Monday, 30 June 2014

A response to Ann Coulter

An American woman named Ann Coulter, apparently well known if you are American, but unknown if you are not, penned a diatribe against the beautiful game, the link is below. Read her and then read on.

Her Wikipedia page states that she is an American conservative social and political commentator, etc. so why she is attacking football in such a strong fashion that I feel a strong rebuttal of her article is necessary

Having looked into her career, she seems rather like a Luis Suarez in that she likes to bite in a literal sense, and has a bit of Mario Baliotelli, in her as well, he is "Why always Me", she seems to be "All about Me".

This is not an attack on Ms Coulter, (or on Americans in general, although it may seem so sometimes). It is just an attempt to set her straight as she has obviously never watched a game of football in her life.

Ms Coulter is obviously the type of American, who as Bill Bryson put it so succinctly in his book  The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, who is surprised to learn, that the Moscow mentioned in the news is not in Idaho but in some far away place called Russia.

To the article, her comments are in blue.

1) part a - Individual achievement is not a big factor in Soccer. Do they even have MVPs (Most valuable Player for those not American)

Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, to name the last two world players of the year, an award given for individual brilliance and skill. One is from Portugal, the other from Argentina, so the emphasis is on the word world in reference to her point 7 about football being foreign.

It is interesting to note here, that the last world baseball tournament was not actually won by the Boston Red Sox but by the Dominican Republic that great powerhouse of sport. The Boston Red Sox won the domestic title rather incongruously known as the world series, due to the egocentric nature of a lot of Americans.

1) part b- and I will paraphrase, Players make mistakes all in front of a crowd. When baseball players strike out they are alone at the plate. But there is also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam dunks.    Ryan Giggs 1999 individual run and goal  James Rodriguez 2014 World Cup

In soccer, the blame is dispersed. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child's fragile self esteem is bruised.

As we already know, Ms Coulter has never seen a penalty shoot out, so she doesn't know about damage to self esteem, being labelled a loser or accountability for the one who misses a vital penalty. What is the Italian Roberto Baggio most remembered for?
Missing the Penalty that gave Brazil the 1994 World Cup 

She has obviously never heard of one Steven Gerrard, Liverpool's most famous son since the Fab four. (aka the Beatles)

In the space of two months, mistakes he made in front of a world audience has led to his club team (Liverpool) not winning the league and his National Team (England) failing to progress at the world cup.

He has been blamed and will always be remembered for those mistakes.

As for children, almost all of us had to suffer the agonies of being the last one to be chosen for a pick up game, because nobody wanted you on their team.

2) Football is not a co-ed sport to my knowledge, certainly not at a professional level.

4) The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport. In hockey, there are three or four fights a game. 

For the personal humiliation, I refer back to penalty misses. For the injury, I don't want to post pictures of horrific broken legs or noses, which are sadly part and parcel of the game.
Why don't you go and watch boxing or wrestling then? You seem to like pain. Violence is not the point of the sport, for a supposedly intelligent women, so far you have not displayed much proof of that.

5)You can't use your hands in soccer

This has always been one of my favourites, In American football I believe only the punter and the kicker actually use their feet to touch the ball, funny for a game that is called football. Whereas in association football only the goalkeeper is allowed to use his hands in an attempt to stop the ball being kicked with a foot into his goal.

7) They remain distinctly unimpressed by the fact that the French like it.

The most sensible line in your whole article

9) Soccer is not catching on. Headlines this week proclaimed "Record U.S. ratings for World Cup

We are then provided with some impressive stats re viewing figures

USA-Portugal game was the blockbuster match, garnering 18.2 million viewers on ESPN
Run-of-the-mill, regular-season Sunday Night Football games average more than 20 million viewers. this year's Super Bowl had 111.5 million viewers.

Ms Coulter, Hell, I watched the Superbowl, I love it, and it starts at 01.30 am where I live, but did you watch the Superbowl ? or perhaps I should phrase the question differently.
The Superbowl is an event which happens to rotate around an American Football game. It is an excuse for a party, a getting together of friends, to eat, drink and be merry.
A lot of the viewers are watching just to see the half time show or the great commercials which air during the Superbowl. Ask a lot of those 111.5 million viewers, how much of the game they actually watched ?
I doubt that they saw more than a few minutes of the actual game or understood what was happening if they did.

The NFL is mainly played on a Sunday and at prime times for television. The USA-Portugal game was actually watched by more than stated above by Ms Coulter, there were another 6.5 million viewers who watched on the Spanish language channel.(reading between the lines Ms Coulter does not seem to welcome your prescence in her beloved country) The figures do not take into account those watching the game in bars, at work or in World Cup viewing areas.

I would like to see the numbers for the Germany- USA game which was played at 12.00 noon on a week-day, I imagine the figures were still pretty good. The USA - Belgium game with a 18.00pm kick off Tuesday could set a new record.

The point is that numbers can be massaged to suit the view of the proponent of whatever theory they are putting forward. They don't always tell the whole picture.

In soccer, the women's games are as thrilling as the men's. 

As to women's soccer, I watched the last women's world cup final in 2011. It was amazing to see Japan beat the mighty US of A who have the best supported women's league in the world.

Do you believe women shouldn't be playing sports ?

I am not really interested about the demographic switch happening in America.
I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer
What about all those Americans who are descendants of the German and Italian waves of immigration of more than a 100 years ago, I would guess they also enjoy cheering on the Mannschaft or the Azurri as they finally get to reconnect with their roots.

