Sunday, June 13, 2010

String him up

The pain of supporting the England football team over the past 40 years has been such that not even the surprise and delight of a fine early goal does much to raise the fans' spirits. Our brief elation is undercut by a lurking dread of the adverse reaction that is surely waiting for us just a little later, the karmic measure of sudden woe to outweigh our unexpected joy. We remember, for instance, the 1982 tournament, when we opened with the fastest goal in World Cup history against France, but then failed to make much further impact and crashed out in the second group stage (which they were trying instead of a knockout 'round of 16' that year). The few occasions when an early breakthrough led to an exuberant rout (beating the Dutch 4-1 in Euro '96, beating the Germans 5-1 in that qualifier in Munich in 2001) fade in the memory in comparison to all the times when a promising start was but a prelude to disaster. So it was last night: a brilliant goal by Stevie G after just 5 minutes, and I immediately felt that sinking feeling in my heart - Hmm. Nice. So, what's going to go wrong?

But, oh boy, I did not anticipate that. I am ordinarily a very kind and forgiving sort of chap. I do not approve of the media pillorying our sportsmen for rare lapses of concentration in the heat of competition. I would normally advocate giving players a chance to rehabilitate themselves, to atone for a costly error.

And with outfield players, I think that approach usually works. A fiercely competitive spirit will drive them to try to compensate for their mistakes, to redeem themselves with a flash of genius that may turn the game around again.

With goalkeepers, it doesn't work. They have too few opportunities to make a decisive contribution during the course of a game; rarely more than a handful, sometimes only one or two. And their performance is so sensitively dependent on confidence: one terrible error - however untypical or unlucky - generally leads to a string of others.

Not only that, but the goalkeeper's confidence has such a huge influence on every other area of the game. If the keeper makes a huge foul-up, his defenders lose faith in him, and get more nervous on the ball. The opposing team sense a possible weakness, and are more incisive, more self-confident in going forward. And, above all, nasty and regrettable though this is, the fans will go after him, taunting, teasing, mocking, abusing. In a major tournament like this, the support of the travelling fans can provide a huge boost to the team's morale. If you lose their confidence, dampen their enthusiasm, the whole team's performance may suffer as a result.

And that really was The Most Awful Goalkeeping Error In The History Of Football - to fumble a shot for which you are in perfect position, and which is not particularly hard, and which is not bobbling over the ground.... and then not recover the error, but actually help the ball over the line with your half-hearted lunge after it. Honestly, that was so bizarrely, inexplicably dreadful that it immediately raised doubts as to whether our man had been knobbled by a Malaysian gambling syndicate. If I were Fabio Capello, Rob Green would have been on a plane home at half-time. He certainly shouldn't be starting any more games in this tournament (even if he were in fact our best goalkeeper, which I don't believe he is).

Of course, the real misery of last night was not Green's howler, but the fact that despite a good start we were not able to assert any superiority over a pretty poor US side. This has been a regular failing of England sides through all the years of my suffering them: they may raise their game unexpectedly against sides who are better than them (oh, the exhilaration - and the disbelief - after a fairly poor tournament, of finding ourselves outplaying Germany in the 1990 semi-final!!), but against weaker teams we huff and puff and fail to blow their house down. It's frustrating, embarrassing, wretched.

To be frank, I've never been that much of an England fan. We didn't even qualify for the World Cup Finals during my '70s childhood, so I found myself rooting for Scotland in those two tournaments instead. I am now aware of a disloyal impulse in myself to hope for an early exit, so that I can just enjoy the football without having to take an interest in the fortunes of an habitually under-performing team who, even performing at their peak, are probably not deserving of a place in the last four.

And Rob Green must go.......


The British Cowboy said...

I got in a discussion over this. He shouldn't have started. He shouldn't start the next game (shouldn't have even if he had played a blinder through this game).

But... Capello was right not to sub him at the half. And it isn't for any of the BS confidence reasons, it is that England had already used one sub (W-P for Milner) and Ledley King was off at the half too. Using the final substitution at half time would have been foolish in the extreme.

I predicted 1-1 when the draw was made and did not waver from it. But it doesn't mean I'm not gutted. I still think we will go through top of the group with 7 points, but I don't see us going much further.

Froog said...

