Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Can June come earlier next year ? Please

It has all been decided, the marathon process of qualification for the 2018 World Cup is over. It began in September 2016 and ran until the middle of November 2017, finally giving us the identity of the 32 participants for the tournament which will begin on June 14th 2018 in Russia.

Therefore, I thought it was the perfect time for an Amuse-bouche, a small appetizer to tease the palette before the main course. Now is the opportunity to reflect on which nations will not be there, before we forget about them and to look forward to the draw (scheduled for Dec 1st) for the tournament when we will discover how the 32 teams will be divided into eight groups of four.

This is the time when football fans around the world start to fantasize about which countries they would like in their group and on the flip side have nightmares hoping they will not draw certain other countries. We will also prepare our ideal group and our group of death shortly.

But first to some of the teams who will be missing the party.  The name which jumps out the most is that of Italy. This is the first time in my lifetime that this has happened, this last occurred in 1958 when the World Cup was held in Sweden. Ironically the team who stopped Italy from qualifying for 2018 is..... Sweden. It seems the land which has brought us the sleek lines of  Maserati, Lamborghini and Ferrari, has a problem with the flat pack utilitarianism of the country that has provided us with IKEA and Volvo.

An example of Italian Passion which will be sorely missed Marco Tardelli 1982 Final

From a footballing point of view, the fact is that Italy have been poor in the last two world cups, in that even though they qualified, they did not make it out of the first group stage either time, so perhaps we should not be overly surprised.

The other "big" European team with a rich World Cup history not to qualify is Holland, this is a shame as the Dutch were always known for the artistry of their football, but as with Italy they have been on a downward spiral for some time now.

From South America the major team to miss out was Chile, who faltered on a frenetic last day of qualifying, which if results had gone differently could have seen Argentina being the team we were writing about now. This means we will not see Alexis Sanchez next summer which is a shame because his skills light up a football field but otherwise Chile will be no great loss.

Sanchez goal v Barcelona, listen carefully to all the commentary whilst you savour the skill

Historically the African nations have taken it in turn to qualify, and this time round we will be missing a few familiar names who have been fixtures in the last few tournaments, such as Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. Instead we welcome back Egypt  among others. The African nations always bring enthusiasm and unpredictability to the party.

To conclude this section, a special mention has to be made of Team USA who amazingly failed to qualify for the first time since 1986 and lost out to Panama who will be participating for the first time in their history.

I doubt that many people in the US of A are aware that they failed to qualify, unless of course you are an executive at Fox sports who bid $200 million to win the rights to broadcast this extravaganza. As I have written before, Americans are insular to a level unknown to nations who share a continent with other countries. If you were to ask an average American where Moscow is, he would probably answer Idaho. In Italy, the headlines screamed "apocalypse" "what are Italians going to do next June? watch Sweden!!?" In America , merely a mention.

The draw as mentioned earlier is due to be held next Friday December 1st in Moscow (that's the one in Russia) and will take place in the Kremlin palace. There are lots of complicated permutations involved which decide which teams can be drawn where, but that is very boring and therefore, we will not burden you with them.

The lucky 32
Suffice to say that the eight groups will consist of one team from each of the four pots.

I will now pick what I think would be the so called group of death


There are those who would substitute Argentina for Brazil, but I don't think the Argies are that good, bit of a one man team, how I hope those words don't come back to haunt me in July.

As to the easiest group, this is from an English point of view, but you could probably apply this to all the teams in pot 2 instead of England,


Please leave your views on these groups or what you think the make up of the two groups should be in the comments section.

Do Svidaniya until June

Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Final of Jeux Sans Frontieres (after the Domino effect of Brexit)

And now, the end is near; And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear, I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

It has been a long month since the tournament started on June 10th, with France playing in the opening game and tonight we shall again see France in the final game against Portugal. 

To be honest, and I hope no one ever thinks I am anything but, this is not a game which sets the pulse racing.
Unless you are French or Portuguese, I do not think that many people give a monkeys about the outcome of this game.

Therefore, apart from a brief a few lines, we shall look back at what has been rather than waste too much time on the game itself and that will not take up much space either.

