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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Reflections On The Group Stages

The Group stages finished last night with Spain's 2-1 win over a 10 man Chile side, so now would be a good time to look back on the highs and lows of the 2010 World Cup so far.

The Hosts: South Africa got drawn in a very tough group but can hold their heads high after a solid draw with a good Mexico side and, of course, after putting France out of the competition in the final group match. Their performance should inspire the growth of the sport in the country and that's no bad thing.

The Surprise Packages: New Zealand were both a surprise package and a disappointment. They went home having not lost a match, but more attacking adventure against Paraguay in their final match could have seen them through to the knock out stages. What did they have to lose?

The other surprise package - for me, at least - was Japan. They had gone into the Finals on a run of very poor results and manager Takeshi Okada was under pressure due to the formation he had chosen. After all, playing a midfielder as a lone striker is not something most international managers would do.

He stuck with it. It worked very well, especially in Japan's 3-1 victory over Denmark. So Okada gets the 'I'm the boss and I know what I'm doing' award.

The Big Names : Well, in truth, Okada has to share that award with another manager: Fabio Capello. After two insipid England performances, many were calling for Capello to drop 4-4-2 and play a 4-5-1 formation for the final group game. He didn't. England won. Job done.

This is more than can be said for the 2006 World Cup Finalists - France and Italy. Both were pretty appalling and both ended bottom of their groups.

France, managed by walking disaster zone Raymond Domenech, imploded even before a ball was kicked. Rumours of player unrest, rows with the coach, and then Nicolas Anelka's expulsion from the squad made France as entertaining off the pitch as they were dire on it.

Italy weren't much better. To me, it looked like they expected to stroll through the group and didn't put any effort into it. They only really played football for 20 minutes in the whole tournament and that was too late.

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posted by mark_s at 8:15 AM 0 comments

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

England vs Slovenia: Live Blog

16:50 - Even more excitingly, USA have scored against Algeria via Landon Donovan and will win the Group. Rock and, indeed, roll.

16:48 - England are on the verge of the knock out stages. The fans are so, so loud. And that's it - England are through. Thank God for that.

16:46 - Slovenia break through but a fantastic last ditch tackle from Upson ensures that this match is still England's to lose.

16:44 - Still 0-0 for USA v Algeria. Looks like England and Slovenia are most likely to go through.

16:42 - Heskey is on for Defoe.

16:40 - I don't think Cole playing in the hole behind Defoe is the best use of either player. Time to Crouch or, whisper it, Heskey, methinks. Someone to hold the ball up would be a definite positive.

16:34 - Tim Matavz comes on for Slovenia in another attacking change.

16:32 - The England fans are urging their team on, but it's tense.

16:28 - Can't see Defoe staying on for much longer. I'm expecting Peter Crouch to replace him. I just don't think a Cole - Defoe combination is really going to deliver the killer blow.

16:26 - England are looking to bring on Joe Cole. Lots of tactical instructions from Stuart Pearce. Wayne Rooney, who picked up a knock, is going off.

16:23 - Barry's misplaced pass lead to a Slovenia break. Terry and Johnson finally snuff it out. Close, though!

16;20 - Credit where it's due: Slovenia 'keeper Handanovic looks a class act. Very solid for crosses and shots. Gigi Buffon rates him highly too, which I guess carries more weight than my opinion.

16:17 - Slovenia make a change with Zlatan Ljubijankic coming off and fellow striker Zlatko Dedic replacing him.

16:13 - England are completely on top now. Slovenia haven't got out of their half for the last five minutes. Rooney has just hit the post.

16:09 - Nice high tempo which is suiting England just fine.

16:03 - Glen Johnson picks up a yellow card, apparently for being body checked by a Slovenia defender. No idea what the ref is doing. Very odd decision.

16:01 - The second half kicks off and Defoe nearly scores within a minute. Slovenia are immediately on the defensive.

15:56 - It's half time and if you haven't yet bet on the World Cup Finals, now is the time to register at Bet365 and claim up to £200 in Free Bets.

15: 50 - Algeria and USA 0-0 in the first half. Algeria appear to have shaded this. If it stays like that, they are both out.

15:45 - Half time. Some very, er, liberal refereeing but the game has been better for it. England are on top and should go on to win.

15:40 - Slovenia's left back Bojan Jokic picks up a yellow for a foul on Johnson. He's out for the next match, so expect Milner and Johnson to bombard him down that flank from now on.

15: 33 - England are looking confident now, with Gerrard, Rooney and Defoe all very sharp. The Three Lions are firing on all cylinders. It could have been 3-0 by now.

