Posts Tagged ‘england’

After yesterday’s adventures, three teams have now been eliminated from the World Cup. In some cases, the elimination carries with it an air of inevitability – the draw is often unkind, and teams who managed the considerable achievement of qualifying at all are sent packing early. In others, though, it’s a shock of epic proportions.

So yeah, Cameroon are out. Australia are out. Neither of these comes as much of a surprise.

Spain are out. I’ll say this again, because at some point soon I need to start believing it.

Spain. Are out.

The phenomenon of a ‘golden generation’ of players is not an unusual one. A particular group of unusually talented players, often from a single club, develop at the academy level, graduate into the senior side around the same time, develop a tactical understanding and ultimately form the backbone of the national side. This was especially true at Barcelona, where a stellar crop of La Masia graduates propelled Barca to a period of almost unparalleled dominance, and became the core of an all-conquering Spanish side which won the last World Cup as well as the European Championship to either side of it.

But all good things, as they say, must come to an end. Long experience, while useful, has also taken its toll in terms of pace. Opponents have caught onto what made the team tick. And in their two games so far, they have been outscored and outclassed.

At this point, the Netherlands still have to face Chile, and Spain still have to face Australia. For the latter two, it is merely a matter of saving face at this point, but the former two will be vying for the top spot in their group and the avoidance of a probable meeting with Brazil in the next round.

Today brings two more matches in Group C, and the England vs. Uruguay game in Group D. This too is a crucial clash, since the losing team will be eliminated. In the event of a tie, both will have to hope that other results go their way if they are to progress. The winner, though, could well be right back in the mix.

Here, too, is another potential twist in the tale: If (and it’s a pretty big if) Croatia and Mexico battle their way to a scoring draw in the closing games of Group A, and Cameroon, now freed of any pressure, manage to beat Brazil, then Brazil will also be eliminated. That would be a twist for the ages.

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Each team has by now played one game (due to the scheduling, Brazil and Mexico will have already played their second by the time of posting, and we’ll get to that too.) It is not yet mathematically possible for any team to be out of the tournament, but there will now be teams with a heavy advantage, especially considering that of those 16 matches, only two(!) have ended in draws. So there are lots of teams on three points, and lots on none.

Group A: Brazil and Mexico both claimed victories, Brazil a 3-1 over Croatia (albeit with a hotly debated penalty) and Mexico with an unconvincing 1-0 over Cameroon. It’s no surprise that Brazil are in the driving seat for this group, being favorites to win the entire tournament, but who will take second place? I believe that Brazil will defeat Mexico this afternoon, and Croatia will overcome Cameroon, a scenario which will see the two teams enter the final game of the group phase with only goal difference separating them, if that. I still fancy Croatia to edge Mexico in that final game to claim second spot.

Group B: Well, the Dutch threw us quite a curveball, didn’t they? Oh – wrong sport. Robben, van Persie and their compatriots gave the viewers a masterclass to feast their eyes on as they crushed Spain 5-1, a game which will be long remembered. You could almost forget that there was another game in Group B, a comparatively ordinary yet nonetheless well-earned 3-1 victory by Chile over Australia. Spain come up against Chile next, and will be looking to redeem themselves. A convincing win would put them back in the mix, and a loss would probably put them on the next plane back to Madrid. Vital game there. The Netherlands also face Australia, and should be able to get a win. Maybe not as stylish and overpowering as the first game, but a win. That will effectively send Australia home, and leave Spain and Chile to fight it out for the right to face Brazil in the following round.

Group C: Is it just me, or is this group not very exciting? For some reason, I’m having a hard time getting all that interested in any of the teams drawn together in this group. Nevertheless, Colombia put on a convincing display to cruise past Greece, while Ivory Coast snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, coming back from 1-0 down to defeat Japan 2-1.  The two winning sides will face off this Thursday, and I imagine Ivory Coast will be playing a much more attacking strategy than Greece. Look for another hard-fought victory for the Ivorian team to top the group outright, and for either a Japan win or a scrappy draw with Greece.

