Friday, June 30, 2006

Big Bluffer - Day 2

So the Big Bluffer house lost its first two pundits yesterday as Martin voted out Ally McMoist and Robbie Earle, both of whom should be used to getting knocked out in the first round as befits ex-Scotland and Wimbledon players.

It's my turn to vote today and I'm sorry, but it's more upset for the ITV camp. My first choice for eviction is Gobby Logan, the blonde with a brain for football that I just can't take seriously. I really can't seem to get beyond the fact that she seems to be trying a bit too hard to be pretty. She reminds me of a Barbie doll with her perfectly coiffured hair and her designer clothes and long legs and that plastic permanent smile. Quite frankly, it's bordering on the disturbing. Yes Gabby, you may be smart, you may be friendly and you might even know your stuff when it comes to the beautiful game, but you look completely out of place presenting a footy programme. I don't want you on my TV and that's all there is to it.

And for my second choice, I'm going for Andy Townsend. This man has a stronger association with waffle than the entire Canadian maple syrup industry. When asked to comment on a given subject, he utters very little of any substance or meaning and is purely employed just to kill any silence that might pervade the airwaves. He might have been a good footballer (although even that's open for discussion) but when it comes to punditry, he's about as much use as an ejector seat in a helicopter. The man irritates me and he must go with all speed.

Goodbye Gabby, goodbye Andy. It's time to leave now... I'm handing the eviction baton over to Kedge who I think may be going for a certain Frenchman as his first choice...

A blessing in disguise?


"Frank Lampard injury scare for England"

Big Bluffer : First evictions

by Smart

Well I can honestly say it didnt take long to decide my first evictees from the 'Big Bluffer' house.

So without further ado, lets see who's bags are packed and heading for home quicker than a Polish footballer leaving Berlin...

Robbie Earle

'Dull' is the first word that springs to mind with Robbie and in the world of presenting, thats a good enough reason to see Robbie on his way 'early doors', as they like to say.

Ally McCoist

A hit with the ladies, which is his first downfall, as I'm a man. Add to that the facts that he is also a) Scottish and b) annoying, and it becomes all too obvious why Ally will be 'as sick as a parrot' that he's heading for home quicker than the Scottish team returning from a World Cup.

I now hand the axe over to Chris Oakley, who's ruthlessness will be revealed tomorrow.

So watch out...

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Big Bluffer

Welcome to Big Bluffer.

From now until the end of the World Cup, 20 TV presenters and pundits will be living together in the Big Bluffer house, but day by day they will be ejected if they fail to meet the standards set down by you, the visitors to this blog. The winner of Big Bluffer is the pundit that avoids being voted out due to incompetence, incoherence or annoyance.

And so our 20 familiar faces enter the Big Bluffer house - 10 from the BBC World Cup team and 10 of their ITV counterparts. They are as follows:

Gary 'Loynacre' Lineker (BBC)
BBC's main anchorman. Former Spurs, Barcelona and England striker. Winner of the World Cup Golden Boot in 1986 and stuntman for Walkers Crisps.

Alan 'Terrible Marking' Hansen (BBC)
Liverpool and Scotland stalwart during the 1980's. Known for his severe criticism of bad defending, a subject he knows a lot about as his former teammates will testify.

Martin 'Alexander' O'Neill (BBC)
Former Nottingham Forest and Northern Ireland midfielder. Previously manager at Leicester City and Celtic. Role on TV: "Canny Ulsterman".

Leonardo (BBC)
Played in the Brazilian team that won the 1994 World Cup. Unnaturally good-looking and for that reason out of place on a BBC World Cup panel, but slightly less incoherent than Gordon Strachan.

Ray 'Stubbsy' Stubbs (BBC)
Understudy to The Boy Loynacre on 'Match of the Day'. Once spent five years on the books at Tranmere Rovers before the ultimately more rewarding job of keeping Des Lynam's chair warm on Grandstand came along.

Gordon 'Advertising Hoarding' Strachan (BBC)
British journeyman who played for (amongst others) Manchester United, Aberdeen, Leeds United and Coventry City. Known for being deadpan, blunt and ginger-haired.

Alan 'Super Alan' Shearer (BBC)
Officially regarded as one of FIFA's 100 greatest living footaballers. Top scorer in the Premiership from 1995 to 1997. PFA Player's Player of the Year in 1995 and 1997. Team honours: none.

Ian 'Wright Wright' Wright (BBC)
Arsenal legend and all-time top scorer for the Gunners until Thierry Henry came along. Old friend of Peter Schmeichel. Prone to wearing leather caps and other strange attire, as testified in the TV ad for Privilege Insurance with Joanna Lumley.

Lee 'Diddy' Dixon (BBC)
Member of the legendary Arsenal defensive line under George Graham. Never played in the finals of a major competition despite being a regular for the Gunners. Faced the ultimate humiliation when replaced by Gary Neville in the England line-up.

Marcel 'The Rock' Desailly (BBC)
Real name: Odenke Abbey. Originally born in Ghana, which didn't stop him breaking the record for most appearances in the French national team. Ruud Gullit's favourite centre-back while at Chelsea but ended his career in obscurity following a move to Qatar. Now avoiding a TV career in obscurity after signing for the BBC rather than ITV.

Steve 'Winona' Rider (ITV)
Successor to Des Lynam's throne on BBC's Grandstand programme. Devoid of any personality which thankfully allows viewers to concentrate solely on appropriate sports action. Supports Charlton Athletic. Don't let this influence your voting.

Jim 'Pointy Nose' Rosenthal (ITV)
Sports journalist who, over several years, has presented football, boxing, Formula 1 motor racing and athletics, thus proving he's not overly fussed about what crap he's associated with, as long as it pays well.

Gabby 'Token Female' Logan (ITV)
Daughter of former Leeds United and Wales player Terry Yorath from whom she gets her looks. Former gymnast who reached 8th place in the 1990 Commonwealth Games competition, an achivement overshadowed by her ability to hold down a presenter's job during the World Cup on prime-time TV.

Terry 'Hazell' Venables (ITV)

Former England and Australia manager. Played for QPR, Spurs, Crystal Palace and probably every other team in London. Regularly linked with or actually working for Middlesbrough.

Ally 'Number 3 please, Sue' McCoist (ITV)
Ex-Rangers and Scotland striker, currently one of the team captains on BBC's 'A Question of Sport.' Once played for Sunderland but doesn't like to be reminded of the fact.

Andy 'Tactics Truck' Townsend (ITV)
Former Chelsea and Aston Villa midfielder who captained Republic of Ireland at the 1994 World Cup. Now appears on ITV's Champions League programmes, 'On The Ball', TalkSport radio and anything else that requires a cockney wide-boy to spout waffle endlessly.

Sam 'Big Sam' Allardyce (ITV)
Former Bolton Wanderers player and now Bolton manager. Was hoping to get the England manager's job after Sven leaves, but is still waiting for a call from the F.A. Perhaps they've lost his number.

Stuart 'Psycho' Pearce (ITV)
Archetypal penalty-villain-turned-hero during Euro 96 following dismal end to Italia 90. Fixture in defence under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest. Ended career at West Ham United as most great players do when they're past it.

Ruud 'Sexy Football' Gullit (ITV)
Hit the heights during Euro '88, giving numerous fine performances for Holland. Went onto play for and manage Chelsea, the latter of which proved to be a serious error of judgement by all concerned.

Robbie 'Duke of' Earle (ITV)
Member of the Wimbledon 'Crazy Gang', renknowned for their long-ball tactics on Centre Court. Failed to develop fruitful international playing career on account of being Jamaican. Oh, and he's got an MBE, you know.

So as our bluffers settle into their new surroundings, they'll no doubt be wary of the fact that tomorrow will see the first two evictions take place. Smart will make his choice and news of who's for the chop will be posted here...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Smart's team of the Last 16

Klose [GER] Podoslki [GER]

Frings [GER] Viera [FRA] Riquelme [ARG] Rodriguez [ARG]

A.Cole [ENG] Canavarro [ITA] Marquez [MEX] Osorio [MEX]

GK Sanchez [MEX]

So there I was...

... driving home, when on popped the low fuel light.

"Ah-ha!" I said to myself "I need petrol." So I drove to the purveyor of said substance, and started to fill up.

I dont know about you, but I normally look around during the tedious task of filling up and this occasion was no exception.

I was at a Texaco garage for the first time in ages, and my eyes hit the "Collect your England World Cup coins here" sign.

"Ah-ha!" I said to myself (and yes I do say that a lot!) "They will be the coins that Some People Are On The Pitch's Chief Sports Correspondant Chris Oakley wrote about not too long ago".

And they were.

Now being a Spurs fan (dont laugh) I was hoping for the coins to contain some Spurs players. However, knowing my luck, I thought the following things ...

1 - I bet I get an Arsenal player - the idea of which I instantly dismissed as it was England coins, not French.


2 - I bet I get JermainFriggingDefoe - who of course didnt go!

And what did I get?!?!? See below...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Spot the Balls Competition

Time for our special World Cup Spot the Balls competition. We've removed two footballs from the picture below, but where on the picture did they originally appear?