Ms Coulter, going back to the Superbowl, you need to take heed of the advice from this volkswagen commercial from 2013

Chill Ann

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Does the Punishment fit the crime part 1 (Suarez)

So now we know "Chewy" Luis Suarez has received the verdict, which I shall briefly summarise here. This piece will mainly be reaction from fans round the world with their reaction to the sentence. Then I shall post a more in depth argument for and against and also pose the question, re other examples of foul play and their non-punishment.

Luis Suarez has been banned from all football related activity for 4 months which basically means until the beginning of November 2014, he is not allowed to train with his club side Liverpool. He is not even allowed to set foot inside a football stadium. He has also been banned for 9 international games for Uruguay and fined 100,000 Swiss Francs.

So , is it fair ? is it too lenient ? or is it harsh ?

I have trawled the depths of English (and One Scottish) fans to gauge the mood of the people. All the readers round the world are welcome to add their views in the comments section below. I wonder if we will see a cultural divide on this issue.

Here we go, with the views of Liverpool fans first

A plumber from London  said:

"Sell him to Real Madrid for 80 million (if they'll have him) Enough already. He is a liability"

An owner of a bar from London :

"Dunno what to make of it. I don't believe the intent was to bite. I think he went to headbutt him and his teeth got in the way. They (Liverpool) should buy a replacement"

An unnamed source from Cambridge said . "Liverpool should bite their lip"

One of my brothers in law, ( I have a lot)

"He is too good to let go for a little bite, Some people love Italian food. The television replays are inconclusive. I am happy to turn a blind eye. He will probably go to Barcelona as he thinks the English press have it in for him".

Now the wider public.

A very interesting one from an MCC member, getting his sports mixed up here, the old duffer,

"Biting has no place in the world cup or any other football tournament. It's just not cricket."

He also thought the punishment was fair given he is a repeat offender.

A Geordie Hooligan (Newcastle fan)

"Fair, but they should pull his teeth out as well"

@israeligooner (Arsenal)

"Happy we never bought him in hindsight, an amazing player but has mental health issues, an accident waiting to happen. The ban should be from the beginning of the season in August not now. He needs help and that should be part of the ban"

A Sunderland fan

Not long enough

A Leeds fan (not me) a team well known for fair and clean play

FIFA needed to give a clear message  and they have done so.

Jimmy , a Glasgow Celtic fan with a typical Scottish focus on the money aspect

A wee bit unfair on Liverpool as he was representing Uruguay when the incident occurred. Clubs always get screwed when their players play for national teams and get injured for example, the club still has to pay his salary, not the National team. Liverpool should impose a big fine for damages he has caused to the club.

An Aston Villa fan (yes they do exist)

could have been a lot worse, I thought he would be out until January

and last but not least an American from New Jersey

It is a 9 match slap on the wrist. He is a recidivist It is not a one off thing

So there we have it. Will have to wait until the morning for next post, need to watch the next game. Please feel free to add your comments below, you can stay anonymous if you want.

The Gif to the left is from a great site for keeping up to date especially if you can't watch the games, Good text commentary and clips of goals very soon after they happen.

The Last Rites of the First Rouind

The Brazilian language is based on Portuguese as opposed to Spanish, as Brazil was a colony of Portugal from the year 1500 until independence in 1822. Today, we are likely to witness the exit of the mother country, Portugal who only have a very slim chance of going through as the final day of first round matches kicks off at 16.00 GMT with Portugal V Ghana and Germany V USA.

The first part of the equation is simple, if the game between Germany and USA ends in a stalemate, both those teams will advance and the result in the Portugal game will be academic. The USA are managed by Jurgen Klinsmann, a talismanic German striker in his time, and who also happened to be the previous manager of the NationalMannSchaft and there are suggestions, of course strongly denied by all involved, that both teams would be happy with a draw and may play so.

How can this be, I hear you all shout. Well there is previous for this. The reason both final group games are played at the same time which one would think is not good for television, as the viewers have to choose a match to watch, is that in 1982, the then West Germany played Austria in a game where all that was needed was a 1-0 victory by the Germans for both teams to advance at the expense of Algeria who had played the day before.
The Germans scored after 10 minutes and did not create another chance, and the game became known as the Nichtangriffspakt Von Gijón (Non-aggression pact of Gijon) or in Algeria, as the Anschluss, after the unification of Germany and Austria enacted by the Nazis in 1938.

Now I am not a conspiracy theory type of guy, but there are a lot of people out there who are. Mesut Ozil the German midfielder who is a descendant of Turkish Gastarbeiter was quoted on ESPN as saying that Germany will not be playing for a draw. The mere fact that he did this lends weight to those conspiracy theory lovers.

Of course all the above will be irrelevant if there is a positive result in this game. I am going for a win for the NationalMannschaft.

2 to watch Clint Dempsey and Thomas Muller

Assuming as I wrote that there is a result in the above game, then the Portugal V Ghana game takes on more significance. It is a little complicated as goal difference features in a large way. If Germany and Ghana both win 1-0 then Germany and USA would go through as goal difference and goals scored would be identical, but Ghana lost to the USA. The same outcome but not both 1-0 would see Ghana through. 

