July 10, 2010
July 11th 2010
That's all folks!
Later tonight, the final of the World Cup will be played between Spain and Holland and that will then be that.
Regardless of the result tonight - and in a sense, regardless of the performance too - the 2010 tournament was a disappointment that the South African continent didn't deserve. Despite the passion and the enthusiasm of the people of the continent, most of the football has been tedious and mundane with few highlights.
England, of course, were hopeless and hapless but it wasn't just the poor performances of the men with three lions on their white shirts that disappointed. Most of the games lacked real surprise and excitement and there were few moments that got me out of my chair. Pointless controversy reigned in some matches - issues that could be solved in an instant if FIFA would allow a fifth referee with a TV monitor - but by and large the refereeing was of a better standard than most years so the lack of substance shouldn't be laid at the feet of the men in black.
At the end of the last World Cup I wrote a long and impassioned piece about England and the future of football itself, but I'm not going to waste my time in 2010. That World football and England need a strong kick in the pants is all that needs to be said; whether either will occur is something I am - to be honest - starting to lose a bit of hope for. There are many fans watching now who know nothing more than what they currently see and seem quite happy about it judging by the number of emails I've received. I note though that most of those emails speak of 'defense' and 'offense' so I am thinking that most of these people are likely to be relative newcomers to the game and not able to recall tournaments that were a joy to witness. Worse though, if you think this is how football is and should be then there is no desire to see it change. It wasn't that I approved of Luis Suarez's blatant handball that paid off - it was just in this tournament it was good to get a bit of controversy going and to see a few people worked up about something barring the exit of their own side. I was so indebted to the Uruguyan, I found myself actually defending the indefensible! (And - yes! - before our North American cousins write in I'm fully aware that 'defense' is more consistent with 'indefensible').
I've enjoyed watching Uruguay and - yes, I'll admit Germany. I thought Spain would be the team to beat before the tournament and they deserve to be in the final if only for what they have achieved these past few years but they - like Holland, who also deserved their success - haven't been at their entertaining best and there have been few ebb and flow matches like the 3rd / 4th place play-off game. Now I know, of course, that the pointless eve-of-final game is a pressure off scenario but that only highlights the issues: too many teams intent only on spoiling and stopping hoping for crumbs and too many top teams frozen with fear. If only everyone could look at Germany and see what is capable if your expectations are low but you are happy to go for it. Quite how that can be instilled to make future tournaments more entertaing though, it's difficult to say. The fear genie has long been out of that particular bottle.
At the end of the 2006 competition in Germany I found myself wishing everyone well and hoping to see them in the 2008 European finals - something, of course, I never got to do. So you'll excuse me if I don't get too emotional this time it's just I feel another spell in the football wilderness beckons...!
It just remains to thank everyone who wrote in during the tournament, I genuinely read them all - even the barmy and abusive ones! - and I hope that at least some of the stuff I've written has entertained or driven you mad. If so, my work here has been a success. I'm off now to my final 'nationality' meal and drink and hope we all meet again sometime in the future.
Now PLEASE smash up them bloody vuvezelas and take that beach ball away with you!
July 9, 2010
July 10th 2010
At last! England will have a representative in the World Cup final... yada yada yada.
With FIFA confirming referee Howard Webb had been selected to take charge of Sunday's clash between Netherlands and Spain we can expect the usual headlines as England celebrate the only way we know how.
The 38-year-old Webb will be aided by his assistants Darren Cann and Michael Mullarkey during Sunday's final in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium.
Webb, who has taken charge of three matches in the World Cup so far, will become the first Englishman to referee the final since Jack Taylor in 1974 - when the Netherlands were beaten 2-1 by West Germany - a game in which Taylor sensationally gave the Dutch a penalty in the first minute. Can we now claim three stars on the shirt?
The South Yorkshire policeman will make a little piece of football history in that he will become the first person to have refereed the Champions League / European Cup final and the World Cup final in the same year.
Premier League referees chief Mike Riley praised Webb and his assistants. Riley, general manager of Professional Match Game Officials said: "It's not only recognition for their excellent tournament in South Africa so far but also the progress they have made internationally over the last four years. As a team they've worked incredibly hard to get to this stage, starting back at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 2007, then Euro 2008 and last year the 2009 Confederations Cup. It's just rewards for all their efforts."
It's just a shame the same can't be said of the English football team who should similarly have put in such effort over the past three years. We wish Mr Webb and his team well and, if there is a ball that bouncs near or over the goal-line, hope that the referee and his assistants make the correct call. England expects nothing less.
