Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas From The Bundesliga - 19 Goals in 180 Minutes

The first-half of the Bundesliga season came to a stunning end on Sunday evening with an 8-goal thriller at the Mercedes-Benz Arena infront of sell-out 41,000 crowd.

The best German striker in the Bundesliga, Mario Gomez, netted a hat-trick for FC Bayern to send them into a 5-1 lead with Thomas Muller and Franck Ribery on the scoresheet also. Bruno Labbadia's Stuttgart side managed to restore some pride with 2 goals in 5 minutes from substitutes Harnik and Gentner.

A comedy of errors from Stuttgart's brittle defence gave the Bavarians a 3-0 lead at half-time. Young defender Bicakcic was caught in possession by Muller and he assisted Gomez who emphatically fired home. Just four minutes later, Delpierre's slip allowed Gomez to take advantage and he returned the favour to Muller who had the simplest of finishes.

Despite the late brace from Stuttgart, they are still in the relegation positions and are 3 points away from safety. New coach Bruno Labbadia will be hoping to add to a limited squad during the January transfer window ahead of a crucial last-half of the season with eyes on a mid-table finish and a final assault on the Europa League.

On Wednesday night infront of another sell-out crowd in Stuttgart, we were treated to another football feast with 9 goals this time in Round two of Stuttgart and Bayern. The erratic defending from Stuttgart in the second-half allowed Bayern to steam clear and score 4 goals, including 2 from Miroslav Klose. Khalid Boulahrouz and Mathieu Delpierre were both sent-off in the second-half and the home side also missed a second-half penalty which could have made it 3-3.

Already, the Bundesliga has given us some classic moments this season with 481 in 153 matches in the first-half of the season. Attendances are peaking and up to 14,000,000 supporters could enter through the gates by the end of the season compared with 12,790,000 last season. The packed stadiums, all-out attacking football and a truckload of goals make the Bundesliga quite comfortably the best league in the world.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

SPL Must Favour Expansion

The Scottish Premier League will sit down next Monday at Hampden Park to discuss the new proposals suggested by Chief Executive Neil Doncaster which will mean less clubs in the SPL. We will have SPL1 and SPL2, both with 10 clubs, then a regional system right down.

The idea has come in for much criticism from fans across the country who have been crying out for League expansion for a number of years. The SPL changed from a 10-team league to a 12-team league at the start of the decade. Why would a move backwards take us forwards?

The best option has to be a 16-team Premier League with just 30 games and a winter break. Assumptions have already been made that Sky and ESPN won't be interested in such a proposal as "Sky are only interested in 4 Old Firm games". If that's the case, then Sky can take a run and jump. With regards to ESPN, they have had to put up with the poorer games over this deal and are paying the same as Sky (£8m) for the SPL TV Rights. Surely, ESPN would jump at the chance in taking the jackpot Old Firm games into their deal which might bring the SPL a better, more lucrative TV deal?

If you were to take the first four teams from the First Division to join the 12 current SPL clubs, that would see Raith Rovers, Dunfermline, Dundee and Falkirk. These clubs are more than capable of holding their own in the SPL and are probably just as well equipped in terms of infrastructure.

"Would you want to lose 2 Old Firm games for 2 games against Cowdenbeath?". That's the question I keep hearing. Firstly, if Cowdenbeath get to the SPL then they deserve to. Only 2 years ago, we had an even smaller club in Gretna playing in the top-flight. At Ibrox, the attendances for both games against Gretna were 48,000 and 49,000. Celtic's midweek game with Gretna at Celtic Park in December brought 57,000.

A simple solution for the supporters who won't want to turn-up - give more tickets to away fans. Cheap ticket-pricing is something this country has yet to discover and the recent fueds between clubs over Scottish Cup prices would prove that. A pricing structure has to be created which would mean games aren't costing over £10-£15. The Old Firm games will become unique, a demand for tickets will created and clubs are in their right minds to charge £25+ for these games. I can see the logic in that. But fans shouldn't be ripped off for the sake of it. I remember Partick Thistle against Rangers a few years back and Thistle filled the the bottom half of the Broomloan and the normal SPL allocation - search their goal at Ibrox on youtube and you'll see what I mean.

There are a number of factors in the lower attendances at Ibrox and Celtic Park this season, probably due to the economic climate, prices, poor matchday experience and pretty dire standard of football - but the standard of opposition certainly is not a factor in that considering Inverness Caley have drawn at both grounds this season.

The 16-team setup might actually see a competitive challenge for the SPL title. Less games generally and less games against the Old Firm would mean clubs have a better chance of winning games and mounting a proper title challenge. The games against Rangers and Celtic for Hearts, Hibs and Dundee United would be significantly more important, generating more fans and more interest = better TV interest = more revenue.

The prospect of a return to safe-standing/terracing at Scottish grounds has generated a positive response from most supporters. At the end of the day, all supporters should be catered for and a small safe-standing section at stadiums in Scotland would be a good thing. In Germany, Borussia Dortmund are able to add 20,000 on to their home gates in the Bundesliga because of this safe-standing model. For European matches, seats will be used due to UEFA regulations. A small safe-standing section at Ibrox, Celtic Park, Pittodrie etc might just see a few thousand extra added on to the gate.

"With less revenue you won't be able to afford the better players". Rubbish.

See instead of spending wages on average players who only start 3 or 4 games a season and are usually shoe-horned into about 5 different positions, why don't you give some of the youth's a chance? If Rangers can produce an Alan Hutton once every 2 or 3 years, your laughing. I'm just using Rangers as an example, but who's to say Kyle Hutton, Gregg Wylde, Darren Cole and John Fleck can't play more of a part?

A stronger focus on youth development and scouting would mean that these problems could be overcome quite easily.

Expanding the Scottish Premier League is absolutely sustainable regardless of what anyone says. The step-back to a 10-team league will only keep this boring idea of playing teams 4-times a season on the go. Granted, it might financially be beneficial in the short-team, but in 10 years time, when we still can't do anything in Europe - will we finally see sense?

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

8 Years In Waiting For Borussia ...

The severe unpredictability of the German Bundesliga has seen League triumphs for Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart and Werder Bremen in the last 6 years but the success of others has caused others to be starved of trophies. It's the nature of the beast and the Bundesliga has whipped another fascinating title race for the coming year.

At the summit is one of Germany's biggest clubs who have not won the Bundesliga since 2002.

Borussia Dortmund have had a roller coaster time since the memorable season of 2001-2002 in which BVB won the Bundesliga and reached the UEFA Cup Final, losing out 3-2 to Feyenoord. It has been a hell of a time for Dortmund financially which saw the German giants on the verge of bankruptcy in 2005. Their debt peaked at over £150m and it required selling the naming rights to the Westfalenstadion and taking a £75m loan in 2006 to steer them in the right direction.

With the massive changes that have taken place in German football over the last 10 years, debt figures for football clubs has dropped dramatically with a huge rising in income through TV and supporter revenue. The days of German clubs spending ridiculous sums of money on players they cannot afford are long gone thanks to the new Bundesliga legislation's and a determined focus on youth development and scouting.

Charismatic head coach Jurgen Klopp has helped Dortmund rise above the number of title challengers to currently sit at the top of the table with a comfortable 7-point lead over Mainz. It would take a massive capitulation, something similar to Hoffenheim two years ago, for Dortmund to lose out on their first Bundesliga trophy in 8 years.

Klopp has found the perfect mix in talented youngsters and an experienced spine but more importantly has not over-stretched the budget in his pursuit for success. Dortmund spent just £300,000 to bring exciting Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa to Germany and the youngster has taken the Bundesliga by storm this season. Klopp also has 21-year-old Serbian Neven Subotic, 22-year-old Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, 22-year-old Turk Nuri Sahin and another 21-year-old in Sven Bender who have all shone in the yellow and black of BVB this season. These youngsters are commanded by a strong, experienced spine in 30-year-old goalkeeper Roman Wiedenfeller, 30-year-old captain Sebastien Kehl, 32-year-old Dede and the relatively experienced guys like Lucas Barrios and Jakub Blasczykowski who are both established internationals for Paraguay and Poland respectively.