Group D: Oh, England. They fought harder for their 2-1 defeat against Italy than they have fought in many of their past wins. I can only hope that the same battling spirit blesses them in their next two games. England next face Uruguay, who will be smarting from their shock 3-1 loss to Costa Rica. The question is, will they be demoralized, and thereby easy prey, or will they strike back like a cornered tiger? The answer to that question may well determine England’s fate, since the disciplined Italian defence will probably be too much for even breakout Ticos star Joel Campbell to unlock. So in a major revision to my expectations from Group D, I’m going to suggest that Italy are now favoured to win the group, and any of the other three could yet take second (but of course I’m still holding out for it to be England.)

Group E: France got off to a flyer here, Karim Benzema netting the first of two hat tricks so far as France ran out 3-0 winners against Honduras. Switzerland became yet another comeback story with a goal in the dying seconds of the game to beat Ecuador 2-1. These two winners face off next, and you’ve got to fancy the winner of that game to take the top spot in the group, possibly with the other still taking second.

Group F: This group was always going to be about Argentina, and I think it still is. They started a little more slowly than they will have wanted, and Bosnia certainly gave them a scare late on, but they held on for a 2-1 win. A 0-0 bore draw between Iran and Nigeria will be a boost to a Bosnia team which certainly matched Argentina for firepower at times. My prediction here is unchanged, Argentina topping the group and Bosnia going through in second.

Group G: God Bless The USA, says the song, and it’s not hard to imagine that some benevolent entity was looking out for the American team as they found the net in the first half minute of the match, then survived a torrent of chances as Ghana outshot them by a factor of three to one. A late goal gave the Black Stars hope, but John Brooks sealed the three points and a 2-1 win for the USA. Ghana now face Germany, a tough fixture for any team.

And then there was Germany and Portugal. That game was a massacre, and but for some profligate shooting from the Germans, it could easily have ended 7-0 or even more. A needless red card for Pepe, an injury to Coentrao and a full 90 minutes for a star player struggling to stay fit only compounded Portugal’s misery. The Portuguese will face the USA next as a much diminished force, and if the Americans take that game too they will seal second place in the group behind Germany.

Group H: In the sixth (!) come-from-behind win of the tournament so far, Belgium outfought Algeria 2-1 while Russia and South Korea battled to a 1-1 tie. Belgium play Russia next, a clash which will very much determine the course of the group – a win will assure Belgium of qualification to the next round, but a loss would leave the group wide open. Similarly, a win for Algeria against South Korea would leave them very much in the mix, but a loss would effectively put an end to their World Cup.


Everything still to play for, but a hard road emerging for some teams.

And now that Brazil and Mexico have played again, let’s revisit Group A: the two teams scratched out a 0-0 tie in their second round to go level on 4 points at the top of the group. Brazil are ahead on goal difference by a solitary strike, which means that much will now come down to the final game, with another tie almost enough to automatically clinch qualification for either one.

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The great global quadrennial sporting spectacle that most Americans don’t give a crap about is only two days away!

So, just like I did four years ago at this time, I’m working on my predictions for the World Cup. By any realistic permutation, it seems to me that the semi finals will come down to Brazil, Spain, Germany and Argentina, but I’m having a hard time calling an outright winner…


So instead, let’s start with my beloved England.

Despite it being almost 50 years since our last (and only) World Cup win, England have often laboured under the pressure of greatly inflated expectations. This time, we seem much more inclined to go into the tournament hoping for a good showing, but not expecting a win. Hopefully this will allow the players to feel a little more freedom.

We have a good blend of youth and experience this year, with the indefatigable Steven Gerrard holding down the midfield and the ever-potent Wayne Rooney playing closer to the front, complemented by the pace and inventiveness of players such as Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling.

Ultimately, England have a tough group, facing Uruguay (with the deadly strike force of Cavani and Suarez) and Italy (with the creative midfield brilliance of Verratti and Pirlo). A win against either one would put England in good shape to qualify from Group D, but losses to both will all but guarantee an early exit.

I’m counting on England to beat Costa Rica and pull at least a draw against one of the other two, getting through the group in second place. This will pit them against the winners of Group C in the Round of 16, probably either Colombia or Ivory Coast, either of which England can beat on a good day. The quarter finals, though, would bring the formidable might of Brazil against us, and overcoming that hurdle would take a miracle. Were the miracle to happen, an equally tough test against Spain would await… but I can’t predict England beating Brazil based on anything other than wishful thinking.