I was watching in the midst of a sidewalk crowd, without benefit of commentary, and suffering double vision (perhaps Green's problem too; but I hope he hadn't been drinking for 9 hours), and I went home at half time, so hadn't been aware of the substitutions. There might still be an argument to be made that it's better to risk being reduced to 10 men by injuries than playing with 10 men and a liability. I really think the Yanks would have been less perky and we would have had a better chance of getting a second goal if we'd had a swift and ruthless change of keeper.

Ledley only lasted 45 minutes? Oh dear god!

Apparently there's a Web feed for Radio 5. I've really got to sort that out, otherwise I'm going to have no clue what's going on in this tournament.

Froog said...

Mind you, everybody's looked pants so far.

Even the Jerries were rather flattered by an awful performance by Australia: they wasted far more chances than they converted.

The Argies, even with Messi and Tevez, looked to have nothing much. I've never rated Mascherano - he's a big part of the reason the Scum had such a dismal season. I'm convinced Diego's boys would have got rattled, and maybe folded, if the Nigerians had got after them a bit more, instead of backing ten yards off all the time. Very disappointing that: no running or fight from the lads in Green at all.

The Dutch looked fairly dire, too; very lucky to scrape a win against the Danes last night.

Ghana - much supported here, by people who know shit about football - had nothing to offer either, and needed a penalty to get past the awful Serbians (Christ, if the donkey Vlidic is their best player, how did they even qualify?).

Cameroon and Ivory Coast are the two best African teams, but unless they get some momentum going in the group games, I don't think they have the class to trouble the big boys. Japan and Korea looking more likely to pull off a bit of dark horsery, I think.

Spain should repeat their Euro triumph, I believe, although the bottom half of the draw is much tougher: getting past Portugal, Italy, and Brazil won't be a picnic. In the top half, you've only got Germany and Argentina, neither of whom looked very intimidating in their opening games.

Swordsman said...

I've only been able to see the whole of the England match so far, so can't really judge the rest yet, but England have got to do something about a) the goalie, where I agree entirely with everything you said (I'd even have subbed him at half time and prayed we avoided injury) and b) the midfield.

The midfield is the frustrating thing, because it's an Apollo Team problem, where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. I wish he'd experimented properly in the warm-ups with using only one of Gerrard and Lampard to see if their play improved without the other. the winers are nippy, but aren't great crossers, so where the hell do Rooney and The Heskey get the service from?

The US team is not bad, but crippled by its best striker being Jozy bleeding Altidore. Its midfield is quite decent and Landon Donovan is underrated outside the US (and probably overrated here). Their goalie's certainly better than anything England has. I could see them going quite far if they had a striker of Darren Bent/ Jermain Defoe quality. But I don't know where their goals are going to come from.

Here's my prediction, which is already looking as cack as my playoff predictions usually are:

Froog said...

I'd love to see Ivory Coast keep Portugal out of the knockout stages. If Drogba recovers his sharpness, I think they're more of a threat than Ronaldo & co. We might all have thought it would come down to who could spank the North Koreans most soundly (or who could avoid being spanked hardest by the Brazilians), but the lads from the DPRK aren't as much of a pushover as people were expecting - it could be a very tight group.

I've always found it frustrating that England managers seem to be in thrall to pressure from the England fans, the majority of whom seem to believe that as Gerrard and Lampard are our only two "world class" midfielders, you have to play them both.... when it so obviously doesn't work. They're far too similar in style. Not only do they not 'gel' at all, they seem to do the opposite. Neither of them has the discipline to keep a deeper holding position to cover the other; they seem to be trying to compete with each in mobility and probing forward - with the result that they leave huge gaps in the middle.

Stevie has looked OK out on the wing, even on the left wing, but I think it's a bit of a waste of his strengths - and you still have the problem of the mismatch of personality or style between the two, both of them wanting to be the figurehead of the team. I think Stevie, despite the erratic form he's had for Liverpool this season, is a much better all-around midfield player - but Frank is more dangerous in the box. I'd keep Frank on the bench, and use him to replace Stevie as a 'supersub' in the last 20 or 30 minutes if our forwards aren't making any inroads (or, of course, if Stevie's injured, or having a poor game).

I thought Lennon looked good on the left. Joe Cole never really convinced me there; constantly having to check back on to the right foot meant that he was never going to get clear enough of the full-back to get a cross in, although of course he's always dangerous when cutting inside. Milner appears to be not quite international class (so, why's he even in the squad?); but perhaps he might blossom, if we kept faith with him for these next two games, which really shouldn't be all that demanding. Heskey probably doesn't have the pace to play wide any more. I'd be tempted to go with Lennon on the left and Cole on the right - with the option to unsettle the defenders by swapping them around. Or maybe, Stevie G on the right (and keeping fingers crossed that the "can't play with Lampard" hoodoo is finally broken)...

