Tag Archives: Spain

Who is Mr Vilanova?


terry connor?

terry connor?

 

With the somewhat unexpected departure of Pep earlier today, the Catalan giants acted swiftly to appoint Tito Vilanova as their new gaffer. Here’s FFTD’s exclusive profile of the man currently holding one of football’s most sought after posts:

Name: Francesc “Tito” Vilanova Bayo

Age: 42

Previous Playing Experience: Hailing from the relatively unknown Bellcaire d’Emporda (google that place and you’ll see what I mean) Vilanova is a graduate of the famous La Masia. He graduated under the stewardship of Cruyff in a cohort many label as the finest of all time.  Tito never really excelled as a player after emerging through the Barcelona youth system to become a regular fixture in Spain’s second tier. He formally retired in 2002.

Managerial Credentials: Tito became the director of football at Tarrassa FC almost immediately following the finalisation of his playing days. From there, he became the long time sidekick to Pep, having served his apprenticeship from day 1 of Guardiola’s endeavours, starting at the lowly 4th tier of Spanish football with Barcelona’s second side.

Comments: Vialnova has remained remarkably discrete in his role at the Spanish giants, with some confusion even surrounding the order of his last names. Towards the end of 2011, Tito suffered a medical complication with his parotid gland that saw him take a short break from the game, returning over the new year period to consistent praise from both the coaching and playing staff at the club. Indeed, Guardiola dedicated his player of the year accolade in 2011 to his assistant:

“From the bottom of my heart I would like to dedicate this title to Tito Vilanova, my friend, companion, assistant, who is always there, even though he has not been with us that much lately.

“Tito, this one is for you.”

Vilanova’s relationship with his array of stars at the club appears his major selling point with an obvious rapport in existence. This was particularly evident in the continual tributes paid to him and the visible emotions on display upon his return to coaching early in 2012. By all reports, Vilanova is a better man manager than tactician, dealing with the players in a more direct fashion than the stand-offish Guardiola. The likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta have all labelled Tito’s main strengths as his ability to explain concepts in a clear and understandable fashion in Graham Hunter’s book, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World.

Tito is not completely new to the role, having taken the helm infrequently upon occasion that Guardiola has abstained from his regular duties. In saying that, the selection is still somewhat of a gamble, but shows the trust and faith all those involved in the upper echelons of the club place in their internal structures to produce both on and off the field. Continuing to recruit in house sends an undoubtedly strong message to the footballing community.

Tito was certainly not the only “in-house” choice available and rest assured he’ll be front and centre come round 1 next time around.

 

 

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Group Matches (P)review (Cont.)


Following on from yesterdays round up of the first four groups, here is groups E-H.

Group E

The Dutch are known to be chokers on the biggest level, but in this correspondent’s opinion, they have the strength in depth this time round to challenge favourites Brazil and Spain for the little gold statue. With key players like Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder coming off the back of excellent seasons for their clubs and teammates like Robin van Persie, Nigel de Jong and Dirk Kuyt in support, they are yours truly’s tip to make the semis. That said, their first showing against a resilient Denmark side was uninteresting and overhyped, and we were not treated to the fireworks a team of this calibre can produce. Robben did not play due to injury, but is supposedly going to be fit for their next encounter against Japan. The team certainly warranted the victory, and they were rarely troubled by the Danes. Nigel de Jong was his solid industrious self as always in the centre of the park, and young Hamburg winger Eljero Elia produced a fantastic 25 minute cameo, which will go a long way to raising his profile in world football. Unfortunately for big clubs looking for a new winger, he’s only one year into his 5-year contract and will cost a small fortune to lure away. Denmark looked weak in attack with Nicklas Bendtner in particular wasteful in front of goal. They will need to really step up against Cameroon if they are to progress out of the group, and with Japan already on 3 points their task is a difficult one.

