Wednesday, 20 June 2018

We will return with final matches of first round on Mon 25th June, in the meantime...

A loyal reader sent me a question which I will endeavour to answer upon return. If anyone else has any questions either put it in the comments or send me an email to leedssheep@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Group H, Poland, Colombia, Japan, Senegal , and an instant review of England's performance

Before we get to the preview, I have to strike while the irons are still hot. This is what I wrote about Tunisia in the preview for England's group, "They are exactly the type of team that England will struggle to beat". However I have just finished watching England, who for once remarkably snatched a victory in the dying seconds of the game.

The adrenaline was pumping as my WhatsApp feed was filled with various audio recordings of delirious England fans signing Vindaloo, where ever they were watching the game.

England failed to win a single game in 2014 making this their first win since 2010 in world cups and then they only managed one in four games. This is the first time since 2006 that they have scored two goals in a world cup game let alone by the same player, so it is understandable that the fans are euphoric at the moment.

The thing now for England is not to let this victory go to their heads, they did not play well especially in the second half and missed so many chances we lost count. They need to regroup and beat Panama in their next game to ensure they move on, taking all the pressure out of the Belgian game and then it will be time for that famous football chant, Que Sara Sara, whatever will be will be... etc.

On to Group H the last to begin, this is an intriguing group, very difficult to predict and especially interesting as England, should they qualify, will be playing against the team who finishes either first or second here.
I would consider this as the other contender for the group of death, the only reason not, being that all four teams are good but none of them really part of the big name teams.

We will begin with Poland, they undoubtedly have a star player in Robert Lewandowski, this is a man who scores goals in his sleep, Poland are very reliant on him but they have a system which works and they should not be counted out. They have not had far to travel and this is something which should be taken into account. They also of course do not like Russia for many reasons which we can get to later in the tournament and will be hoping to at least outdo the Russians in how far they advance.

Scores goals for fun


Next up are Colombia, a team full of all the things we expect from South American teams but also one that has never reached the heights. Of course in James Rodriguez they have a player who scored probably the best goal in 2014 and also this year they have Falcao, another prolific striker, who missed 2014 due to injury. Colombia are a colourful team who bring life to any tournament. Who can forget Rene Higuita, El Loco, the Colombia goalie who did this.

Higuita unorthodox save

Or Carlos Valderrama he of the silky skills and crazy hair (Higuita's Barnett isn't bad)

Imagine washing that

Let's hope Colombia provide more memorable moments

James in 2014

Japan are probably the best of the Asian teams, they have a very good domestic set up, their leading players have been snapped up by top clubs in Europe but like South Korea with whom they co-hosted in 2002, the next generation has yet to really come through. One thing you can be sure of with Japan is that they will never give up because that would be a severe loss of face.

The last of the 32 teams to feature in the previews is Senegal, They have some good players especially Mane who plays for Liverpool are a very physical team who will be able to run and run and on their day they could beat anyone.
A group like this with sides from four different continents with four contrasting styles of play is always interesting and unpredictable.

Well that is it for the previews. We all need a rest, for those of you who actually watch the football, sit back and enjoy and for those whose world cup is lived through this blog, we will return on Monday with the beginning of the deciding games in the group stages as things start to warm up and really get interesting, with such questions as will any of the big names got knocked out already and similar burning issues.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Group G Here we go (again) Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama


Before, we preview this group, I have to comment on what has been so far. Yes, there have been a number of surprising results although in my previews I did explain, how hard it is for the reigning champions to repeat, the way to stop Brazil and that Argentina are not that good.

Despite the results, I would just like to point out that having one poor result in the group stages is sometimes a good thing for a team. Italy were always the prime example of this, they would struggle to make the next round and then mature like a Gorgonzola as the tournament progressed.

The true test now for Argentina, Brazil and Germany is how they respond to the setbacks they have suffered and that's what make this the greatest tournament in the world.

One other thing in case you have not heard. Sweden sent scouts to spy on South Korea's preparations for their game. So the South Korean coach, cunningly made the players change shirts as he later explained at his pregame press conference. All Asians look the same to Europeans, so we thought we would confuse them.  The very political correct Swedes have of course apologized but I think the plan was worthy of Baldric from Blackadder at his best.

Group G contains Belgium, Panama, Tunisia and of course England. It is now fifty two years since England last won the world cup, that was also the last time they reached the final. I know this well as I am happy to call myself a "boy of 66" as that is the year I was born.

I have lived more years outside of the shores of Blighty than within them, but in sports, England, be it in football, cricket , rugby or tiddlywinks, is still my team for my sins. It helps that the country I reside in is so rubbish at sport, unless you consider wind surfing a sport, that a conflict of interest has never arisen.