But, oh boy, do we need Gareth Barry to be fit SOON! If he doesn't come through, I fear we will have to consider using Carragher as the holding midfielder.

But, oh, we haven't got any fit centre-backs either, have we?


Froog said...

That ESPN site is horrendous, ISM. I don't know how you managed to register your picks.

It's absolutely impossible to navigate around. It took me several minutes of searching to find the link for that competition, and then there appeared to be no live links on the introductory page to lead you to the entry form. And then the site crashed altogether. Three times.

I guess their servers are a bit maxed out at the moment. But it's an appalling piece of website design as well.

I may have to go through my predictions on here.

Froog said...

I find Group A the hardest to call. The French ought to go through, with the wealth of talent they have, but…. Dommenech is surely the worst coach in international football. They were lucky, undeserving to qualify in the first place. And they looked fairly dreadful against Uruguay. The South Africans didn’t show very much either – apart from that great goal. They’re possibly the weakest of the African sides, and may have suffered through escaping the discipline of having to qualify. However, home support is usually enough to boost a team at least one stage beyond what they’d otherwise achieve. I say Uruguay are the best team in the group (narrowly), but it’s a complete lottery as to who goes through with them – hopefully, South Africa.

In Group B, Nigeria can be much better than they looked against Argentina, where the conservatism of their coach’s tactics and their mystifyingly low energy levels can probably be attributed to being (unnecessarily!) overawed by their opposition. However, that has got them off on entirely the wrong foot, and I doubt if their superior physicality can prevail over the greater pace and guile of the Koreans. Greece are one of the weakest teams in the tournament, and can be disregarded. Of course, Argentina will go through, even though I don’t think they’re really all that good – apart from their phenomenal forward line (let’s hope other coaches have been studying Mourinho’s playbook on how to neutralise Messi). I’d really like to see Korea edge them out of first place here.

Group C is probably the weakest group. I suppose you have to favour England here, despite their manifold problems. However, we’re in such dire straits at the moment (and Capello, strangely, seems clueless as to what to do about it), that I fancy the Americans to take top spot in the Group. And I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Algeria causing an upset or two; apart from their keeper being almost as shite as ours, I think they’re a better team than Slovenia (although they’re a dirty bunch of bastards who are likely to harm their chances by picking up too many yellow and red cards).

Germany, of course, are going to romp Group D, and go into the knockout phase with the confidence of having scored more goals than the rest of the leading contenders combined. Serbia looked just awful. I don’t even rate Vidic that much: he’s good in the air, of course, and fairly fast for a big guy, and he passes the ball well; but he’s always letting people get in behind him, and he makes far too many rash and clumsy challenges. With the unforgiving refereeing we usually see in World Cups, he’s probably going to get himself banned before the end of the group stage (he was lucky not to get sent off in Game 1). A better than average donkey, but still basically a donkey – the King Donkey. No, Serbia can be written off, I think. Australia were utterly abysmal against Germany, but I figure they can’t be that bad again, and may perhaps rally strongly (although Schwarzer looks to be in fairly spazzy form in goal). I’d like to see the African nations do well, but Ghana looked pretty poor in their first match. It’s a toss-up between them and the Aussies for the runner-up spot, but neither of them would get beyond the Round of 16.

Froog said...

Group E is very tight, something of a ‘Group of Death’ – except that none of the teams is really outstanding. The Dutch have a lot of quality, of course, but there’s no real shape to this team, and they’ve been shaky at the back for a while – a problem that’s likely to have been exacerbated by van der Sar’s retirement. Van Persie looks to be lacking sharpness after missing two-thirds of the season through injury, and if Robben doesn’t make it back, I fancy Johnny Dutchman to make an ignominious early exit this time. Denmark, on the other hand, might rally – if only Bendtner, or someone, could remember where the posts were. Chance for an “upset” here, I think, with Japan and Cameroon likely to progress.

In Group F, I’d love to see Italy go out early, but you can’t really see the piss-poor New Zealand or Slovakia pulling that off. There’s a good chance, though, that a free-scoring Roque Santa Cruz could ensure that Paraguay relegate them to second place. Let’s hope.