Best case scenario: Quarter finalists.


And so to my adopted home, the USA.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s men have been handed a nasty draw, being up against Germany (#2 ranked team in the world, three-time winners and consistent high performers at World Cup tournaments), Portugal (frequently a ‘dark horse’ team with the potential to go far) and Ghana (at whose hands the USA were eliminated four years ago).

Similar to England‘s situation, a win against Ghana and a draw against one of the other two is probably the only realistic way to see the USA progress to the Round of 16. At that point, they would in all likelihood face a very strong Belgium side, and have great difficulty winning that game. The prize for winning the hypothetical USA v Belgium match would be their probable elimination at the hands of Argentina, but I’m expecting Belgium to be the ones to suffer that particular ignominy.

Best case scenario: Round of 16.


As with every World Cup, there will be twists, surprises and heartbreak. The vicissitudes of the draw ensure that one of Chile and the Netherlands will not progress beyond the group stage, unless Spain were to implode. If England progress, either Uruguay or Italy will be on an earlier flight home than a team of their calibre deserves. A favourable draw means that any of  Belgium, France or Bosnia-Herzegovina could get at least as far as the quarter-finals.


So who will win?

Brazil enter the tournament heavily favoured to win – and while playing on home turf can be an advantage, it is the quality of their squad which will decide the day. From Maicon to Neymar, almost every Brazilian player has the talent to turn a game on his own, and it’s hard to bet against eleven such players.

Defending champions Spain are built around a solid core of extremely gifted Barcelona players who have developed their understanding of each other’s play over six years, a luxury few teams can enjoy. Their opponents will now expect the high-level pressing game and tiki-taka passing, but it will be hard to break them down.

Germany will open their tournament by playing their 100th World Cup game, a figure unmatched by any other team. Known for a relentless work-rate and smooth teamwork, Die Nationalmannschaft will shut down opposition attacks and punish any defensive lapses.

Argentina, boasting the awe-inspiring forward line of Messi, Aguero and Higuain, will inevitably score goals. While there are some defensive questions, you can usually rely on the Albiceleste to score more than they concede.

It could easily be any of the four, but I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a third trophy for Argentina.

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I am proud of my national identity. I am English by birth, and also American by citizenship. I experience the same moment of delirious elation as many others when England’s soccer team scores a goal, the same heartbreak when the team subsequently suffers the ignominy of being eliminated from the World Cup in a penalty shoot-out. I experience immense pride and satisfaction when it is an American who wins a Nobel or a Pulitzer Prize.

But do I believe that England or America is ‘better’ than another nation? Are we morally or culturally or intellectually superior to the Iranians, or the Japanese, or the Congolese?

My answer to this is a resounding “NO!”, for Humanity is not comprised of nations, or of religions. We are people, each and every one of us, none more ‘human’ than another. America can – and often does – make a case for superiority based on its military muscle or its financial strength, but that doesn’t make David Brennan from Little Rock any more an exemplar of the species than Hidetoshi Yamagata from Sapporo or Abdul ibn-Aziz al-Rashid from Riyadh.

I am also white, male and heterosexual. Does this mean that I am more deserving of any form of recognition or respect than someone who might be black, or female, or gay? Again, “NO!”. Not in the slightest. Each of us is a shining jewel to be treasured and cherished, equally able to contribute to the betterment of our species as a whole.

It seems unfathomable to me that any subset of Humanity is considered ‘lesser’ than another in this day and age. In America, women have made immense strides toward equality over the hundred years since being granted rights which men had long taken for granted, and yet are still often perceived as inferior by some. Similarly, black Americans have made significant progress over the last half century, but still feel the sting of the ethnic divide. The LGBT community is even now struggling for many of the same rights for which women and African-Americans fought for so long. How is it possible that in the twenty-first century we are still discriminating between members of our own species?

This is not to say, however, that these differences do not matter. They matter immensely. Your gender, you ethnic and religious identity, your national origin and your sexuality are all parts of the recipe which makes you uniquely you, worthy of being celebrated. These traits may afford you a degree of insight which the prevalent majority may lack. Coupled with your intelligence, your creativity and your education, these all put you in a unique position to contribute something of immeasurable value to all seven billion of us, and I for one will celebrate alongside you as you do it.