Of course USA could beat Germany, but at the moment the Shermans have a +4 goal difference which should see them safe even with a defeat. What about Portugal, they need to win by 5 goals to have a chance of qualifying.   2 to watch The Ayew brothers for Ghana

Ghana to win, but not maybe go through

The final games of the first stage 20.00 GMT see Belgium who are already through take on S Korea who have been disappointing so far and Russia face the surprisingly good Algeria. Algeria only need a point to progress.  A win for Belgium and Algeria getting what they need are my predictions here.

2 to watch Origi for Belgium and Feghouli for Algeria, the other teams are not worth watching

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A date which will live in Footballing infamy and a look ahead to today

Today sees the concluding matches in Groups E and F and there is nothing on offer to really set the pulses racing. I will give a brief preview and then review yesterday's events, the good, the bad and the ugly.

The action starts today at 16.00 GMT when Argentina who have already qualified for the next stage take on Nigeria who need a draw to go through. Argentina have disappointed so far scraping through both their games with narrow victories due to Leo Messi scoring 2 fantastic goals.  The Nigerian goalkeeper could be their star player Enyema    (Arabic commentary is great)

World Cup history is littered with teams who started slowly, did what they needed to get through the first round and then made a strong run.

A draw is the most likely result here.

The second game features Iran, (who were unlucky to lose to the aforementioned piece of Messi genius in injury time) against Bosnia who are already out. No-one outside of those 2 nations cares what happens here, although there is a remote chance that, if Iran win and Nigeria lose, then Iran could advance. Dzeko and Dejagah. are the 2 to look out for here

Bosnia to salvage some pride with a win

The 2nd set of games (20.00 GMT) features games between Ecuador and France and Switzerland against Honduras.

Free-scoring France have all but sealed qualification and top spot - they would have to lose heavily to Ecuador, and the Swiss record a huge win over Honduras. Ecuador are in second spot on goal difference only. It promises to be a cracking conclusion to the group stage.

We have to find something negative to say about the French, so how about this for a double miss.

France and Switzerland to win and both progress to the last 16.

So to yesterday, a day which had the Good, Greece fighting to the end and winning (a somewhat dubious penalty if truth be told) in injury time to progress,

the Bad, the match between Italy and Uruguay which would not have been out of place in an ultimate fighting cage  the red card to Italy

and the Ugly, the disgraceful act by Luis Suarez as he sunk his teeth into the shoulder of Chiellini(no angel himself).  the latest bite

I wrote yesterday, that some of the Italian tactics would put the Mafia to shame, and so it proved yesterday until Suarez's moment of madness. Don Corleone, is going to make him an offer he can't refuse.

Now the world waits to see how the governing body FIFA is going to deal with something which could overshadow what has been a very good tournament so far.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Silence of the FIFA (Suarez Bite)

In my preview of this group, I included a clip of Luis Suarez biting another player. It is astonishing that he has done it again, and even more so, is that from the subsequent corner, Uruguay scored and won the game thus advancing to the next stage.
The other clip I already showed you was his cheating 4 years ago against Ghana.   The last bite   The hand ball

It is sad that he has so much football talent, but FIFA, if they want to maintain some semblance of credibility in the eyes of the world, especially in countries where they are trying to promote the beautiful game, must act and ban Suarez for life now.
He must never play football again and they should offer to pay for the counselling he so obviously needs.

I would love to read your comments

Football is going Home

Today, the World Cup says goodbye to En Ger Land, as they play in their last match against Costa Rica (16.00 GMT) before they go home. Costa Rica have already qualified and are undoubtedly the surprise of the tournament so far. England have made 9 changes for this game from the team that started against Uruguay and Costa Rica are also resting some of their "star players".

The other game in group D, features Italy against Uruguay (16.00 GMT). The sides are level on points with each have beaten England but lost to Costa Rica. However Italy are in pole position at the moment as they have scored 2 and conceded 2 giving them a 0 goal difference and Uruguay have scored 3 but conceded 4 giving them -1 goal difference. This means a draw would suffice for Italy to go through to the last 16.

Italy and Uruguay, between them, won the first 4 World Cup tournaments. Uruguay in the inaugural event in 1930,  then Italy in 1934 and 1938. In 1950 after a 12 year hiatus after the nations of the world had indulged in their second favourite pastime after football, i.e. war, Uruguay won it again. The last time of course it was held in Brazil.

Italy played Uruguay in Italia 90 and took the lead through this great goal by Toto Schillachi

The Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez was also in charge on that day, now aged 67 he is looking for revenge.

The Italians are past masters at obtaining a draw when they need it. The style was known as Catenaccio which translates into door-bolt. It implied a highly effective defence focused on nullifying opponents attacks and preventing goal scoring opportunities from being created by any means, some of which would make Mafia enforcers flinch. It could be brutal and did not make for pleasant viewing.

I didn't do very well yesterday with my predictions, but Italy will do what they need to progress.

2 to watch for. Cavani for Uruguay and Buffon for Italy.

For dessert, we have the 2 remaining games in group C, Colombia V Japan and Ivory Coast V Greece (20.00 GMT). This group is very open, Colombia are already through and Ivory Coast probably only need a draw to join them. Greece have to win which is unlikely because as I mentioned in an earlier post, they don't score very often.  Ivory Coast to go through and Gervinho to shine for Ivory Coast

The Japanese have been very disappointing, I blame the fact that so many of their team have bad haircuts and some have even bleached hair (why I ask)

They still have a slim chance if they can manage to beat Colombia, but I fear that we may be witnessing a mass hara-kiri by the fans and the coach committing Seppuku (ritual Suicide) on the sidelines after this game. At least that would be interesting.