BVB have not finished in the top three since the year after their title success in 2002 and narrowly missed out on Champions League football last season. Klopp's new breed of talent will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of previous title winners at Dortmund like Jan Koller, Christian Worns, Stefan Reuter, Lars Ricken & Tomas Rosicky in bringing silverware to the Signa Idura Park.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Sporting Integrity? Don't be ridiculous!

Bruised, beaten and battered.

The integrity of the Scottish Football Association will be licking it's wounds now as we approach matchday after an embarrassing saga which now leaves Hugh Dallas and five other employees out of a job.

And for that, well done Celtic Football Club. I hope your happy.

Apparently, it's a conspiracy, and there's an anti-celtic and anti-catholic agenda down Hampden way. Apparently, referees have been conspiring against Celtic since 1888. Apparently, if it wasn't for referees then they'd be the greatest football team of all time. Apparently, the whole world is against Celtic Football Club.

Scotland's (or Ireland's) shame has brought embarrassment upon Scottish Football yet again. As SFA supremo George Peat put it, "a culture of innuendo and conspiracy theories have tarnished the image of the game".

Sadly, the Scottish FA didn't have the bottle to name, shame and hammer the sole cause of this embarrassment. If the referees are coming under excessive criticism from certain people and certain club - then let's hear it. Don't hide away, bring Scottish Football to it's knees then try to ignore it.

What's going to be the next step?

If referee's are receiving death threats after making correct decisions against Celtic, then what's it going to be like when they return?

Abused and threatened for making correct decisions. Sky footage during the Dundee United v Celtic game showed the extent of Celtic fans launching conkers at referees. Anything being done about that?

Out of Europe by August - Braga was the referee's fault. So was Utrecht.
Celtic's penalty being overturned (Correct decision) - Referee abused.
Catholic referee Willie Collum is now a 'hun' apparently.
You could be here all day.

Neil Lennon calling the forth official every name under the sun. A controversial free-kick for Dundee United before their equaliser last week. Embarrassing. And where was Lennon condemning the referee for refusing to give a foul against Majstorovic's blatant barge on Goodwillie which might have cost them 3 points?

What's even more embarrassing is our Scottish media's coverage of the whole scenario. The day of Scotland's champions and European representatives clash with Manchester United, guess what dominated the back four pages?

But, apparently, the media are all 'anti-celtic' and full of 'hunnism'. Yes, 'hunnism'.

And now the catholic church and Celtic football club are calling the biggest decision in Scottish Football for decades. Cardinal Keith O'Brien called for action over Hugh Dallas sending what he calls "a deeply offensive" image - which is pure bullshit - to other employees.

What did Cardinal Keith O'Brien have to say about Sheep duo Diamond and Paton calling for all protestants to be burned? Silly question.

What did he have to say about Ayr United's Scott McLaughlin making sectarian comments towards protestants?

What did he have to say about pro-IRA chants at football matches? After all, he was quick to dismiss the famine song wasn't he?

And this horrible football club still gets away with abusing our armed forces. What was that they said about the poppy again?

UEFA and FIFA are against politics and religion intervening into football. By that logic, then the Scottish FA should be facing a good skelping after Regan's handling of the situation. So it's okay for the Catholic church to decide who is employed by the SFA?

Time to shame these people for bringing Scottish Football into chaos and time to hammer the media for their pathetic coverage of this embarrassing mess.

Celtic Football Club - Embarrassed by nothing, Offended by everything since 1888.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Long-Term Outlook Of England's 2018 Bid

On December 2nd, FIFA will unveil the host of the 2018 World Cup with England, Russia and two co-host bids between Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium. Last week's inspection reports claimed that Holland/Belgium and Russia would be 'medium-risk' bids and that Spain/Portugal and England would be 'safe, low-risk' bids. Whether that is an early indiction from football's main governing body that it is a two-horse race is anyone's guess.

More than £400m will be ploughed into the 2018 World Cup bid and plans are in place for the construction of 4 new stadiums in England. Twelve host cities have been chosen with over 20 stadiums highlighted as potential World Cup venues. The 12 host cities that were chosen are: Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Sunderland and Sheffield.

Villa Park (Birmingham), Elland Road (Leeds), Old Trafford and City of Manchester (Manchester), St James' Park (Newcastle), Stadium of Light (Sunderland) are the only stadiums which look a definite in England's bid, with development planned for Hillsbrough & Stadium:MK. The bid is also is open to new stadiums like the New White Hart Lane, New Anfield and the Olympic stadium in London. Of course, if FIFA select England as the host nation then they will have to narrow their options down to the final 10 stadiums.

A number of new stadiums will be constructed for smaller league clubs ahead of the World Cup bid. Plymouth Argyle, Nottingham Forest and Bristol City are likely to have stadiums constructed holding over 40,000 each. Plymouth have an average attendance this year of just over 7,000 - so why on earth would they attract anywhere close to 40,000 post-World Cup?

And it is the same situation with Bristol City who have an average crowd of around 14,000. MK Dons will have their own 40,000-seater arena but only attract crowds of around 8,000 per matchday.

Is that a sensible investment of England's money, considering the blatant lack of quality footballers coming from grassroots level?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

River's Lamela and Mori Set For New Shores

Argentinian giants River Plate have been famed for producing some outstanding footballers over the years and many of them have moved on to bigger and better things at the highest level of European football. Some of the most famous exports from Los Millionarios include Hernan Crespo, Pablo Aimar, Javier Saviola, Esteban Cambiasso, Mario Kempes and Gabriel Batistuta who have became household names in Europe.

Amidst a time of uncertainty at El Monumental after coach Angel Cappa was axed last week following just one victory in eleven league matches, there have been little positives for River's followers but the emergence of Erik Lamela and Funes Mori might excite Los Millionarios for the near future. Lamela and Mori's days at River could be over in the next transfer window after big boys Juventus and Benfica expressed an interest in both players respectively.

18-year-old Lamela is still a newbie to the cauldren of Argentinian football after only making 12 appearances since his first-team debut in June last year. Lamela was hunted by Barcelona at just 12 years of age, but no agreement could be reached at the time. The attacking-midfielder caused rivals Boca a host of problems in the recent SuperClasico and he has already insisted his heart lies in the Nou Camp. Pressure from the AFA saw Lamela's dream move to Barcelona fall through in a deal reported to be worth around £100,000 to him and his family.

River's new No.9 is eager to follow in the footsteps of legends such as Gabriel Batistuta, Hernan Crespo and all has already attracted strong interest from Manchester United and Benfica in the last month. The Portuguese champions have an excellent history in attracting South American youngsters to Lisbon and already have two products of River Plate in Saviola and Aimar. With an impressive 1 in 3 goal ratio at El Monumental and has already scored in a SuperClasico at the age of 19. He appeared on an American TV show 'Suenos MLS' in which he won a contract with MLS club FC Dallas before moving back to River Plate.

In recent times, Argentinian clubs have struggled to compete with the European hawks who have taken players from Argentina at very young ages and brought them through in their own acadamies. Lamela and Mori have survived thus far, but beware of the circling predators who will be looking to take them away from Buenos Aires sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Steven Naismith - In The Form Of His Life!

Since joining Rangers in 2007, Steven Naismith has taken a while to get going in a blue jersey after 2 injury-hit years at Ibrox. Now a regular in the side, Naismith has excelled in his new industrious midfield role which has saw him net 8 goals for the SPL Champions, including the winner against Bursaspor in the Champions League.

Naismith's £2m move to Ibrox from Kilmarnock in August 2007 was confirmed just minutes before the deadline window closed. BBC Sport claim that the paperwork confirming the deal only arrived at SFA offices one minute before the end of the window. But it could have been a so different story for the Ayrshire-born striker who was on the verge of sealing a £2m move to Celtic at the start of August 2007.

