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.


Messi = Maradonna?

26 03 2010

There has been some debate this season as to who the best footballer in the world is. Rooney’s form has been outstanding and his goals have carried United to plains thay couldn’t have dreamed of without him. Ronaldo’s form has been prolific with Madrid as a whole but one man has been simply incredible, particulaly in the past few weeks, and that is Lionel Messi. He current form is pushing him dangerously close to being touted as one of the best ever. The similarities between himself and his Argentinian compatriot (and frequent nutter) Maradonna are uncanny. In terms of playing ability, Messi is now reaching the heights of Maradonna at his prime and that is a scary thought considering he is just 22. Does Messi have to win a world cup for Argentiana, like Maradonna in ’86, to be considered one of the best ever? Messi himself doesn’t enjoy the comparisons with the great one declaring:

“Even after millions of years pass, I will not be even close to Maradona. And I do not want to approach him. He is the greatest of all time,” he is quoted as saying  by AS.

“I don’t compare myself to Maradona, I want to make my own history for something I have done.”

Messi says he will never be as good as the Diego but with a more level head and at such a young age, does he have the potential to be even better than him? The world cup can’t come soon enough. Maradonna vs Messi video:

Champions League 25/02/10

25 02 2010

We are at the half way point of the last 16 of the Champions League and who do we fancy? Most of the usual suspects are still lurking aside from Liverpool and one or two others. Man United came from the San Siro with a stirring win and scoring 3 goals. However this result does not mask United’s frailties. Firstly their defence is leaking badly. They won the league last year on the back of 13 clean sheets kept by Ferdinand and Vidic at centre back. The duo have hardly seen each other this year. Ferdinand’s persistent back problems make you question Capello’s decision to hand him the national captaincy while Vidic has also struggled with injury and you get the feeling that he will not be around come August. United scored three in the San Siro but could have conceded 7. Secondly, whatever way you line up the United midfield, is it good enough to win the CL? Let’s say Valencia, Fletcher, Carrick/Scholes, Giggs/Park depending on the system. When you think of what Xavi and Iniesta did to them last year, I’m not so sure.. Anderson is out for the season (although based on current form that seems no great loss) and the lack of return date for Hargreaves is ominous. Thirdly, they rely on Rooney too much. United’s second highest goalscorer this season is own goals. Berbatov shines in flashes and his link play can be excellent but too often he drifts in and out of games and his languid style doesn’t endear himslef to the United fans. He has yet to put in 90 minutes of class in a big game. Rooney has developed into one of the top three players in the world. Simply, he seems to have everything. He has filled the void of Ronaldo in terms of goals but are United better equipped to win the CL this season? I don’t think so. What would United and England do if anything happened to Rooney?!

Milan’s loss at home to United surely rules them out of contention. They are an aging side and while Pato and Ronaldinho can be brilliant, it would have to be something really special to overturn this deficit in Old Trafford. CSKA Moscow, Olympiakos, Bordeaux, Sevilla, Porto and Stuttgart would all have to be outsiders at this stage. Although a goal down from the first leg, Madrid should to do the business at the Bernabau against Lyon with the class at their disposal. The Inter v Chelsea encounter is just too tight to call. It is all set up for an epic. Mourinho back to the Bridge makes the tie all the sweeter. Both teams have flaws but both teams could also win the competition outright. Chelsea can usually pull out the goods at home and you would fancy them to sneak it. Although, Sneijder has been a great signing for Inter and they actually look a better side without Ibrahimovic and with Eto’o and Sneider in. He has provided them with that elusive link between midfield and attack. What has Mourinho really achieved at Inter though? They had won the league a couple of years in a row before he arrived and essentially he was brought in to win the Champions League. According to opta stats, during his time at Inter, they have won just two of seven matches at home in the Champions League, losing once. This wouldn’t inspire a winning run to the final.

Barcelona are sensibly the bookies favourite at around 7/2 and it is difficult to look past them again this year. They conceivably have three of the best players in the world in the team in Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. However, they haven’t been at their best for much of the season and their back four is penetrable if you can get the ball off them! Real Madrid and Arsenal would both pose a threat but the loss of Van Persie for the gunners is crucial. Their reliance of Fabregas is similar to that of Rooney to United. With Ronaldo, Kaka, Higuain, Benzama etc. in the ranks, Madrid could pull off any result but you wouldn’t fancy them to go through 6 more games without conceding a fair few goals..

Bayern could be a decent ouside bet at 16/1 but you get the feeling that a Spanish or English side will have the final say. Roll on the next phase.. Here are some of the best CL goals to wet the appetite.