Colombia to go through with a win

Monday, 23 June 2014

Down to the Nitty Gritty

Today sees the the opening of the last round of group matches, with there being 2 games being played at 16.00 GMT from Group B and the last 2 games from Group A kicking off at 20.00 GMT.

The first games are Spain V Australia and Chile V Holland. The result of the Spain V Australia game will decide who avoids the wooden spoon (the award supposedly given to the team finishing bottom of the group) but apart from that it has no bearing on the rest of this tournament.

We can not go without mentioning that probably 98% of the population of the world who follow football would not have expected the reigning champions Spain not to make it past the first round.

A little nugget for you, this is now the 3rd time in the last 4 world cups that the defending champions has not advanced past the first round. France in 2002 and Italy in 2010 being the other 2 teams to have achieved this dubious status. I suppose 4 years is a long time in world football.

The second game could be a classic, on the one hand as both sides have qualified, one may think they will just rest on their laurels and play out a quiet game with no team wanting to risk injury or unwanted suspensions due to yellow or red cards to their players.

The reality though is very different. The runner up in this group (at the moment slated to be Chile) will play their last sixteen game against the winner of Group A, which will most likely be Brazil. It might be stating the obvious to say that if Brazil are not going to win this tournament (even though they haven't played very well so far) then someone has to beat them, but that team would rather it be in the final, than before then.

So we should expect both teams to go for the win although a draw would leave the Dutch in first place on superior goal difference, (they are 8-3 giving them +5 and Chile are 5-1 giving them +4).

A new feature, 2 players to look out for, Robben for the Dutch and Sanchez for the Chileans.

I can't decide so I will sit on the fence and go for a score draw.

In the later games, all is still to play for except for Cameroon who have already been eliminated after 2 woeful performances, highlighted by these 2 incidents.

What Alexander Song was thinking I don't know, but at least he hit an opponent as compared to this.

Assou-Ekotto, he of the great hair, tried to get at the same player as they went down the tunnel after the game, it is no wonder that Cameroon, haven't scored any goals yet and have let in 5, plus another 2 which were wrongly disallowed in their game against Mexico.

Song received a red card and is suspended and Assou-Ekotto, escaped without punishment but will probably not play as he is not flavour of the month in Cameroon at the moment.

Brazil, will be happy they are due to face Cameroon and should have to much firepower which will see them safely through as group winners.

Brazil to win

This leaves us with the game between Mexico and Croatia, a draw will suffice for Mexico, Croatia have to win. Croatia could be considered to have been unlucky against Brazil and they have a lot of talent on offer. Mexico have been solid and their goalkeeper was outstanding against Brazil. Can they keep Croatia out for 90 minutes to progress. I am going with a Croatian victory

2 players to look out for, Modric for Croatia and Oscar for Brazil

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Cheating in Football, part and parcel or unacceptable.

One of the things that has been thrown under the spotlight is the nature of the behaviour of some of the players on the football field, especially when it come to trying to gain an advantage from pretending a foul (penalty for our Yankee friends) has been committed or time wasting by feigning injury. 

Below are 3 examples, one which resulted in a penalty kick being awarded and converted, one which resulted in a red card being shown to one of the players and the last which failed to con the referee, but the manner of the attempt has sent shock waves round the footballing world.

In this first example the Brazilian striker Fred (remember him from the Brazilian names post) throws himself to the ground to try and win a penalty kick and he succeeds leading to a Brazilian goal. Brazil now had the lead which had looked unlikely until then and went on to win the game. A lot of jokes went around about the Japanese referee having a slanted view of the incident.

A different type of "unfair play here"

The issue here is not the headbutt by Pepe, he is a known hothead who should have known better. The incident started with a dive by Muller with the exaggerated hands to the face as if he had been shot. He was attempting to con the referee into awarding Germany a free kick. Portugal were reduced to 10 men which made their chance of coming back into the game nigh on impossible, a great result for the Germans.

The last example is another dive which fails to fool the referee

Marcello is not even looking at the ball as he throws himself to the ground, his eyes are on the ref. The question here should be, why wasn't Marcello punished for play acting ?

After I had already posted that I was going to blog on this topic, an American reader notified me that The New York Times had just published a piece on the same theme, but trying to make the point that North Americans are not very good at gaining these advantages through perceived unfair means. Members of the National Squad who have had long careers outside of The USA were trying to encourage the younger players to take a lead from the rest of world and do anything to win.

The television pundits, watching the Germany V Portugal game consisted of a panel of ex-players, one English, one French and one Italian, all experienced internationals in their day. They held the view that Muller's antics were part and parcel of the game and that Pepe should have known to control his anger. The anchor, a non-footballer was incensed by Muller's behaviour.

In the Marcelo (marcelo vieria da silva Junior) incident, the BBC pundit Alan Shearer, an ex captain of England was livid with Marcello and called him an outright cheat.

The problem for Americans is that playing fair is ingrained in their psyche, you just don't see blatant cheating in American sports.  I think the rolling around feigning injury (which also annoys the English) bothers Americans even more. Get up and play like a man. 

American kids don't want to be thought of as cheats as they will be shunned by their peers. In the real world, anything you can use to gain an advantage is acceptable. To quote the Times article.