That deal fell through, and the lifelong Rangers supporter never looked back as he signed for his boyhood heroes on deadline day. His first goal for the Gers came against Aberdeen in September and he added another 4 goals to his account that season before picking up a nasty knee injury in the Scottish Cup Semi-Final which ruled him out for a year.

Having missed out on the chase for 4 trophies, including a UEFA Cup Final, Naismith was determined to get back into the team and he managed 7 appearances in the second-half of the 2008-2009 season where Rangers won their first league title in four years.

After an impressive pre-season in 2009-2010, Naismith returned to action and scored on the opening day of the season. At Tynecastle the week after, he won the decisive penalty which saw Rangers score in the final minutes there. His most impressive hour came in the League Cup Final against St Mirren where 9 man Rangers scored a late winner to take home the trophy. Naismith played a big part in the goal which won the League Cup, picking the ball up on the counter attack and supplying an inch-perfect cross for Kenny Miller to nod home. With 39 games in all competitions that season, Naismith deservedly walked away that summer with his first SPL winners medal.

This season, Naismith has excelled further and has become one of the most valuable players in the Rangers team. His excellent league performances merited a Scotland call-up and he netted one of the goals against Spain in October. From the right-side of midfield, Naismith's tireless energy has been a key commodity in Rangers achieving 9 straight league victories.

In the Champions League, Naismith has played in every match so far and has already opened his account this season. Naismith and Rangers produced a resilient and dogged performance to leave Old Trafford with a point, then he fired home the winning goal in Rangers' 1-0 win over Bursaspor. Against Valencia, Rangers managed to hold on to a draw despite creating numerous chances and Naismith's pace and energy was a real danger to the La Liga side. In a lacklustre performance at the Mestalla, Naismith managed to produce two fine moments and rattle the post on both occasions.

His great start to the season has seen Naismith score 7 SPL goals this term and pick up the Player of the Month for October.

There's absolutely no doubt the 24-year-old will have a big part to play in Rangers' quest for success on home and European fronts.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

"They Will Be Rioting In The Streets of Rotterdam!"

Feyenoord coach Mario Been described Sunday's events in Eindhoven as a "black page in the history of Feyenoord" after they were crushed 10-0 by PSV. Frank Rutten's PSV side put in an explosive performance to extend their lead at the top of the Eredivisie and increase their goal difference to a staggering +27 after just 10 league matches.

After holding out for 22 minutes, PSV's talented wide-man Jonathan Reis cut in from the right and fired in a stunning left-foot shot which nestled into the corner of the net. Feyenoord full-back Kevin Leerdam was shown a red-card on 34 minutes and the home side doubled their advantage just four minutes later when Afellay's shot was turned into his own net by 18-year-old Bruno Martins Indi who came on as a substitute just a few minutes before.

Jonathan Reis headed home his second on 47 minutes which was the catalyst for an awful second-half capitulation from Feyenoord. Talented Swedish striker Ola Toivonen nodded home the fourth just two mintues later from another Afellay cross. Jeremain Lens added the fifth goal on 52 minutes and PSV Skipper Ibrahim Afellay created another goal just before the hour-mark when he supplied a neat pass to Jonathan Reis who netted his hat-trick.

Six was made seven on 62 minutes when Hungarian winger Balázs Dzsudzsák fired in a thunderous left-foot strike from 25 yards which left the Feyenoord keeper helpless. It was made 8-0 on 69 minutes when Engelaar headed home from a corner kick at the near post and Dzsudzsák made it nine from the penalty spot. Jeremain Lens pounced on poor defending at the back-post to score the tenth goal of the afternoon in what was a memorable performance from PSV.

Coach Mario Been was unsurprisingly hurt by the defeat and said: "Here is a coach who is very ashamed. It is scandalous how we defended. We just lost 10-0. This pain is enormous, not only as a club coach but also as a supporter. This is a huge black page in the history of Feyenoord and that gives me tremendous pain."

It's a shocking state of affairs for, historically, one of Holland's major clubs. From a 41-year-old goalkeeper and 6 players being under the age of 20, it is clear that Feyenoord are no longer a title-challenging club and the balance of power has shifted rapidly in recent years with FC Twente and AZ Alkmaar claiming recent successes. Granted, it does not help when Jon Dahl Tomasson and Skipper Ron Vlaar are missing from the side. But it does not excuse a shocking result at PSV which leaves De club aan de Maas on just 8 points.

Tonight's journey back to Rotterdam certainly will not be an enjoyable one and their demanding fans will be asking a few questions of the manager and directors.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Legends Hagi and Tugay Gear Up For Heated Intro

In the week leading up to Turkey's fiery Istanbul derby, Galatasaray president Adnan Polat found himself hunting a new manager after terminating the contract of under-fire Dutchman Frank Rijkaard who orchestrated a less than impressive start to the season. Polat turned to two familiar faces in Romanian legend Gheorghe Hagi, voted the greatest ever foreign player for Galatasaray, and ex-player Tugay Kermioglu to turn around the club's dire domestic fortunes.

Rijkaard's stuttering start in the Galatasaray hot seat has left Cim Bom in 9th position with just 4 wins from 8 games and left the Galatasaray President no choice but terminate his contract after over a year in the position.

Just 48 hours before the crunch derby which brings Istanbul to a stand-still, the legendary Romanian Gheorghe Hagi signed a 2-and-a-half year deal with the club he made 150 appearances for. It's a sensible approach considering Hagi played in a number of Istanbul derbies over 5 years and that he has already managed the club in 2004-2005 in which he led Cim Bom to the Turkish Cup with a stunning 5-1 win over Fenerbahce.

Hagi, who also had spells at Barcelona and Real Madrid, was introduced to the media on Friday and said: “Galatasaray’s philosophy is always about winning. So, when Galatasaray is playing against Fenerbahçe, it will play for nothing less than a win. That is what Galatasaray’s history and Galatasaray’s philosophy is all about.” His appointment gives him just 2 days to prepare for Cim Bom's trip to Fenerbahce - a venue they have not won in since 2000.

The new coach also added: "I know a lot of problems here. My philosophy is straight forward. It is a collective good will try to create harmony. The players confidence is endless. But they always want to play for the team. A true team, the team exits the field, will play the champion. Organized, disciplined, I want to build a team. I want to set up a number of field work in the best way. All you have to go to win the match. I always believe that we will be successful together."

Hagi and Tugay's appointment might just galvanise Cim Bom against a Fenerbahce side who have not been doing too well themselves. Both Istanbul sides saw early European elimination and Fenerbahce are in 4th with just 5 wins from 8 games but the tightness and unpredictability of the Turkish SuperLig sees Trabzonspor - one of the 4 SuperLig winners in history, Kayserispor - led by Shota Arveladze and reigning Turkish champions Bursaspor leading the way on 17 points with the 'Yellow Canaries' a point behind.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Hungary Eager To Re-Join Elite

When you think of Hungarian football, the great Ferenc Puskas comes to mind and probably their hammering of England at Wembley as the 'golden-team' went a world record 32 games unbeaten at International level.

On the road to Euro 2012, Hungary have racked up an impressive 9 points from 4 games in a group alongside Holland and Sweden. Head Coach Sándor Egervári has led Hungary to an excellent start to the campaign and the Hungarian FA's long-term vision is reaping its rewards.

From the most recent squad which played San Marino and Finland, 7 of the 21-man squad still play in the Hungarian League and have held their own amongst players from England, Germany, Italy and Spain. With a wealth of younger players, there is a sprinkling of real international experience which has blended into an ideal mix that will lock horns with Holland in the next set of fixtures.

Goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly(1860 Munchen) has notched up 78 caps, their central-defensive pairing of Roland Juhasz(Anderlecht) and Vilmos Vanczak(Sion) have a combined total of 109 caps and both are just 27 years of age. Captain Zoltan Gera is the Hungarian's household name and at 31 years of age has 68 caps and 19 goals. Two of Hungary's other midfielders, Krisztián Vadócz(Osasuna) and Balázs Dzsudzsák(PSV), both have over 30 caps each. Tamas Priskin of Watford has 29 caps and Gergely Rudolf of Genoa has 16 caps.

In total, the spine of the Hungarian side has over 300 International caps.

Not one player in the rest of the squad reaches 30 years of age. Here is a quick list of the players and ages from the team which beat San Marino 8-0, outwith the central spine:

Left back - Zsolt Laczkó(Debrecen) - Aged 23
Right back - Krisztián Vermes(Ujpest) - Aged 25 - Made debut at 19
Midfielder - Ákos Elek(Videoton) - Aged 22
Right Midfielder - Vladimir Koman(Sampdoria) - Aged 21
Left Midfielder - Balázs Dzsudzsák(PSV) - Aged 23 - Made debut at 19
Strikers - Gergely Rudolf(Genoa) & Ádám Szalai(Mainz) - Ages 25 & 22

The Hungarians have reached a major finals since 1986 but have an impressive record at Youth level which has seen them qualify for a number of competitions. Other recent capped players include another 5 that fall under 25 years of age and another 7 players that have over 20 International Caps.

After 24 years of failure, Euro 2012 might just appear to be in reach of Hungary who have been starved of proper football since 'the mighty magyars' back in the 1950s in which Ferenc Puskas shone on the world stage.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Scotland Can Shove Euro 2012 After 4-6-0 Horror

We are well accustomed to Scottish sides shutting up shop when it comes to European or International football and their formations would usually be a 4-5-1, or the 5-4-1 successfully employed by Walter Smith so far, but nobody expected a 4-6-0 to be rolled out when the Scottish national side went to the Czech Republic on Friday.

I'm not sure what Levein was planning with such a formation. Lithuania went to the Prague and won 1-0 on the same night we toiled against Leichenstein. The defence picked itself from the previous games but the decisions afterwards were quite frankly baffling. Jamie Mackie, the in-form QPR striker, made his international debut for Scotland on the right-side of a 6 in midfield with Fletcher, Caldwell, Naismith, Morrison and Dorrans alongside him.

It was fairly obvious in the first 10-20 minutes that Scotland were taking nothing from this game. There were several occasions when the ball was punted forward by McManus or Weir and there would not be one Scottish player in the opposing half. Quite simply, it was a line of 6 and a line of 4 trying to block out any Czech attacks - and unsurprisingly, the Czechs struggled to breakthrough with what they had which is not a patch on previous international squads.

Levein defended his tactics afterwards: "It's difficult to say it worked as planned because we didn't get something from the match, But I am happy that the players for long spells in the game did exactly what I was looking for. The fact we lost a goal is a huge disappointment. But I would not ever rule out any system. It's about selecting the best system to win a match."

"I have no regrets about the way we went about it at all,"

"When the game opened up the Czechs were far more dangerous. That system was the best way to contain the opposition. We didn't contain them at one set-piece and it cost us. But I thought the game plan was good in general. It was good to see the players follow instructions. They did everything they could."

Levein has made it clear that he, apparently, had been watching the Czechs for some time. In their last qualifier, Lithuania went to Prague and won 1-0. In March, we actually beat them 1-0 in Levein's first game and before that they had lost to Azerbaijan and the United Arab Emirates. Results would show, apart from a stunning 4-1 home win over Latvia, that the Czechs are an average side and were clearly there for the taking.

As for other baffling decisions, how Darren Fletcher remained on the pitch for 90 minutes is quite hilarious. Fletcher has not turned up for Scotland in a long time so you could easily argue that he should not have been anywhere near the starting 11. His night, and Scotland career, was summed up towards the end when he was in acres of space on the right-side and just had to put in a simple cross but somehow hit the Czech player 10 yards away with no pressure on him at all. Such an over-rated footballer.

As for Gary Caldwell, playing his first game of the season in central midfield was quite embarrassing.

And then Kenny Miller on the bench? - Laughable.

Levein got exactly what he deserved last night. I'm not going to start this 'anti-football' nonsense but any team playing 4-6-0 against the Czech Republic deserve to be absolutely hammered. Levein's farcical tactics and our lack of ambition and technical ability was shown up yet again - but people still think it's okay and we should get behind the team?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Bursa Fail To Breakdown Gers Wall

After a terrible start to the European campaign for Scottish clubs, some more pride and credibility was restored as Turkish champions Bursaspor left Glasgow with nothing after Steven Naismith's 18th minute goal at Ibrox.

Naismith, who put in a tireless shift and thoroughly deserved his MOTM award, latched on to a lovely cushioned header from Kirk Broadfoot to flick the ball past Dimitar Ivankov. The Rangers faithful have waited a while for a Champions League victory and the SPL champions put in an excellent performance to snatch the three points on matchday two to put Smith's men joint-top of the group.

In all honesty, we did not know much about our Turkish opponents after their tremendous achievement of sneaking in-front of Fenerbahce on the final day of the season to win the Turkish SuperLig, the first-side outside Istanbul since Trabzonspor won the title in 1984. The Green Crocodiles followed up the example of Sivasspor from the previous season in making a strong title challenge - if only we could have this in the SPL.

We have heard alot of figures from the last week, Sir Alex claimed Bursa had spent £100m and we heard in rags this week that they'd spent £70m. To be honest, I am not sure how accurate either figure is because it was fact that Bursaspor had a budget quite minuscule to the 'big three' from Istanbul only a year ago.

Argentinian playmaker Federico Insua was the stand-out performer for Bursaspor last night I felt and it was frustrating to see our midfield give him the freedom of G51. Insua had a spell last year on loan at Boca Juniors, but did not look anywhere near the same player as he was shifted to the left-wing in a 4-3-3 under Carlos Bianchi at La Bombonera. Perhaps, it is part of the Champions League experience seeing players like Insua so comfortable in possession of the ball. Pre-match, we knew the main threat would come from Volkan Sen on the right-side of their attack and Kirk Broadfoot did a damn good job in blocking the little 'No.10'.

The solid 'blue-wall' which was commanded by Davie Weir, Madjid Bougherra and Sasa Papac kept a second clean-sheet in successive games after their exploits at Old Trafford but matchday three will bring a new challenge when La Liga league-leaders Valencia make the trip to Glasgow looking for the three points after failing to hold out against Manchester United last night.

The bus will need to be firmly parked on the 20th of October when Juan Mata and co try to find a way through the resilient Rangers defence. It will be a long night and hopefully we can make use of set-pieces which were below-par from Steven Davis. Just a thought, that players such as James Beattie could be a massive asset if he manages to be passed fit for that much if we can deliver some good balls into the box. I see it as our only way of really testing Valencia and I am not sure they will fancy constant cross-balls with Big Lee, Beattie, Broadders and Boogey all battling to get on the end of them.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Walter's Masterclass in Defending Nicks Point At Old Trafford

As I watched Sky Sports' coverage last night pre-match, I was interested to hear that the Soccer Special panel had predictions of 3-0, 3-0, 2-0 and 4-0 to Manchester United. That to me summed up the total lack of respect for Rangers which came back to bite English Football on the backside.

I must admit, Walter's team selection had me a little bit frustrated before kick-off with Sky reporting that Steven Whittaker was playing left-midfield and Kirk Broadfoot on at right-back. However, when the game kicked-off it was clear that Walter Smith had pulled out a marvellous trick on the big occasion. It looked something along the lines of a 5-4-1 or 3-6-1 at times and the players carried out their instructions impeccably.

The English giants only tickled the Rangers goal on a few rare occasions with Javier Hernandez heading wide and Darren Gibson firing in a few long-range drives but when you have a keeper as reliable and talented as Allan McGregor it breeds a confidence amongst the players infront of him.