Cameroon carried some expectancy with them as another team with African hopes behind them, but an unconvincing performance from both teams led to another mostly tedious match.  French Cameroonian coach Paul le Guen played a large role in the loss, opting to leave out Arsenal midfielder Alex Song and playing star striker Samuel Eto’o in a wide right position – the same as he did last season at Inter, but lacking the support he received in that side. He was largely anonymous, and when he found himself in good positions with the ball, he failed to make an impression and seemed slightly disinterested. Left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto also failed to reproduce his good club-form in this match, with much of the attacking efforts centred on his runs up the wing. His crossing left much to be desired however. Japan were very defensive, often getting their whole team behind the ball, and were fairly lucky to score considering they had only 2 or 3 chances the entire match. Expect them to perform in a similar fashion against the Oranje looking to reach first gear tomorrow night.

Predictions: Netherlands 2-0 Japan

Cameroon 1-1 Denmark

Group F

Ageing Italy’s progress from this group was supposed to be easy, but Paraguay put up strong resistance and held them to another drab 1-1 draw. The first half saw the greaseballs passing nice and fluidly but without much to show for it and conceding from a free-kick. Diving bastard Daniele de Rossi equalised in a more entertaining second half after some poor keeping from an Italy corner. New Zealand are next up for Italy and you can expect them to challenge right to the death, just as they did in their opener. Antonio di Natale might find himself with a starting berth, and perhaps Bulldog Gattuso will get a chance to nip some heels. Fabio Cannavaro showed his age with a less than convincing performance at the back, but the consistent Zambrotta showed his worth to the Italian cause. Paraguay left star men Roque Santa Cruz and Oscar Cardozo on the bench, and although both made appearances, they failed to make an impact. Hopefully either or both of them will play from the start against Slovakia. Paraguay will be delighted with a point against the world champions, but without the error from keeper Villar they could have taken all 3.

Slovakia looked to get their tournament off to a winning start that would have put them in a strong position to progress, but world cup super-underdogs New Zealand put that idea to bed with a rousing finale. Leading 1-0 from early in the second half, Slovakia couldn’t manage to put the result beyond doubt. Then in injury time up popped up centre-back Winston Reid to win the All White’s first ever finals point. Slovakia’s main creativity stemmed from Vladimir Weiss (son of coach Vladimir Weiss, and grandson of former Czechoslovakian footballer Vladimir Weiss) and team freak Marek Hamsek, while Martin Skrtel in the heart of the defense was rarely troubled. They created plenty of chances to further the lead but just couldn’t put it away, worrying signs for the next match, a probable qualification decider against Paraguay.  New Zealands 3-4-3 formation paid dividends as they defended well in numbers and got forward well, though they failed to have much of threat up front despite boasting A-League top score Shane Smeltz and Middlesbrough man Chris Killen. FFTD head writer passthesugar was delighted to see West Brom man Chris Wood take to the field in the closing stages. New Zealand will fancy their chances of pulling off a shock result against the pizza boys on Sunday night, especially with highly rated goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon missing the match through injury.

Predictions: Italy 2-0 New Zealand

Paraguay 1-1 Slovakia

Group G

The Group of Death! Finally! The chance to witness some real hard-fought football with four teams going all out in their efforts to just scrape through against some seriously tough opposition. So Portugal v Ivory Coast was bound to be the screamer of a match it turned out to be. Oh wait a second…it was actually the single worst game of the tournament so far. I can’t believe I tried so hard not to find out the score for this game while I was at uni the whole day doing exams, to come home and watch this rubbish. With the only moment of note being a superb Ronaldo effort that smashed the upright from 35 yards. The two sides actually looked content to remain scoreless. Ronaldo looked disinterested and still hasn’t scored for Portugal in 16 months or something. Deco may as well have not played. Danny – the new Portugal no. 10, was equally anonymous.  The Ivorians looked more interested, but couldn’t get used to the infamous ‘Jabulani’. Didier Drogba made a much-hyped yet uneventful cameo towards the end, and the Toure brothers each put in reliable shifts but there was nothing to write home about. Both sides will need to improve dramatically to get anything out of their next games, even against group underdogs North Korea.