 "The best attackers in the world, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suárez, regularly fall to the ground, particularly if they feel that they are going to lose possession. And why not? If it works, they get a free kick. If it doesn’t, they were going to give up the ball anyway."

I feel that this is one of things that is holding back the growth and success of football in the United States. There is a certain naivety to Americans of how things work in the world outside of the good old US of A (this is not just limited to football). They don't understand that it is a jungle out there and that all is fair in love and war.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Postings Tomorrow

Tomorow, (Thursday) I will post two pieces, one a review on the first round of matches and a second more in depth piece on the "cheating culture" which is pervasive in Football.

This is something that we football fans may complain about but understand and which people from non-footballing countries, i.e. the USA find so hard to accept.

Check back for those

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The First Round come to an End.

Today sees the final games of the 1st round as Belgium face Algeria (17/6 16.00 GMT) with Russia facing S Korea (17/6) 22.00 GMT) . Today also sees the beginning of the 2nd round of matches in the group stages, when Brazil take on Mexico (17/6 19.00 GMT) with both teams being buoyed by victories in their first matches.

Belgium are lots of peoples favourites as the dark horses of the tournament, they have a hugely talented squad of gifted young players, who ply their trade in the major European leagues. At the moment though, Belgium may lack the experience to go all the way in a major tournament. If their players stay injury free, they will be one of the favourites for Euro 2016.

Algeria have 17 French born players in their squad, in an interesting reversal of the trend where France had loads of African born players from their ex colonies on their squad. Something to watch out for, if Algeria do not score within the first 35 minutes of the game, they will become the holders of the dubious honour of having gone the longest playing time without scoring a goal in a world cup tournament. The record is at the moment held by Bolivia.

Prediction Belgium to win

S Korea have now played in 8 consecutive tournaments, an impressive record, with their best effort being a 4th place finish in 2002 in the tournament they co hosted with Japan.

Russia are interesting. They are scheduled to host the next world cup in 2018 and will be starting to build towards that target. Since becoming Russia and not the USSR, they have failed to reach the knock out stages. This time round they are managed by Fabio Capello who was the rather unsuccessful England manager in 2010. This game is too close to call and I am going to exercise my prerogative and sit on the fence here. All 3 outcomes are as likely as each other.

So concludes the 1st round of group matches. I am not going to post for the next round but will return for the final and deciding round, although I will publish a summary of what we have seen so far.

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Boys "mannschaft" in Brazil

We have already had one European clash of the titans (or 2 if you include England V Italy) when Holland arguably provided the result of the tournament so far against Spain. Today, (16/6 16.00 GMT) we have Ronaldo and 10 others against the NationalMannschaft, aka Germany.

Both of these games could be considered North verses South clashes. It was related to me by a colleague, that this group could be considered the proverbial group of death of which there is one in every tournament   (the other 2 teams are Ghana and the USA). This is a shame for Germany because they have been trying to shake off that association for the last 70 years.

Portugal unlike Spain, have still never fulfilled the potential, that the talent at their disposal has suggested is present. The temperament of the side has always been suspect, and it can not be denied that this current side rely heavily on the mercurial skills of Christian Ronaldo, Many people believe, stop him and you stop Portugal.

In the play-off game between Sweden and Portugal, to qualify for Brazil, the Swedes were found wanting. In the clip below we can see the hat-trick by Ronaldo, but the real star is the Portuguese commentary, you don't have to understand it to enjoy it. worth watching to the end.

The Germans on the other hand are efficiency personified with  touches of flair thrown in. The basis of  this side has risen up together via the U19 and U21 sides and is maturing nicely, whether they are ready to take the whole tournament is another question though. This is a mouth watering clash, let's hope it lives up to the billing and doesn't disappoint.

prediction Germany to Win

The 2nd game (16/6 22.00 GMT) features Ghana and the US of A. These 2 teams met in S Africa in 2010 and were seperated by the following goal scored in extra time.

The Ghanians went on to the edge of being the 1st African team to reach a world cup semi-final until this incident, at first disgraceful and then heartbreaking, where the hero of the previious clip went to being a zero in this clip

An American friend of mine told me, the problem the USA had agianst Ghana is that usually the Americans relied on their superior physical abilities to keep them in games against opposition who were more technically gifted. This advantage is not apparent against the Ghanians who are as big and fit as the Yanks. One other thing the Yanks have a German manager, that is always worth something.

Prediction Ghana to win

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Group F Messiah or False Prophet

Argentina have twice won the world cup, but both times it could be said to have been under a cloud.

In 1978 the tournament was held in Argentina, despite the cruel reign of the then junta, where thousands of people just disappeared and their whereabouts are unknown to this day. On the football field they had some good players led by #10 Mario Kempes, along with Ossie Ardilles and others, but a blatant piece of match fixing took place before the game between Peru and Argentina which was agreed upon by the leaders of the 2 dictatorships of the time.

Argentina needed to win by 4 clear goals to knock out Brazil and promptly won 6-0, you can see from the clip below that the Peruvians were not trying and I remember to this day the BBC commentator (the one in the clip) giving his trade mark one-nil as a Peruvian contrived to miss before Kempes score the opener for Argentina

In 1986 , Argentina won the world cup with some great football led by the their troubled star #10 Diego Armando Maradona. Although a genius, in a footballing sense,he was a cheat but that is in the past.

Now a nation which has moved on is waiting for the current wearer of the #10 shirt, the messiah apparent, Lionel Messi to lead them back to the promised land which would be especially sweet ftom the heartland of their bitter rivals Brazil.