It is a lose lose situation. It is not just sour grapes on my part because of England's poor performance, if the final was between say Germany and Spain or Italy, most observers would be more excited.

I am not denying that anybody, except the French themselves, like the French, but that is just a fact of life and I think that if it were any other team except Portugal or rather one Christiano Ronaldo and ten others, most of the world would be supporting them to win.

Unfortunately Portugal have been ugly to watch, their semi final win over Wales being the first game they manged to win in regulation time, and even then the first half was really boring, two quick strikes in the second early and then a return to boredom.

France have offered flashes of brilliance here and there, but in reality the Nationalmannschaft completely dominated the first half and it was only the penalty on the stroke of half time which changed the flow of the game.. 

A lot of people who watch  football tend rather irrationally to believe in the destiny of a team. France were destined to make the final in Paris after all that has taken place in that country over the past year and a half, from the attacks at Charlie Hebdo, to the attacks last November.

The way Portugal have played and yet still reached the final marks them as a team of destiny as well, will this be Ronaldo's crowning moment ? I know, yawn, but there it is.

I did not remember this game at all, but the last time these two played each other in the 1984 Euro also in France, they produced rather an exciting game.

France V Portugal 1984 semi final

The only thing to hope for is that it will be over in the regulation ninety minutes.

So what will we take with us from this tournament, sadly not a lot, at least from what took place on the playing surface. I wrote, a month ago that the expansion of the tournament to twenty four teams was a risk and I think that has been proven true. There was little excitement and too much defensive football, and now to the awards.

Player of the Tournament, in my view no one deserves it. I would like to see your opinions which I shall probably refute.

Flop of the tournament, plenty to choose from, on a team level Austria and of course England, but if I was going to have to choose one player who failed to deliver anything despite the massive hype which surrounded him, the award has to go to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Best Fans, a close run thing between the Northern Irish and Iceland, I think Iceland shade it as, for as much as Will Grigg was on fire for the Irish, the Viking chant is something which is going to be imitated around the world and is probably here to stay. The Irish would probably win the award for the fans the local residents liked most.

Worst Fans. Four contenders here, the Croats, the Turks, the Hungarians and of course the Russians. The Russians won this category by a knockout, delivered with a thrown projectile. Is it not a joy that the World Cup in 2018 is due to be held in Russia.

Most unpredictable incident, This has to be the amazing penalty shootout between Italy and Germany.  The Germans had not missed in shoot outs since Uli Stielike in that world cup game against France in 1982. They proceeded to miss three, but the attempts by the Italians especially Zaza and Pelle were beyond belief. As a counter claim to my choice and I freely admit it is a strong one. The Germans still won in a penalty shootout.

Most Predictable incident, An English goalkeeper (Joe Hart) making a mistake to let in a goal.

As ever, I hope you, the readers have enjoyed reading the blog as much as I have enjoyed writing it. All good things come to end and I hopefully will be back in two years to help you navigate your way through World Cup in Russia in 2018.

I have had a number of requests to blog on the upcoming Olympics which I shall consider, but whatever happens 
I would like to end with more words from the song I used to open today's blog and from a French song which in it's own way is also very famous.

"Non, je ne regrette rien"

To think I did all that; And may I say - not in a shy way, 
"Oh no, oh no not me, I did it my way".

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels; And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows - And did it my way! 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Last Four Part Two

In reality after Portugal's comfortable victory last night, we are now down to three teams and today we are looking forward to another installment of the rivalry which stretches back two thousand years between the Gallic nation and the confederation of German tribes.

But before we preview this game, I just want to mention the bizarre penalty shootout that occurred between Germany and Italy in their quarter final on Saturday night. 

The Nationalmannschaft have not lost a penalty shootout in forty years, and as Thomas Muller stepped up to take the second German kick, the commentator invoked the commentators curse by kindly informing us that Germany had scored Twenty One consecutive penalties. 

The Nationalmannschaft went on to miss two more penalties, an unprecedented occurrence, yet still manged to win thanks to Italian ineptitude of the grandest scale.

I don't know if many of you are familiar with the equestrian discipline known as Dressage, but watch the following clips and  see if you can find any similarities between Zaza (the Italian culprit), and what you will see in the second clip. 