You can give us your guess by leaving a comment and telling us the grid location of the two balls - A to G from left to right, 1 to 6 from top to bottom.

Answer revealed on Sunday. Good luck!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Fly The Flag

Walk down any street in this fair land of ours and at some point you'll see an England flag. It'll either be hanging out of the window of a house or fluttering from the side of a car, but one thing's for certain - it'll be the red cross of St. George on a white background.

Over the last 10 years or so, the whole country's gone flag mad whenever a World Cup or European Championships have come around. It's a pleasure to see and even if you take the more cynical view that some people are just trying to outdo each other with the size or number of flags on show, you can't help but wonder at how much more patriotic we are these days.

But I'm pleased to say that of those people in England that aren't actually English, many are proudly showing which country they'll be supporting during this World Cup by displaying a flag of their nation. So far I've spotted a Brazilian flag on a car at the end of the street, a Ghanaian flag hanging from the window of a house nearby, Portuguese and Italian flags flapping away on passing cars, and even an Angolan flag in t-shirt form being worn by a child in my town.

I was hoping to be able to tick off the flags of all the World Cup countries during the five weeks of the competition, but it seems unlikely now as some teams like Togo are hardly like to have much of a high profile over here. Having said that, I did spot someone showing their support for Togo the other day:

Oh alright, so they weren't supporting Togo, but it was damn close...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Just a quickie before England's game with Ecuador…

Written by Smart

Apparently its going to be a hot day today in Stuttgart, where England face Ecuador at 5pm local time. Infact heat has played a part in many of Englands recent tournament matches. Against Paraguay 2 weeks ago, games in Portugal (Euro 2004) and Japan (World Cup 2002)… well it is the summer for god sake – what did you expect?

Poor second half performances due to the above have cost England dearly in the past, and will probably continue to do so unless some thinking changes, and my thinking is now this – before a major tournament, don’t play games in England – play and train overseas instead.

Englands warm-up for Germany 2006 was to play Jamaica in ‘sunny’ Manchester, hardly the most appropriate place to acclimatise to stifling heat of the impending summer. In major tournaments we will face the likes of Paraguay, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil and many many more teams which are used to playing in the heat.

So why not take a month off and play and train in such countries? Why not train in Argentina or Brazil for a month, and play matches there? Too much of a culture shock? Then how about Florida? Or just too far? Well then how about closer to home, such as parts of Africa – Egypt, Tunisia or Morocco for instance. Even Turkey perhaps, even that gets hot enough. Surely places such as those are more appropriate for a summer tournament than Manchester?

Well I’m off to watch the game. I hope England win, but with the predicted temperatures most likely to suit an Ecuadorian than an Englishman abroad, I am expecting a very nervous second half. Again.

And in case you were wondering - the next World Cup is to be held in… South Africa.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Fondant Fancies

My players of the 3rd round of group games…

Klose [GER] Dindane [CIV]

J.Cole [ENG] Fibre Glass [ESP] Ballack [GER] Rodriguez [ARG]

Gilberto [BRA] Jaidi [TUN] N.Kovac [CRO] Edman [SWE]

Buffon [ITA]

Friday, June 23, 2006

End of Week 2 Bulletin

Another week goes by in the World Cup, but at Some People Are On The Pitch, we won't let the grass grow under our feet. We scour all four corners of the globe to bring you the latest tittle-tattle that's of no consequence to anyone.

Disciplinary Procedures Changed
Last night's encounter between Australia and Croatia began a new era in the world game as England's Graham Poll became the first referee to award a single player three yellow cards in one match. FIFA gave the go-ahead for the new 'three yellows and you're off' system to begin last night amid recent speculation that players are being sent off too quickly in the modern game. The world's governing body announced in March that after a player receives his third yellow card, he should immediately be shown a turquoise one as an indication that a red card will be awarded in the next three-and-a-half minutes, but Poll last night controversially failed to award the turquoise card in a move which could see him relieved of his duties as a World Cup official.

Ad a laugh at this one...
Did anyone spot the Honda advert shown on ITV1 during the England v Sweden match this week? It was a modified version of the ad previously broadcast that features the song "The Impossible Dream". In the original version, a man is seen getting out of his caravan before jumping on his mini-motorbike to ride off down the road. The scene cuts to the same man now riding a moped and in the next he's on an all-terrain vehicle. By the end of the ad, he's still singing 'The Impossible Dream' and has upgraded to a speedboat which flies off the edge of a waterfall, seemingly to his bleak demise, before rising up from the mists in a hot air balloon.

It's yet another fantastic commercial from Honda, but this week's special edition was even better because of the patriotic additions that had been made to it. Click on the link above to have a look and spot them for yourself (if you haven't already!)

Your Letters
This week our postbag was anything but empty (although damn close to it) thanks to a letter we received from a Mr R. Savage from Blackburn. He writes:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I wish to complain about the misleading advice being given out on TV at the moment during the World Cup. I keep being told to 'press the red button' for interactive services, but when I did that, my television switched off and I lost all power. What kind of advice is that?

Yours frustratingly,
R. Savage.

Well Mr. Savage, perhaps you need to consult the manual that comes with your TV, or else just give up altogether.

Did You Know...?
The literal translation of Schweinsteiger, Germany's midfield number 7 is 'pig climber'.

The 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' Award for Bad Punctuation
Finally, we hand over a shiny trophy for the commentary faux pas uttered by Jonathan Pearce at the end of the Italy v USA match. It may have only been a tiny apostrophe that was out of place, but it made all the difference when Pearce said "Marcello's Lippi men struggled against the Americans..."

Join us for another Bulletin again very soon... until then 'Auf Wiedersehen'!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

World Cup Names

If you watched last night's lacklustre encounter between Holland and Argentina (or indeed any other match of similarly weak entertainment value), you'll know what it's like to feel a bit short-changed, televisually. The World Cup is, after all, supposed to be a spectacle - a footballing festival, if you will. So what's a man supposed to do when the World Cup fails to live up to expectations?

The answer lies in a simple but rewarding game you can play from the comfort of your own armchair. All you have to do is 'translate' your name so that it fits one of the teams playing at the World Cup. Let's say, for instance, I decided to buy an England shirt and wanted my name printed on the back. Well I'd quite possibly have 'Chris' emblazened across my shoulders for all to see, but if it were a German shirt? Well my name would have to be 'Chrisowski', of course. An Italian shirt? 'Chrissi', one would presume...

And it doesn't stop there. I've worked out what my World Cup name would be for various other countries, too:

Angola - Chrisanga
Argentina - Chrispo
Brazil - Cristoforo
Croatia - Chrisovic
France - Chrissé
Holland - Van Christens
Japan - Chrisizawa
Poland - Chriskowiak
Saudi Arabia - Al-Chrisani
South Korea - Cris Ok-Lee
Spain - Christo
Sweden - Christensson
Ukraine - Christov

It's good fun, once you get into the swing of things! Why not have a go yourself and tell us what your World Cup name would be?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Chin up - it could be worse...

Oh well, another jinx carries on undiminished for another year. England just cannot seem to beat Sweden and that's all there is to it.

Not that it should linger on in our minds for too long. After last night's 2-2 draw in Cologne, England have finished top of their group and avoided hosts Germany in the second round. Unbeaten after the first three matches, England can quietly feel confident of reaching the quarter finals - that is if the core of the squad can hold together long enough.

With Michael Owen badly injuring his knee after one minute and Rio Ferdinand hobbling off in the second half with a groin strain, things don't look too good at the minute. In attack we're left with Wayne Rooney who is yet to find the spark to signal the end of his recovery period, Peter Crouch and Theo Walcott, who hasn't even played a full game for England yet.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Steven Gerrard moves further and further forward upfield as the competition progresses. We may be in need of a proven goalscorer by the end of this World Cup and if that means promoting him from midfield to attack, so be it, in my book.

That would mean his support in the centre of the field would be Frank Lampard (still a capable player but looking somewhat tired, understandably), Owen Hargreaves (don't ask), Joe Cole (trying hard at the moment but a little inconsistent) and the ubiquitous but reliable David Beckham.

In defence, things are looking transitional at the moment. Ferdinand's injury may not be as bad as first thought, but Sol Campbell should be good enough to take his place on experience and technical ability alone should the need arise again. Ashley Cole still lacks a little focus but is getting slightly better with every game, John Terry is as dependable as ever and Jamie Carragher is holding his own without ever expecting to play an entire 90 minutes.

But should we be that pessimistic about England's chances of winning the tournament? I have a few suggestions that might lift the mood a little...

Let's get some fresh legs out there. First of all, let Aaron Lennon take the right-wing position where he does most damage and give Stewart Downing a chance to do the same on the left - both of whom can link up well with Beckham and Lampard in the middle.

Up front, let Gerrard have a run around with Rooney or Crouch. At the back, leave things pretty much as they are with Robinson, Terry, Ferdinand (health permitting) Ashley Cole and Carragher doing their usual shtick.

OK granted - it's not the most radical overhaul of team affairs, but I certainly think Lennon needs to be used more and Downing's no bad option down the left either. And if Sven insists on using Owen Hargreaves again, surely Michael Carrick would be a more useful alternative? Did I mention Joe Cole? Well he could be used from time to time, but in those games where he isn't firing on all cylinders, give him a rest on the bench.

