Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Final- a preview

So, Spain v Holland, a mouthwatering prospect or is it. I hope that these two teams will produce a spectacle of football which will be long remembered, but I have my doubts, therefore it is my duty to warn those who are not so au fait with this game that it could be very boring and here are the reasons why.
A number of people complained to me that Spain v Germany was a boring game, Spain had the majority of the possession, yet they only won 1-0. For the football purist, Spain was a joy to watch, complete control of the ball. Passing it at will with the Germans content to sit back and try and catch them on the counter attack much as the Swiss did against Spain. There is a very big risk with this strategy, if you don’t catch your opponent on the break, eventually Spain because of their sheer amount of talent are going to score and then you have to chase the game.
This means pushing more and more players forward in an attempt to find the equalizer, thus leaving your defence exposed to lethal Spanish counter attacks and also the Spanish ability to just hold onto the ball with their amazing short passing game known as tacky-tacky as the ball pings from foot to foot.
This is the problem the Dutch face today, their defence is not very good, so therefore they are going to try and close Spain down inside the Spanish half, rather like a full court press in basketball. They will also hope by this high pressure game to steal a goal from a Spanish mistake and then defend for their lives.
The best hope for a good game is an early goal for Spain, as then the Dutch will have to come at them, and this will lead to a more open game. Players to watch for, Robben and Sneijder for the Dutch and look out for Van Persie, it is time he delivered for the Dutch. Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro and of course our favourite Bet Shemesh aaars lookalike David Villa for Spain.

Let us hope for a classic


Politics, Religion and Football before the Final

So we are now less than 24 hours from the final and can almost start looking forward to Rio in 2014, but before we get to the final itself, let us look at some of the side effects and issues associated with the world cup.
The first of these is the politics, for those who have been watching the games and not just following this blog. One can’t have not help but notice the procession of heads of states at these games, if your national team is doing well, you can be assured that the politicians will want to be seen and therefore associated with something which makes the people happy. Angela Merkel could not control herself against Argentina. King Juan Carlos was coolness personified against Germany and as for crown princess Maxima of Holland, well her joy was unrestrained as Holland went ahead against Uruguay. This association however can backfire, if the team flops, The Argentinean president Cristiana Kirchner who is up for reelection, campaigned for free screenings of games and arranged for large screens to be erected all over the country, which was all well and good until the Argies lost 4-0 to the Sherman’s.
So the feel good factor which politicians try to feed off is manifested in another way. In nine months time there will be a baby boom in at least the countries that advanced to the last four. This is actually very important to some of these countries especially the Dutch, where a leap in the indigenous population is very important due to the number of Moslems already in the country. Obviously in the Catholic countries this will not be so felt, which leads us nicely into the last facet at which I wish to look at today.
The most commonly observed act during this tournament has been the sight of players crossing themselves throughout the games.
The two countries playing in the final embody their separate faiths. As an Englishman, when I think of Spain, I conjure up images of El Cid, Catherine of Aragon (cause of the Reformation in England) The Spanish Armada and of course who could have expected Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition.
The Dutch as we know play in Orange and Prince William of Orange became William the third of England in 1689 before going on to defeat the Catholic King James the second of England at the battle of the Boyne on July 12th 1690 (could be a good omen for the Dutch) to establish Protestant hegemony in Ireland, which has survived in the north at least to this day and has been the cause of so much trouble in the Emerald Isle.

The facts speak for themselves, only one truly Protestant country has ever one the world cup, that being England, and even though Germany was the home of the Protestant movement, their best teams and players have traditionally come from Bavaria, a staunchly Catholic province, so we will call them half and half.
So why does it seem that Catholics are better at football than Protestants, well there a number of reasons, the first is historical and relates to the reason Luther posted his articles(a man obviously ahead of his time, the first blogger) Luther was against the indulgencies of the Catholic church. Indulgency is the watchword of Catholic football, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, need I continue, play there football in an over indulgent, somewhat extravagant manner and it seems to work.
The next reason is the way the two faiths deal with sin or in this case, mistakes on and off the football field. In Catholicism, you sin or stray and one simply has to go to confession, say a couple of Hail Mary’s (and that is not the American football kind) receive absolution and you are free to err again. This translates to the football field to a much more relaxed attitude to giving the ball away or missing a goal. The players don’t even need to confess, they just cross themselves and are good to go again. Not so with the Protestants, who view sin in a much more serious manner. There is no hope for sinners until they die. This means that the burdens of making an error are far greater. No-one in England has really forgiven or forgotten the litany of players who have missed penalties or made glaring mistakes and thus caused England to lose.
Off the field, the same differences are apparent, in a Non football related example. President Mitterrand of France was known for his indiscretions which barely caused an eyelid to be raised. Compare that to the reaction in the USA, to the behaviour of President Clinton, in a Catholic country, a shrug of the shoulders may have ensued.
The English camp was riven a few months before the world cup, due to allegations against the then Captain, John Terry, of affairs unbecoming.
This was a definite factor in the poor performance of the English team, as the rumours about similar behaviour by other players and recriminations amongst the players continued.
In France and Spain nobody could see what the fuss was about. Team Spirit is very important.
So if this theory holds true, Spain will emerge victorious later today. But perhaps King William of Orange will again triumph. We will have to wait and see.
I will post a more traditional preview of the final later today, remember to check back


