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.