You see, it's not all doom and gloom. Perhaps we just need to see some fitter, faster players being brought in, one or two being played in different positions and other players being given the day off once in a while. There's still bags of talent in the squad - we just need to be using it better.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Half Time

So, here we are at the half-way stage of the 2006 World Cup, and what have we established so far? Our reconnaissance unit has put together this report containing all the facts you need to know:

Fact 1: The Germans like to pass the ball along the ground, avoiding the use of high crosses.
Why else have a TV screen hanging down as low as the one in Frankfurt's stadium?

Fact 2: Ghanaians like to model their hairstyles on household objects.
Step forward Sulley Muntari, owner of 'The Orange Squeezer'...

Fact 3:
91% of people prefer BBC's coverage of the World Cup rather than ITV's.
This can be explained in seven words: "WHERE DO THEY GET THEIR ENERGY FROM...?" Thanks EDF Energy - now piss off...

Fact 4:
Brand-new World Cup footballs that move around in the air needn't be a bad thing... has finally been proved. The 2006 edition, Adidas' Teamgeist, still defies all the laws of aerodynamic science but this one has the added bonus of being filled to at least 45% with helium, hence why so many shots are flying into the top corner of the net.

Fact 5:
If in doubt, throw the form book out
And there we were dismissing Spain and Ecuador as being hardly worth the £1 entry fee for the office sweepstake... and then to really rub it in, France and Brazil turn up and play like... well, me, to be quite frank.

More World Cup briefings coming up soon...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Player Name of the Tournament Award 2006

... goes to Ghana's number 19 - Pimpong.

Many congratulations to him from the 'Some People are on the Pitch' team.

The 'Blimey - they have impressed Smart' XI

We are at the half way stage of the tournament (32 of 64 games played) and every team has played 2 games.

So I thought I would highlight a few names of players that have impressed me so far, for varying reasons, and stick them in a 4-4-2 formation as that seems to be the most popular choice this tournament.

Asamoah (GHA) Torres (ESP)

Saviola (ARG) Riquelme (ARG) Zokora (CIV) Rosicky (CZE)

Lahm (GER) Yoyo Toure (CIV) Terry (ENG) Cafu (BRA)

Ricardo (ANG)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Day 8 Review

I'm guessing Pelé may have woken up this morning feeling as though his life isn't quite as perfect as it once was. My reasoning is squarely based on the fact that yesterday Argentina scored arguably the greatest team goal ever in the World Cup - better even than the fourth goal of the 1970 Final that Pelé helped Brazil to score.

It was Argentina's second goal in a 6-0 thrashing of Serbia & Montenegro and can only be described as 'poetry in motion'. Twenty-one passes were strung together leading to Cambiasso's 31st minute strike, and of the 50% possession Argentina had in the match, most of that must have come in this one move alone.

Argentina showed how well they can play football in their previous match against the Ivory Coast, but this performance went one better than that. They passed the ball around with the nonchalant skill that we've come to know from the greatest Brazilian sides of the past, and on this form it's irresistible to put some money on them winning the World Cup outright. They played in such a way that Serbia & Montenegro, normally a good defensive unit, didn't even figure in the match. The Europeans are now out of the tournament, but Argentina are through to round two where they'll be joined by a Holland side trying hard not to be outdone by the sort of display we saw in Gelsenkirchen yesterday.

Holland picked up another three points in the second of Friday's games against the Ivory Coast, but for the second time in this tournament, the Ivorians lost 2-1. Robin Van Persie's 23rd minute free kick set the Dutch on their way and three minutes later Ruud van Nistelrooy added a second. The Africans appeared to be reeling but they never gave up and 12 minutes later they got their reward when Bakari Kone struck a 25 yard shot after a powerful run.

The second half didn't quite live up to the first with the Dutch holding firm but play continued to switch from end to end as Ivory Coast tried repeatedly to penetrate Holland's back line. In the end it was not to be, and sadly the best of Africa's representatives at this tournament will now be preparing for one last game against Serbia & Montenegro next week.

The final game of the day saw another spirited performance from Angola, thought by many to be at the opposite end of the African football spectrum to the Ivory Coast. They gave Mexico a run for their money throughout last night's match and performed the seemingly impossible - a 0-0 draw against the team that convincingly beat Iran 3-1 last Sunday.

Mexico were the first to fly out of the traps with a first minute shot from Carlos Salcido that flew narrowly over the bar, but this was to be almost as close as Mexico would get to scoring. Captain Marquez hit the post soon after from a 30-yard free kick as Mexico tried time and again to find a way through Angola's steady, well-manned defence.

Angola created a few chances, none of which seriously threatened Mexican goalkeeper Sanchez, but when Andre Macanga was sent off 11 minutes from time for a hand-ball that earned him a second yellow card, Angola really did need to concentrate on keeping their defence strong. That they did to earn their first ever point in World Cup Finals history, a feat which made the Angolan fans very happy indeed when the full time whistle went.

Mexico now have four points from two games and should progress through to the second round with Portugal, but their weaknesses have now been exposed for all to see. Anyone favouring a strong run from Mexico in this competition may now be thinking twice on the strength of this ineffective performance.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Day 7 Review

I'm beginning to hate Ecuador. Oh don't get me wrong - I've got nothing against the country or its people 'per se'. It's just that their football team do insist on winning all the time, or at least they have since the start of this World Cup. That alone wouldn't normally cause me any emotional imbalance, but at this precise moment in time, they're standing between me and many hundreds of pounds in winnings from Ladbrokes.

Before the tournament began, my two colleagues and I wagered £1 each on eight teams finishing bottom of their repective groups, and guess who we had for Group A? That's right, our South American chums, Ecuador. And to add insult to injury, we also had a quid each on the teams we thought would finish first and second in each group. Did we have Ecuador down for Group A? No.

The fact is that Ecuador have now won both of their first two games and are assured of qualification through to Round Two along with Germany, who have done likewise. Contrary to popular belief, Ecuador have proved themselves capable of playing excellent football and can put the ball in the net with consumate ease too.

Costa Rica, reeling from their opening defeat to Germany, were outplayed throughout yesterday's first game and not even the on-form Paulo Wanchope could stop his team crashing out of the competition. For Ecuador then, their last match in Round 1 against Germany will decide who finishes top of the group, and that could be critical as England will no doubt await the runners-up in the next round.

That much is almost certain after England virtually secured top spot in Group B following another decidedly ordinary display against Trinidad & Tobago. Just as against Paraguay, England struggled to break down the opposition, only this time they didn't have the luxury of an early goal to act as a safety net.

While Trinidad & Tobago didn't offer much of a threat in attack, they did manage to hold strong in midfield and defence, stifling the English of all their purposeful forward movement - what little there was of it in the first half. Yet come the second half, England shifted up a gear and threw even more into attack, including Wayne Rooney who replaced the off-form Michael Owen.

Coming on with Rooney was Aaron Lennon, as replacement for Jamie Carragher - a change that instantly brought hope for the thousands of England fans thanks to his many speedy runs down the right wing. Shots began to rain in from all quarters with Lampard and Crouch going close on numerous occasions, but in the end it was Beckham who crossed the ball into the area for Crouch to head home with just seven minutes left on the clock.

With Trinidad's defence finally breached, England added a second in injury time thanks to a scorching left-foot drive from Steven Gerrard. So England picked up another three points, which will no doubt please them more than the standard of their performance, but can they get Owen and Rooney producing football of a decent standard before it's too late?

Such issues are now redundant for Paraguay who look to be heading home after a second successive defeat, this time to Sweden. Last night's match was, in all fairness, a lacklustre affair with both sides defending competently but not offering much in goalscoring terms. The tedium was ended with two minutes of normal time to go as Freddie Ljungberg headed in to almost certainly set up a second round clash with Germany or Ecuador.

Having scored one and conceded none over two games, Sweden may well fancy their chances of stopping the opposition scoring in the next round, but they'll need to score plenty more if they're to get anywhere near the Final at the end of the month. The same could well be said for England, but you never know - perhaps they'll start practicing in earnest when they meet each other in the final round of Group B matches next Tuesday night.

Obscure World Cup Kits From History #2

Nigeria (v Greece, 1994)

The early 90's was a time of great imagination in the world of football kit design. Improved technology and advances in the manufacturing process allowed the big name companies to produce ever more bizarre and outlandish strips.

While some looked plain ridiculous, combining colours that simply didn't belong together, others focused on intricate and detailed patternwork. A prime example of the latter was never better illustrated than when Nigeria took to the field to play Greece in the 1994 World Cup.

The Greeks had first choice of kit colour, so naturally they went for their traditional blue shirts but that meant the Nigerians were unable to wear the green shirts they favoured, so out came their brand-new Adidas change strip of all white.

Yet this was no ordinary white strip. On closer inspection, those white shirts and shorts were actually riddled with what can only be described as an 'ethnic' pattern. While nothing like it had been seen before (and some would argue since), it seemed to work. Here was an African team wearing a kit that resonated African tribal symbolism... kind of.

