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Saturday, January 14, 2006

World Cup Outsiders 1 - Ukraine

This is the first in a series of posts highlighting some of the lesser known countries appearing at the World Cup in Germany.

Where better to start than with the first European football team to qualify - the Ukraine. Yup, the Ukraine. Home to Dynamo Kiev. And, um, probably a bunch of other teams too. But I can't actually name any of them.

Nevertheless, I'm going to stick my neck out and predict good things for the Ukraine at the World Cup.

They won through a potentially very tricky qualifying group that included 2002 World Cup semi-finalists Turkey, European Champions Greece and the always competitive Denmark. In my view, this makes them no mugs at playing high-level competitive football and this should stand them in good stead going into the Finals themselves.

Secondly, the Ukraine's World Cup Group (H) is one that should see them progress through to the second round. Aside from Spain (who are always likely to implode or play like your grandfather) , the Group includes Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis are likely to be World Cup whipping boys. Their standard of football just isn't up to the rest of the group and Tunisia - despite being African Nations Champions 2004 - are definitely beatable with the quality that the Ukraine have, especially upfront.

The Ukrainian's not so secret weapon is Andriy Shevchenko - current AC Milan striker, one of the top goalscorers ever in the history of the Champions League and an unarguably top class player. He will score goals at the World Cup and that will ensure that the Ukraine gets to the second stage at least.

Even better, they're not a one man team - Keeper Shovkovski kept four successive clean sheets in qualifying and with the likes of Andrey Voronin (Bayer Leverkusen) and rising star Andrey Rusol, they have more quality than might be expected for such a small football country.

So, how far can the Ukraine go. Well, if they win the group, they will face the runners up of Group G (likely to be Switzerland or South Korea). If they finish runners-up in Group H, then they will most likely play France. I think it's quite possible that a Quarter Finals finish is within the grasp of the Ukraine.

posted by mark_s at 7:40 PM 3 comments

I Want My Bavarian Folk Dancers

Oh, this is too funny. In classic European style, FIFA have managed to cancel the opening ceremony of the 2006 World Cup claiming, as reported in The Guardian and elsewhere that "It has become clear there would be considerable risks involved, not only in dismantling the stages and the event's technical installations, but also in laying a new pitch, which has to be in perfect playing condition by June 12."

Really ? So it was cancelled because of the danger to the pitch of the Berlin stadium ? Far be it from me to indulge in racial stereotyping, but the Germans are a pretty well-organised, efficient bunch and I don't believe for a minute that they hadn't taken this into consideration and prepared for it before now.

What's that you say. Tickets for the opening ceremony cost up to €750 ? Too expensive, you say ? Ah, well, that might explain it then.

Even the idea of
moving the event from Berlin to Munich has now been dismissed, suggesting that the cost was indeed the real reason for the cancellation. So, no Bavarian folk dancers for me or any of the other fans attending the World Cup. Such a shame.

posted by mark_s at 1:42 PM 0 comments

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Who's Getting All The Tickets ?

Following on from the complete farce that had thousands of fans paying a non-refundable fee to apply for tickets that they had no guarantee of ever receiving, it seems that it is no only the larger footballing powers like England that are unhappy with their ticket allocation. This week even Costa Rica are asking for more tickets to meet demand.

For those that aren't aware, each country receives 8% of available tickets for each match. That means that over 80% of people attending each game will not be supporters of either team.

So, who the hell gets all the other tickets ? The media, visiting dignitaries, mates of the guy who knows a guy who knows someone at FIFA, people buying favours, businessmen...yup, all the people without whom football wouldn't be the game we all love so much.

Fans ? What are they ?

There's something desperately wrong at FIFA and with the World Cup if they can't give fans of each team more than 8% of the available tickets. Sort it out, FIFA, you know it makes sense.

Either that or don't start moaning when touts are all over the venues and fans of opposing teams end up all mixed in together. You can't have it both ways.

posted by mark_s at 11:35 AM 0 comments

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Script is Written...It's a Tale of Two Cliches

Before the World Cup finals start in June, I'd just like to plead with football journalists and commentators to learn to write and/or speak without resorting to tired cliche. You have six months...surely it can't be that difficult.

Thus we should have a World Cup free of thoughtless inanities like 'it's a tale of two goalkeepers/strikers/midfielders/delete as applicable', 'the script was written' and so on. Now wouldn't that be refreshing.

The constant mention of 'scripts' and 'stories' in football commentary particularly irritates me. It's a game not a bloody's not fate that something happens; there's no God-like presence invoking the nameless lesser demons to cause particular things to occur and there's no Shakesperian playwrite who has created a 'script' that will be followed by the players.

So just stop it, OK ? You've got six months. You have been warned.


posted by mark_s at 4:34 PM 0 comments