July 8, 2010
July 8th & 9th 2010
There's only us die-hards here now...
Another couple of rest days before the world's most pointless football match - the 3rd / 4th place play-off - and then, of course, the final on Sunday. I've run a piece below that I've written concerning England and my own club West Ham United that might fill a bit of a void and gets some debate going but in the meantime I'd be really interested to hear what you think of the 2010 World Cup.
Personally, I don't think the football has been worthy of the enthusiasm put in by the host nation, which for the most part could best be described as 'absorbing' rather than 'exciting'. It's a shame as, night after night on TV, we have been regaled with stories of how South Africa has changed over the years and how this World Cup has put the on seal on that nations ability to throw off the shackles and bleak history of its past and embrace a vibrant future. I salute the way this corner of the world has made the tournament as much about the nation as about the sport and has encouraged and celebrated the cup and all that it represents, but I can't help but feel South Africa hasn't had the footballing spectacle it deserved.
I'd be interested to hear what you think.
July 7, 2010
July 7th 2010
You know, the other odd thing about semi-finals is how relatively speaking, everything becomes clearer. Take Holland, for example, their task last night was to overcome Uruguay and that was the sole end to their aspirations. There was no worry about Argentina and Messi, the silky skills of the Brazilians, the French, the Italians, the passion of the African continent or even - stop laughing there! - the English. It was just 90 minutes with the ultimate prize in sight. It must be a good feeling to have - it's a long time since England last experienced it, of course - and it somehow puts the rest of the competition into perspective. I've always hated the 'one game at a time' platitude that is regularly trotted out but now, at this stage of the competition it all seems to make sense.
Just a few short days back, it was all about qualifying from a group and concerns about teams that were left in that all looked pretty scary ...but now? They're gone - some were a problem that never even crossed your radar - and all that's left is the here and now. And the here and now looks pretty rosy.
It's hard to quantify this but I can't help but think how some nations - and, of course, that one with the Three Lions on the shirt are prime amongst them - could reflect on how like the likes of the Netherlands have got where they are and consider how easy some of the hard things are. That Algeria game, for example, how many times would England have to play that again to get such a sterile, abject, nervous performance? Sir Alex Ferguson talks about the weight of expectation on the shoulders of Wayne Rooney; was it asking too much? Is the weight of expectation on van Persie or Robben different somehow?
They are rhetorical questions, of course, but if the answer is 'No' then England - and perhaps us fans too - have to look to at things carefully (The issue isn't the same for France and Italy because they have won the World Cup and got to finals in recent memory). If the answer is 'Yes' and the weight on England is higher than on other countries then I fear nothing will change until we breed players with a different mentality; ones with a confidence and maturity to deal with the teams that should be dispatched without question, raising the stakes for the more difficult games but adopting a winning mentality that will somehow bring you to the point where the Netherlands sit today.
Every team at this World Cup can replay the games again in their head and it's a fatuous argument to suggest that, perhaps, on another day that might have been your team playing for a place in the final last night but somehow, it's hard not to see that a more assured performance here or a more attacking mentality there wouldn't, at the very least, have given opportunities that have otherwise been wasted.
It may be of course, that like Uruguay, you'd be crying in your beer this morning because every winning semi-finalist has to produce a losing one too and recent events have proved that even 'successful' sides like Argentina, Brazil and Italy aren't immune from the type of backlash suffered by Cappello and the English, but even so, if you give it a go at least you have the opportunity to feel like the Dutch do right now. Just take it one game at a time....
July 6, 2010
July 6th 2010
Semi-finals are strange things; 90 minutes from glory and 90 minutes from also-rans - yet I've never forgotten any semi-final involving any team I support. They are all indelibly etched on my mind both good and bad, and by Thursday there are going to be supporters of all four nations who will feel the same way. Let's hope for the neutral at least, the matches are worthy of the occasion.
July 5, 2010
July 4th and 5th 2010
More rest days until the semi-final and - despite what I said last time - I may actually use these for the purpose for which they were intended!
As a debating point (and to see if anyone actually reads this thing!) I'm inviting comments about the English FA's decision to continue with Fabio Capello. Good thing or bad? Let's hear from you!
July 3, 2010
July 3rd 2010
This is the stuff! Germany or Argentina - who do you want to win? "Excuse me sir, would you like me to break your left leg or your right?" Let's hope it's a good game and whoever goes through slumps out to Spain in the semis!
