Is That All You Have England?

12 06 2010

We are officially up and running and it has been a mixed bag of a weekend so far which has had the good, the bad and the downright ugly (see France v Uruguay).

If we thought the bell ringer at Portsmouth was annoying, our irritation has reached new bounds with the constant echo of horns (or vuvuzels) at the stadiums in South Africa. It is however a frustration we will have to bear for the duration of the tournament so there is little point in dwelling or letting the horns get the better of us!

Saturday saw two of the pre-tournament favourites begin their campaign in England and Argentina, with starkly contrasting performances. It is difficult to contemplate how England were so poor. Lets be honest here; USA are no great shakes and are a workmanlike side with precious little going forward. Their three best players are Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Londan Donavan; decent players but hardly people who would strike fear into the best teams in the world.

It was astonishing how flat and average England were throughout and they made USA look better than they actually are. It almost seemed that scoring that goal early on was the worst thing that could have happened to them as they more or less immediately began playing cagey football and looked to be playing completely within themselves. This England side, like so many others in recent times, looked to be plagued by fear. It was almost as if they were trying to protect a one goal lead against an average side when scoring after just 15 minutes. Realistically, they should have pressed on and finished the game.

Some people suggest this negativity is Capello’s influence but it could be more a cultural deficiency which is borne from the tabloid media in England. The Sunday tabloid papers will unmercifully rip Green to shreds and he will not be allowed forget about the mistake in the terraces come August. The English side seemed more frightened of losing than confident of winning. Whether this is simply first game jitters remains to be seen.

It was a howler from Green of catastrophic proportions but it shouldn’t mask the other obvious problems scattered across the English general play. Yesterday confirmed that Lampard and Gerrard don’t operate well together as a midfield duo. That’s not to say they couldn’t be effective in the same team but not as a central pairing. They didn’t control the tempo of the game, break up the USA’s play well and provided no real service of note to their best player in Rooney. The United striker looked good when he got the ball but he wasn’t provided with one real chance against a team they should be dominating. England need to alter their system and get Gareth Barry into their team to provide a solid base and free up Gerrard and Lampard to have more roaming roles as it seems hugely unlikely either players won’t be picked. A 4-3-3 seems a better option with Heskey losing out and Joe Cole coming in to support Rooney along with Aaron Lennon.

The inevitable loss of Ledley King to injury has propelled Jamie Carragher into the centre-half role and this spells danger for England. After seeing him outpaced by Altidore, you shudder to think what Villa and Torres would do to him.

This is not a complete disaster for England and they could very feasibly still go on to win the group. However they certainly didn’t stamp their authority on the World Cup and the Spains and Brazils of this world will not be quaking in their boots on the back of this performance.

Argentina on the other hand looked more impressive and consistently dangerous and inventive. The one-nil victory didn’t reflect their dominance and the Nigerian goal keeper Enyeama produced some outstanding saves to keep Nigeria in it. Argentina didn’t exactly steamroll the Nigerians but showed enough glimpses to put themselves in contention as potential winners. Messi looks in good form and dangerous and this will worry anybody who comes in their path. He has the potential to steer Argentina the whole way.

South Korea also produced a great win over the Greeks but in truth Greece looked very poor and will do well to record a point.

We’re off and running and we’ve only seen a glimpse of what is to come. One thing is for certain: England will need to play an awful lot better if they are to make an impact at this World Cup.



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NZ Ireland Preview

11 06 2010

Ireland have had less than ideal preparation for this encounter and it comes at the tail end of an arduous season. Injuries have been prolific and the pack in particular looks weakened. Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks and they would have hoped to come into this encounter all guns blazing as this is not a vintage All Black side.

The All Blacks have suffered injuries themselves, missing the likes of Andrew Hore, Ali Williams, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Ma’a Nonu. There are three new caps in their side including Benson Stanley at inside centre and this is an area Ireland will definitely target.

Realistically, we will more than likely struggle at scrum time so they will look to use off-the-top line out ball and attack the New Zealand centres. It makes sense for Ireland to play to their strengths and their strengths in this encounter lie out wide. Looking at the team sheet it is the likes of Kearney, Bowe, O’Driscoll and Heaslip who will frighten the opposition and it is imperative to get these players into the game.

Benson Stanley and Conrad Smith are both talented centres; Smith in particular has great hands and awareness. However, with quick ball, you would definitely fancy the Irish centres to cause some damage here. D’Arcy’s form has been impressive of late and his running game looks to be in good nick. He will look to expose the New Zealand debutant and punch some holes in their defence. Nonu is a big loss for the All Blacks as they often look for him to get them over the gain line. Conrad Smith has a classy touch but he won’t be steamrolling over the Irish cover.

O’Gara will also be looking to bring Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble off their wings and into play as mush as possible. Both are strong, dynamic runners and Bowe in particular can seize upon the slightest gap with devastating effect. It is usually these types of games in the Southern Hemisphere where Rob Kearney delivers his best form and how Ireland would appreciate that. In truth the Irish backline has a dangerous look to it and are certainly capable of creating problems for the All Blacks. It will be intriguing to see if Ireland deploy a counter attacking game from deep here but somehow it seems unlikely.

The decision to go with O’Gara had probably more to do with his experience than anything as this is unknown territory for Sexton. Kidney will bank on O’Gara to play an intelligent game, pushing Ireland into the right areas through his boot and then sending his strike runners into space. It must have been a tough call for Irish management but the logic is there for all to see. O’Gara has played against the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter before down here and will know what is coming.

For Ireland to have a chance of succeeding, the line-out must function well as this will more than likely be their only source of quality set-piece ball. It is now a presumption that the scrum will struggle and the Franks brothers at tight and loose head for New Zealand will fancy this one. The absence of Paul O’Connell and even Leo Cullen will be sorely missed at line out time and it once again poses the question: What about Bob Casey? He is a big, physical lock who is a leader and a great lineout operator. Surely the type of player we could have used on this tour given the injuries we have? I appreciate Kidney is trying bring in fresh blood but picking Casey on this tour does not tie your hands into picking him for every subsequent game.

Given injuries and fatigue, this looks a long shot for Ireland but it is not beyond the realms of possibility. This is because, although strong, this is not the greatest All Black side of the modern era. The line-out must operate to maximum capacity and we could also do with a semi-solid scrum. The pack will need to work ferociously to quell New Zealand at the breakdown and our backs must be at their dynamic best. If all this comes to fruition, we have a chance. Otherwise, it could be a long eighty minutes.





First Quote – Which Footballer Would you Insure?

10 06 2010

With the World Cup coming up, FirstQuote took to the streets of Dublin to see which footballers would be the most expensive to insure..

Who would you insure?

http://www.firstquote.ie