In Group G, I have to go for Brazil and Ivory Coast (who are potentially a way more potent force than Portugal, if only Drogba can show us his best form). Portugal don’t have much apart from Cristiano Ronaldo; but Deco, not Ronaldo, has consistently been their most influential player for the past four years or so, and he seems to me to have had a rather poor season with Chelsea (and he looks to be getting just a little fat as well). Ronaldo, sublime player though he can be, is still a cheating ponce, and I’d love to see him going home as soon as possible. The plucky DPRK are going to make it hard for everyone else in the Group, but it would be a fairytale if they managed to squeak into the next round – and I don’t think it’s going to be a year for fairytales.

Group H, hmm. I don’t know anything about Honduras. Switzerland were fairly horrible in the last European Championships. Hopefully it should be a nice warm-up for Spain – my pick to win the whole thing – stretching them just a little now and then, without causing them any discomfort. I suppose Chile have to be the likeliest bet to go through in second place.

I don’t have access to a decent schematic of the draw at the moment, so I’ll have to wait a while to work out how I fancy it to break down after that.

Mr G said...

Anyone who saw England winning the World Cup was likely to be raided by the Drug Squad for samples of whatever they were taking to create such an illusion.

If that is goalkeeping then I am a Chinaman.

Froog said...

And I don't think Mr G is a Chinaman....

Froog said...

OK, some wild early prognostications for the knockout stage. I don't think there's much chance that things will actually pan out like this. A lot of the groups are pretty close this year, with only Germany and Spain (and perhaps Brazil) looking strong enough to win through fairly straightforwardly. With most of the others, it's next to impossible to predict the 1-2 order, and I suspect there will be more than a few 'surprises' as to which the top two teams in each group are.... although I shall perhaps prove to have been too optimistic in some of my initial picks above. We shall see.

So.... The Round of 16

A1 Uruguay v. B2 Korea (I'd love to say Argentina are going to finish second in the group; and I think their fellow South Americans might have a better chance of beating them, as they are more familiar - and therefore less daunting? - opponents than they are for many other teams; but, alas, I think the Argies are probably going to come out on top)... Korea go through!

C1 USA v D2 Australia - does anyone really care? USA

B1 Argentina v A2 South Africa - well, poorly as I rate the Argies, I think they'd probably pummel anyone in Group A (anyone except the Uruguayans... maybe??)

D1 Germany v C2 England - ah, fantasy football: England produce their best performance of the tournament and lose with honour to Germany.

E1 Japan v F2 Italy - oh, I'd love to say Japan, but this side doesn't have a Nakata in it, and I fear they'll choke if confronted with one of the 'big boys': Italy, alas.

G1 Brazil v H2 Chile - well, anyone from that group except Spain will be a picnic for even a slightly misfiring Brazil.

F1 Paraguay v E2 Cameroon - ooh, that could be a very tasty match-up. Actually, Paraguay are my main dark horse tip for this (certainly fancy them to qualify from Group F, and get to the quarters, maybe even the semis). Cameroon are a very good side, but were looking a bit toothless in attack in their opener; if they stick Eto'o up front and give him some decent service, they'll be a handful. But I still favour Paraguay, narrowly.

H1 Spain v G2 Ivory Coast (or Portugal, as it may be) - another cracking fixture, possibly one of the best in the tournament. But I'm backing Spain to take the trophy home next month, so I have to have faith that they can rise to challenges like this.

Froog said...

The Quarter-Finals

Korea v USA (my other dark horse, after Paraguay)

Argentina v Germany (It would be nice to imagine it might be a classic match, but I imagine the Germans will play it cagey while concentrating on snuffing out Messi, and just grind out a dull but effective 1-0 or 2-0 win.)

Brazil v Italy (Oh for a replay of the 1982 classic, but with the right result this time!!)

Spain v Paraguay (Should be a decemt game, but... Paraguay probably aren't good enough to trouble anyone in the last 8.)

Froog said...

The Semi-Finals

Germany v Korea (The Koreans, if they really make it this far, might just give the Germans their toughest match so far. On the other hand, they may get altitude sickness and capitulate. What they won't do is win.)

Spain v Brazil (Should be the game of the tournament.)

The Final is, I expect, I hope, going to be an uncanny repeat of the 2008 European Final: a decent but unspectacular game, with the Spaniards doing a quietly efficient job of asserting their superiority over a German side that probably didn't really deserve to get quite this far.