OK, so some people compared it to your favourite old pair of pyjamas from when you were six years old, but I thought it was a bold and inventive design by those canny Germans, and it can't have done the Nigeria team any harm as they beat Greece by two goals to nil in what was in fact their first ever match at the World Cup.

What a way to make an entrance...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Day 6 Review

A Basque friend of mine gleefully said to me on Tuesday "Have you noticed how all the big teams in this World Cup are playing their matches in the evening when most people can watch them? Italy, France, Argentina, Portugal, Brazil... that's why Spain are playing at 2pm tomorrow..." and with that he laughed with the cynical air of someone who had obviously lived under the brutal regime of General Franco for many years.

For the rest of us, the only cynicism came in the form of a general whinge about how Spain never live up to expectations in the world's greatest football competition. But that was soon forgotten as the Ukraine were forcefully swept to one side in Leipzig yesterday. Two goals in the first half and two in the second came either side of Vladislav Vashchuk being sent off for pulling back David Villa when clean through on goal.

Ukraine barely figured in the match to any serious extent. Andriy Shevchenko was passed fit to play and promptly went unnoticed for the next 90 minutes, and their first shot from Andriy Gusin finally came in the 32nd minute - easily saved by Iker Casillas.

Alonso, Villa and Torres got the goals that led Spain to an impressive 4-0 win which did much to restore their reputation in the World Cup. Their running, passing and shooting arguably brought about the best performance of the tournament so far, and must be sending shivers down the spine of the other two teams in Group H, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

They played each other in the 5pm kick-off and, well, how can I put this... I didn't think it'd be worth watching, so I went off to get some shopping at Sainsbury's instead. I'll therefore give you a resumé of what that was like rather than the match, so here goes...

The first thing I noticed was that they had some Cos lettuces in stock which was nice as they never have them when I want them. Very important if you want to make a decent Caesar Salad. Then they had some '2 for £2' offers on tubs of pasta salad which was tempting, but I've already got some at home in the fridge so I gave them a miss, ultimately. Then it was off to buy a roasted chicken, straight off the rotisserie. Marvellous. Just the thing to go with some roast potatoes, baked lovingly in a rosemary and parmesan coating and frozen for later use on those nights when only comfort food will do.

I won't bore you with the rest, so I'll just sum up by saying that Tunisia and Saudi Arabia drew 2-2. Moving on, the final game of the day saw the competition come full circle with Germany and Poland playing their second games since the tournament began last week. The hosts, despite showing a weak defence, impressed a lot of people in their first game against Costa Rica while Poland had it all to prove after a poor performance against Ecuador.

It came as no surprise, therefore, when a close match transpired with Germany carrying on where they left off last Friday. Launching wave after wave of attacks on the Polish goal, Germany threatened time and time again while Poland held strong - a vast improvement on their defensive play against the Ecuadorians.

Sadly, it was all to be in vain as right at the end the pressure finally paid off for the Germans thanks to an Oliver Neuville goal, set up by fellow substitute David Odonkor. It means the Germans are now all but through to Round 2 where they could face England, and if they do, they'll certainly provide a serious challenge for the likes of Terry, Ferdinand and Ashley Cole. 5-1 to England it won't be...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Day 5 Review

Another day, another set of disappointments from those teams we'd been holding in such high esteem. France stepped up to the plate to face Switzerland in the 5 o'clock kick-off, loaded (as they are) with talent as far as the eye can see. Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Gallas, Makelele, Barthez... I could go on, but I won't. That's because with all those star players (and more besides), they looked decidedly average as they laboured their way to a 0-0 draw.

So much for reputation then, but what of the mighty Brazil, loaded (as they are) with talent as far as the eye can see? Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos, Edinho... I could go on, but I won't, except to say that the Brazilians at least managed a 1-0 win in their unimpressive performace against a tricky Croatian side. Very little of their equisitely unique flair was on show as the Europeans made life decidedly difficult for them all over the pitch. Kaka, fortunately, sent Brazil on their way to a win in their opening game, but it wasn't enough to put them on top of Group F. That belonged to Australia who, it has to be said, now stand a reasonable chance of making teams re-evaluate them.

How strange then that in the other game of the day, Togo, who we were lead to believe were a team in complete disarray on all levels, came straight out in their first ever World Cup game and took the lead against South Korea. Mohamed Kader gave the Africans the lead on half an hour, and they enjoyed a numerical superiority for almost 25 minutes before South Korea finally equalised through Chun-Soo Lee.

Togo still engaged in the end to end football with their counterparts and seemed to have an equal chance of winning until Ahn struck the winner for South Korea with 18 minutes remaining. For all their determination and attacking play, Togo's undoing was their lack of decent fire power up front. Korea weren't much better in that respect, but their experience at previous World Cups must have counted for something as they continued to make chance after chance in the hope that luck would finally swing their way. In the end it did, and who's to say that South Korea didn't deserve their victory any less than Brazil did, let alone England or Holland or Portugal?

Observers Book of Germany 2006 - First Issue

As per usual, every World Cup tournament brings sees the release of a new football, and as per usual a lot of fuss has been made over the balls charateristics and movement in the air.

Germany 2006 sees the introduction of the Adidas 'Teamgeist', which is German for "Beach Ball".

I think...

Anyway, with the World Cup now in its sixth day, I have noticed a few things possibly related to the ball.

Thing 1 : The amount of good goals.
I cant remember a World Cup that has started with this many great goals. We had two great goals from Germany in the opening game (Lahm and Frings) and that has continued thus far with Rosicky of the Czech Republic to my current favourite, Mohamed of Togo.

Thing 2 : The amount of shots from distance.
With the ball moving as it does, it makes sense to have long range shots.

Thing 3 : The amount of great saves.
The balls unpredictablitly in the air has supposedly made it harder for keepers to judge the flight of the ball - has this resulted in the keepers being at full stretch and at the top of their game to make some of the outstanding saves we have seen so far?

Thing 4 : No penalties award. (Correct at time of going to press)
This is just a theory, but due to the movement of the ball, a lot of teams have been hitting shots from outside the penalty area (see Thing 2, above). Attacking players in the penalty area and therefore the amount of fouls made in the box will be reduced.

They are just my observations and theories and I could, of course, be totally wrong.

Your Guide to... Group H

Today sees the last of the 32 teams playing their opening games in the 2006 World Cup. Here's the form on the four teams of Group H...

  • Spain hope their reputation for failing to deliver in the World Cup will come to an end this time with an experienced squad
  • Coach Luis Aragones has favoured players who have picked up experience at club level from all over Europe, including Xabi Alonso (Liverpool) and Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
  • He's also a big fan of captain Raul, however he may finally drop him to allow Fernando Torres and David Villa to play together after Raul's poor form over the last few years
  • Spain's defence is settled and in midfield Joaquin and Arsenal's Reyes feature prominently on the wings
  • Xavi is the creative focus in the middle of the pitch, dictating the pace of the game, using astuteness to make excellent passes.
  • Striker Andrii Shevchenko is without doubt the big name in the team, but coach Oleg Blokhin has created harmony amongst his players by not making him the focus of their gameplay
  • Shevchenko receives plenty of quality support from Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Oleh Husiev and Andrii Voronin, while the return to form of Serhii Rebrov provides an excellent alternative to Shevchenko on the bench
  • Blokhin sees physical ability as being as much of a priority as technical ability, particularly in midfield where his players are required to chase and work hard
  • Reliable first-choice keeper Shovkovskyi is back in the team after breaking his collar bone in April.
  • Ukraine play in a defensive style, similar to that of Tunisia who also appear in Group H.

  • Tunisia have an experienced and well-drilled squad that like to play a counter-attacking game
  • In defence, they have two reliable performers in Hatem Trabelsi of Ajax and Radhi Jaidi of Bolton Wanderers
  • In midfield, Tunisia have rarely used the same four players, so familiarity and understanding could be lacking between them at times
  • The Tunisians can rely on a steady supply of goals if their strike partnership of Guemamdia and Dos Santos click into gear - between them they scored 10 goals during qualifying
  • Though a tough unit, Tunisia appear to lack something special - an element of inspiration that can transform a game.
Saudi Arabia
  • Argentinean coach Gabriel Calderon guided the Saudi Arabians to qualification but was promptly sacked and replaced by Brazilian Marcos Paqueta after a poor performance in the West Asian Games last November
  • The Saudi defence conceded only one goal in qualifying, helped largely by the return of veteran goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Deayea to the team
  • Sadly their attack is not so reliable - Sami Al Jaber is their one recognised striker, but at 34 his best years are probably behind him.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Altogether now, you all know this one...

While watching the opening game of the World Cup last Friday, my partner Mel and I decided that Germany were having far too easy a time of it against Costa Rica, and that the game needed something extra by way of excitement.

So to that end, we invented a game of our own which I invite you all to join in on. It's called World Cup Songbook. It's very easy to play - all you have to do is think of a song title that uses the name of a player involved in this year's World Cup.

For example, in the opening game you could have had 'Frings Can Only Get Better' or that old Carpenter's hit 'Klose To You'...

There's plenty more where that came from, but don't let me hog the idea - why not come up with some of your own?!? :-)

Your Guide to... Group F (Part II) and Group G

Group F (contd.)