Blazing saddles from Zaza

In the next clip, skip to one minute forty seconds, you don't need to watch for long to get the idea, although you may enjoy the skill on show.

2012 Gold medal winning performance

It is quite obvious that Zaza had been getting ready to watch the upcoming Rio Olympics and had thought he was a horse who could dance.

I actually feel sorry for Zaza, he has become a figure of ridicule and has spawned a whole host of spoof clips based on his prancing. Here is one of the best.

Zaza Spoof

I do not think that many people realize that the state of Germany, as we more or less know it today, has only been in existence for less than one hundred and fifty years. In July 1870,  a conflict known as the Franco-Prussian war broke out between a Prussian lead German confederation of states and France. 

The outcome was a disaster for France, Paris fell, their leader Napoleon III was captured and the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were occupied by the victors. 

In January of 1871, the empire of Germany was established with Wihelm as Kaiser and Otto Von Bismarck  as chancellor. 

Two things can be surmised from this conflict. Firstly, here were where the real seeds of the first world war were planted.
Secondly, in Bismarck's vision of a unified Germany, one can see where the favourite Nazi slogan of  Ein Volk, Ein Reich and Ein Fuhrer (One People, one Empire, one Ruler) came from.

For France to overcome, yet another German invasion tonight, they are going to have to dig deep and remain steadfast, not qualities they are usually well known for. 

What they need to do, literally, is to call on the spirit of the last place they managed the above mentioned, which was one hundred years ago at the battle of Verdun. 

The battle of the Somme which I mentioned on Friday was launched in part to help relieve the pressure the French were under at Verdun. 

Nearly eight hundred thousand men died in that battle which became a symbol synonymous with French fortitude, which is not surprising really seeing as how they are so few and far between.

They have done battle before on the football field, but the only really memorable clash took place in the semi final of the world cup of 1982. 
This is a game that will never be forgotten, not because it ended three all after extra time, or because the Germans won the penalty shoot out. (No surprise there)
No, the defining event was the near decapitation of the French substitute Dominique Battiston by the German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher. 
The clip below which includes interviews with some of the French players is excellent as it also gives us an insight into the minds of the French players and the inner fear they had of the Germans. The comments at 5.35 and 7.05 into the video sum this up to perfection.

France v W Germany 1982

Will home advantage help give the French the edge, or will their mental weakness trip them up once again?  We shall all be wiser this evening, hopefully after an exciting game. 
I am going with the Nationalmannschaft.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The Last Four, Part one

I have to start with an apology to those loyal readers, who were waiting for my preview of the France-Iceland game, no excuses, just sorry. 

Iceland have been one of the feel good stories of this tournament. We shall especially miss the Viking like synchronized thunderclap of their fans, which makes one realize how scary it must have been to stand in a Saxon shield wall as the giant tattooed men advanced towards them.


The French, to give them credit, just to show that one is not prejudiced, showed how to play against a side as technically limited as Iceland as they brushed them aside, in a manner that England could not do.

So we are now left with four teams, today Portugal will be against the  fiery Welsh dragons in the first semi- final and then tomorrow, the hosts France, are once more preparing to repel the invasion from the East of the relentless Nationalmannschaft.

Wales is not a country, as we have already mentioned, that is known for its football. It is much more famous for its rugby. It is a beautiful country, full of rolling green hills and deep valleys, and lots of sheep just trying to mind their own business. Wales is known for its male voice choirs, its coal pits and for having the railway station with the longest name in the world, try pronouncing it, it could lead to hours of entertainment. "Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogo". 

Tonight those valleys will be awash with beer, the male voice choirs will reach fever pitch and along with the sheep, they will all be praying for a Welsh victory to prolong the dream until the final on Sunday. In the case of defeat the sheep will be hoping for the game to go to penalties at least, so that they will have a few more minutes of peace before they become the main focal point of interest of the rather inebriated Welsh male.

Portugal is, in a different way, also a beautiful country, not as green as it has less rain, but again lots of rolling hills. Portugal produces more than half of the cork in the world, which is then used to to stop up the bottles of fine port wine which takes it name from the country.It is famous for its very good sardines.