The English nation as a whole is used to the cycle (providing they actually qualified) that every four years a swell of unfounded optimism will flood the country, that being, "this is it, this time they are going to do well', until in a display of crushing ineptitude which is often hard to believe to be possible, the illusions come crashing down around them.

This time it is different, nobody expects England to win the world cup, if they reach the Quarter finals they would have done well. (Although with the Brazil and Germany results, the delusions will be growing)  The team is young and led by a relatively inexperienced manager, who in his playing days epitomized the English malaise at this level.

Below you can watch the whole penalty shoot out from the Euro 96 semi final against Germany, just one example of how England always succeed in disappointing. The excitement builds until the inevitable conclusion and the villain of the piece is the current England manager.

Gareth Southgate against Ze Shermans

Belgium are a team awash with stars, many, household names in the English Premier League, but as with so many teams with a plethora of gifted players, they have never successfully gelled into the collective whole able to fulfill the undoubted potential within them. In Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard, there is no doubt that they have two of the most exciting players in the tournament.

Hazard cheeky imp
de Bruyne Baby Faced Assassin









Both Belgium and England will be hoping that by the time they meet, they would have both already qualified for the next stage and will be playing for first place in the group.

Next up we have Tunisia, I will be honest, I do not know much about them, most of their squad play in the Arab leagues, some in lesser teams in France and one is in the Premier league but I have never heard of him. They are exactly the type of team that England will struggle to beat, probably very tenacious with players knowing that a good showing could get them a lucrative contract at an English Premier League side, as they would probably be a cheap option for those said sides.

Panama are the Cinderella at this years ball, they are happy to be there, will enjoy the occasion and will make an early exit to avoid turning into pumpkins. They qualified thanks to a last minute goal against Costa Rica and the stunning loss by the USA to Trinidad and Tobago.

Check back tomorrow for the last of the group previews. Feel free to comment and remember to share with your friends.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Mercedes meets Volvo, Hyundai and have a Taco for lunch Group F Preview

This group is made up of the reigning champions Ze Shermans (as Jason Statham's character in the film Snatch calls them)  Sweden, Mexico and South Korea.

Four years ago, Die Nationalmannschaft as they are known in Germany became the first European team to win a world cup in South America. In the modern era and that is more than fifty years ago, no team has won consecutive world cups, the last to do so being Brazil in 1958 and then 1962. (Italy also achieved it in 1934 and 38 but that is not really counted as the game has changed so much)

There are two questions that need to be addressed here and the answer to one probably  reflects on the answer to the second. Why is it so hard to win consecutive trophy's and can Germany do it anyway.

It is hard because of the gap between tournaments, four years is a long time. It is very rare in a truly competitive league that a team wins two years running let alone three. (we will not stoop to use that awful Americanism for winning three in a row) The turn over in players is high and it is nigh on impossible to keep to the level of consistency needed to win with such a gap.

But of course, I can hear you say, this is Die Nationalmannschaft, Ze Shermans, normal rules do not apply to them, they are a well oiled machine with a seamlessly interchange of personnel who strike fear into most opponents. For example the player who scored the winning goal four years ago "super Mario Gotze" has not even been included in the squad this time round.

Super Mario against Argentina 2014 Final

That is all true and for that reason, I expect them to make the semi finals at least. In cloud cuckoo land they will lose to England in the quarter finals, but hey you have to hope.

Sweden, are in a rebuilding phase after the retirement of one Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player of unbelievable ability. This is a team built on defence, they do not concede many, but without Zlatan, they have lost their "X" factor and have reverted to type, a Volvo of a team, solid but unspectacular.

They are like an IKEA flat pack, build, build, build and there is always that piece that is left over that you don't know what to do with. For Sweden that is an analogy for getting the ball to the edge of the box and then not knowing how to put it in the net.
They might still have enough to get to the last sixteen, but if the game between Mexico and South Korea ends in a positive result, they will need to beat one of them, so we will have to wait and see.
Here is a compilation of Zlatan's ten best goals just to remind us what we will be missing.

Gems from Zlatan

Mexico, are an enigma, they have been an ever present since 1994 and they were banned in 1990 for fielding ineligible players in an U20 game. They have progressed to the last 16 every time they have played since 1986, but that is it. They have never managed to take it to the next level. The most we remember about Mexico as I mentioned previously is the bloody wave. They might struggle this time to qualify, but do not bet against them.

Last but not least is South Korea, who knows, this might be the last time we ever see South Korea in a tournament, what with the winds of change emanating from Pyongyang. This is a relatively experienced team but this may prove to be one world cup too many for some of these players and I do not expect South Korea to borrow an expression from cricket, to trouble the scorers very much

Two more previews to come and tomorrow we will feature group G and En Ger Land

Brazil Nuts, Swiss Chocolate ,Costa Rican coffee and Serbia along for the ride Group E Preview

The tournament is now in full swing and the two teams we are all waiting to see, Brazil in this group and Germany the reigning champions in Group F start their campaigns today

Brazil are joined by Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia.