Fabio Carries On!
Fabio Capello has been told his future as England manager is safe following a four-hour meeting of the Club England board on Thursday. Fortunately - and unusually for the FA - the mandarins who fumble over the future of football in England have realised that the 'two weeks of reflection' demanded by chairnan Sir Dave Richards is neither sensible nor fair and have advised the Italian that his job is safe.
Quite right too! The only feasible replacement for the current manager has just taken a new job at Liverpool and there is nothing to be gained by ditching Capello at this stage. I'd rather Fabio used his position as 'the man from outside on the inside' and tried to influence the FA on the future direction of English football using his experience of the Italian and world game.
There is no doubt Capello has made mistakes at this World Cup but I don't think he can be held totally responsible for the appalling state of English football and we may as well continue with one of the world's best coaches and just hope he makes some indentation on the future path of football in the UK.
July 2, 2010
2nd July 2010
The first of two quarter final days and this is where it really hots up. The weather is good and life is better. Enjoy!
Holland 2 Brazi 1
Venue: Blagg Acres
Sustenance: A glass of Advocaat and a bag of Dutch Edam crisps
If ever a tournament needed a result like this, then it was this one as the Dutch came from behind to dismantle a Brazilian side that lost control, composure and eventually the match. When Robhino scored after only 10 minutes it looked like business as usual but I've not been convinced by Brazil in this World Cup and Holland upped the pace in the second half and equalised after a dreadful mistake by the so-called best keeper in the tournament Júlio César.
With Brazil suddenly up against it, they imploded in spectacular fashion. Bastos, who needlesly kicked out out Robben in the first half, was lucky to stay on the pitch for a bad second foul that would have got him at least a yellow had he not already been booked, before Felipe Melo - whose superb through ball had enabled Robinho to score early on - was sent off for an appalling stamp on Robben again. Melo must have been a confused man as he tropped off, it was his head that applied the last touch to Wesley Sneijder's deep cross that eluded his keeper to bring Holland level.
Before Bastos was sent off in the 73rd minute, it had been Man of the Match Sneijder who had put the Dutch ahead on 68 minutes with an excellent header after the Brazilian defence had been opened up incisively from a corner back-flicked by Dirk Kuyt. After going behind and losing a man, Brazil lost all composure and the result seemed ensured as the Dutch had several half-chances to increase their lead.
As usual, the pundits were all stunned but this is no 1970 Brazil team and I'm as pleased as punch for the Dutch. With Uruguay facing them in the semi-final, Holland must really fancy their chances to go all the way now.
July 1, 2010
I will admit I am an admirer of Sir Trevor David Brooking CBE - so much so that I named my only begotten Son after him. Now don't go looking for anyone called Trevor or Sir when you're trying to track me down - what type of idiot do you take me for? - no, my Son has the middle name Brooking and, believe me, you have to really admire someone to do that to the holder of the family gene pool!
As a West Ham fan of a certain age, I spent many a happy afternoon or evening watching the God-like genius glide over grass and mud, spraying accurate passes and splitting defences for fun. Brooking was a sublime footballer who could open up a defence without the opposition often able to do anything about it, at any time right up to his premature retirement, he could walk into any World Cup team then or now. Had he worn a yellow shirt instead of a white or claret and blue one, then he would be feted wherever he went. Were he German he would have run the whole England side by now.
But it wasn't only Brooking's football genius that I admired. For alone among the many morons who clog up our football fields, Brooking was a cerebral, clever and astute man possessing the type of academic qualifications that could have taken him to Oxford or Cambridge had he not decided he preferred to spend his afternoons kicking a ball around in East London.
When most footballers were buying sport cars and opening pubs, Brooking successfully opened and still runs a highly successful print finishing business. In short, Trevor Brooking knows what he is doing.
June 30, 2010
30th June and 1st July 2010
New Article here (1st July 2010): Listen to da MAN!
Rest day's today and tomorrow and I normally use these days to get a bit of debate going about whatever is happening (usually England going home!) but, frankly, I'm footballed out and I think I'll have a couple of days break myself. The circular argument going on in England currently about England's World Cup demise are tedious in the extreme and redefining the words 'knee-jerk'
Take for example, a 'Your Number is Up, Fabio' headline in yesterday's Daily Mail (ok I know I shouldn't look at it but the wife insists on buying it... honest!). Amongst a number of fairly trite statistics was one that said 'Zero players from England's 23 played in the Champions League Semi-final but 7 Germans did.