The pressure on him is immense, but he is lucky that the supporting cast is very good, Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero offer exciting attacking options and outlets if Messi doesn't come off.

The opening game 14/6 (22.00 GMT) sees them up against Bosnia, who are  making their first appearance in the finals, since that war torn country came into existence in the early 1990's. They are no mugs, and this game might not be a walkover. But you have to go for Argentina for the win

The 2nd game in this group sees Iran take on Nigeria,(16/6 at 19.00 GMT)  The Iranians have made a number of appearances in world cups and Nigeria are one of the stronger African nations. There have been match fixing claims in recent times with the very violent Nigerian Mafia to the forefront. See the clip below to see what I mean as the Nigerian goalie "scores" an own goal during a recent warm up game.

You never know which Nigeria is going to turn up but Nigeria to win

All three teams apart from Argentina have a large Moslem Presence and they will all be out to show that Messi is a false prophet

Group 5 not much to set the pulse alight except the frogs

Group E kicks off this afternoon (16.00 GMT) with the very scintillating clash between 2 teams from mountainous countries, Switzerland and Ecuador. The similarities end with the mention of mountains. Ecuador have a fine record playing in the rarefied atmosphere of the capital Quito at an altitude of 9,000 ft, but don't do very well away from home.

Switzerland, better known for its cow bells and chocolate has slowly matured like a fine Swiss cheese into a very respectable football team. They are currently ranked 6th in the world rankings and last time round beat Spain in the first game( I know that Spain lost this time as well, but that was different). An interesting phenomenon is that half of the Swiss squad consists of foreign born players especially from the Balkans and Turkey. I mention this as Switzerland has recently passed a referendum to limit immigration, which would have stopped the development of their current squad.

Prediction Switzerland to win

The second game sees France take on Honduras (19.00 GMT). This is the 3rd world cup for Honduras, and they have lost all their games to date, but they take their football very seriously in Honduras, so much so that in 1969 they had a short war with neighbouring El Salvador after a World cup qualifier between the 2 nations.

The French should win this comfortably, but if ever a nation could slip up, it is the French. Their temperament is suspect at least. In S Africa, 4 years ago, it didn't take long for the the stories of discord to come out of the French dressing room, once things started going wrong on the pitch. The French coach surprised many when he picked his squad for the world cup by leaving out one or two leading players. However those players were know to be problematic to say the least to dressing room harmony. They are also missing through injury, Frank Ribery, one of the more unpleasant looking players in modern football.
Ribery and his scar

Although of course, I hope otherwise, France to win

We will preview Group F later tonight

Brazilian "Nicknames"

The reader Saneguy has asked the question, why do most of the Brazilian players have short names, like Oscar (real name Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Junior) or Hulk, (real name Givanildo Vieira De Sousa) etc. with the most famous one from the past of course being Pele, whose real name we all know is Edson Arantes do Nascimento.  (Although he hates the name Pele)

We can actually trace this behaviour back to ancient Rome, people had 3 names consisting of Preanomen (first name) and a Nomen (tribe name) and then a Cognomen (family name) and then because there weren't that many names they added nicknames to differentiate.

So far example, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, was Publius of the clan Cornelius of the family Scipio who was victorious in Africa hence the Africanus.

In Brazil  which was a Portuguese colony, most people have 4 names,  first name, then some form of holy name like of a saint and then a name connected to the mother and a name connected to the father, which is usually too much of a mouthful hence the nickname. 
Usually they are taken from the first name, such as Fred, is short for Frederico, Jo is short for joao and so on.

Sometimes, they have nothing to do with the name at all such as the ex-captain Dunga, whose name referred to the Portuguese term for the dwarf dopey, from snow white, a name given to him by his uncle because he was short as a child, and the name stuck even after he grew taller.
Hulk, has his name thanks to his physical resemblance to the said comic book hero. If he was green he would be a dead ringer for him.

Another popular instance is the adding of the ending "inho" which means little, so Ronaldinho was little Ronaldo and Juninho was little junior. It can go even further, at one point there was Ronaldinho and then Ronaldinho Gaucho, who was from the area of Gaucho, which was added to his name to differentiate between the players

Saneguy, I thank you for the question and I hope this answers you, Keep the questions coming in

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Eng er Land Eng er Land (just a slight bias)

Before we look at group D, the result between Spain and Holland, shows why we love this game, I don't think anyone in the whole world expected that result (5-1 to Holland) even the most biased Dutch person.

Football even at the highest level is so unpredictable

Group D kicks off on Saturday with the game between Uruguay and Costa Rica (15/6 19.00 GMT).
Uruguay won the world cup the last time it was played in Brazil in 1950 as well as the inaugural event which was held in Uruguay in 1930. They are led by Louis Suarez, you can love him or hate him but you have to admire his skill, especially at biting people which he has now done twice (at least where he has been caught)

His fitness is a bit unknown but they should have too much firepower for the Costa Ricans who are playing in their 4th world cup.

Prediction  Uruguay to win

The 2nd game sees En_ger_land V Italy (15/6 22.00 GMT).There are very few professional pundits who think that England will make it out of this group. I do not claim to be a professional pundit and I do believe( my heart beating my head) that England will advance to the next stage.