  • Where to start…? They have the ‘fab five’ - Ronaldo and Adriano up front, Ronaldinho and Kaka supporting them and Robinho capable of replacing any of them from the bench - unless he starts a match with them…
  • Some players have suffered injuries or lack of club form while others like Ronaldinho have been playing virtually twice a week since August
  • Brazil have been known to under-achieve when expectation is high
  • Cafu and Roberto Carlos in defence are nearing the end of their careers while other defensive options like Roque Junior and Lucio haven’t met with universal approval so far


  • Croatia’s style of play is to sit back deep and hit their opponents quickly on the counter-attack
  • Most of their best work goes through Niko Kranjcar, son of the coach Zlatko Kranjcar
  • Croatia’s play can lack creativity, allowing themselves to be impeded by their own packed five-man midfield
  • Their only star player is Rangers striker Dado Prso - the rest of the team don’t come close on quality
  • Many of their goals come from set-pieces, and if Prso can be prevented from showing his skill, Croatia aren’t left with much to offer

Group G

South Korea

  • The Koreans play an aggressive pressing game, trying to force their opponents into making mistakes
  • Of their faults, they have a tendency not to be able to convert chances into goals
  • Their star man is Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung, but of their foreign contingent they also have in their ranks Lee Young-Pyo, left back at Tottenham Hotspur
  • South Korea's chances have been dealt a blow after striker Lee Dong-Gook (who spearheaded their 3-man attack) suffered a cruciate ligament injury
  • The Koreans employ a 4-3-3 formation with which they forge strong links between the midfield and forward lines


  • Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor scored 10 goals in Togo's qualifying campaign, and most of their play revolves around him
  • Togo have had to borrow players with tenuous national links from Ghana and Nigeria in order to bolster the squad
  • Togo did have a good team spirit and increasing self-belief during qualifiers, but since then the coach has been replaced, following which they lost all three games at the African Nations Cup
  • A lack of preparation before the World Cup could mean the team play in a disjointed fashion
  • Togo have suffred huge disruption prior to the World Cup - Coach Otto Pfister resigned in the last few days and has since been reinstated (according to one source), players have been caught up in pay disputes and Pfister has incurred protests from followers of the team after dropping Adebayor briefly at the start of the year.


  • New coach Raymond Domenech has irritated some of the older players with his over-officious style since taking over from Aime Jacquet after the last World Cup
  • They began their qualifying campaign by failing to score in their first three games against Ireland, Israel and Switzerland after several of the older players retired
  • Having reversed their decisions, Zidane, Thuram and Makelele brought some much needed quality back to the team and they earned qualification at the last moment
  • Elsewhere in the team, their talent is still of a predictably high quality - Henry and Trezeguet featuring in attack and Gallas and Thuram shoring up the defence
  • At Euro 2004, much of the play revolved around Zidane but they may need to change that and make Henry the main focus instead
  • Since winning the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, they were eliminated in the first round of the 2002 World Cup and the quarter-finals of Euro 2004


  • The Swiss are a compact, well-drilled side, but their midfield play is somewhat one-dimensional - hard-working, but not imaginative
  • They rely heavily on striker Alex Frei for goals, however he's only just recovered from a groin injury
  • Goalkeeper Zuberbuhler is usually dependable but has made several mistakes lately
  • The full backs are an interesting combination of veteran Patrick Muller and rookie Philippe Senderos of Arsenal
  • The Swiss play a counter-attacking game - easy enough to implement against a fast-playing side like France, but against Togo...?

Day 4 Review

Yesterday belonged to Australia. Having played only once before at the World Cup (an experience that prompted no goals to be scored in three games), the Socceroos finally made the breakthrough with a tough 3-1 victory over Japan.

Japan took the lead on 26 minutes thanks to a controversial goal from Nakamura, but the Aussies battled on and enjoyed most of the possession as Japan's efforts dried up. Then late on, Guus Hiddink sent Tim Cahill into battle and 6 minutes from the end he finally got the equaliser they worked so hard for, thus earning his place in World Cup history as Australia's first scorer in the Finals.

But that was just the beginning. Five minutes later, Cahill added a second before John Aloisi scored a third right at the end to give Australia a somewhat flattering but comprehensive win. They will now watch the other game in the group - Brazil v Croatia (today) with much interest.

Elsewhere, the Czech Republic cruised to an easy 3-0 win over the United States. Unable to find a way behind the Czech back line, the USA struggled to find their way through a strong defence while the Czechs with their slick, accurate passing made many in-roads at the other end.

Jan Koller headed home for his side's opener on five minutes but before Rosicky added a second on 36 minutes, USA's Claudio Reyna managed to hit the post from just outside the penalty area. Six minutes later, Koller was stretchered off with a muscle strain and the Czech's range of attacking options seemed all the more limited.

Those fears were allayed in the second half when Rosicky, Ujfalusi and Poborsky fired numerous efforts at the American goal, one from Rosicky hitting the bar. Finally in the 76th minute, the Czech Republic made certain of the three points when Rosicky got his second of the game to go top of Group E.

The 8 o'clock kick-off saw another African debutant take to the stage as Ghana faced up to many people's favourites to win, Italy. As expected, Italy looked the better of the two teams and were all the more threatening with their attack play. Ghana lacked a decent striker and were forced to rely upon midfielder Michael Essien for inspiration which was very few and far between.

That said, Ghana performed well and showed no sign of nerves or inferiority. Their physical strength and speed on the attack gave the Italians something to think about, but when Pirlo finally struck home with his 40th minute shot, it was always going to be difficult for the Africans to get back into the game.

Francesco Totti made his return from a broken leg and eventually found his form later on in the game while his team-mates Perrotta and Toni fired shots at Ghana keeper Kingston too, particularly in the second half.

Ghana battled on and tested Buffon with one or two shots but their undoing came in the 83rd minute when Kuffour under-played his back pass to Kingston, allowing Iaquinta to intercept and round the keeper to make it 2-0.

So another spirited performance from an African side at this World Cup and once again a need to re-evaluate their status as whipping boys. That said, it's looking like an uphill struggle for them at this tournament and they'll be looking for more promising results against weaker opposition when the opportunities arise.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Your Guide to... Group E and Group F (Part I)

Group E

  • Strength in all areas, starting at the back with the dependable goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon right up to Alessandro Del Piero and Luca Toni up front
  • Italy have fielded strong sides in major competitions before and under-achieved - most recently at Euro 2004
  • Their qualifying campaign started off a little nervously, beating Moldova only 1-0 and losing 1-0 to Slovenia, but by the end, they cruised to top spot in the group comfortably
  • Since qualifying, they've beaten Holland and Germany in friendly matches
  • Coach Marcello Lippi asks his players to work hard, sometimes sacrificing exciting play in the process
  • If Italy make a slow start as they have done at times in the past, they could find themselves playing Brazil in Round 2...


  • This is Ghana's first World Cup and it comes at the expense of South Africa who faltered in their qualification group
  • Their star player is undoubtedly Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien - technically gifted, he's strong, quick and can read the game well
  • Ghana have been looking desperately for decent strikers to put in the team, trying out various options in the many friendlies they've played of late
  • The Black Stars are another team that can lay claim to making full use of the flanks in their build-up play.

United States

  • Coach Bruce Arena encourages his flat back four to attack whenever possible
  • Though DaMarcus Beasley is a gifted natural left-footer and well suited to play on the left wing, Arena doesn't have an equivalent player for the right wing
  • Key midfielder Landon Donovan is yet to find an ideal position on the pitch but could be best suited just behind striker Brian McBride
  • The midfield unit lacks muscle too, with no one player claiming to be a traditional 'ball winner'
  • The team is fit and tactically adept but tend not to play an entertaining style of football

Czech Republic

  • The Czechs boast a wealth of skilful and talented players, but the likes of Nedved, Poborsky, Koller, Galasek and Smicer are all now over 30 and not as quick and agile as they once were
  • Only goalkeeper Petr Cech has emerged from the younger generation of Czech players with much credit while Milan Baros and Tomas Rosicky continue to hit form from time to time
  • Since Euro 2004, the Czech defence has improved slightly with David Rozehnal and Jan Polak both showing good form of late
  • The Czech Republic are generally a very good attacking side, but their defence can be weak when least expected
Group F

  • Australia have a style of play influenced by British, continental and South American football, with a rough, physical edge
  • Guus Hiddink has organised his troops into a side that often threaten to score, ditching the previous 4-4-2 formation in favour of 3-5-2
  • While this makes the most of a very strong midfield boasting players like Harry Kewell and Parma's Marco Bresciano, it also highlights a small and weak defence which could easily be breached
  • At the back, Mark Schwarzer is a goalkeeper that can win games while up front his Middlesbrough team-mate Mark Viduka has ended the season in good form
  • Playing just behind Viduka is likely to be Tim Cahill who has scored 8 goals in 14 internationals
  • Japan's strengths include strong discipline and a creative set of midfielders that can produce the unexpected
  • Weaknesses include a collective inexperience in defence, no-one with a big, strong physique and a lack of outstanding strikers
  • Zico's approach as manager is to concentrate less on tactics and strategy and play more in the Brazilian style, being impulsive and producing flair play off the cuff
  • Japan are currently the best team in Asia and have achieved the occasional notable result in friendly matches, but would benefit from a natural goalscorer to help them achieve more

Next up: Group F (Part II) and Group G

Day 3 Review

Holland had to work hard to get their campaign off to a good start yesterday with a narrow 1-0 win over Serbia & Montenegro. Arjen Robben took advantage of a defence splitting pass to slot the ball past the keeper early in the first half, but the team in orange were unable to repeat the feat. Serbia had few chances of their own to offer by way of an attack and only looked at their best when trying to prevent further Dutch goals going in.