Brazil as opposed to " Ze Shermans" are most neutrals favourite team. If you asked football fans and even those not so interested, who they liked best, after or even before their own national team, the answer would be Brazil.

They bring such a joie de vivre to the game that it is infectious in its enthusiasm. The football pulses with the samba beat for which the country is synonymous with as they glide effortlessly over the pitch with the ball seemingly glued to their feet.  Below you can see the latest example as Neymar the latest in a long line of Brazilians to wear that number ten shirt, strokes the ball into the goal against Austria.

Neymar against Austria

While mentioning names, the Brazilians have an interesting approach to that, who can forget Pele, Zico or even Socrates who was far removed from his Greek namesake in his style of play. The thing about these names is that often, they have no, at least to an outsider, relationship to their real name,

For example, Pele was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento which is a bit of a mouthful so Pele it is. They also to English ears at least have some amusing abbreviations, for instance Hulk or this time round Fred. If Brazil get to face England, the English fans are going to have a field day with Fagner, the mind boggles as to the songs there will be.

Next up are Switzerland, the Swiss as would be expected from a country known for its precision watches, have become in recent years an effective if somewhat underwhelming team, they are efficient but boring reflecting the Swiss personality, the reason they have got anywhere is the influx of players of none Swiss extraction, who have brought a different mentality and skill set to Swiss football.

Costa Rica are a team that surprised many in the previous world cup by advancing to the last sixteen in a group which included Italy and England (Perhaps not such a surprise then). They have a system which they stick to but I would be surprised if they enjoy the same level of success this time

This leaves us with Serbia, if there is one way to put a spoke in the wheels of the Brazilian juggernaut, it is by attempting to kick them off the park and Serbia are just the team to do that. It has happened in the past, as much as I disliked Maradona, the treatment and the lack of protection from referees he received was scandalous.

I do not want people to think that I consider all East European teams of being agricultural in their approach. I would never accuse Poland or in its day the great Hungary of that style of play, but Serbia are a thuggish looking team who could cause problems, especially if a weak referee is assigned to their games, one who will turn a blind eye to their robust attitude to what is supposed to be known as the beautiful game.

Anyway, Brazil and Switzerland should advance from this group.

Friday, 15 June 2018

One of the contenders for the group of Death - Group D preview

Before the draw for the world cup was made in December, I published an ante draw special and this is what was written there.

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

Brazil
Spain
Iceland
Nigeria

I can hear the cacophony of dissenters saying but that is only two of the four teams as this group consists of the last two plus Argentina and Croatia, but for a group of death to exist, it is the teams ranked third and fourth which are the most vital.

Croatia are many pundits choice as the dark horse of the competition, (that means a team that nobody expected to do well who does). Since their appearance on the international stage after the break up of Yugoslavia in the nineteen nineties, they have been just below the top level of world football and are a team that nobody looks forward to playing against. Their best finish was third in the nineteen ninety eight cup.

Iceland are playing in their first world cup after making an exciting debut on the international stage in the European championships two years ago. If they can reproduce that level of performance here, they are going to be upsetting some apple carts.

As the name suggests Iceland is a cold little island in the middle of the Atlantic with a population of around 340,000 people which means it has the smallest pool of players to pick from of all the teams. Iceland displayed a tenacity on the field which surprised their opponents but it was in the stands that their true input was felt with the viking clap.

Mexico 86 brought us the wave, Euro 2016 the Viking clap, who can forget those awful Vuvuzelas from South Africa 2010. What will we as fans take home from Russia 2018?

Welcome home Viking clap 2016

Nigeria have an interesting record in the world cup and the most notable fact here is that this will be the fifth time in six appearances that Nigeria are drawn in the same group as Argentina. Nigeria have lost on all four occasions to date, although they have given the Argentinians a run for their money each time. Nigeria have successfully reached the last sixteen, three times out of five which just goes to show how difficult this group may be when you figure in Croatia and Iceland.

Last but not least we have Argentina, and here I must put in a disclaimer, I admit to not liking Argentina but not for any of the reasons you might think, the Falklands War, having given safe haven to loads of Nazis, being the inspiration for a West End Musical.

No, my reasons are purely football based. They start with one Antonio Rattin, a dirty player who featured in the 1966 world cup and who was labelled as an animal by the then England manager.

They do not deserve to have won two world cups, in 1978 along with the Junta, they used every dirty trick in the book to win and in 1986, well, Maradona and the hand of God goal, need I say more. Do not comment that his second goal was one of the best ever scored. If he had not cheated and punched in the first one, he would never have scored the good one.