Judging by the list of things I have mentioned for both countries, you may be thinking, these two countries do not actually sound very exciting and you would probably be correct. 
In fact the last two most significant events which happened in either country were disasters. The earthquake and ensuing Tsunami of 1755 which destroyed most of Lisbon and killed between 10,000 to 100,000 people in Lisbon alone and the Aberfan pit disaster in 1966 where a pile of coal waste slipped and sent 116 children and 28 adults to their death. 

However at this moment in time, they have managed to produce, two of the best footballers of the current crop.

In reality, this game will probably be decided by whom from Christiano Ronaldo for Portugal, the man who loves to rip off his shirt to show off his upper body, a sight which excites as I have already written, all sectors of society, or Gareth Bale for Wales, who tends to get the inhabitants of the monkey park all in a state due to his rather similar appearance to a chimpanzee.

There are a number of similarities between these two players,
they play for the same club side Real Madrid, they are both nominally wing players, both take the free kicks which are in shooting distance of the goal, or in the case of Ronaldo, those which are too far from the goal to be realistic chances to score but that does not seem to deter him.

However, despite all that, this game is being described in the football world as the battle between the two.  In reality, Ronaldo does not like Bale, he probably feels threatened by him. 
Ronaldo sees Bale as a threat to his hegemony at Madrid. Ronaldo became the world's most expensive footballer when he moved to Madrid, until according to many reports he was eclipsed in that position by Bale when he also moved to Madrid.

People have lost count of the number of free kicks that Ronaldo has taken at the Euro's without scoring. Bale has already scored two.

A lot of people while admiring Ronaldo's talent do not like his personality, his flashiness, his long list of beautiful ex girlfriends, the list is endless. Most of this is just probably jealousy, but be that it as it may, the twitter world will be alive tonight with such subjects as #ronaldotears with people hoping for him to cry and sharing their dislike for him.

Bale on the other hand is the nice boy from next door, he has two daughters with his partner Emma Rhys Jones (you can't get a more Welsh name than that) his childhood sweetheart from Cardiff, he is perceived as rather innocent, you rarely hear a bad word against him.

The result tonight will not resolve the argument as to who is a greater player, both these teams rely heavily on their main superstar. What can be safely said though is that the players around Bale in the Welsh team are in general of a lower level of ability than those in the Portuguese team surrounding Ronaldo, therefore the achievement of Bale is the greater.

Just one other football related thing. Portugal have become the first team to ever reach a semi final of a major competition without winning a game in the regulation 90 minutes. They drew their first three games, beat Croatia with a goal in the 116 minute (their first shot on target in all that time) and then beat Poland on penalties. Wales by contrast have won four of their five games with a solitary defeat to England which seems so long ago.

This is a very hard game to call, it is just too mind blowing to imagine Wales reaching the final, but Portugal are not very good. Flip a coin to decide and let us hope it is not the lottery of penalties that does decide.

Tchau or Hwyl Fawr depending on what country you are from until tomorrow. (see if you can guess which is Welsh and which Portuguese)

Friday, 1 July 2016

Going Over The Top

One Hundred Years ago today, the British Army embarked on yet another in a long line of needless advances down the muzzles of enemy guns. If in the charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War, it cost six hundred or so lives, or the one thousand or so lost in the first Zulu war at the battle of Iswandala. The battle of the Somme, which began on July 1st 1916, cost the British army a staggering sixty thousand or so dead in one day, the exact figure has never been confirmed.

As ever, you are wondering where this is going, well on a personal note, my late father was born in 1916 while his father, the grandfather I never knew, was fighting in the trenches. The stories I heard about him helped me understand why in the 1930's people wanted to believe in appeasement, for the horrors they had experienced in the trenches led to the cry "Never again".
Welsh War Memorial at Mametz Wood

A number of Welsh battalions fought at the Somme, including the 38th division who lost some four thousand men overall in three days fighting and as the Welsh dragon prepares once again to do battle in the fields of France, I thought that people should be aware of what a battle was once like.rather than the virtual field of battle that is the football field. Lest we forget to quote Kipling. This clip from the end of BlackAdder sums it up best

Good luck everybody

So the Welsh, are hoping, that the fields of France will not be once more turned red in defeat by the country that all were trying to save during World War I, that being Belgium.