The win puts Holland in second place in Group C behind Argentina and they next face a tricky Ivory Coast team on June 16th. I wonder if they’ll both wear orange?

Group D began with an exciting match between Mexico and Iran. The Middle Eastern side dominated the early play with some fluid forward movement, but it was Mexico who showed the way with their first decent attack of the game. Iran equalised eight minutes later and everything remained finely balanced until a quarter of an hour from time when Mexico added two goals in four minutes to end Iran’s chances of winning.

Later in the day, Portugal took to the field to face the country they’d colonised until 1975, Angola. It was the first time the African team had played in a World Cup match and it showed when after four minutes, Pauleta gave Portugal the lead.

Angola weren’t to be outclassed, however, as they dealt admirably with Portugal’s attempts at trying to find a second. While lacking a potent striker up front, Angola fought well in defence and midfield as Portugal seemed unable to find any variation up front.

Cristiano Ronaldo was substituted after an hour, and understandably looked disappointed, having contributed much to the game including a header that hit the bar. Figo, predictably, engineered much of the Portuguese moves from the wings, but his goalkeeper Ricardo had to make a few saves as the game went on.

The match finished with Angola claiming a creditable 1-0 defeat against one of the world’s top sides and if they do the same against Mexico in their next match, they won’t be at all disappointed. As for Portugal, they became the latest members of the ‘What went wrong? Club’ along with England and Holland - teams that have started well and faded fast.

Maybe they’re satisfying themselves with an early goal that can be defended for the rest of the game, but from where I’m standing, it looks like a dwindling supply of ideas and ingenuity that’s stopping them scoring more. Their remaining matches should be interesting to watch from that point of view…

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Your Guide to... Group C (Part II) and Group D

Continuing our look at Group C, here are the remaining two teams, the Netherlands and Serbia & Montenegro, plus all four teams in Group D.

Group C (contd...)

Serbia & Montenegro

  • Serbia & Montenegro used to play a sweeper system but now favour a flat back four. It conceded only one goal in 10 qualifying games
  • The former Yugoslavians have very few star names, but can boast Savo Milosevic and Mateja Kezman among their ranks
  • The team's strong points are tactical discipline, solid defending and a great team spirit
  • While not a team that makes the defence the heart of their play, they do now how to get a lead and hold onto it


  • Coach Marco Van Basten has been trying out lots of lesser known players in the team recently, trying to rely less on the star names that play at club level around Europe
  • Out of those star names that do get a game, they'll be hoping that Van Nistelrooy, Robben and Cocu remain fit
  • The Netherlands did a fine job of defending during the qualifiers - in 12 matches, they kept 10 clean sheets against teams like the Czech Republic and Romania
  • The Dutch play an attacking game with plenty of men storming forward, usually in a 4-3-3 formation.

Group D


  • Mexico's team is almost entirely full of home-based players - only four play their club football abroad
  • Their schedule of friendly matches has been somewhat hectic. In 2005, they played 26 times...
  • This has enabled coach Ricardo Lavolpe to bed in many young players quickly, reducing the average age dramatically
  • Mexico are very adept at making tactical changes, often switching things around in the middle of a game
  • They play a solid passing game but struggle against physical opposition


  • They have two main stars on whom many people's attention will be diverted: Ali Karimi, a midfield who likes to run with the ball, and Ali Daei, veteran forward and captain of the side
  • Iran's midfield contains many players who see domestic action in Germany's Bundesliga
  • Iran like to play thrusting, attractive, fluid football, often centered around playing the ball down the wings


  • In qualifying, Angola didn't concede that many goals but then again didn't score that many either...
  • After decades of civil war, the team is now reliant on players of Angolan origin from all over Europe whose families fled when independence came
  • Angola's main strength lies with their attackers, however their form in recent matches has been disappointing
  • Their defence and midfield are both problem areas and goalkeeper Joao Ricardo wasn't even affiliated to a club last season


  • Portugal haven't got past the group stage of the World Cup since 1966 and this is only their fourth Finals campaign ever
  • Some of their players have played very little during the domestic season, including Costinha, Maniche, Paulo Ferreira and Nuno Valente
  • The team will rely on the bulk of the Euro 2004 squad that finished runners-up on home soil
  • Portugal have a wealth of talent to call upon: Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo on the wings, Pauleta up front and Deco creating goalscoring opportunities from midfield

Next up: Group E and Group F (Part I)...

Day 2 Review

Hurrah! England have won their first match! Rejoice!

With 15 minutes played I was beginning to think my prediction of a 2-0 win to England was going to be a little inadequate. Beckham's free kick was flicked into the net by Paraguayan defender Carlos Gamarra and the entire defence for the South American's was looking completely inept and ill at ease.

Sadly for England, despite dominating the first half with lots of possession, they weren't actually able to fully take advantage of the momentum. No further goals came and Paraguay gradually found their feat with plenty of their own possession in the second half.

England defended well, but offered somewhat less than we'd hoped for in attack. Gerrard and Lampard were confined to long range shots and Crouch and Owen were rather isolated up front, unable to use each other for support when the rare opportunities arose.

Paraguay had their moments, but they were largely kept well at bay by the conscientious defending of Terry and Ferdinand. For my money, though, Ashley Cole still doesn't look match-fit and Gary Neville was... well... Gary Neville.

Still, three points in the bag and England can now look forward to Wednesday's encounter with Trinidad & Tobago who stubbornly refused to be beaten by a lacklustre Sweden side yesterday. While still having many players of undoubted quality, Sweden, it's fair to say, are now a shadow of their former selves.

Trinidad & Tobago looked a little ragged round the edges, but they were content to try and play a quick attacking game which, had it not been for some better shooting, could have resulted in a couple of goals. The Swedish defence held on, however, but one can't help thinking they must have had an easier time of things than their opposite number at the other end.

Shaka Hislop's display in goal for the Caribbeans undoubtedly earned them the point they deserved. I personally thought he was the man of the match, but FIFA thought better of it and gave the award to Hislop's team-mate Dwight Yorke. To be fair, the ex-Man United striker did orchestrate his team well on the day and should perform similarly well in the England match next week. I've got a feeling Trinidad & Tobago will prove they're a different proposition from Jamaica altogether, and Sven Goran Eriksson will do well to realise that...

The last game of Day 2 saw Argentina face Ivory Coast in 'The Group of Death'. Through most of the match, Argentina looked slick, competent and skilful, scoring two goals before Half Time thanks to Crespo and Saviola. The Africans weren't to be outshone, however, and often showed a dogged determination to attack when the chance arose. Sadly they too suffered from a lack of sufficient fire power up front, although a late goal from Didier Drogba did provide some late hope of an upset.

As expected, Argentina took all three points, but Holland won't be expecting a walk-over when they meet Ivory Coast next week. As for Argentina, they've begun their campaign in a confident mood and look good enough to reach the latter stages of the competition, in my book.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Your Guide to... Group B and Group C (Part I)

Today's games feature all four teams in Group B and two from Group C, so here's what to expect from them...

Group A

  • With their first-choice XI on the field, England have strength in depth in all areas
  • Terry and Ferdinand make an experienced central defensive partnership
  • Gerrard and Lampard are star players in midfield, although there's some doubt about how to play both in the same team to maximum effect
  • Gerrard's likely to be tired having played 60+ matches this season, but others will have benefited from early exits from European competition and other recent rest periods
  • In attack, Owen and Crouch have started to click, although fans won't be fully confident until a recovering Rooney returns
  • Their defence and goalkeeper lack some height, and this could be exploited by the other teams in the group
  • Paraguay now boast a blend of veterans who have played in many recent major competitions along with a few new rising stars
  • Paraguay are a resilient team who can't be written off until the final whistle
  • They are a threat from set-pieces, with striker Santa Cruz of Bayern Munich being their most dangerous star player
  • As ever, their defence is the strongest part of the team, although they've struggled to find consistency with their choice of back four
  • Sweden are excellent at suffocating an opposing team's attack, conceding only 11 goals in their last 36 qualifying games
  • In attack, they boast Ibrahimovic of Juventus and an ageing Henrik Larsson, fed by the wing play of Freddie Ljungberg
Trinidad & Tobago
  • The Caribbean islanders tend to suffer from bouts of poor concentration, slowness in transforming defence into attack and losing their shape under pressure
  • Trinidad's few well-known players are of a generally high standard, e.g. Dwight Yorke and Coventry's Stern John
  • A number of players have been tried out on the left wing, although Dundee United's Colin Samuel may play as a natural left-footer
  • Many of T&T's players can be found playing their club football in Scotland, Wales and the lower leagues of England, including Jason Scotland of St. Johnstone, strangely...
Group B