Speaking of North Korea, sorry, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, they put up a pretty damn good fight against the highly favoured but ultimately disappointing Brazilians! NK-an Rooney showed how proud he is to be representing his nation with his waterworks display during the anthem, and he put in a solid shift on the pitch for their Fearless Leader. They showed excellent organisation and discipline in a defensive showing that certainly raised their stature in the eyes of the public. However, bare in mind that Brazil are not at all what they used to be. Nowadays they play in a similar fashion to how their coach and ex-captain used to play – strong, defensive, and unflashy – in stark contrast to what we are used to from the once-stylish South Americans, players like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Denilson et al. With Kaka still struggling to find the form that made him the best player in the world a few years ago, and the rest of the team not really finding their groove. Robinho surprised with a decent performance, and his through ball to set up Elano was delectable. I’ve decided Maicon’s definitely goal wasn’t intentional, so don’t bother trying to argue it. Hopefully Brazil will bring the style back for the next match against the Ivory Coast on Sunday night.

Predictions: Portugal 2-1 DPRK

Brazil 2-0 Ivory Coast

Group H

Well here’s a pretty straightforward group, right? Spain are unbeaten in the last year or so and they’re coming up against a Switzerland side missing both their top scorer of all time and an important winger. Wait, what? Spain lost? Are you sure? Blimey! The supposed best team in the world were outclassed by a stellar defensive performance, surely the best in recent years not masterminded by Jose Mourinho. New Barca boy David Villa was guilty of complacency when he decided to go for the entertaining to score rather than the simple, golden boy Torres looked ordinary when he came on towards the end of the match, Casillas certainly could have played better, and Xabi Alonso’s 30-yard pile-driver that smashed off the woodwork showed that it was just not Spain’s day. To give an example of how defensive Switzerland were, Gerard Pique spent most of the match playing as a striker rather than centre-back. For the Swiss, Stephan Lichtsteiner put in a rock-solid display in defense even after losing Philippe Senderos to injury, and Gelson Fernandes put away a brave goal to put them in the lead in what is undoubtedly the upset of the tournament thus far. Spain will need to regroup and show their class in what they expect will be an easy win against Honduras, whilst Switzerland face the daunting task of playing a threatening Chile.

Chile played some of the best attacking football so far against a lackluster Honduras. 21-year-old Alexis Sanchez shone the brightest with a fantastic display down the right wing, and they really should have won by more. Chile’s crossing was fantastic throughout the match, Mauricio Isla also playing a big role when coming forward from right back. Honduras were outclassed all over the pitch, and hulking centre-midfield Wilson Palacios was less influential than he is generally for Tottenham. He should have been sent off in the second half, too. The Central Americans clearly missed their highly rated striker David Suazo, and they will hope he returns to full fitness soon. Unfortunately we were not able to witness any more Palacios’ on the field, though Wilson had two brothers warming the bench. Hopefully they will all play together before the tournament is out. Wigan man Maynor Figueroa was disappointing at the back. Chile will need to find their scoring boots if they are to succeed against the Swiss steamroller, whilst the Hondurans will probably be playing for pride against the Spanish.

Predictions: Spain 3-0 Honduras

Chile 0-0 Switzerland

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Team of the Week


Remember, this is only based on first group round matches (even though you’re reading this after sides have played a 2nd match)

Ozil dominated all over the pitch...

Ozil dominated all over the pitch...

Goalkeeper

At the back we’ll employ the Nigerian Enyeama who shaded Howard of the US and South African Khune. Enyeama was the only thing preventing 1-0 from an extra zero; 10-0. It felt like one of those days where Martin Tyler pulls out the “he looks determined to not be beaten”, a phrase that gets its fair share of air time. Just as a preview: This bloke has booked his spot for next week with an astonishing display. Running out of superlatives.

Defenders

After one of the lowest scoring starts to a world cup we’ll play the defensive minded 5-4-1. It’s a shame that this wasn’t even the most defensive formation we saw, but nevertheless credit must be given to several stand outs who looked harder to break down than a pistachio. If we could play 3 right backs we probably would. Maicon and Phillip Lahm would have been certain starters in any given week if it wasn’t for Mauricio Isla bursting onto the scene for Chile. Isla showed a consistent attacking bent and a prominent threat down the flanks. Looks the complete package.