Wales are having a great time, despite losing to England, they won their group thanks to English ineptitude which ultimately as we are all aware led to their early exit from the tournament. The Welsh then eased passed Northern Ireland, but today comes their first real test against a Belgium side who looked very good in their four to nothing demolition of Hungary and finally began to look like the number two ranked side in the world.

On the other hand in qualifying, the Welsh managed to beat and draw with the Belgians, so they will not be overawed, but probably the Welsh fairy tale shall come to an end tonight.

Tomorrow night, we have the Nationalmannschaft against Italy, a real Clash of the Titans, between the best two teams in the tournament so far. If as I wrote before Italy v Spain, those two teams had won a lot of titles, then when you combine Italy and Shermany you get even more. The Shermans have won 4 world cups as have the Italians but also three Euros as opposed to Italy's one, giving us a total of 12 between them..

Everywhere I see or hear about this game I learn the same thing, but as I know I am the sole source of information for some of you about this tournament, it would be remiss of me not to repeat it. Strangely enough the Nationalmannschaft have never overcome the Azurri in a major competition.

The two most famous meetings were in the 1970 World Cup Semi-Final which Italy won 4-3 after extra time and the final in 1982 which Italy won 3-1.The Azurri also won in the 2006 world cup and most recently in the 2012 Euros. In the first clip you can see highlights from 1970, apologises for the French commentary and in the 2nd, from 1982,

Never give up

Once Again

Impossible to predict who will win this one, as I wrote before the Poland v Portugal game, we can only hope for a good game. That game provided one good half, let us hope we get full entertainment tomorrow.
On Sunday we will look forward to Iceland v France.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Only 7 games to go

The tournament carries on, but first condolences to all the families who lost people in the attack in Turkey, a colleague of mine said after the Brexit and English defeat, that all it would need to forget about those subjects was another terrorist outrage, it is sad, how prescient he was.

Tonight, we have the first quarter final between Poland and Portugal. What can we say about these two countries apart from the fact that their names both begin with the letters Po. They are from opposite corners of the continent with Portugal being the Western most point of the landmass resting on the Atlantic coast and Poland far to the East on the coast of the Baltic sea. 

They are both proud nations with a long history, something which is not necessarily true about many European countries (the long history bit)
They both went through rather turbulent domestic times not that long ago. Portugal had a bloodless coup in 1974 which led to democracy being restored. 
In Poland, the rise in 1980 in the port of Gdansk (Danzig) of the trade union movement Solidarity,  which although brutally suppressed by the Polish government of General Jaruzelski, played a big part in the fall of Communism, a decade later.

Over the years, they have had some sort of success in big tournaments. Poland finished 3rd in both the 1974 and 1982 world cups. Portugal achieved that feat in 1966 with the legendary Eusebio in their team.
Portugal have also made it to the semi-finals of four Euros and lost in their only appearance in a final when they were upset by Greece in 2004 which was held in Portugal.

Below is a link to the Portugal v N Korea Quarter-Final from the 1966 world cup famous for Eusebio scoring four goals. It is a long clip, but well worth the time, the legendary David Coleman is the commentator. You will see eight goals and for those watching in black and white, Portugal are in the Blue shirts.
One could say that not much has changed for Portugal, always reliant on one star player, pay particular attention to what happens at 2:58 in the video, Eusebio then, Ronaldo today. Let me know what you think.

Eusebio then Ronaldo today

As those who have been following the tournament know, Portugal have just done enough to get this far, and many who follow football are wondering whether they are going to do what Greece did in 2004, reach the final despite playing poorly. 
Any team with Ronaldo in their ranks can not be taken lightly.

As for Poland, they have quietly progressed, almost under the radar. The draw they managed with the Nationalmannschaft
was very commendable and they also have their special weapon in Robert Lewandowski, whose goal scoring abilities we highlighted in an earlier post.

