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Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

Blame Culture Damages Football

In Football on July 21, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Referees are stuck in the middle and shown no respect

Distance has hopefully lent some much-needed perspective to the World Cup and its showpiece between Holland and Spain. It’s been over a week now since the furious fallout from that disappointing climax to what was, in many ways, a strange and somewhat underwhelming tournament.

In the aftermath, much of the media attention has focussed not on Spain’s often over-cautious tactics or the Oranje’s cynical approach, but on one of the few men on the pitch who I felt could justifiably hold his head high – Howard Webb.

I must admit, I have been no fan of the former policeman in times past. Sometimes, he has let himself down and left himself open to criticism in his handling of the big occasion. But in the sport’s biggest event, I feel he was given an impossible job. Nevertheless he acquitted himself admirably. Read the rest of this entry »

Semi Final Preview: Spain vs Germany

In Football on July 7, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Spain

How they got here

The loss to Switzerland brought back all the old Spanish doubts

With a lot more difficulty than expected. Nobody expected them to lose their first game to Switzerland. That 1-0 loss was the only time the Swiss managed to get themselves on the scoresheet, as their desperately negative tactics yielded just one more point against Honduras and Chile.

The pre-tournament favourites recovered well from that defeat, with a comfortable 2-0 win over Honduras and a 2-1 victory over the dangerous Chileans, but their reward was another meeting with a well-drilled, defensive outfit, Portugal.

Despite some hairy moments in that one which raised more doubts over the form of legendary goalkeeper Iker Casillas, David Villa’s fourth goal of the World Cup was enough to see them through. His fifth was all they could muster in an unexpectedly tense 1-0 win over Paraguay. They won’t care how they got to this stage though, the point is that they are here.

Final prospects

They go into this one as underdogs, which would have been unthinkable three weeks ago. The fickle nature of football coverage dictates that the Germans are now the form team, and will be expected to continue their free-scoring ways.

It won’t be that simple.

First of all, in a bizarre way, the shackles are now off Vicente del Bosque’s men. Always the nearly men of World football, they had come into many World Cups before this one as the heavily fancied dark horses, and had always come a cropper early. For a nation with such a rich footballing tradition and so many star players over the years, they had always flattered to deceive. Read the rest of this entry »

World Cup Semi Final Preview: Uruguay vs The Netherlands

In Football on July 5, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Uruguay

Sebastian Abreu keeps his cool to send his side through


How They Got Here…

Do we really need to go back over this? Probably not, but I will anyway, because there are some very pertinent points concerning their quarter final win over Ghana which nobody seems to be mentioning. We’ll get to that though.

To remind you of their progress from Group A, they started the tournament on a bit of a bum note, labouring to a 0-0 draw with France. That game also featured a red card for Nicolas Lodeiro. Despite the disappointing showing, that match gave us our first look at their disciplined defensive lines which frustrated the French.

The Uruguayans then improved massively in their second match, spanking the hosts 3-0, before easing past Mexico 1-0 to top the group.

That set them up for a last 16 match against South Korea. Luis Suarez (more on him later) put them in front early on with his 2nd goal of the tournament and they looked on course for a straightforward win. That was when they showed the first signs of mental frailty, sitting deeper and deeper and ceding control of the match until they inevitably conceded their 1st goal of the tournament.

Their reaction was highly encouraging, as they upped the tempo, took over the midfield and carved chance after chance until Suarez scored again with a peach of a curler that snuck in off the post.

They held on there to set up their date with Ghana, and World Cup infamy. Read the rest of this entry »

World Cup Round Up: Groups G and H

In Football on June 26, 2010 at 1:16 am

Group G

Brazil And Portugal Canter While Ivory Coast Bow Out

Ironically, the group that seemed the tightest on paper was the only one that lacked a nail-biting finish. Portugal’s seven strike outburst against a dispirited North Korean squad gave them the edge going into the final day, and their snoozer of a 0-0 with Brazil saw those two sides slide into the last 16.

The ludicrous sending off of Kaka marred the group stages for Brazil

First things first. Dunga’s Brazil are real contenders. They may not exude the flair for ‘Joga Bonito’ which the purists demand, but all that will be forgotten if they can capture the ultimate prize. Dunga has fashioned a side in his own image, and their base is in a rock solid back four. The defensive trio of Julio Cesar, Lucio and Maicon showed their obstinance while guiding Inter Milan to the Champions League, and they are joined by the veteran Juan and Michel Bastos. Bastos, a winger by trade, could be a potential weak link, but it will take an excellent team to expose him.