Stephane Grichting, Winston Reid and Oguchi Onyewu make up our flat back three. Other candidates include Frenchman Toullalan and Jung-Soo Lee who featured in a fluent South Korean display. It’s ironic that Reid books his place as a goal scorer. Grichting was simply colossal at the back and we very nearly played the entire Swiss defence. Onyewu stepped up for the US in a crucial game for them that could give them an outside chance to finish top of the group.

Bursting down the left, PTS fancies Gabriel Heinze who is once again picked predominantly for his aerial goal threat. Heinze’s goal was a superb header. He showed promise throughout the game as well.

Nadir Belhadj and Phillip Lahm are the most significant omissions (defending omissions) from our starting 11.

Midfielders

PTS has gone with Danielle de Rossi as the quarterback for the side. While the Italians didn’t get the result they hoped, they looked comfortable on the ball. De Rossi was central to all of their efforts. Alexis Sanchez will start on the right of midfield after leading his Chilean buddies to a famous opening win. He showed why Real Madrid are chasing his autograph. Creative genius at its best. He gets the nod as vice captain too, after showing his bag of tricks against Honduras. On the left of midfield it has to be Giovanni dos Santos who was an obvious standout way back on the opening night. The Mexcian showed incredible touch and while played centrally for his country, will threaten from the left for passthesugar. Our attack minded central midfielder is Mesut Ozil (Captain) who announced his arrival on the biggest stage in style. Tipped by passthesugar to “get yourself labelled as the hottest property by a commentator”, everyone at FFTD will be on the lookout for that phrase tonight when Ze Germans play Serbia. Had the ball on a string over the 90 minutes and could have scored a hat trick himself. Ozil captains the side, as he was the best performer of the first round.

Park Ji Sung, Lukas Podolski, Tshabalala and Fernandez are all unlucky to miss out. Abou Diaby was also a standout in a poor French outfit. While Slovakia didn’t live up the hype fuelled by passthesugar himself, Vladimir Weiss in the centre of the park still showed more quality than many of his compatriots.

Forwards

With no strikers impressing, we’ll squeeze an extra midfielder into the squad. Lionel Messi showed his Barcelona form is a transferrable commodity and that he will be the player of the tournament come July 12. While this selection is controversial, we’ll tell our players to keep the ball at their feet after the Jualani looked more eager to skid away than a horse at the start of the Melbourne Cup. Messi will look for the trio of Sanchez, Santos and Ozil to run into the space behind the defence.

Asamoah Gyan was the only player to even vaguely push for a place and could be considered unlucky. The Socceroos strker, Not Available, was also unlucky to miss out. Maybe the Asian Rooney Jong showed he’s not totally talk, but he wasn’t particularly impressive.

Substitutes

We’re limiting ourselves to picking players that actually came on as substitutes. The standout was probably Eljero Elia who gave Holland some much needed width and flair when he was introduced late into the game. We won’t be making too many subs, so remarkably, he’ll be the lone player on the bench. The Mexican sub that set up the goal is hard done by…

The Gaffer

Several coaches showed they’re still important in football, but the Swiss mastermind, Ottmar Hitzfield, will be in charge of the locker room. A bit more defensive please – and don’t have a heart attack either!

The fans

It has to go to the South Africans, who were unwavering in their Vuvuzela blowing skills. They celebrated madly before the tournament and after Tshabalala’s goal. They made the 1st week memorable in the homeland.

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World Cup Brainstorming – the largely incoherent thoughts of a sleep deprived man


If you thought we’d been lazing around, doing nothing and watching football – then ahh, you’d be right! Despite the distraction of university exams for the majority of our correspondents, the World Cup has reigned supreme with daily FFTD conferences in front of the fireplace and SBS HD. And after all our late nights and maccas runs we’ve got a little to say:

Blast Off - The World Cup kicks off!

Blast Off - The World Cup kicks off!