15: 25 - If you fancy piling in for an England win, Bet365 will give you 1.16 on the win. Bet now at Bet365.

15:22 - Having had maybe one touch of the ball so far, Tottenham's Jermain Defoe does what he does best and puts England 1-0 up. Great cross from Milner.

15:19 - Incidentally, if you want to keep up with this live blog, you'll have to keep pressing 'refresh'. Don't blame me, I just write this stuff.

15:17 - Rooney gets into a good attacking position, but shot instead of passing to Milner who was free.

15:14 - First England shot on target with a well-struck Lampard free kick. England do need to relax and start playing though.

15:10 - Johnson is getting skinned by Slovenian full back Jokic. It just proves to me that Johnson is not an international class full back.

15:07 - First on target shot goes to Slovenia's Birsa. James was untroubled.

15:05 - Glen Johnson has flown in with two dodgy tackles in about a minute. He needs to calm down.

15:03 - It looks like a 4-4-2 with Gerrard on the left. The English supporters are very loud, drowning out the Vuvuzelas for the moment.

15:00 - And....we're off!

14:55 - Just about to kick off and the BBC's Phil McNulty is reporting that ground staff are still trying to repair pitch damage in both six yard boxes. God help us.

14:46 - 15 minutes to kick off and the nerves are getting to me. I could be sitting in the sun with a glass of White Burgundy instead of doing this.

14: 34 - All the latest England v Slovenia odds are right here.

14:23 - Apparently there are some other teams playing at 3pm as well. I take USA to beat Algeria, mainly because the fabulously named Hercules Gomez is starting upfront for the Americans.

14:17 - Some suggestions that England might line up as a diamond formation, with Gerrard behind Defoe and Rooney. Frankly, who knows.

14:06 - Just noticed that the Slovenia defence includes three players on a yellow card and one - Marko Suler - who has a rib injury. Could be telling as the game progresses.

14:04 - Slovenia Team: 1-Samir Handanovic; 2-Miso Brecko, 4-Marko Suler, 5-Bostjan Cesar, 13-Bojan Jokic; 10-Valter Birsa, 8-Robert Koren, 18-Aleksandar Radosavljevic, 17-Andraz Kirm; 9-Zlatan Ljubijankic, 11-Milivoje Novakovic.

13:42 - Apparently Joe Cole isn't actually fit, according to John Motson, who probably knows better than we do. That would be a good explanation for him not starting the Slovenia match!

13:37 - Expected England team: James; Johnson, Terry, Upson, A Cole; Barry; Milner, Lampard, Gerrard; Rooney, Defoe

So, it looks like Heskey is dropped in favour of Defoe and there is no room for in the starting XI for Joe Cole. It also looks like 4-4-2. Typically stubborn Capello.

OK, let's kick this thing off.

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posted by mark_s at 1:27 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

England vs Slovenia Live Blog

I've never done a live blog before, but as I'm doing some consultancy work tomorrow (or today, depending on when you read this) and will be working from home, I'll be live blogging the England vs Slovenia match.

If you happen to work for the company I'm doing the consultancy for and are reading this, then forgive me but I don't doubt you will all be watching the match too. Anyway, come back here at 3pm BST Wednesday 23rd June to see if I can keep up with the match.

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posted by mark_s at 5:37 PM 2 comments

Monday, June 21, 2010

This Team Will Self-Destruct In Five Seconds

'The mission, should you decide to accept it, is to infiltrate a national football squad of your choosing, and render them next to useless.'

Unfortunately, this mission seems to be not so much impossible, but ridiculously easy. France, England, even Italy have all imploded at this World Cup Finals.

By far the best example, though, is France. The players have long been dissatisfied with coach Raymond Domenech and are doing their best to show it at every opportunity, although I do think calling him a 'son of a whore' (as Nicolas Anelka was reported to have done) is putting things a little strongly.

Domenech has been completely undermined by both his players - who refused to train yesterday - and by the French FA, who announced his replacement even before the World Cup started.

England, too, are doing a good job of sabotaging themselves too and I bet they offer themselves as some kind of sacrifice on the altar of martyrdom. John Terry's press conference yesterday suggested that player power was about to save the day and that Fabio would just have to lump it. This lasted for, ooh, nearly twenty minutes until one of Fabio's coaching staff told Terry that there would be no 'clear the air meeting'. The other players bottled it too.

Expect both France and England to go out in the first round. The players will only have themselves to blame.

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posted by mark_s at 2:07 PM 1 comments