Steven Whittaker came in for a rough ride in last year's competition but he dealt with the threat of Ji-Sung Park and the several occasions where United tried to exploit his defensive weaknesses with a long-diagonal pass to Giggs in the second-half. Kirk Broadfoot played on the left-side of the defence and was one of Rangers' best attacking outlets throughout the game with the defender making a strong claim for a penalty on the hour mark. The main job of the full-backs was to nullify the attacking threats of the Manchester United wide-players and avoid diving into needless challenges, which Whittaker was culpable of last term.

In the centre of defence, Walter went for Madjid Bougherra, David Weir and Sasa Papac which worked perfectly with three of them striking up a perfect understanding in the Gers rearguard. Papac was absolutely immense last night and showed exactly what he can do after a few sticky patches in the Scottish Premier League. The Bosnian left-back was fierce in the tackle and gave a real sense of composure whenever he passed the ball to a team-mate. The 40-year-old David Weir had most eyes on him last night and the way Rangers played suited him to a tee. The deep defensive line from Rangers was ideal for Weir due to his lack of pace and if anyone did get in behind, McGregor, Bougherra or Papac would have comfortably dealt with it. Bougherra impressed yet again for Rangers and thwarted the threat of Wayne Rooney not for the first time. His charging defensive runs can be so deadly as the opposition are caught cold when they see a rampaging centre-half up the other end of the park when Rangers have been playing so deep for the rest of the game. What impressed me most about the three centre-backs was their quick ability to cover for each other if anyone was dragged out or went forward.

The defence was strongly assisted by a superb performance from Lee McCulloch who, at times, played like a fourth central defender. McCulloch had an all-round superb performance and was key to Rangers' result last night. His passing was immaculate and did not rush into any stupid decisions with the pressure being applied by United's high pressing game. Maurice Edu showed his real potential last night with an excellent display. The US international has had a poor run of form in the SPL, mainly due to his role in the 4-4-2 Rangers usually deploy. But last night, his inclusion in the team was another crucial brick to the defensive wall and he made some vital interceptions and blocks in the second-half. Steven Davis was not at his best last night but the flashes of ability were easy to notice as he drifted into some excellent positions to recieve the pass in crowded areas. Rangers three central midfielders were too over-powering for Gibson and Fletcher.

Steven Naismith had a difficult job of trying to link midfield to attack. Naismith has been impressive on the right of midfield this season but Smith decided to slot him on the left side with the ability to tuck in a help make Rangers compact in the centre. Having a good-worker like Naismith created numerous opportunities for Broadfoot to steam well-ahead of Naismith on the left-side of the pitch. Going forward though, I felt Naismith was a little bit restricted in the options he had on the ball and perhaps a Vladimir Weiss or John Fleck will be more needed at home to provide that little bit of magic or sparkle to create a chance for Kenny Miller.

Miller had the incredibly lonely and tough job of playing upfront on his own for Rangers. In the UEFA Cup run in 2007/2008, Rangers were extremely lucky to have two excellent strikers in Daniel Cousin and Jean-Claude Darcheville who were both adept at playing that role really effectively. Miller, to be fair, is not the same striker he was two or three years ago and has turned into a 'predatory' striker rather than an extreme worker. He always looked a threat when Rangers went forward but I felt Miller could have contributed more when the ball was coming away from the Rangers box and it was crying out for someone just to get into the right area and hold the ball up.

It could be classed as Walter's best tactical performance as a Rangers manager and easily outwitted his good friend Sir Alex Ferguson. Two more away matches at Bursaspor and Valencia still to come and I speak for all fans when I say that another Rangers performance like last night in those games would be very satisfying. The jury will be out on how Walter deals with the expectation of being more expansive at home and that was his major downfall last season as Rangers were crushed by Unirea and Sevilla.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Saving Scottish Football - Part Three: 'The Bundesliga Model'

Since the 2000 Bundesliga report, the German league has thrived in the last decade and arguably has become the number one football league in the world.

The German Bundesliga has a fascinating structure which, for me, is ideal for Scottish Football.

I was encouraged by Neil Doncaster's comments this week that said terracing might be re-instated at Scottish stadiums. The safe-standing sections in the Bundesliga have revamped the atmosphere's and have also increased the capacities at some grounds in Germany. Borussia Dortmund's Westfalenstadion holds just over 61,000 in UEFA competitions but in the Bundesliga the stadium can hold well over 80,000 and has given Dortmund one of the highest average attendances in the world. The club also sells over 50,000 season-tickets. Can you imagine an Ibrox, Celtic Park, Tynecastle or Tannadice with an extra 10,000 capacity due to safe-standing sections?

Bundesliga ticket prices average at around 15 Euros which is a ridiculously good price when you consider paying £22 to watch SPL matches. The "Yellow Wall" at the Westfalenstadion has an average ticket price of under £10, combine that with being able to stand with your mates and make use of the excellent catering facilities then you have yourself a stunning deal. These match tickets also have an increased value when you consider that fans can travel on public transport for free on a matchday. The overall matchday revenue for the Bundesliga clubs last season was 424 Million Euros. Quite astonishing when you think about it.

Combine that with 573 Million Euros in Sponsorship and 594 Million Euros in broadcasting revenue then you have a financially secure league. The Bundesliga clubs paid around 50% of this income on player wages which, again, shows how superbly managed the Bundesliga and it's club actually are. According to the Bundesliga report, the league brings nearly 3 Billion Euros to the German economy. Only 11 of the 18 Bundesliga clubs are in debt.

On a positive note, Scottish football has one of the best attendances per population. We do have to remember we are a country of just 5m so we won't be having 30,000 attendances at every game. There is absolutely no doubt our Old Firm, with safe-standing, cheap ticket prices and a good matchday experience, could easily be filling 60,000-70,000 every week and possibly on an Old Firm derby be pushing over that amount. Even for your Hearts, Hibs, Dundee United and Aberdeen, I think they could be pushing over 20,000 with a competitive league and these aspects from the Bundesliga model.

Despite the poor product, implementing the 'Bundesliga model' might just be the saviour of our domestic game. The product can be poor but if the football is entertaining, competitive and offers a quality matchday experience then fans will seriously buy into that.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Saving Scottish Football - Part Two: Youth Development

This article probably comes at a time when Scottish Football received arguably it's biggest wake up call after the stuttering 2-1 win over the minnows of Leichenstein.

Immediately, let's scrap the "we've found our level" nonsense and really dig beneath the major problems on the surface of our national game. What embarrassed me the most was the ability for the Leichenstein players to play a very simple pass and move game, where as, we launch the ball up the park in desperation.

Henry McLeish told us in his report that he felt we needed to invest £500m in facilities. I'm not sure I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. I do believe Scotland has enough good facilities, especially with schools. 99% of primary and secondary schools have indoor and outdoor facilities and I would say the money would be better invested maintaining and developing these facilities - especially replacing the blaze surfaces with a proper flat surface. One of the startling things I regularly see is the goalposts being removed from school pitches and the gates being chained up during the summer holidays. Totally sums up this countries attitude towards youth football.

We don't use our school facilities enough in my opinion. Physical Education, from my recent experiences, is something that pupils can actually withdraw from if they do not want to participate. In all honesty, I do not see why this country persists with having Basketball, Badminton and Volleyball as key parts of the PE curriculum. Football is our national sport and, again from my recent experience, the only thing that boys are actually keen on doing. For me, the basic requirement should be that school kids participate in 4 hours of physical activity throughout the school week. Our education system is too concerned with pushing students into the door of university rather than actually bothering about their health and well-being.

School Football was previously seen as something that produced the stars of tomorrow, but sadly, with poor coaching knowledge and poor facilities we have seen the competitive edge of School Football removed. I have seen very good footballers removed from School Football teams due to poor behaviour - something I do not agree with at all. For me, the Scottish FA should be offering free coaching courses for these volunteers who put their time and effort in to running school football teams. If they had any basic knowledge of drills and how to run a team then we might see this begin to thrive again.