Goalkeeping – The Tale of 2 Extremes

Shot stoppers in South Africa have been making the headlines far too often for most football fan’s fancy. First it was the ongoing whining about the Jubalani (shut up! We get it! It does funny thing and you can’t play the long balls so well! Cool!). Now it’s the remarkable keeping blunders that have towered over many a contest so far. Indeed it seemed that the “goalkeeping error” was the highest scorer throughout the first week. Amongst many other predictions, I suppose if you predict every possible outcome you’re bound to get something right, a lack of quality goal keepers was a more blatantly obvious theme than the theme of romance in Romeo & Juliet. More than half of our previews featured concerns over the goalkeeper including England, who produced the most significant blunder to date. Don’t think they can blame it all on the ball either – if you’re playing with an inflatable pool toy you still have to make the right decisions to come out and meet a cross or punch away.

Enyeama has been a veritable standout. Simply mesmerising against Los Pumas with his often beyond comprehension elasticity, I’m currently watching the poor boy shake his head after yet another keeping howler. Heartbreaking camera work, as the keeper looked like tears weren’t far away. In truth, Enyeama had kept his side in the contest, with remarkable save after remarkable save, but in the end, it seemed even he wasn’t immune from the goalkeeping curse that seems to be sweeping the Cup by storm. (As I finish the sentence – live reporting at its best – Enyeama pulls another cracker to hold the marauding Greeks at bay.) Another honourable mention goes to Tim Howard who showed his full array of shot stopping expertise against the English. His smothering save from a Heskey drive will stay in the memory for a while.

All in all, we had the good, bad and ugly.

“Our 10-0-0 just didn’t work today… maybe we’ll reconsider” Every manager so far

Defence has been the overwhelming centre piece of South Africa so far. Almost half the managers have opted for negative formations, and in many cases, formations counter to their standard practice. The Swiss were arguably the most dogged, although the Japanese, Uruguayans and Paraguayans all deserve mentions. Focusing on the Swiss, Grichting and Senderos (while he was on) were dogged and tireless. Employing a 4-4-1-1, they played a man-marking system rather than the regulation zonal system. Defenders would push up to 15 metres to latch onto their opposition’s shirts, ensuring he has no space to turn and little time on the ball. They’d obviously done their research, because the vast spaces in behind the central defenders at these moments were never exploited by a toothless Spain. No one was prepared to make the run in behind the Swiss into the space once Villa had dropped deep to have a touch on the ball. Further, the Spanish offered almost no width. At times you could throw the proverbial blanket over the midfield and striker. Ramos was the only man who looked to move forward into the space, but he lacked technical ability in the touch and in truth should have scored on at least one occasion. Although I’m not personally a fan of Jesus Navas – that kid just can’t cross the ball – he changed the game after his arrival, consistently popping up in dangerous wide positions.

Man-marking could be having a renaissance amongst tacticians. Chile have opted for such a defensive system and employ a deep lying sweeper who looks to trap any balls played through their back 3. Their 1-3-3-3 is highly unusual and unique, but hasn’t been tested as yet. But in theory, the formation is the ideal for what we’v been considering so far. Apparently, they’ll swap to a 3-1-3-3 when they face the better sides, not that that’s particularly defensive. The Asian teams so far (besides Australia) haven’t surprised with their prodigal defences. Their idea of football is to swarm the opposition akin to bees to a honey pot. Japan particularly, looked to be playing with 15 men at stages against the Cameroonians, who didn’t have enough time to shout Eto’o before the whole Japanese squad was standing on their feet.

Strikers with an eye for the wrong goal

The other feature so far has been defensive minded strikers. What? Hold on, let me explain. While the notion of defending from the front has become somewhat of a bedrock within the modern footballing rhetoric, 2010 South Africa has possibly thrown up its first major tactical addition to the collective brain trust. A pattern has emerged in which teams pass the ball along the ground, eventually finding a lone front man, who drops back towards midfield, opening space in behind the defender who has hopefully pressed up the pitch with his man. Attacking wingers or midfields such as Oezil, Gerrard, Muller, Robinho, Sneijder and Honda are prepared to run into the space left in behind the defence, posing their own direct goal threat. It seems that these creative midfielders are more about scoring themselves than assisting others. The Gerrard and Oezil goals were the clearest demonstrations of the feature. Maybe the Jubalani has had something to do with the pattern, as the long ball into a target man has so far been ruled out by players who can’t seem to get a grip on a ball nicknamed “the snitch” by at least one colleague.