I would like to see Poland go through and I am looking forward to a good game.
Tomorrow I shall preview both Wales against Belgium and Germany against Italy

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

A Requiem ? No, Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life !

For those, expecting to see the clip of the song in the title, you shall have to wait a little longer. I decided to wait a day before composing my review of the debacle that occurred in Nice which wasn't actually very nice if you were an England fan. 

I did not want to be accused of a knee jerk reaction and I am glad I decided thus, as now the Post is titled as it is, instead of something much more morbid such as the initial requiem (mass for the dead for those who don't know the meaning of the word) I had intended to pen.

A clarification before we carry on, I recently turned fifty, and although I left the shores of old Blighty twenty five years ago, I still consider myself first and foremost a long suffering England fan, although perhaps with a slightly different perspective due to my residing abroad.
So where to begin, perhaps with a different Monty Python clip from the one mentioned in the title. 

Parrot Sketch

Why the parrot sketch? Well, we can use it as an analogy. The customer represents the England football fan, naive, gullible, wanting to believe. 
The salesman is the Football Association, and the management of English football, always willing to pull the wool over the eyes of the customer, trying to deflect from reality by continually mentioning the beautiful plumage (read the beautiful game) and how it is pining for the Fjords or in the case of an English footballer the bars of the Costa del Sol. 

The parrot, well that is the English footballer, and to paraphrase, he has been nailed to his perch, and as it says "is tired and shagged out after a long season" although the original Squawk, might be a more apt term.
The modern player spends to much time twittering away, rather than doing what he is paid exorbitant amounts of money to do.
However there is a deeper issue here, which affects of all the involved parties in different ways. It is a cultural thing, and it is the culture of mediocrity, of "well played" of  being "glorious in defeat"
In my preview before the game and if you trawl the web you can see many other far more respected pundits than I, who wrote in a similar vein, that this game was a banana skin, one that England could lose. This is symptomatic of this culture. 

Can anyone imagine the Nationalmannschaft, or their fans for that matter, thinking before a game, Achtung, we are playing Iceland, we have to be watchful. No, of course not, they respect the opposition, but every time the Nationalmannschaft go out to play they expect to steam roll their opponents on their way to a win. Defeat is not even a consideration even when the odds are stacked against them.
It is this mindset that led the Germans to start two world wars.

England do not expect to win, the long suffering fans do not expect them to win, yes there is a lot of bluster and bravado and outward signs of hope but underneath that flimsy veneer,
they are scared, they play with fear.  The English love an underdog at least until it bites them, why ? because it is not English to be too good or successful at anything.

Obviously this is not the first time England has failed to deliver, but in the forty plus years that I have been watching England, the performance against Iceland has to rank as the worst I have ever witnessed. So what now ?

The English football fan is like the mythical phoenix, who is reborn from its ashes after its self immolation. My wife who is a wise woman, says that if women remembered what giving birth was like they would all stop after one child. 

After the initial shock and anger has worn off, the average English fan will start to look forward with renewed belief and hope to the World Cup in Russia due to be held in 2018 on the assumption that England qualify.

As for the team itself.  Interestingly enough, the average age of this England squad was the youngest in the tournament. One or two of the older players (Rooney, Hart) will have to go and despite the poor performance, there still is promise for the future (already an example of self delusion perhaps). 

Both the England Rugby and Cricket teams have gone through similar experiences in the past year, both crashing out of world cups with humiliating capitulations against supposed lesser nations or from winning positions due to the culture of fear. 

Both the Rugby and Cricket sides appointed new coaches (ironically both Australian, a nation that has an excess of self confidence) who have led the Cricket side to a T20 world cup final and the Rugby team to a six nations Grand slam victory and a three nil whitewash of Australia in Australia, an unheralded feat. 

The important thing to note is that both coaches made few changes to the teams, but rather have installed a winning mentality. The exact opposite of what we saw from cuddly Roy Hodgson, as he sat, head in hands paralyzed with not knowing what to do, how to turn the situation round, with his every move only making things worse.

This is where Monty Python come in and I need to add no more. I will be back tomorrow to begin the preview of the quarter finals, because it is my duty to carry on for those of you who are still interested.

What have you got to lose ? Nothing