The back four are augmented by two shielding players, in Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo. The link between the lethal Luis Fabiano is the key for this side, and when Kaka, Elano and Robinho were missing against Portugal, they struggled creatively. The Samba stoppers did their job though, and Cesar was rarely called into action as they plucked the point they needed against an obliging Iberian outfit. Read the rest of this entry »

World Cup Round Up: Groups E and F

In Football on June 25, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Group E

Dutch Cruise As Japan Down Denmark

The Netherlands largely lived up to their pre-tournament billing as potential winners as they bagged a perfect three wins from three. At the other end of the scale, Cameroon’s less than indomitable lions failed to snag a point, while Japan came out on top in their winner takes all showdown with Denmark in the final fixture.

The Dutch have a frightening array of attacking talent to choose from

Strolling home in first place with all the laid back calm of an Amsterdam cafe owner, Holland will be absolutely delighted with how things have worked out. The Danes really put it up to them in the first match, before finally crumbling in the second half, before a hard-fought win over the plucky Japanese confirmed their passage to the second round. A point was needed against Cameroon to confirm top spot (and the favourable side of the draw), and despite conceding their first goal from the penalty spot, some Robben magic eased them to their third win on the bounce.

They now face the limited Slovakians, and will be confident of a quarter final appearance. If Robben can stay fit, they are a ferocious prospect going forward. Attacking options like Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar are up there with the very best. Van Persie and Huntelaar both found the target against Cameroon after being set up by van der Vaart and Robben. Following hot on the heels of Sneijder’s two man of the match efforts in the opening games, they look in ominously good nick. Read the rest of this entry »

World Cup Round Up: Groups C and D

In Football on June 24, 2010 at 12:37 am

Group C

England Toil As USA Top The Group

England came into the tournament as one of the favourites, but nearly slunk out before the knockout stages as key players failed to fire. Continuing the theme of the Group stages so far, this one also went down to the wire. Slovenia were through when the final whistle went at Soccer City, but an injury time strike from Landon Donovan sent the Americans into the second round as group winners.

The USA deserve enormous credit for toughing their way out of this group, coming from behind to sneak points against both England and Slovenia, before finally breaking the deadlock in an incredible game against Algeria. They don’t have too many household names, but they play as a team, and have the self belief and will to win that characterises American sportsmen. In the words of captain Landon Donovan, “We are Americans. We get on with it, we don’t complain”.

USA celebrate their late winner against Algeria

Their mentality is admirable, and they will fancy their chances of advancing to the quarter final at the expense of Ghana.

The Americans are at their best when bombing forward, as they were forced to do in throwing caution to the wind in all three group games. Scoring four goals and creating a host of chances bodes well for their chances of breaking down the solid Ghanaian back four. They need to be alert though, because the Africans love to play a counter-attacking game. Should they commit too many men forward, they may well regret it. The movement and link up play between Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Donovan will be their best chance of getting on the scoresheet, but Onyewu will need to make sure his defence stay on top of Asamoah Gyan.

Read the rest of this entry »

World Cup Round Up: Groups A and B

In Football on June 23, 2010 at 12:40 am

Group A

French Farce Opens The Door For Uruguay

Irish bile was rising ever since Thierry Henry left them with nothing to do for the Summer but bombard phone-in shows with their righteous self regard, and set up Facebook groups demanding inclusion as a ‘33rd team’. But all those bitter prayers paid off as the French collapsed in a quite astonishing manner, leaving the path clear for Uruguay and Mexico to advance.

Luis Suarez nets the winner against Mexico

First of all, praise must go to Uruguay. The South Americans deservedly topped the group by a clear three points, and they had to do it the hard way by taking on the 2006 finalists when they were still in relatively good health. That 0-0 draw may have been the first match that sparked the usual World Cup doomsayers into action, but they repaid their debt in full by spanking South Africa 3-0 in their own backyard and pipping the Mexicans in an entertaining final game. Luis Suarez finally got himself on the scoresheet in that game, after Diego Forlan had sparked their bid into life with a virtuoso display against the hosts. With Edison Cavani  slowly finding his feet aswell, they have the firepower to make a real dent in the competition.