Coach Education is clearly a major problem within Scottish Football. I have heard many coaches complain at the poor standard of the coaching courses that are run by the SFA. Again, instead of investing £500m in new facilities which end up charging £100 to rent a pitch, why not invest money in totally revamping our coaching ladder with courses that educate coaches on touch, technique and control. In my opinion, we should be employing full-time SFA coaches that are UEFA qualified to work with kids in primary and secondary schools across Scotland. These people should be out in schools all day and helping coaching teams maybe once or twice at night a week. Even during the holidays, these coaches should be offering 3 and 4 coaching sessions a day rather than just the 1 session that usually the Council offer as part of their summer programme. During the winter, Futsal is something which could be used in the indoor school facilities that we know most schools have.

Until we get rid of the "kick and rush" attitude amongst Scottish coaches we will never see the elite talent coming through. Sadly, players are judged on their physical ability rather than technical ability and that is probably quite evident in the current Scottish national team. We MUST emphasize small-sided games and we MUST emphasize that the ball is infact your friend and you should treat it the best you can rather than kicking lumps out of it. Touch, technique and control are the three basic elements that should be used throughout our coaching system.

Saving Scottish Football - Part One: Domestic Reconstruction

The domestic game in Scotland has struggled in the last decade. The Scottish Premier League has suffered as a consequence of Old Firm domination and no team outside has won the Premier Division in over 20 years.

It's a telling statistics that pretty much sums up the demise of the Scottish game. The days of four teams chasing a league title are long gone and already this season after 3 matches the Old Firm have a lead on the rest of the clubs.

The lack of competition has a huge effect on other aspects of Scottish Football. Fans aren't interested in paying money to watch a product which is highly predictable. It didn't surprise me to see Aberdeen fans fill their full allocation at McDiarmid Park on the second weekend of the season after their side romped to a 4-0 victory on the opening day. Granted, it was against Hamilton but the signing of Paul Hartley, a well-known face in Scottish Football, was enough to get bums on seats. Even in 2005/2006, Hearts split the Old Firm and qualified for the Champions League and were regularly playing infront of sell-out crowds at Tynecastle.

The 12-team SPL does offer some excitement if your an Old Firm fan, but generally speaking for the other clubs it is a real pain in the neck. Hearts, Hibs, Dundee United and Aberdeen have no chance of sustaining a proper title challenge when they are playing the Old Firm 8 times a season - some losing 24 points in the process. For me, an 18-team Premier League is the way to go with a European play-off and a relegation play-off, aswell as another automatic relegation position. With 34 games, these potential challengers could afford to lose out on the 4 times they play against the Old Firm which would only be 12 points and does not make a significant dent in a title challenge. I think this structure for the SPL would also restore major interest in the crunch matches like Rangers v Celtic, Aberdeen v Rangers, Hearts v Hibs and perhaps offer some other local derbies like Dundee v Dundee United.

One of the key things that can be accommodated with an extended SPL is the introduction of a winter break. Scotland regularly find itself in a position during December/January when alot of games are being postponed due to the harsh winter weather. Having a 3 or 4 week winter shutdown would be excellent for the clubs because they wouldn't need to pay needless money on calling off games. It is no surprise that during these winter months, fans aren't attracted to watching football. Combined with an early start, possibly mid-July, a winter break would fit perfectly into the Scottish calender.

The pathetic state of our lower divisions causes major debate amongst fans, even fans from the Premier League. I think one of the main things that people do not understand is the lack of competition due to no relegation in the Third Division. It does not make sense. There are many junior and amateur clubs pulling in decent crowds and playing in decent facilities with a really ambitious backing, for example, Spartans. Without doubt, some of these clubs could probably hold their own in the division and the clubs who have contributed next-to-nothing to Scottish Football will find their level. I would also look at lowering the amount of clubs but not forcing teams to merge and perhaps keeping people away from games. I would go for two lower divisions, both with 10 teams, with the '2 up, 2 down' model.

In addition to reconstruction of our leagues, the domestic cups have become boring and poorly treated by the clubs. I would not go down the road of scrapping the League Cup because financially it is more lucrative than the Scottish Cup. For the League Cup, I would rationalise the competition and bring the Old Firm into the earlier rounds but have them playing away from home. The regional structure would encourage early local derbies and give more revenue to the clubs rather than having half-filled stadiums for the early rounds. It would also help, in my view, if the League Cup was finished for the end of the first-half of the year. The Scottish Cup, for all it's history, is poorly marketed by the Scottish FA compared to the FA Cup down south. Again, bringing the Old Firm in early on would bring in more revenue for smaller clubs if they visit smaller teams. I think we will all agree that replays should 100% be scrapped.

Those are my general ideas for SPL reconstruction. I think we do agree that the SPL lacks a competitive edge and really the only way to do that is making changes to the domestic scene.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Rangers Will Need To Save Scottish Football's Credibility

Rangers will return for another season with Europe's elite when the Champions League kicks off on Tuesday and Wednesday. The SPL Champions will lock horns with Manchester United in the match which will always be built-up as the "battle of britain". Rangers are now the only Scottish representatives in European competition after Motherwell, Dundee United, Celtic and Hibernian were knocked out in the early rounds.

Scottish Football has taken some major blows over the last few years with clubs facing early eliminations at the hands of some of Europe's minnows. Even this level of mediocrity has reached the Old Firm and both clubs have experienced some horrific European nights in recent years. Rangers have had the financially-catastrophic defeat to FBK Kaunas in 2008 and the 4-1 Champions League defeat to Unirea Urziceni, while Celtic had a horror 5-0 defeat to Artmedia and a 4-0 thumping from FC Twente this season in the Europa League.

Last season was a painful experience for Rangers in European football after the major highs of 2007/2008. Matchday one gave Rangers a fantastic base to build on after snatching a 1-1 draw in Stuttgart, but two 4-1 home defeats to Sevilla and Unirea respectively put Rangers bottom of the group. There was a glimmer of hope that Rangers could sneak into the Europa League but a 1-1 draw in Romania and 2-0 defeat to Stuttgart ruled that out. On the final matchday, Sevilla ran out 1-0 winners in Spain as that put an end to the European dream for another year.

On paper, Rangers look much stronger than last year I think. The loss of Madjid Bougherra was a cruel blow for Rangers as Smith fiddled with McCulloch and Wilson as a replacement. The security of Bougherra and Weir at the back for Rangers will undoubtedly make them much stronger in the centre of defence. In midfield, there is a much more balanced look about the team with McCulloch, Edu and Davis likely to start in the middle with Naismith and Weiss on the flanks. Last season, Smith went for Thomson, Mendes, McCulloch, Rothen and Davis which had hardly any balance to it at all. Upfront would likely to be Kenny Miller and he's looking in fine form this season with 5 goals in 3 SPL games.

Looking at the bigger picture with Rangers being the only Scottish survivor, they will need to have a huge amount of luck and good performances in order to save the league some credibility. Next season, the Scottish champions will have to qualify for the Group Stages of the tournament after the Belgians leaped over the Scots in the UEFA rankings and unless the Gers qualify for the Last 16 or get a good run in the Europa League then it could be a similar outcome for years to come.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The Slow Demise Of Argentina's Domestic King

With the appointment of Claudio Borghi from Argentinos Juniors after his outstanding triumph in the Clausura 2010, the coloured streets around La Bombonera were beaming with optimism that one of the most successful and famous clubs in World football could become Argentinian Champions after being starved of domestic success for nearly 3 years.

