LABELLED AS “THE HOTTEST PROPERTY”

I couldn’t split two players to be slapped with this tag:

Mesut Ozil

Of all the young players to keep an eye on in the Cup, the 21-year-old naturalized German (he also could have played for Turkey) is the player that will raise his profile the most. He can play just about anywhere on the pitch and was the highlight of Germany’s European championship U-21 team in 2009. He plays for Werder Bremen (for now) in Germany. Apparently, Low loves to rotate his squad, so expect Ozil to get a run against the likes of Ghana.

Sami Khedira

So who is going to fill the boots of Ballack? It’s causing quote a headache at the moment, with fringe player Trasch picking up an injury in a friendly against third division Italians (didn’t know that division even existed), FC Suditirol. Khedira is now an automatic started next to Schweinsteiger in the 4-2-3-1. There’s no back up anymore, however, with the likes of veteran Torstan Frings falling foul of the manager. Khedira will be the weak link of the side and will have to step up in a big way for his country.

THE LIKELY VILLAIN

Jorg Butt

This might be slightly unfair, as it’s not really Borg’s fault that he’s in this position. Obvious first choice ‘keeper, Robert Enke, sadly committed suicide last year after battling depression. Borg is a serviceable netminder for Germany’s best team (Bayern Munich) but he’s not a world-class goalie and is the one weakness the Germans have.

THE FORMATION

Low favors the strong midfield play normally found in a 4-4-2. Though, at times, he’s tried a more defensive 4-2-3-1. The papers are favouring a 4-2-3-1 setup, but the injury concerns in midfield may leave the side a little unbalanced in such a formation. Ballack is a fantastic ball hog and the possession he always attracts will have to be recovered from somewhere. Unlike the majority of other nations in South Africa, Germany are settled up front and at the back, but look to be underdone in the centre of the pitch.

THE STRIP

They will probably wear their very drab white uniform most of the time. But it’s the return of “Ze Black Shirts” that had England up in arms last year. The black shirts might dampen, slightly, the good guy image.

IT’S SORTA LIKE…

“Star Wars: Return of the Jedi”

Once feared (and, often, for good reason) on the old continent, this is a much softer and friendlier German team. Much like Darth Vader at the end of “Jedi,” when he helps atone for his past mistakes by dumping the Emperor over a balcony to his death. This isn’t meant to be a literal analogy, just a theoretical one.

THE ADVERTISMENT

USELESS TRIVIA

Melitta Bentz invented the coffee filter in Germany in 1908. Yes! Taking useless up a notch.

THE FAIRYTALE SCRIPT

Germany could settle some old scores this year. (No, not like the way you’re thinking. This will be done on the soccer field.) Possible second-round foe? The USA (a rival for obvious reasons). Quarterfinals? Argentina (a rival who toppled the Germans in ’86 and are just about even with Germany behind Brazil in the Cup pecking order). Semifinals? Spain (a continental rival who ousted them in Euro 2008). Finals? Brazil (the only team with a better World Cup record)

FINAL VERDICT

Considering that Ballack won’t feature in the World Cup, it’s remarkable how many times he’s managed to filter into this article. (Michael Ballack – once more for good measure) More than being the group of death, Group D looks to be the group of injury, with the German and Ghanian captains (Essien) and Australia’s best player (Kewell) under heavy injury clouds or ruled out altogether. The absence of these players can not be understated (and opens the door for Serbia in a big way). Germany were once a well-oiled machine. Against them, you’d never get a sniff. You wouldn’t even touch the ball. But, the fierce mentality doesn’t seem to exude off their squad this time around. Who’s the bloke that’ll slide into “that” challenge and break someone’s leg? Who’s the bloke that looks like he’s about to explode with rage?

The Germans have only missed out on knockout action once before (’38 – the start of a dark period) and it’d be hard to bet against them in 2010. They’re a no-fuss side and don’t be surprised to find them in the semis before you realised. But they’re a young side and have a tough draw, so don’t be overly surprised if they do better in 2014 than this year.

World Class defence and attack + Winning Culture + The best travelling fans – terrible group (it’s physical too and will wear the side down) – lack of midfield depth – inexperience – goalkeeping issues = 2nd place in the group, mouth watering clash with England, where anything could happen.

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