This lively strikeforce may be getting the headlines, but their backline has quietly amassed three clean sheets to kick off the tournament. Captain Diego Lugano had some awkward moments against France, but has dug in and is now a rock at the back. Partnered by the younger Diego Godin for the first two games, and Mauricio Victorino for the Mexican showdown, the backline holds the key for this side. If they can keep it tight at the back, they will have a chance against anyone.

They dominated the midfield against Mexico, and if they can do the same against the South Koreans then a quarter final spot should be well within their scope. Read the rest of this entry »

Stuck In The Middle

In Football on February 18, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Watching the Arsenal-Porto game, and then subsequently the Bayern-Fiorentina highlights, it was clear that mistakes were made by both referees.

Referee Martin Hansson had a difficult evening in Portugal

Martin Hansson had a nightmare couple of minutes at the Stadio de Dragao when he first waved away Tomas Rosicky’s penalty appeal and then allowed Porto to take a quick free kick to take the lead. For this, he endured a long lecture from Arsene Wenger on the sideline (quite why he patiently lent the Frenchman his ear I’m not too sure) and the scorn of seemingly every viewer.

After the game, the fun really started. Watching on RTE, the two of the ‘Three Wise Men’ (and Ronnie Whelan) had an almighty cut off the referee. Predictably, Eamonn Dunphy was the ringleader, as he howled over and over about how the referee has to raise his arm to indicate an indirect free kick, and then get out of the way. Ronnie disagreed. They’re professional footballers. Internationals in fact. They know it’s a bloody indirect free kick.

It was only after a comical few minutes of schoolboy squabbling (which actually reduced host Bill O’Herlihy to giggles at one point) that they saw another angle. Ah, it would seem he did raise his arm early after all. ‘I withdraw my point’ grumbled Eamonn. ‘But not the one about him obstructing Campbell’. Read the rest of this entry »

Champions League Preview

In Football on February 11, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Tuesday

The tie of the round sees two footballing giants clash at the San Siro as AC Milan host Manchester United. United have been in great form recently, closing the gap at the top of the Premier League to just a point in their Terminator-like pursuit of Chelsea. Milan have been more like one of those old-style Terminators, a lot clumsier and less intimidating. They do have a few big guns though, and will pose a real threat to United’s European ambitions.

Despite lying 10 points off the pace in Serie A following a rocky recent run, their thrilling group win over Real Madrid in the Bernabeu is a reminder of just what they’re capable of when they click. It looks as though they will once again be able to call on the services of centre back Alessandro Nesta, who was conspicuous by his absence in those league hiccups, while Real’s tormentor in chief Pato is also in the squad for their Friday fixture against Udinese.

Brazilians Pato and Ronaldinho will need to be watched closely

Read the rest of this entry »

United Still Top Dogs, But City Slickers Are On The Rise

In Football on January 28, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Following a week of handbags and insults, Manchester United asserted their dominance over their city rivals once more last night, with Wayne Rooney’s injury time header giving them a 3-1 win on the night, and a 4-3 aggregate victory at Old Trafford. They now advance to the League Cup final while City’s fans rue an inability to keep clean sheets.

Rooney's 91st minute winner kept United on top, for now

But despite the familiar sound of the reds fans’ crowing, there is a palpable sense that these clubs are heading in opposite directions.

More and more grisly details are emerging each day concerning the Glazers’ apparent abuse of a worldwide sporting institution. While undoubtedly overstated by the press, these details do paint a worrying picture for Manchester United. Certainly in the short term, their spending power will be reduced, and it may never again be on a par with their neighbour’s billions.

With Alex Ferguson’s imminent retirement set to finally make referees and journalists’ jobs a little more bearable, United face a terribly uncertain future.  Deprived of the two most important elements of their double decade of success – Fergie and spending power – will they continue to compete?

Add to this the inevitable squad turnover which will see such bulwarks as Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Edwin van der Sar and Gary Neville finally call it a day, and the club could find themselves in a precarious position. For all their jubilant claims that ‘money doesn’t buy success’ after last night’s game, the squad in red cost far more to assemble, even with the aforementioned trio of Giggs, Scholes and Van der Sar, who cost a pittance between them.

Don’t expect that to be the case next season though. The likes of Garrido, Zabaleta and Boyata will struggle to keep their places in the coming years, and the only reason their value didn’t dwarf that of the home side last night was because of former manager Mark Hughes’ transfer bungling. Read the rest of this entry »