Wednesday, 7 July 2010

2nd Semi-Final

Today’s game is the long awaited clash between the Condor Legion and the republicans, will we see another Guernica? But seriously now, Germany and Spain is a repeat of the 2008 European Final, in which Spain emerged victorious.
To be honest the Spanish haven’t really shined in S Africa, but they are one game away from the final against Holland, who beat Uruguay 3-2 last night, (the goals were great)
The Sherman’s on the other hand have been like a steamroller, scoring a hatful of goals.
A Spain v Holland final would pit the two best teams never to win the world cup against each other, whereas a Holland v Germany final, would give the Dutch a chance for revenge for their defeat to Germany in the 1974 final, which will always be looked back on as a classic.
The Germans will be without Muller for this game and whoever replaces him will have to play well, as Muller has scored 4 goals and been hugely involved in most of Germany’s best attacking play.
The question for the Spanish is should they play Torres or not? There is no doubt to his ability, but he has been very poor throughout the tournament and the Spanish have only really started to look dangerous in their games after he has been substituted.
Last night’s semi final provided us with 5 excellent goals, but not much excitement, let’s hope that tonight’s game gives us neutral fans both.
An interesting little side note, with which you can impress your friends with your knowledge, whoever wins the final will be the first European team to win the World cup when it has not been played in Europe. To date Brazil is the only nation who has won a world cup hosted outside of its own continent.


Monday, 5 July 2010

first semi-final

It just goes to show, why it is so difficult winning ones fortune by dong the football pools or filling out the toto as it is known here. Before the Quarter-Finals, all the pundits, including this one were talking how well the S American nations were doing, and hey presto, we only have one team, Uruguay, from that continent who have survived to the semi-finals. They will be playing Holland the conquerors of the self imploding Brazilians.
I am not going to make a prediction for this game and thus hurt the chances of the team I plump for. I do not want to be thought of as Sir Mick Jagger, lead singer of the rolling stones, is at the moment. He has been supporting the four following teams in person, USA, England, Brazil, Argentina, and we all know where they are now.
Actually I don’t mind making one prediction which I hope will be wrong. It does not really matter who wins this game as they will probably lose to the Sherman’s in the final.
The Uruguayans are depending on ones perspective, riding their luck or have fate on their side. The incident in the last minute of the 120 in their game against Ghana amplifies this point. The number 8 Suarez, handled the ball as it was going into the net to deny Ghana what would have been the game winning incident. The referee quite rightly awarded a penalty and dismissed Suarez with a straight red card. The Ghanaians missed the subsequent penalty and Suarez celebrated by punching his fists in the air on his way to the changing room and a one match ban which means he misses the semi-final. He was later quoted as saying it was worth it. Luck or fate we shall see.
The Dutch have to be in the look out for the anti-climax. Coming from a goal behind to beat Brazil is an outstanding achievement and the Dutch coach has to ensure that his players do not rest on their clogs, thinking that they have done the hard work and now it will be easy. I can’t even predict what type of game this may be. I just hope it will be a good one.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Quarter finals part II

June the 30th 1986 was the day I was inducted into the army. It was also the day that W Germany were due to play Argentina in what was expected to be a very good game and one that I was not going to see. Well in the end it was a very good final with the Argentineans coming out victorious 3-2 after extra time. I was also fortunate enough to see the whole game as the bus drivers taking us to our base refused to move until the game was finished. It was painful to see Maradona lifting the trophy as this was the world cup of the hand of god incident as I have mentioned previously.
In 1990, a now unified Germany and Argentina again met in the final, with the Germans winning a terrible game with a late penalty, thankfully sparing the watching world the agony of another 30 minutes of dross.
In 2006 also in the Quarters, the Germans ran out victorious on penalties. In fact the 1986 game is the only occasion that the Argies have won in 5 attempts.
This year, these two teams have played the most exciting football and are the top scorers to date. They both have young goalkeepers with little experience so it will be interesting to see who comes out on top. Although it is hard to admit it, as I loathe Diego Armando, the best final we could probably see is a clash between Brazil and Argentina.
In the 2nd game tomorrow, we see Spain against Paraguay. As I was growing up I remember Spain and Paraguay as countries both ruled by fascist dictatorships, and they have both come a long way since then. Spain is one of the favourites and on paper should be far too strong for Paraguay, who was appalling against Japan, but football is a funny old game and the Spanish temperament is fragile. Let us hope that this will be a good game worthy of a world cup quarter-final.