The 2008 Apertura ended up in a three-way battle for the championship with Boca Juniors, Tigre and San Lorenzo progressing to the Championship Play-off. Even the play-off could hardly separate the sides with each side winning one of their games and losing the other. All that separated Boca and their opponents was a single goal with perhaps the most important goal scored by Cristian Chavez in the 90th minute against San Lorenzo. The goal would ultimately win Boca the Apertura championship and send Boca into the Copa Libertadores, the South American Champions League.

Since then, Boca have finished 14th, 11th, 16th and are currently 16th after 5 games in the league. Boca have a famous history of producing quality young talent like Carlos Tevez and Fernando Gago, but this conveyor belt of talent has slowly came to a halt in recent times. Los Xeneizes even struggled to secure the services of talisman Juan Roman Riquelme during the summer but after a long, protracted contract dispute, the midfielder signed a 4-year-old to the relief of the Bosteros. In the five league games this season, Boca have only won 1 match under Claudio Borghi and have lost 3 including two home defeats to Racing and San Lorenzo.

Maybe the problem is more than just a lack of talent but more at the heart of Boca Juniors. Their famous rivals River Plate seem to have turned a corner under Angel Cappa and, most importantly, the president Daniel Passarella who was elected in December 2009. Passarella wanted to invite the "17 million River fans" to help "clean up" the club. River currently sit in 5th and a respectable 2 points behind the league leaders which is a vast improvement on their poor finishes in recent campaigns.

It has been a slow and painful demise of Argentina's domestic king and maybe it's time for Jorge Amor Ameal to get the brush and mop and start 'cleaning up' at La Bombonera.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Have Seedings Killed The Champions League?

The Champions League is frequently claimed to be the 'premier club competition in world football' and some even rank the tournament ahead of the FIFA World Cup. But has the seedings and co-efficients which are bent towards the 'big-five' killed the famous competition?

The Group Stages have brought hardly any excitement and tension due to the comfortable passages for the top clubs. Again, for probably the second or third consecutive year, I have cringed at the group Arsenal have been drawn in. Typical for a side bummed up by Sky and the English media but whenever they face a tough or challenging tie they will never deliver. Why should clubs like Arsenal be given the 'group-stage protection' while other clubs in Pot 2,3 and 4 need to genuinely roll their sleeves up to qualify?

Since the formation of the Europa League, I'll stick my neck out and say I've found this competition more refreshing and entertaining. I sense the purpose of the Europa League is really to stall the claims for a European Super League with numerous 'big fish in small ponds' being demoted to this competition due to the difficulty of reaching the lucrative pot of the Champions League. For Rangers and Celtic, the big bucks of the Champions League might be a step too far when both sides will need numerous qualifiers next season and they could join former big-boys such as Galatasaray, AEK Athens and PSV in the UEFA Europa League.

The strengthening of the Europa League and possible weakening of the Champions League leads me on to ask whether co-efficients have caused this?

To be honest, I've hardly a clue how the co-efficient system actually works but the demise of Scottish clubs in European competition has made me partly understand and appreciate every draw and every win we get in Europe. The freshness and sparkle of the Champions League has diminished due to the predictability of the latter stages in the competition. You could sit and probably name the 16 clubs that will qualify from the group stages; it has become boring and totally ridiculous.

Based on the allocation of places in 2012-2013, you can probably bet your cash that the four from England, four from Spain, four from Germany and 2 from France and Italy plus the maverick club outside the 'big-five' will likely make up the Last 16 of the competition. In 2009-2010, only three of the clubs in the Last 16 were outside the 'big-five' and the year before it was only three aswell, but bearing in mind FC Porto were previous champions and qualified in these two respective years.

Out of this years potential mavericks, there aren't many who really stand out as being teams that will qualify convincingly from their groups. Benfica, Shakhtar Donestk, Ajax and Panathinaikos could sneak into the Last 16 but are at an overwhelming disadvantage with the TV money being fed through to the 'big-five'.

The only way, for me, to see the Champions League flourish like it used to is to scrap the qualifying pots and totally revamp the competition. For goodness sake, it's the "champions" league not the "finish 4th place" league. Each UEFA member should have one automatic place in the tournament which would add up to 52 or 53 club sides and then have another 10 or 11 second-place qualifiers like Real Madrid, AC Milan, Celtic and Manchester United from this season. It would mean 64 clubs but a more fresh and unpredictable competition with the small chance that you could have a few early exits for the 'big-boys' if they come up against each other.

Until UEFA, FIFA and the respective governing bodies in Europe see that there are more than just five proper domestic leagues and that fans of clubs in Scotland, Holland, Turkey, Greece and Portugal are more fanatical and deserve better than the crap they get just now as their leagues capitulate infront of their eyes. These countries can't compete with their wealthy neighbours and none will produce a proper challenge to the European competitions unless things change.

Monday, 28 June 2010

What went wrong for England?

Germany's crushing 4-1 win over England was quite satisfying for me being a Scotsman, but more importantly, it might just hammer home to English supporters that they're team isn't really that good. We have been surrounded by the English belief they can win the competition due to the amateur coverage on BBC and ITV, and unsurprisingly, the talk of Frank Lampard's goal still continues.

The myth of England having the best league in the world has in my view been proved wrong again. I have always said Germany, for me, is the best league in the world and that I can back up with Bayern Munich coming close to Champions League glory in May, but the 4-1 result also proves the talent and quality in the German Bundesliga really towers over the Premiership. Joachin Low's side has the fine balance of youth and experience with a number of classy German youngsters maturing over the year. Over a year ago, many people hadn't heard of Thomas Muller or Mesut Ozil, but now both have became household names with their impressive performances on the top stage. This emergence of talent has been helped with the experienced figures like Lahm, Freidrich and Schweinsteiger. Even without talisman Michael Ballack, Germany were still able to physcially and technically dominate an English side which was allegedly one of the best ever according to the English media.

After stalemates with Algeria and USA, a stuttering win over Slovenia and the defeat to Germany, the English will arrive back at Heathrow ready to be lynched by the media but what went wrong for Capello's men?

There is absolutely no doubt that Wayne Rooney is a world-class striker and we have seen the best of Rooney throughout the season. The excuse of him not being fit just doesn't work considering the Germans played just as many games this season. Rooney has been hampered by Capello's mistakes in his team selections. One week his partner his Emile Heskey, then it's Peter Crouch, then it's Jermain Defoe - how is Rooney meant to sustain a good partnership with anyone? In all honesty, Heskey had a very good game against the USA and probably the best performance by a striker for England during the campaign, including Rooney's. Even the 4-3-3 with Rooney spearheading the attack isn't as effective as it was for Manchester United. Heskey, Crouch and Defoe, in my view, are average strikers for the World Cup. The depth just isn't comparable with Germany, Spain or Argentina.

I can't emphasize enough how much I don't rate England's midfield. From day one, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard haven't bonded in the centre of the pitch. Despite having slightly better performances this summer, I still don't see enough quality to win the competition even if they did qualify. Midfield is where alot of games are won and lost, Spain have huge quality, Brazil have a real solid pairing and so do other top nations. Another average player, for me, is Gareth Barry. Nowhere near a £10m player, nowhere near good enough for International football and nowhere near good enough for the world cup. I just can't see the obsession with Barry. Ideally, Owen Hargreaves, for me, is a much better option in there but injuries have really took their toll on him.

Maybe it's just a case of tough luck?

English football evolves around money, money and more money. The way English Football is now running means foreign players are being easily imported for buttons which makes it more difficult for young English players to break into the first-team. The quality most certainly isn't there and I think it should be back to the basics for the FA and Premier League to follow the same model as the Bundesliga which would encourage young talent to be given chance.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Will we see another shock like 2004?

Otto Rehhagel's Greece took Europe by storm in 2004 when they were crowned European Championships after an epic 1-0 victory in the final against hosts Portugal. Greece were frowned upon as playing "anti-football" and "not entertaining football", but the Greeks galloped ahead of the main contenders to win the prize. Striker Angelos Charisteas was the heroic figure of the Greek side after some crucial goals including the winner in the final and the winner against France in the Quarters.

