Category: Latest

Over & Out

England 0-0 Portugal (1-3 on penalties) As you have may have noticed, it has taken me quite a long time to consider my thoughts in a rational manner over this match. A suspension that cost one player the chance to play in a semi-final, a harsh sending-off, the sly wink of a cheating foreigner, a handball claim… this match had it all, but, as I said before, England are now packing their bags to go home after their best performance of the tournament. They were unable to patch over their shortcomings, but there were some tentative signs that maybe, just maybe, the future may not be quite as depressing as one might think. England’s biggest problem was the lack of options to change once things started to go wrong. There was, as I suspected, no Plan B. When Rooney was sent off, the only option for Eriksson was to bring on Peter Crouch as a lone striker. They weren’t going to score. They could have kept going for hours, but they weren’t going to score. Rooney’s sending off was a touch harsh, but I’ve seen players sent off for less. He was a silly boy. Having said that, though, part of the reason that he was back on the halfway line trying to get the ball in the first place was because of Eriksson’s tactical system. He’s an impatient...

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Can They? Well… Can They?

There’s an hour and forty minutes, and I hope it’s not as hot in Gelsenkirchen as it is in Brighton. It’s absolutely sweltering here. I know the heat is no excuse, but if it’s anything there like it is here, they’ll be slowed down to a crawl within about five minutes. The title of this piece is something of a rhetorical question. Of course they “can”. Whether they “will” or not is, however, a completely different question. First, then, the bad news. England have struggled in every match they’ve played in this World Cup. Whilst the press slating of everything English has been over the top (as if we could reasonably expect anything better), there are real and genuine concerns about their ability to compete at this level of international football with Sven Goran Eriksson in charge. There have been too many individual errors and lapses in concentration. The tactics often don’t appear to have anything resembling a Plan B if all’s not going well, apart from something made up on the spot. Eriksson doesn’t appear to have any motivational skills at all. How is he going to get that extra 10% out of them if he needs to? I’m not sure he even knows the answer to that himself. If the find themselves a goal down with twenty minutes to play, where is the attacking guile required to...

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Forza!

Italy 3-0 Ukraine In the midst of three closely match quarter-finals, this one always seemed likely to be the one that was slightly more lop-sided than the rest. Ukraine, with the best will in the world, had looked rather like Shevchenko plus ten, and that’s not enough to beat a team like Italy. From the kick-off, the Ukrainians came out fighting (a welcome relief after their anodyne performance against Switzerland – they were spared widespread criticism only because the Swiss were even worse), but it all started going wrong for them on six minutes, when Shovkovskiy appeared to mis-judge Zambrotta’s shot for the opening goal. First viewing seemed to indicate that he’d got a hand on the shot but not enough of one to turn the ball around the post. The replay showed that the ball appeared to have gone through his arms. For the remainder of the first half, the Ukrainians slipped into a torpor, and were seeming to playing a damage-limitation exercise. It was a shame to see Shevchenko cutting such an isolated figure up front, his team-mates seemingly unable or unwilling to supply the balls that he needed to make his fullest contribution. At half-time in the BBC studio, Martin O’Neill raged at them, calling on Oleg Blokhin to make tactical changes and for his team to have a bit more of a go at them...

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Tor! Tor! Tor!

Germany 1-1 Argentina (4-2 on penalties) Well, I’d be ripping up my betting slip right now, if I’d been stupid enough to bet on my own feelings before the tournament began. However, Argentina had struggled in three out of their four previous matches (regardless of the gushing that came from the commentary galleries of both the BBC and ITV), so whether we should be particularly surprised about this result or not is open to debate. The first half was pretty even. Ballack continued his marauding presence in the middle third of the pitch (surely there can be no playerthat deserves a goal more in these finals than Robo-Ballack), but a match high on tension and high on technique wasn’t providing the excitement of many clear chances for either team. It was like a chess match – not particularly thrilling to watch, but intriguing nevertheless. After Argentina took the lead nine minutes into the second half, things opened up a bit. Maxi Rodriguez should have put things beyond any reasonable doubt after sloppy German defensive play allowed him in on goal, but he shot into the side-netting. This was against the general grain of the match though, as the Germans were starting to get on top. Congratulations, at this point, to David Pleat for accusing Abbadonzieri of time-wasting when he went down injured with twenty minutes to play. Three or...

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Prediction Time Revisited!

Well, we’re down to the last eight, so it’s prediction time. For those of you that care about such things, I’m posting this tonight because I have to go to my parents’ house tomorrow and try to fix their computer (again). My intention is to be back here in time for the Germany match, but I’m not altogether certain that this will be a speedy process. But enough of the drab minutae of my personal life. Quarter-final time is upon us, so it’s time to have a look forward and gaze into my crystal ball again. Looking back at my second round selections, I only called four of them correctly, though I did refuse to be drawn on England, and I said that Australia-Italy could go either way. So, I’m counting that as a successful round. At least FIFA got what they wanted in the last round. Unlike four years ago, when the “big” were mostly uncourteous enough to get themselves knocked out early on, this time all the big guns are present and correct (minus Holland and Spain, who were knocked out by, well, guns even bigger than theirs). There’s still a first-timer left, so FIFA can claim that the “romance” of the tournament is still alive, too. Personally, I’m not bothered about a large number of big countries still being left in. As we found four years...

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