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First of all, credit where credit is due: England were outclassed by Germany, and no amount of finger-pointing over Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal will change that. The more deserving side won the day.

Now, having gotten that off my chest:

Would somebody please tell me how exactly this wasn’t a goal? The refereeing at this World Cup has been shockingly inadequate, and FIFA’s continued resistance to introducing goal-line technology or at least goalside assistant referees is little more than idiocy. Too many legitimate goals have been disallowed, too many offside goals allowed to stand.

Having said that, I don’t think that this goal would have changed much. Chances are, England would have lost 4-2 instead of 4-1 had the goal been allowed, and (again) deservedly so.

One could argue that going into half-time having pulled level instead of trailing, the England team might have had better morale for the second half, but… the defense was torn apart for the third and fourth Germany goals, and in almost exactly the same way as for their first.

When a team makes a defensive blunder… well, it happens, you get over it. When the team makes essentially the same defensive blunder three times, perhaps some questions need to be asked, both of the players and the coach. England looked dangerous at times going forward (despite only scoring 3 goals in 4 games), but were a disaster at the back.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that the team was largely constructed around one individual – Wayne Rooney. Any time you build the team around one guy, you’re screwed if that one guy can’t produce the goods. Rooney was underwhelming at best in this World Cup.

Maybe if Robert Green hadn’t let in that goal against the Americans, maybe if Rooney had converted those chances against Algeria, maybe if Lampard’s goal had been properly awarded… maybe, maybe, maybe.

If you can’t perform well enough to overcome maybes, you don’t deserve to be there.

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It seems I am destined for another season of soccer-related disillusionment.

My beloved Spurs, for all that the squad looks good on paper, do not play on paper, and are thus languishing at the bottom of the league with zero wins and two ties after eight games.

My predictions for the Premiership this season have already gone to hell in a handbasket.

After my praise of Argentina’s soccer talents, they’ve had a couple of lousy results and the manager has… parted company with them.

Until further notice, please do not attempt to talk about your favorite team with me, lest I jinx them. Hence the lack of my often over-effusive support for England in this post. Though if you support Arsenal or Chelsea, please come forth, in which case I shall be more than happy to jinx the tar out of them.

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I may be the first and only Englishman ever to write these words; indeed, even to think them might be called heretical if not downright treasonous.

That said, England haven’t given me much to shout from the rooftops about, unless I wish to spend a great deal of time shouting ‘fuck’.

Besides, I tend to appreciate good soccer above and beyond any national/club rivalries. It’s an easy high road to take when one’s team is shit.

As would be expected of a Tottenham fan not far from 30 years of age, I learned the name Osvaldo Ardiles almost as soon as I knew what soccer was. While Mario Kempes’ bright star had already begun to fade by the time I was truly taking an interest, there was a parade of incredible talent coming to Italy from Argentina throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and I took full advantage of the nearby San Siro stadium to witness the likes of Caniggia, Batistuta and (of course) a young man named Diego, whom my countrymen regard with a mixture of superstitious awe and absolute horror, largely due to two goals scored within ten fateful minutes in 1986.

Wow, that was a long sentence. Almost as long as Maradona’s run to score the second of those goals, during which I am pretty sure he beat at least 12 English players.

I was fortunate enough to meet Maradona once, during his Napoli days, and to this day have cursed my bad luck in not having any form of writing implement to get an autograph.

In any case, the flow of talent has not by any means dried up. While Brazil are frequently considered the kings of South American soccer, from Leonidas right through to Kaká, most teams consider a fixture against Brazil to be a prestige game and a fixture against the Albicelestes to be a dangerous proposition, and with good reason. If you’ve paid any attention to soccer in the last few years, you have heard the names of Agüero, Tévez, Mascherano and Messi – the latter especially being a name to leave even seasoned defenders quaking in their boots, especially after slicing into the Brazilian defence again and again as Argentina racked up a 3-0 victory over Brazil in the Olympic semifinal just recently.

One to watch in the future, too: Andrés Ríos. This kid’s going to be terrorizing English defences himself before long.

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