Six years on at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, many smaller nations dream of a fairytale story similar to the Greece triumph in 2004. 'Cautious' football has been at the forefront of this season's Champions League with the stylish Barcelona side being knocked off their stride by the less than pretty Inter Milan. Having a strong defence will be the main feature of a few of the heavyweights like Brazil, Italy and Germany. But who could steal the golden prize in July?

The United States raised eyebrows during their stunning Confederations Cup campaign and will be up against Fabio Capello's England in their first match on Saturday. Bob Bradley's men have a mixture of physical power and good technical ability. A few of the regular starters in the USA side will be familar to us: Jozy Altidore, Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu, Landon Donovan and Oguchi Onyewu. In defence, Jay DeMerit and Onyewu provide a strong and experienced defensive duo which impressed against some of the world's best strikers at the Confederations Cup. Ricardo Clark or Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley are athletic and adept defensively, but also at ease going forward from central midfield. Stuart Holden or Landon Donovan will provide balance on the right of midfield with DaMarcus Beasley offering a real pacey option from the left. Strangely enough, the USA could be classed as underdogs because we do not really know what to expect from a nation who have not really achieved much in International football. But we know what to expect from a number of British-based players and their performance last year in South Africa was enough to make people aware that the USA could cause a problem or two for England.

Chile and Paraguay both had stunning qualification campaigns, finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively on 33 points. The two sides also represent different types of football with Paraguay organised and effective and Chile being more pleasing on the eye. Paraguay supremo Gerardo Martino has a tight-knit side which boasted one of the better defensive records during qualifying. Sunderland's Paulo Da Silva is a key part of that defensive unit and is pretty much guranteed to start in the World Cup. Dario Veron is one of their main attacking players from right full-back which is becoming a growing trend in World football. Cristiano Riveros, also tied with Sunderland, is an influential player in the centre of midfield. The 27 year-old is a very solid midfielder and a good passer of the ball, but one of their major problems is that they do not have a goal threat from that midfield four. In attack, Paraguay boast two of their more 'well-known' players with the in-form Lucas Barrios of Borussia Dortmund and Roque Santa Cruz of Manchester City. On the other hand, the Chileans possess a very talented, young squad of players that has recieved plaudits for their open style of play. Coach Marcelo Bielsa has created one of the more complex formations of the competition with something close to an attacking 5-3-2 formation. The two wing-backs Vidal and Millar can easily be classed as wingers who will be mainly focused on their attacking duties with two of the three centre-backs able to cover the wide areas. That may leave spaces, but Carlos Carmona has the responsibility as the holding midfielder to fill in at the back. Chile have a talented trio in attack of Matias Fernandez, Alexis Sanchez and Mark Gonzalez who provide support to Suazo. Fernandez will start in the centre, but will move freely across the pitch with Sanchez and Gonzalez providing much-needed width and pace in that system. Most years we have teams like Paraguay and Chile from South America who have impressed during qualifiers but the jury is out whether they can cut it in the big boys playground of the World Cup.

A few other names have been touted along with the three I've looked at so far: Ivory Coast with Didier Drogba, Mexico and Radomir Antic's Serbia side but, for me, the USA, Paraguay and Chile are three names which I think you might see pop up on your World Cup wallchart towards the latter stages of the competition if they get the luck needed for a smaller nation to succeed in the competition.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Inside the World Cup Heavyweights

With the 2010 FIFA World Cup only days away, the next month will go down in history for one of the world's heavyweight football nations as the famous golden trophy will return with the squad to its new home. Only the Brazilians have won the competition outside their own continent but that hoo-doo will surely come to an end in July with a host of European and South American nations keen on the prize.

Surprisingly, the holders head to South Africa to defend their trophy despite many people quickly writing off Marcelo Lippi's side. The Azzurri will take a host of new faces to the tournament with Fillipo Inzaghi and Fabio Grosso two of the winning squad chopped for the 2010 edition. The experienced Gianluigi Buffon remains the man between the sticks but Lippi's men look a little bit fragile in defence with Fabio Cannavaro having a relatively poor season alongside Juventus partner Giorgio Chiellini. With Daniele De Rossi, Angelo Palombo, Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo, they have a very solid midfield which is just as strong as the majority of other squads. The Italian faithful will be relying on Udinese hitman Antonio Di Natalie to replicate his domestic form on the international stage.

Winners of the competition five times, Brazil are usually renowned for their samba football, but current coach Dunga has orchestrated a more solid and difficult-to-beat Brazilian side. All eyes will be on Real Madrid's Kaka to provide the added skill and class to a side which is mainly composed of strong, hard-working players. The centre of midfield is crucial for Dunga's men with the flying full-backs of Maicon and Andre Santos leaving gaps at the back. Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo have been used regularly by Dunga during the qualifiers and both provide good defensive cover when needed. Eyebrows were raised when Adriano and Ronaldinho were left out by Dunga, but spear-heading the frontline is Sevilla striker Luis Fabiano who is arguably one of the most potent strikers in the competition.

Brazil's South American rivals Argentina have stole the headlines with Inter Milan's Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti being left out of Diego Maradona's squad. The Argies qualified thanks to a 1-0 win over Uruguay on the final matchday after a stuttering qualifying campaign. The world's number one player was part of that squad, but Lionel Messi will have to quickly adapt to his new role in the International side which will likely be as a strike-partner to Real's Gonzalo Higuain, leaving Diego Milito and Carlos Tevez on the bench. There is a strong myth that Argentina are weak defensively, but I disagree. Nicolas Otamendi of Velez and Gabriel Heinze are two very good defenders and will be more solid in the full-back areas than two attack-minded players. Martin Demichellis and Walter Samuel were both present in the Champions League final which says alot for them both. A weak area could be in the centre of the pitch with Javier Mascherano and Juan Veron. Mascherano has had a poor season and really should not be in the heart of the team as I think Banega and Gago are better options. Veron has excelled for Estudiantes, but Maradona seems to rely on the former Manchester United man too much, just like in the 2002 World Cup where he performed below expectations. A guarantee though, is that Maradona will provide good entertainment during the competition.

The team I fancy is Joachim Low's Germany. The 2002 finalists always seem to pop up around the latter stages of the tournament with a very organised team. This time round, the Germans have one of the most youngest and talented squads in the competition. They usually adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation with Miroslav Klose, Cacau, Mario Gomez or Stefan Kiessling all capable of leading the line. Bayern's young Thomas Muller took the Bundesliga by storm under Louis Van Gaal and he will play on the right-side of the three. Mesut Ozil is one of the best prospects in Germany and many eyes will be on the Werder Bremen star, who has excellent skill and pace. Marko Marin or Lukas Podolski could play on the left, both offer another quick, attacking option. With this fluent attack you need a solid defensive base and the Germans can still accomodate that. Bayern's Bastian Schweinsteiger has big shoes to fill with Michael Ballack out injured, but he will partnered with Sami Khedira who is much stronger than Schweinsteiger defensively. On the back of the Euro 2008 final defeat to Spain, they will want to go one better and bring the World Cup back this year.

Spain seem to be everyone's favourites, and I can see why. Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres and David Villa give them probably four of the best players in Europe. However, the Spaniards will be without Marcos Senna who was crucial to their Euro 2008 success. Can young Sergio Busquets fill those boots? Also, there will be a change of manager with Vicente Del Bosque in charge rather than Luis Aragones. Del Bosque's results so far would suggest that won't have an effect on the Spanish but being away in an international competition is a different challenge to qualifiers.

By the 11th of July we will know the World Champions, but as the top stars begin to drop out through injury, the chances of many sides will be slashed. Just ask Ivory Coast without Drogba or the Dutch if they lose Arjen Robben. The Italians will have a tough job on their hands of retaining the trophy with Germany, Brazil, Spain, Argentina and England all hoping to take it back home.