So all in all, we’ve seen a disappointing opening to Africa’s 1st World Cup. But already, the standard has lifted. Last night was probably the best football I’ve seen in 2010, with a pulsating Greece/Nigeria clash displaying the type of urgency we’ve come to expect. The Mexicans continued on their impressive way over a dismal and dispassionate France and Argentina leapt to favouritism and qualification on the back of a Lionel Messi extravaganza. But more on all that to follow…

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the pecking order


The Pecking Order

The pecking order is our latest invention, or rather the latest thing we’ve pinched from Eurosport. The list starts with all 32 sides ordered based on their official FIFA ranking. After each round we’ll update the pecking order to represent good form on the pitch and also good form off it. This is the place for all your injury news, scandals or just for plain results. In brackets is their official ranking.

1 (1) – Brazil – Scrappy, but comfortable against a surprisingly robust North Korean side. Still plenty of room for improvement. Look destined for a 2nd round clash with Spain.

2 (6) – Germany – Easily the most impressive of the “big” nations in the opening round. If you’re looking for ruthless efficiency in the dictionary, you’re likely to find the word Germany straight after the phrase.

3 (4) – Netherlands – Similar to Brazil, unspectacular (if not downright boring), but still showed glimpses of their potential. Looked the goods with a little width from the impressive Elia.

4 (7) – Argentina – Poor, but move up thanks to the failing of others. Messi was all class and improving their finishing could see some routs coming up.

5 (3) – Portugal – Offered nothing going forward and were content with the draw in the 2nd half. Improvement needed.

6 (5) – Italy – Held by an impressive Paraguay, but were the better side and moved the ball around effectively – they always start slowly.

7 (2) – Spain – Showing that “tippy tappy” football is not necessarily the way to win… Were toothless up front despite the mercurial midfield and sublime skill of their side. If the Swiss win a game, then Spain could finish 2nd in the group and face the Brazilians – messing up everyone’s World Cup form guide.

8 (18) – Chile – While the opposition was only Honduras, the Chileans showed why they finished 2nd in qualification. Sanchez on the right proved Real Madrid’s interest is certainly not wasted. Darkhorse.

9 (16) – Uruguay – Boring and defensive against France, but attacking and explosive against South Africa. Have almost sealed qualification from a difficult group.

10 (8) – England – Were poor, but not terrible against the US. Expectations are so high they’ve been just about deserted by fans. Looked frail in defence and a little weak in attack, but don’t hit the panic button just yet.

11 (24) – Switzerland – Showed the same kind of defensive skill that saw them concede no goals in the group stage in 2006. They also had technical skill aplenty in the forward half. Injuries to key players may derail their campaign (and stop them from a higher place in the pecking order)

12 (14) – USA – Showed tactical astuteness against the English and have a sneaky chance to top the group, which would take them a long way to Quarter final action. Look to be the real deal.

13 (17) – Mexico – Offered plenty in the 1st half against South Africans, but didn’t give the best display of water tight defence. Dos Santos was brilliant.

14 (9) – France – One word: Abysmal. Actually 2: Atrocious.

15 (27) – Cote d’Ivoire – Drogba returning is an enormous boost. They showed promise in the 2nd half, but still face an uphill battle to qualify.

16 (32) – Ghana – They’ll be smelling qualification after a crucial win over Serbia. A win on Saturday over the Aussies will just about do it. Not particularly fluid however.

17 (47) South Korea – Typically Asian, one of PTS’s smokies were impressive in their first outing. Probably because of the Greek deficiencies though…

18 (45) Japan – Will be almost impossible to break down for mid tier sides. Not impressive, but a big win for their chances.

19 (31) – Paraguay – Were lucky against the Italians, but move a long way up the pecking order with their unexpected point.

20 (83) South Africa – Showed glimpses in the opener, but flopped miserably last night. Probably the end of their campaign.

21 (21) – Nigeria – Were better than expected despite losing to Argentina.