  • Suffered a first round exit in 2002, so the expectations are lower this time around, but that could work in their favour as the pressure will be off...
  • Argentina have suffered from a number of injuries to well-known players including Ayala, Heinze, Aimar and the returning star striker Lionel Messi
  • Argentina have reverted to their old style of play where the ball is allowed to run more and possession is the key to building attacks
  • Keeper Abbondanzieri is good at facing penalties and setting up counter-attacks but can lack confidence at set-pieces
  • Their defence isn't much more inspiring, largely due to the number of injuries they've had to deal with of late
  • Look out for their two star players - midfield engine Riquelme and the aforementioned Messi of Barcelona.
Ivory Coast
  • They find themselves in the 'Group of Death' which isn't a good start for an African nation making it's debut at the World Cup...
  • Ivory Coast will be heavily relying on the attacking skills of Chelsea's Didier Drogba around whom the team is based
  • Elsewhere, they can boast Arsenal's Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue in defence and a midfield made up of several players from France and Holland
  • Coach Henri Michel hasn't yet cracked a way to make his side play sparkling football, so in the meantime they've resorted to lumping the ball directly to the forwards as quickly as they can
  • Though the Ivory Coast's defensive record is good, their goalkeeper Jean-Jacques Tizie often has his nervous moments.
Part II of Group B, along with a look at Group C, comes tomorrow...

Day 1 Review

Well who'd have thought it - six goals in the opening game of the 2006 World Cup, Germany exceeding the expectations of most of their fans and Ecuador turning over Poland in game 2. I defy anyone not to hope that kind of thing doesn't continue right the way through the tournament.

Germany's early goal allowed them to settle down quicker than their opponents Costa Rica and the confidence was soon coursing through all eleven players, but if you've been visiting this blog before, you won't have been surprised by what was to follow.

As written in the previous post ('Your Guide to... Group A'), Paulo Wanchope has been on excellent form for Costa Rica and continues to score frequently. Within six minutes of Lahm's opener for Germany he'd done it again, thus exposing Germany's "decidedly leaky defence" (see 'Your Guide to... Group A').

Look, I hate to brag, but the previous post was also somewhat psychic in it's suggestion that Miroslav Klose would be a significant figure too. Klose's form with Werder Bremen this season came good when he put the hosts back in front a further five minutes on. With an hour on the clock, Klose got his second and Germany's third to make it 3-1 to the home side.

Germany's defence is without question their soft underbelly, and it was exposed again as Wanchope waltzed through their statuesque back four to give the Costa Ricans a second. It was only with three minutes of normal time left that Germany sealed the victory with a goal from Frings to end the match Germany 4 Costa Rica 2.

As for Ecuador v Poland, the game was less exciting - more 'interesting', really. Ecuador are said to play poorly when not at home at the high altitude they're so familiar with, so I for one wasn't expecting much from the South Americans. Poland, on the other hand, had shown a refreshing and accomplished style of attacking play in England's qualifying group, so my money was on them to run out winners.

The thing is, Poland have two teams and you never quite know who you're going to get in a major competition like the World Cup Finals. Would you get that exciting, attacking, care-free side that gave England such a hard time last year, or would you get the Poland side that lost to Portugal and South Korea, as in the last World Cup?

As it turned out, we got the latter last night. As mentioned in the last post ('Your Guide to...' yes, yes, alright, I'll shut up now), Ecuador have been concentrating on beefing up their defence of late and it showed. At times, they had six or seven men at the back and Poland simply didn't know how to get through it.

Fortunately for the home side, Ecuador had managed to forge a couple of decent attacks too, once on 24 minutes when Tenorio headed in a flicked on cross from a throw-in, and again with ten minutes left when Delgado finished off an attack through the tired-looking Polish defence.

Poland did hit the bar and post late on, but it would have been a travesty had those chances gone in. Ecuador deserved to win with their organised defence, and Poland didn't on account of their unimaginative attacking play.

It should be quite interesting when next Wednesday's matches in Group A roll around. Will Costa Rica and Paulo Wanchope be able to unlock Ecuador's back line, and will Poland fair better with Germany's weak defence? I fancy there may be more goals to come...

Friday, June 09, 2006

Your Guide to... Group A

And they're off!

As I write, the World Cup is due to start in just under 8 hours time with Germany v Costa Rica as the first match, followed swiftly by Ecuador v Poland. But what can you expect from Group A as the competition unfolds before your very eyes? Who should you be looking out for and who will succeed where others fail? Here are the facts you need to know...

  • Unlike previous World Cups, Germany have no real leader on the pitch. Forget Beckenbauer, Matthaeus and Rummenigge - a 2006 comparison doesn't exist for them.
  • In their favour is a relatively easy first round group and shed loads of home support, plus the fact that host nations reach at least the latter stages of the competition
  • Germany's one true star player, Michael Ballack, is injured and won't play in the opening game, but his strike partner Miroslav Klose has had a good season with Werder Bremen and could net a few goals for them instead.
  • Their defence is decidedly leaky and no-one's quite sure what the starting line-up will be - 14 players were tried out in defence in the 18 months leading up to the Finals.
  • When it comes to the crunch, Germany could come unstuck. They haven't beaten one of the world's top sides since 2000 when they beat England at Wembley.
Costa Rica
  • Their star player is without doubt Paulo Wanchope, who continues to score regularly, as was seen during Costa Rica's qualifying matches.
  • Costa Rica favour a short, snappy passing game, generating attacks from midfield.
  • Their goalkeeper and defence is somewhat unreliable. A 4-0 friendly defeat to Ukraine recently highlighted the problem despite claims that the defence has been improved since the last World Cup.
  • The Poles are decidedly schizophrenic on the world stage. In qualifying they were free-scoring and difficult to beat, but in major competitions they often underachieve and disappoint.
  • With a rickety defence and no real ball-winner in midfield, Poland will look to keep the ball as long as possible before getting it to their useful front line.
  • Poland have never beaten Germany, but if they get through to the second round they may face England who they notoriously always struggle to beat too.
  • A 3-0 victory over Ecuador at the end of 2005 gives hope of at least three points being collected in Round One.
  • Famously adept at playing at high-altitude on home soil, Ecuador aren't so good when playing away in unfamiliar territory.
  • Ecuador have one or two familiar names from the Premiership (De La Cruz of Aston Villa and Delgado of Southampton) that generally play better for their countries than their clubs.
  • Ecuador nowadays favour a direct style playing down the wings, ditching their previous intricate passing game which proved unsuccessful.
  • In a bid to tighten their defence, so much emphasis has recently gone on improving the back line that attacking play may take a back seat when the action starts in Germany.

Tomorrow: Group B...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

In defence of the Football fan...

OK, let's get this out of the way right now. Some time during the next four weeks - probably during the next two days in all probability - you will hear the following whining moan coming from certain sections of society:
"Every time you turn on the TV these days it's 'football, football, football'. I'm sick of it..."

Far be it for me to generalise, but more often than not it's women who utter the above statement. Not all women, of course, but quite a few. And what is their preferred choice of television programming? Soap operas. Some like to watch EastEnders, some like to watch Emmerdale and some like to watch Coronation Street. Oh and some poor souls like to watch all three, but they're beyond salvation, quite frankly.

So just how true is it - can it really be the case that Football is always on the telly, or at least more so than the soaps? In an attempt to clear the name of us Football fans, I've spent literally minutes trying to work out how much time is devoted to both the World Cup and to soap operas.

First of all, let's deal with the World Cup. It happens every four years, and as ever, the bulk of the matches are being shown live on ITV1 and BBC1. According to my calculations, the total amount of time that both channels will spend showing live matches is somewhere in the region of 140 hours.

And now, let's pick one of the three main soaps at random. Let's see... ummm... how about EastEnders. It's on four times a week for half an hour at a time, so that makes 2 hours per week. Or to put it another way, 104 hours per year. But the World Cup only happens once every FOUR years, so let's apply the same time period to Eastenders... 416 hours. Yes folks, over a four-year period, the World Cup accounts for 140 hours of TV and Eastenders accounts for 416.

But what's that, I hear you cry - "I watch Coronation Street"?? Well that gets shown five times a week in half-hour instalments, so over a four-year period that equates to 520 hours of primetime Northern drudgery.

And hey, let's not leave out Emmerdale. Everyone's favourite slice of life from the hills and dales of Yorkshire [yawn] gets shown six times a week, so in between World Cups you can expect to cram in around 625 hours worth, and not a cowpat in sight, mark you.

So have I made all that perfectly clear for you? Any discerning voices, please take note once and for all: the amount of time devoted to live World Cup matches is only a fraction of that spent showing EastEnders, Emmerdale or Coronation Street.

Funny that - no-one ever complains that there are too many soaps on TV...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Place your bets

With the World Cup only two days away, the more financially ambitious amongst you may have already been tempted to have a flutter while the competition's on. Yet for those of you that think the only available options are to bet a couple of quid on Brazil winning outright or Michael Owen being top scorer, then you're very much mistaken.