Quarter-Finals part I

So, we have arrived at the quarter-final stage and what a feast awaits us. The first game up has always produced classic encounters in the past. In 1974, Holland played Brazil in a game which changed world football. Brazil were a side in transition, and as any woman who has given birth will tell you that is the most difficult part of labour. Pele had retired from international football and the team was looking for a new identity. The Dutch came with the new philosophy known as total football, where the players all closed down on the opponents like a swarm of bees, somewhat like a full court press in basketball, denying the playmaker time on the ball. The Dutch were led by Johan Cruyff, arguably one of the best players of all time. The Brazilian response to this method, was just to kick the hell out of the Dutch, check it out on you tube, by the way the Dutch won 2-0.
1994 – Quarter final stage, the Brazilians got their revenge, with an unforgettable 3-2 victory sealed with an outrageous free kick by Branco, after the Dutch had come back from 2-0 down to tie the game. Once again look it up on you tube.
1998, Semi finals Brazil won a penalty shoot out win (4-2) after a 1-1 draw which was a great advert for the game. So this game promises a lot.
The 2nd game today pits Uruguay against Ghana, Uruguay tend to do well in the years ending in zero, they won the tournament in 1930 and 1950 and were losing semi-finalists to Brazil in 1970. This is new territory for Ghana, they prepared for the game by having a party, with lots of singing and dancing, a refreshing approach to the game.
The Ghanaians are very strong and fit and Uruguay have tired in the closing stages of their games, so if they can keep this one tight until the end, Ghana should be in with a good chance of being the first African team to reach a world cup Semi-final.
I will post about tomorrow’s games later today


Thursday, 1 July 2010

End of term reports

Here in Israel school is out for the summer and the world cup is also having a break, so now would seem like a good time to give out report cards.
We shall do this by continent. There is no doubt, which is top of the class. South America, four out of the five nations have reached the last eight, and Chile was unlucky in that they had to play Brazil. S America has also provided 3 of the most entertaining coaches. If the football is not up too standard, then watching the reactions of the coaches of Paraguay, Chile and Argentina is entertainment in itself. It is interesting to note that all 3 coaches are Argentinean by birth, what do they say about hot blooded Latinos ? However nothing is perfect and Paraguay played out one of the worst games in world cup history against Japan. It will be interesting to see what they do against Spain. Grade A

Moving up the continent, let’s look at Central and N America. Overall they did well. The USA won their group and probably should have beaten Ghana, they had enough chances and were left to rue their profligacy in front of goal. Interesting fact, the USA were the only group winners not to advance to the last eight. Mexico was entertaining and very unlucky against Argentina to go behind to a goal that was clearly offside. Until that moment they were giving the Argies a very good game and as with England against Germany, there will always be the what if issue hanging over the game. It would be best if we could ignore Honduras as they brought nothing to the tournament. For them just Qualifying was the main achievement. Grade A-

Asia, this has been a good tournament for Asia, Japan and S Korea, both did well to qualify for the last 16 coming through difficult groups. They both played S American opposition and put up a good showing. Even N Korea brought something different to the table, apart from the 2md half against Portugal when they let in 6 goals, they were well organized and fought hard. Grade B+

Oceania- i.e. Australia and New Zealand, New Zealand surprised everyone, they did not lose a game and this will be a big boost for football in a country dominated by the oval ball. Australia on the other hand will be disappointed. They forgot to turn up against Germany, managed a draw against Ghana and beat Serbia. It is possible that the witch doctor employed by Harry Kewell to remove the curses on him, actually made things worse. Kewell got sent off after 25 minutes and he seemed to spread his bad luck over the whole side. Grade B

Africa. This has not been a good tournament for Africa, save for the exception of Ghana. Cameroon, Nigeria and Ivory Coast all disappointed bitterly. The Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathon (I kid you not, that is his name) has issued a decree banning the national team from competing in any tournament for the next 2 years while an investigation and overhaul goes on. This will likely lead to FIFA banning Nigeria, as they don’t like to see government interference in the running of football. Cameroon lost all three of their games and the Ivory Coast only managed to beat N Korea. Although S Africa is the host, not a lot was expected from them and as for Algeria, well they were actually France B as they had 10 French born players in their side that only played for Algeria because they weren’t good enough to play for France and we saw how bad France was. Grade C- (even if Ghana advances I would only award a C+)
Now, we come to the bottom of the class. Europe. Europe has to be divided up somewhat. At the top we have Germany, Spain and Holland, although I still have reservations about Holland and Spain. Holland has had an easy path to the last eight and despite winning all 4 of their games they have not impressed. There were also, in the last game, signs of the normal strife which for some reason always appears in the Dutch dressing room. Let’s see how they do against Brazil, more on that tomorrow. Spain also has not played to expectations, but there are signs that they are peaking at the right time. Germany has definitely been the teacher’s pet of Europe. They have scored nine goals and been entertaining and the officials have more or less favoured them.
The smaller Europeans did OK, not much was expected from Slovenia and Slovakia, for them qualifying was an achievement. Then comes, Denmark, Greece, Serbia and Switzerland, they were all disappointing even though they all won one game, they did not entertain and never looked like doing so.
Finally we come to the real under achievers, France, Italy, England and Portugal. With the talent at their disposal, they were awful. The mudslinging and recriminations will be long and hard. The Press in the respective countries is like a pack of bloodhounds waiting to tear their rabbit’s to pieces. The question is how, will these countries respond? I will be writing a separate post on views on this subject. Grade D-

Your comments will be appreciated

Tomorrow we will preview the Quarterfinals.