22 (34) Slovakia – Robbed of 3 points and that could see them miss out on qualification. Were the much better side for the majority of a dour affair.

23 (105) North Korea – Who would have thought? But grabbed a goal and some respect against Brazil. Could snatch a draw against a much more fancied side.

24 (36) Denmark – Weren’t outclassed against Holland, but need to lift in their next 2 games. Showed little ambition.

25 (78) New Zealand – Outplayed, but showed bounds of tenacity. Described by some as the biggest moment in sport in New Zealand… ahh probably not, but still an historic point.

26 (25) – Slovenia – Boring

27 (30) – Algeria – Boring

28 (15) – Serbia – Despite being talked up as outside chances due to their resolute defence, showed absolutely nothing at the back. Disastrous for the Europeans.

29 (19) – Cameroon – Confusing tactics and listless performance. Eto’o and Assou Ekotto were 2 of their worst and need to lift if they are to have any chance of qualification.

30 (20) – Australia – Bereft of creativity, sub-par defending and negative tactics/mindset see the Aussie slide down the rankings. Need to rekindle their ’06 spirt, and fast! It’s not all lost, however, they were always expecting a loss to the Germans.

31 (38) Honduras – Proved they really are making up the numbers. Too much time and space for every Chilean and they were dominated from start to finish.

32 (13) – Greece – Our biggest sliders of the opening round. Were woeful against the South Koreans and could be in for more spankings in the coming weeks. Book your ticket home now!

Before it all started:

A few interesting points – on paper, forget Group D or Group G as the group of death, it’s Group C featuring England that have the smallest range between their sides. England are top in 8th and Algeria are bottom in 22nd. Just to clarify, Group F is the worst ranked group, with 3 teams featuring in the bottom 10 sides… Group E also features 2 sides in the bottom 6. The struggle in Group A will be titanic between Uruguay and Mexico, who are the closest teams on the list that are in the same group. They’re separated by the solitary place! (South Africa will cause a few upsets in that group though…)

Just to confirm: On paper, the teams below Ghana should be watching from the stands. They should be replaced by Croatia, Russia, Egypt, Norway, Ukraine, Israel, Romania and Turkey. Out of that bunch, I would have particularly loved to see Israel and the Romanians – but maybe next time…

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“Hi ahh FIFA God? I’ve just got 10 questions…”


1. Will there be any innovation?

The World Cup used to the ultimate tactical breeding ground for tactical and the driving force behind football development. Brazil premiered the 4-2-4 at the 1958 World Cup and the world quickly followed suit, only for Alf Ramsey to move things on again eight years later when his Wingless Wonders gave birth to the modern 4-4-2. Holland’s 1-3-3-3 and attendant tactical discipline made a huge impression, both sporting and culturally, in 1974, but in recent years innovation has given way to conformism. Here’s to hoping…

2. Can Spain get the balance right?

As they showed off for the umpteenth occasion in their 6-0 mauling of Poland on Tuesday night, Spain look as dominant a side as ever pitched up at the sport’s showpiece event. The names of their star players roll off the tongue with beguiling ease, but del Bosque has a difficult decision to make about the attacking third. A 4-1-3-2 would allow him to deploy David Villa and fit-again Fernando Torres in attack, but leaves an undermanned defense. A 4-2-3-1 would see Sergio Busquets starting and, remarkably, Torres (largely held in the top 3 world strikers) on the outer. Can Villa and Torres fit into the same forward pairing? Or are they the new Lampard/Gerrard unworkable.

3. Will Dunga’s vision for Brazil be vindicated?

This World Cup has been a long time coming for Brazil. Dunga espoused his tactical vision for the side way back in July 2006 and to date he has enjoyed great success, winning the 2007 Copa América, the 2009 Confederations Cup and qualifying for the World Cup with ease. There’s nothing secret about the system: 2 holding midfielders as guards for the back four, true Brazilian forward minded full backs, Ramires or Elano in the midfield “shuttler” role on the right side, Kaka the creative genius in the central area, with Robinho on the right in a similar role that Bellamy seemed to perform better at Man City. Brazil were favourites last time, so will they live up to the hype in 2010?