The game is due to be played in a brand new stadium in the middle of the Jungle at Manaus. Nobody knows why the Brazilians built a stadium there. After the 3 games due to be played there, it will turn into the proverbial white elephant. It is stiflingly hot and humid and these 2 European teams are really going to struggle with the conditions.

The Italians are notoriously slow starters in tournaments and for once England has a team full of youth and pace, perhaps they may catch the Italians with their togas down.

Prediction Going out on a limb, England to win or at least draw

Friday, 13 June 2014

An interesting foursome Group C Preview

This group consists of 4 teams from 4 continents, which should guarantee 4 very contrasting styles of football. We start with Columbia V Greece (14/6 16.00 GMT). Columbia have a potted history in the world cup, they were supposed to host it in 1986 but it was taken away from them due to economic reasons. In 1994 one of their players, Andres Escobar who shot and killed purportedly by the drug cartels a couple of days after scoring an own goal. At least he didn't suffer the Medellin necktie, a particularly gruesome way to go much favoured by the cartels.
On a footballing front, they are remembered for some interesting hairdos

and their famous goal keeper El Loco, who performed the strangest save ever seen in world football.

They finished 2nd in South American qualifying and could do well.

Greece, are almost an anti football side, very dour and unappealing to the eye, a reflection of the current state of the Greek economy. They don't concede many goals, but they don't score many either.

Prediction  Columbia to win

On Sunday , we have Ivory Coast V Japan at the unearthly hour of 01.00 GMT.  If ever there was a clash between contrasting cultures then this is it. I look forward to seeing the Japanese, mainly diminutive in stature, match up against the far larger Africans, one thing we know, the Japanese won't be daunted. Ivory Coast are probably the best team in Africa at this moment in time. It is just a shame that because of the hour, not many people will see this game. Perhaps we may get a rendition of the Toure brothers chant, which is very popular round the world especially on youtube.

Prediction, I want to sit on the fence on this one, but if I have to then Ivory Coast to Win

The preview for group D will appear an hour before the first game at 18.00 GMT tomorrow

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Group B preview

The first game in Group B (Kick off 13/6 19.00 GMT) sees the holders Spain take on Holland in a repeat of the final from 4 years ago. That final is mostly remembered for being a rough game, in fact 14 yellow and one red card were brandished. The most famous incident is the foul by Dutch Midfielder Nigel de Jong, who forgot he was playing football and thought he was in a Kung Fu demonstration.  Amazingly, de Jong was only booked for the challenge, with the referee later claiming his view of the play was obstructed. See for yourselves and let me know what you think

Holland have played in 3 world cup finals and lost all of them (74. 78 and 2010) thus giving them the dubious distinction of being the only team to lose 3 finals in different continents. (The Germans have also lost 3 times in 66, 82 and 86, but only in 2 continents and they have won 3 times in 54, 74 and 90 all in Europe)
Brazil on the other hand have won in 3 different continents albeit different ones. Who can work that out.

Spain have undoubtedly been the best team in world football over the past four years and are reigning world and European champions. Under their teddy bear of a manager, the Maquis of Del Bosque (aka Vicente del Bosque) who was elevated to the Spanish nobility after winning the world cup, they managed to utilise the plethora of talent at their disposal to its full potential to finally shake off their under achieving reputation. Another factor is that Del Bosque has managed to quell the internecine strife between the players from Madrid and Barcelona which always hampered the Spanish teams performance in the past

teddy bear

Prediction for this one  A narrow win for Spain

The other 2 teams in this group are Australia and Chile. (kick off 13/6 22.00 GMT) Australians should stick to what they are good at, being nasty to the Aboriginals and drinking. A true Australian sporting record is held by the Tasmanian cricketer David Boon, who once drank 53 cans of beer on a flight from Oz to England. If there was a world sheep shearing competition, then they would be the favourites. Football is a game where physical contact is frowned upon so what is the point of playing that. Stick to Aussie rules football (which I enjoy greatly) and leave real football to the rest of the world.

Chile are dark horses this time round, their record in world cups is not very good, but this time they have some excellent players most notably Alexi (electric) Sanchez. I have inserted a link to a goal he scored this year for Barcelona and it is worth watching. Pay special attention to the commentary by a very excitable man from Newcastle, England. His use of superlatives is jaw dropping. I bet you have never heard of a player being described as running with a lobster down his shorts. Enjoy

Prediction for this one Chile to win

Tomorrow Groups C and D

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Let the fun begin ! Group A preview

The first game of the world cup used to be between the holders and A N Other, since 2006, it is the host nation and A N Other, who this time round is Croatia (kick off 20.00 GMT) however, before we get into the football, let’s play a game of word association. 
What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the word Brazil?
I really would like to read your answers, please use the comments option below before you read on.

Brazil are the most successful team in the history of football, they have won the world cup on 5 occasions, the last time being in 2002 in S Korea, the pressure on them is tremendous, a nation expects. More to the point is that Brazil as a nation is not united behind this world cup, the country has economic woes and there has been rioting all over the country in the lead up to the tournament. If Brazil doesn’t win, the happy place we all envisage as Brazil might turn very ugly.

Despite this Brazil is the land of the Samba (one of the most popular answers I had when I played the word association in my office) and this is reflected in the way they dance around the football field with the ball at their feet, poetry in motion. Brazil is also known for its nuts (another popular choice) and this also comes out in the way they can sometimes melt down on the field and start playing in a crazy manner.