A cursory look around the web brings forth all manner of different things to bet on during the World Cup, from the ubiquitous to the frankly mind-boggling.

As well as the usual bets on individual match results and group winners, there's also, as ever, a list of top goalscorers to choose from, but these days the breakdown of options is more extensive than ever before.

You can bet on the top goalscorer for Australia, the Ivory Coast or any other country for that matter. You can also bet on the highest scorer that plays his club football in the Premiership, Serie A or La Liga. And if you want to get really specific, try betting on the highest scoring Liverpool, Chelsea or Man United player.

But that's all a bit tame by 21st Century standards, to be honest. You can approach this whole gambling business from a somewhat different and even negative angle in 2006. PaddyPower and BetFred are offering you the chance to stake some reddies on which team will pick up the most cards during the tournament (Argentina being the favourites so far at 13/2), while SkyBet offer a selection of familiar names to choose from in the category 'First Player Cautioned For Diving'. You'll be wanting Didier Drogba at 8/1, if I'm not mistaken...

In fact when it comes to strange and ludicrous wagers, SkyBet really have lost the plot in a big way. They're offering odds of 33/1 on England being booted out of the World Cup due to rioting fans and 25/1 on Jens Lehman of Germany saving a penalty against England (huh, yeah, right...)

But the best bet they offer of all is for the amount of streakers you'll see during the entire competition. For a £5 bet, you'll win £75 if four of them turn up, but to be honest your winnings will be the last of your concerns at the time. You'll be too busy trying to remember how to instantly record programmes on your Sky+ box.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Observers Book of The World Cup

Written by Smart

After watching a wealth of programmes on TV, the stack of DVD's free with cereal packets and potatoes, and after reading all World Cup magazines and guides that you get free with the weekend newspapers (by the way, I dont get out much...) I have made a few observations ...

1. The depth of the goal nets gets deeper with every tournament.
In the days of black and white, the goals were about 3 foot deep and rumours are the nets for Germany 2006 will have been borrowed from the fishing village of Bremenhaven...

2. Goalies used to roll around after conceding a goal.
It took the officials years to find Lee Harvey Oswald amongst the crowd.

3. Bald men score some great goals.
Archie Gemill... Bobby Charlton... Yordan Letchkov...

4. Older kits had baggy shirts and tight shorts.
Most modern kits have tight shirts and baggy shorts.

5. You can see f**k all when they chuck 'ticker-tape' about.
The 1978 World Cup Final was responsible for over 2,000 deaths worldwide. This is because some of the viewing millions fell off the roofs of their homes trying to adjust the TV aerial to remove the 'snow' and interference from picture.

Feel free to add to the list if you have noticed anymore.

News Round-Up

Just three days to go now and if you thought you were starting to feel the tension build, spare a thought for Ilija Petkovic, say our Eastern Europe correspondents Portman and Emma.

Following the result of a recent referendum for independence, the Serbia & Montenegro coach is apprehensively gearing up to make a momentus decision: will he manage Serbia, Montenegro or both in the World Cup Finals?

Research shows that no man has ever coached two countries on the world stage before, but since Montenegro's decision to go it alone and opt for self-rule, Petkovic could find himself making history as the first multi-team coach at the World Cup. We wish him well.

Elsewhere, the England team have been training in their new Umbro training kit, and Portman and Emma can exclusively reveal that the motif adopted by the manufacturers is in fact based on two worms making love. "The design reflects the national team's harmonious co-existence with nature and the need to show love to one another" said an Umbro spokesperson. Kind of.

And so to yesterday where the England team boarded their specially chartered British Airways jet to take them to their base camp in Germany. The plane was renamed 'Pride of the Nation' (replacing the old name 'Victory in Japan / Korea') and even the headrests inside featured messages sent in from England fans for each of the players. Wayne Rooney's headrest had the message "We hope your toe heals up soon", David Beckham's said "Score a hat-trick for all the fans back home!" and Theo Walcott's headrest showed the words "I haven't the foggiest idea who you are, but can you get me Steven Gerrard's autograph, please?"

More news when we get it...

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Greatest Squad of My Life (Part II)

And so to continue with the concluding part of my best ever squad. I won't explain the premise again - for that you'll need to read part 1.

So here goes with squad numbers 12 to 22...

12. Henry (FRA)
Other candidates: Kahn (GER); Giresse (FRA); Krol (NED)

13. G. Mueller (WG)
Other candidates: Ballack (GER); Voller (GER); Neeskens (NED); Kempes (ARG)

14. Cruyff (NED)
Other candidates: Overmars (NED); Scifo (BEL); Amokachi (NIG); Boksic (YUG); Tigana (FRA); Armstrong (NIR); Julio Cesar (BRA); Tardelli (ITA)

15. Platini (FRA)
Other candidates: R. Baggio (ITA); Prosinecki (YUG); Passarella (ARG); Falcao (BRA); Rensenbrink (NED)

16. Scholes (ENG)
Other candidates: Barthez (FRA); Conti (ITA); Lato (POL); Robson (ENG); Whiteside (NIR); Rep (NED)

17. Papin (FRA)
Other candidates: Petit (FRA); Quinn (IRE); Vialli (ITA); Branco (BRA)

18. Klinsmann (GER)
Other candidates: Leboeuf (FRA); R.Baggio (ITA); Altobelli (ITA); Rocheteau (FRA); Socrates (BRA); Matthaeus (WG); Bettega (ITA); Boniek (POL); Souness (SCO); Tarantini (ARG)

19. Gascoigne (ENG)
Other candidates: Crespo (ARG); Schillaci (ITA); Nicholas (SCO); Allofs (WG); Barnes (ENG); Graziani (ITA); Passarella (ARG); Law (SCO)

20. Owen (ENG)
Other candidates: Trezeguet (FRA); Ronaldo (BRA); Rossi (ITA); Beardsley (ENG); Boniek (POL); Tarantini (ARG)

21. Vieri (ITA)
Other candidates: Nuno Gomes (POR); Caniggia (ARG); Zola (ITA); Vialli (ITA); Rossi (ITA)

22. Shilton (ENG)
Other candidates: Khan (GER); Negrete (MEX); Villa (ARG)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

"Jamaica? No, she went of her own accord..."

And so it came to pass that England finished their World Cup preparations with a fine 6-0 victory over Jamaica on Saturday. The choice of opponents was interesting in that Sven obviously wanted someone weak enough to beat convincingly, thus motivating his entire team, however Jamaica should be seen as being comparable with Trinidad and Tobago, England's opponents on June 15th. At least it was a more justifiable choice than Germany's when they played Luxembourg recently, beating them 7-0.

So what do the Sunday papers make of yesterday's performance? Well the Telegraph seems to be hailing Peter Crouch as perhaps the answer to all our fears, suggesting that, despite starting his England career as a joke figure, he is in the current circumstances "virtually indispensable". Not sure about that myself, but a hat-trick yesterday won't have done anybody any harm.

The Observer is similarly complementary about Crouch's performance saying "the tall striker has answered all his many doubters in the best possible way" before reminding us quite rightly that "England cannot play Jamaica every week". If only.

Much was said about Crouch's poorly taken penalty, not least from Eriksson who told us that "...[Crouch] came to me and apologised about that. He took it in a jokey way, not seriously, and I don't like to see that." Very reassuring, especially given England's record when it comes to sudden-death penalty shoot-outs.

The Observer goes on to note that none of England's first-half goals came from open play - a worry given their attack-minded midfield - but at least Michael Owen was back on the scoresheet again. The Mail on Sunday's Ian Ridley remarked that it would "deliver him a welcome shot of confidence for a tournament in which he has always before come alive".

Ridley also highlighted the sense of self-destruction in the Jamaican camp which led as much to the visitors' downfall as anything England did on the day. Watford's Marlon King was sent home from the training camp after a row that followed their 4-1 loss to Ghana last week, and Jamaica started the match on Saturday with a booking for Jermaine Taylor before he went on to head into his own net. Daley later did likewise with his foot.

So all in all then, we can go into the World Cup Finals next week with a renewed sense of vigour and optimism, but how far can we go with the players available? How far will we go with the Coach's tactical astuteness? And not only that - do we HAVE to keep seeing Crouch doing that body-popping cobblers?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Where Are They Now? : David James

Ever wondered what happened to the former goalkeeping maestro that was a collosus for West Ham, Manchester City and England?

Portman and Emma appear to have the answer. It seems the wicked witch at the FA has cast a spell on him, turning him into...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Theres always a ‘Plan B’…

So your nation doesn’t qualify for the World Cup finals - now what are you going to do? Well, how about supporting another nation, preferably one that your biggest rivals are due to play?

That’s what the Scottish are doing. They have adopted Englands Group B opponents Trinidad and Tobago as there home nation by proxy. Replica home shirts for Trindad and Tobago are selling faster than deep-fried Mars bars, most of which are heading north of the border.

There are six players in the Trinidad squad who ply their trade in the Scottish League, but the most popular one of all is the St Johnstone striker named Jason Scotland. Just imagine it - you could have the added bonus of having ‘SCOTLAND’ emblazoned across the back of your brand new Trini shirt.

What more could the Scottish wish for? Apart from a Scottish 2006 World Cup kit, that is…


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