4. Will Maradona go with three at the back?

Win, lose or draw, Diego Maradona won’t be far away from the headlines throughout the month. After a tumultuous qualifying campaign, it still doesn’t seem Diego’s settled on a particular formation. The Pumas emphatic 1-0 win over Germany in March (they were clearly the better unit), it looked as though Maradona had finally found a working set up. After declaring “this is the team to win the World Cup” he seems to have rescinded from his remarks and many have speculated that he’ll open with a narrow back 3. Gutierrez will support the defense as a right wing back, allowing the enigmatic Tevez to start alongside Messi and Higuain in arguably the most explosive trio in the World Cup.

5. Can Capello get the best out of Rooney?

Few teams in the competition seem to rely on one player as much as England rely on Wayne Rooney. Throughout qualification, it seemed that Capello had found the formula to extract the rampant best out of his star, but recent disciplinary troubles have emerged and could derail the striker’s and all of England’s hopes. That formula includes the unheralded Emile Heskey. Heskey has been derided and abused for the majority of the past 2 years. But the majority of his criticism has come from uneducated football spectators. Most of the critics acknowledge that Heskey’s role isn’t to score himself, but rather he plays the selfless and industrious role in order to make space for the dangerous Rooney and Stevey Gerrard. To prove my point, this is an albeit diplomatic Rooney,“It’s actually mainly at club level I’ve been [playing more] in front of goal; with England I’ve been playing off Heskey, in the hole, and then when we haven’t got the ball, either me or Steven Gerrard go out and defend for the team on the left,” Rooney explains in this month’s edition of FourFourTwo. Crouch and Defoe have been underwhelming of late and a successful forward pairing will be more crucial than a successful Wayne Rooney.

6. Which African team will stir up some continental frenzy?

The finals are begging for an outstanding African side to upset some of the more fancied outfits. It was always going to be the Ivorians, lead by the flamboyant Drogba, but an atrocious grouping (the number 1 and 3 ranked sides in the same group) coupled with injury to their main weapon has seen optimism abate. Cameroon have shocked the world once before, but don’t seem to have the talent to do it all over again. Ghana are an inferior side without Essien and will struggle in a physical group. Could it be South Africa? The home side has never failed to reach the knockouts, and the second lowest ranked side will need to outperform their wildest ambitions to qualify. They haven’t lost in 12 matches now, and have been in camp for around 3 months – anything passed the group stages could unite a nation with a chequered past.

7. How will Chile’s 3-3-1-3 formation fare?

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Chile finished 2nd in qualifying, scoring 32 goals in just 18 matches (just one less than Brazil). Marcelo Bielsa’s youthful Chile side are somewhat of a revelation and Bielsa’s unorthodox set up will be a refreshing sight. Dominant flanks are the key component – almost daring the opposition to go through the centre – with Udinese livewire Alexis Sanchez and former Liverpool man Mark Gonzalez playing wide alongside the talismanic Suazo up front. The magnificent Matias Fernandez looks a little lonely in the centre circle. Last time Bielsa experimented, in 2002 with Argentina, it was utter failure.

8. Anything worth calling Asia about?

The Aussies are token Asians and are undoubtedly the best chance from the region. But they’ve lucked out in the draw and will need to overcome 3 quality opponents to replicate their success in 2006. Japan looks to be hitting awful form of late, and North Korea will offer more interest off the field. Could it be the South Koreans to shock the globe again? They are a typically organised and efficient Eastern team and are superior to their unflattering FIFA ranking. Recent wins in friendlies have given them a little momentum.

9. Will the US finally prove themselves as superpowers in football?

The Americans are never short of confidence, and 2010 is no different. Their side doesn’t look to have the superstars required, but a nation of this size will be a tough challenge for any opponent. A semi final appearance could be the injection the domestic scene has been hankering out for years…

10. What will South Africa 2010 be remembered for?

Will it be a controversial penalty? A moment of idiocy by a player? An outstanding solo performance? The coming of age for a superstar? The birth of African football? A new footballing giant? Maradona’s nude run?

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