Croatia has only been in existence as an independent nation since the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991. In their first world cup in 1998 they finished 3rd and had the tournament top scorer in Davor Suker, and have only missed one world cup since them. It is always much easier to play when you are expected to lose but are actually rather good. Now to the part I hate, prediction time. Brazil to win this one.

The other 2 teams in the group are Mexico and Cameroon who face each other on Friday (kick off 16.00 GMT)

Cameroon, burst onto the world scene in 1990, when they beat the then holders, Argentina 1-0 in the opening game of the tournament, and only went out in the Quarter-finals losing 3-2 in extra time to England. Their star player at that tournament was Roger Milla, who was then aged 38 or so. He scored 4 goals and had one of the best celebrations when he ran to the corner flag and danced. Here is a link enjoy, 

Cameroon also caused controversy in 2002 with their skin tight kit.

This year, they almost didn’t get on their flight to Brazil as they were in dispute over the amount of bonuses they were due to be paid. To sum up, it is never dull when Cameroon is around.

The last team in the group is Mexico, probably the luckiest team to be in Brazil, as they only scraped through their qualifying group in injury time. They have twice made it through to the Quarter-Finals, the 2 times that they hosted the tournament.

Prediction, I like Cameroon, they add extra spice so Cameroon to win

Tomorrow, we will look at Groups B and C

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

How it all works, from qualifying through to the final

In June 2011, the first match in the qualification process for this year’s tournament took place. 203 teams were vying for the 31 places left up for grabs, after Brazil as hosts had secured an automatic place. Let us play a little game, I will list 3 nations that have attempted to qualify and you must guess where they are without using Google or Wikipedia at least to start with.

Tuvalu, Burundi, the Cook Islands.

I imagine that most of us would have had some difficulty finding some of the participating nations on a map if required to do so, but such is the lure of being in the finals tournament and the reason why it takes so long.

Another interesting nugget is that size doesn't matter at least in qualifying, India has never qualified and China has only ever qualified once and then lost all 3 of its games, between them they have over 2.5 billion citizens whereas say Slovenia who qualified in 2010 has only 2 million.

The process finished in November 2013 after 620 matches had been played and the draw to determine the 8 groups was held in December 2013.

There are 5 teams from Africa, 5 from S America, 4 from Central and North America, 5 from Asia and Australasia with 13 countries from Europe rounding out the 32. I already hear the inevitable question being asked, why the inequality, why so many for Europe?

The most likely answer is money and although FIFA, the governing body of world football is a non-profit organization, it does reportedly have one billion dollars in a Swiss bank account which is a reserve according to them. Reserve for what? Answers on a postcard can be sent to FIFA HQ in Zurich or posted in the comments section below.

Unfortunately FIFA lurches from one bribery scandal to another, but let us not get sidetracked.

Back to the format, in the first round, each team will play 3 games, one each against the other teams in their group, with there being 3 points for a win and 1 for a draw. If 2 teams finish level on points, the places will be determined by what is known as goal difference, i.e. how many goals scored for against goals conceded.

The top 2 sides from each group will proceed into the last 16 which is a straight knockout, the equivalent for our American readers of your sweet 16 in college basketball. We then have 8 teams left in the quarter-finals (elite 8) which will be whittled down to 4 who will play in the semi finals (final 4) and then 2 who will contest the final.

There is also a rather arcane game between the 2 losers of the semi-finals to see who will finish 3rd, who cares, and even I can not remember who finished 3rd 4 years ago

Now we know how it works the next post will preview groups A and B.

Here we go (again) An Introduction

It is hard to believe that 4 years have passed since the last tournament was held in South Africa, who can forget the noise of the vuvuzelas, those plastic horns that drove everyone mad and forced the TV networks to mute the level of noise from the stadiums on their broadcasts.

This Thursday, the focus of the majority of the population of the planet will be shifted to what is going on in Brazil. Although it can not be proven empirically, the level of violence in the world's trouble spots always seems to be reduced during a World Cup. I write seems, as perhaps it is due to the fact, that is is just not reported on as the world's press is concentrating on the important things in life (football)  rather than some genocide or famine in a remote part of Africa which no one has ever heard of or really cares about.

Anyway, as always with events such as these, it is relatively hard to ignore them even if one has no interest whatsoever in the wonderful game that is Association Football.

(Note to American readers, and I am not sorry to have to do this, but once again it is time to have to come to terms with the fact, that this is the real game of football, (and just for the record ,I am a great fan of American football) as the aim of the game is to kick a ball with your FOOT, not run with it in your hands or throw it to another player, on this blog, there will be no trace of that awful word beginning with "s" and ending in "r" which has no meaning in any language, yet which Americans insist on using)

Therefore, unless you are planning to travel to an isolated atoll in the pacific, or some such place with no communications with the outside world , I invite you to join me, as we attempt to find our way through the Brazilian rain forests and try to reach Rio De Janeiro, where the final is due to be played on Sunday July 13th having had an enjoyable journey and perhaps just perhaps having learnt some things as well on the way.

If you want to be able to join in the discussions about this global event, that will inevitably be going on wherever you maybe, at home with your family, in the office with your colleagues or with complete strangers on a bus, in a bar or just about anywhere you can think of, without seeming a complete idiot or even perhaps surprising people that you have some concept of what is going on, please stay with me for the next month.
You never know, some of you might surprise yourselves and start enjoying football.

Later today or tomorrow, I will post an overview of the tournament, how it works etc.

Until then.