Another example from 1998, Diego Simione making a meal of falling over after David Beckham retaliated (I admit foolishly, but Becks was never known as the brightest spark on the block) and getting Becks sent off

Simione on Beckham

Despite all that, one must not lets ones prejudices cloud ones writings and I hope it will be so.

As we wrote about Portugal and Ronaldo, so it is true about Argentina and Lionel Messi. Argentina are not a very good team at the moment but in Messi they have arguably one of the best two footballers currently playing, the other being Ronaldo.

One of the biggest arguments in football today is who is the better player of the two. I personally do not think you can make a decision based on skills alone. They play in different positions and have different abilities, and therefore you can not say one is better than other because they are both the best at what they do.

However if you look at the larger picture, I know where I stand. One of the biggest criticisms of Messi is that he was won nothing at international level. The things that annoy people about Ronaldo are what makes him the more important player.

To put it simply, when you surround either of them with lesser players, who will make the most of the situation and drag those other players to heights they would not normally achieve. I think the answer is obvious and that is why I do not think that Argentina are one of the favourites for the tournament.

Lots of football to go and we were off at least goals wise to a good start in the first game.

The previews for groups E & F will appear on Sunday morning, so until then Dasvidaniya.






Frogs leg, Roos, Incas and Mermaids Group C Preview

We now move onto group C comprising of the national teams of France, Australia, Peru and Denmark, this is a much harder group to predict and should also hopefully provide us with some interesting football.

The French are an enigma, pound for pound to use an analogy drawn from the world of boxing they have one of the best squads in the tournament, however that moody Gallic temperament gets in their way and as so often happened in French history, the white flag is raised at an early stage and recriminations abound as to who was to blame.
Will it be any different this time ?  I certainly fancy the French to be there or thereabouts as hard as that is for me to admit in public.

Growing up, my knowledge of Peru was limited to Paddington Bear and Tintin and the Prisoners of the Sun and that I had a classmate who had somehow been born in Lima. This was until as a twelve year old in 1978, Peru qualified for the world cup held in Argentina. They were drawn in the same group as the Tartan army otherwise known as Scotland which meant it was compulsory to watch that game as it is nice to know when you can be guaranteed a laugh, i.e. watching Scotland play.

The player who wore the number 10 shirt in any team was always my favourite, unless of course he was Argentinian, and Peru had a real gem in Teofilo Cubillas who scored one of the best free kicks in world cup history in my humble opinion as Peru defeated Scotland three goals to one.

Unfortunately that world cup will always be remembered as the one where Peru conveniently lost six nothing to Argentina, but as that is a possible match up in the next round, I will leave it at that and let you enjoy this wonderful piece of skill.

Cubillas against Scotland

A mention must also be made of the Scottish keepers Hairdo. What was he thinking ?

The Australian team are know as the Socceroos, seriously. Football in Australia usually refers to what they call Aussie Rules football or Footie for short, which to the casual observer would appear to be a misnomer as there do not seem to be any rules, or at least those which the uninitiated can understand.

They qualified this time by scraping through a play off against that well known power house Syria. A week after they qualified their coach resigned and we do not really know what to expect from the new coach.

However to be fair dinkum,  in general, Australians are a competitive bunch and love their sport, for example, they have a national sheep shearing competition and it would not surprise me if they have "a how many shrimps can you cook on the Bar B while chugging a tinny competition". It must get quite boring living so far away from civilization and only having New Zealanders for company. Despite all that they have been involved in a number of interesting games in world cup history as well as have one great goal to their name.

In 2006 Australia were involved in a game against Croatia, where the English referee Graham Poll mistakenly showed three yellow cards to a Croatian player, which should of course never have happened because a second yellow card translates to a red one and a sending off. The goal I refer to was scored by Tim Cahill in the last World Cup.

Cahill against Holland 2014

Last but not least we have Denmark, the Danes are nice people, well at least today they are, but ask a resident of Northern Britain or  France in the ninth century and the mere mention of the Danes would have them quaking in their boots. They were masters of the lighting attack, pillage and plunder and of course one other thing, that we do not need to mention here.

Denmark have only played in four tournaments but they have been involved in some high scoring games. In 1986 they beat Uruguay six-one before losing five-one themselves in the next round.
In 1998 they beat Nigeria four-one before losing three-two to Brazil.

In Norse mythology, Loki was the wily trickster of the gods and apparently according to my children, has become known to a wider audience thanks to the Marvel comics recent films.

Both those Danish squads were gifted with a magical player, one of the Laudrup brothers and this edition of the Danish squad is also blessed with another incarnation of Loki in the form of Christian Eriksen. So that we may all enjoy, may his exploits resonate in Valhalla..