Swordsman said...

Spain, eh? Funny old game...

Froog said...

Well, this is what you get for sticking your neck out before seeing them kick a ball (and without having heard any team news).

I've always had a few reservations about Spain - not entirely trusting that del Bosque can get the best out of his men, and being prone to over-cautious tactics (playing a lone striker against Germany in the European final kind of worked out, but gave them much less of a cutting edge; against Switzerland last night it emasculated them); not being sure how much backup they have if they lose Villa or Torres; worrying about the solidity of their back four (Puyol's getting a bit long in the tooth, isn't he?); worrying about their lack of width (god, their delivery from wide positions was just atrocious last night).

They're still a very good side, Casillas is one of the best keepers in the tournament, and they have the confidence (or should have) of coming in as European champions - but this is a real test of character now. They've left themselves a mountain to climb by stuffing up the first game.

Fabregas is injured? Out of form or out of favour? They have many fine creative midfield players, but, for me, he is way the best of them, and I find it unfathomable that he should be left on the bench if he's fit to play. And what the hell's happened to Fernando Torres? Is his confidence shot by the wretched season Liverpool have had and all the injuries he's suffered? Has he suffered a Samson-like loss of potency now that he's cut his hair short?? Or was he perhaps uncomfortable at having to play through the left-hand channels rather than on his better right side? Or was he just peeved at being left on the bench until the last 20 minutes? Whatever it was, he was unrecognisable from the player we've known over the past three or four years. He appeared to have had his footballing brain removed.

Villa was pretty anonymous too, although he wasn't getting any delivery, and the midfield guys weren't getting into the box to support him enough - leaving him woefully outnumbered by the intimidatingly tall Mountain Men of Switzerland (gosh, they were all gangly farm boys, weren't they? That was one of those games where you feel the average height differential between the two sides must have been at least 4" or 5"!).

The big difference, though, from Euro '08 is the absence of Marcos Senna, the tough-tackling Brazilian-born midfielder who was their lynchpin in that tournament. Apparently he's getting on a bit now, and has just had a heavily injury-compromised season. However, he was fit for call-up to the pre-tournament squad, and del Bosque chose not to include him in the final 23. I find that baffling. Particularly if they don't have an understudy for him. Without Senna, Spain, I fear, will revert to being a ragbag of egregious creative talents with limited ability to win back or hold the ball.

While it is possible for sides to function and even prosper without an intimidating presence in the middle to win the ball and set the tempo of the game, I think all the really great sides have had such a player. Nobby Stiles was the foundation of England's success in 1966, as much as or more than Bobby Moore or Bobby Charlton. Didier Deschamps was as critical to France's dominance at the end of the '90s and the beginning of the '00s as Zidane or la ligne magique. It was Roy Keane more than Eric Cantona who elevated Manchester United to dominance in England in the 1990s - and Patrick Vieira more than Dennis Bergkamp or Freddy Ljungberg who enabled Arsenal to challenge them.

My choice of Spain as likely world champions was predicated on Senna still being at the heart of their team. Without him, well they'll need a run of good luck. They won't be controlling games the way they were two years ago.

They could still be a threat. At least, if Fernando finds his scoring boots....

Froog said...

Realistically, though, the best they can probably do is qualify second, and facing Brazil in the first knockout game is probably going to be too much for them.

All credit to the Swiss, though. They weren't nearly as awful as I'd been expecting. In fact, they were not only extremely well-organised in defence, but showed some spark going forward (that cheeky little shot against the post with the outside of the boot would have been one of the goals of the tournament). They could have won by two or three.

However, I think Switzerland are still probably the weakest team in the group, and unlikely to qualify for the next round. Indeed, Group H would appear to be a Group of Death. Chile and Honduras both look very useful indeed (Honduras unlucky not to get something out of last night's game), and produced the best match I've yet seen in this tournament.

My revised prediction is that Chile will top this group, and perhaps get past Ivory Coast (or Portugal) to set up a South American humdinger of a quarter-final with Paraguay. I think Paraguay might edge that, but not have enough against Brazil in the semi.

So, a Brazil v Germany final it is to be again. How will that pan out this time? The heart, of course, says Brazil, but the head is not quite convinced...

Tony said...

My only thought is to wonder whether anyone has written, or is writing, a program which prevents anything about football reaching the computers of people like me (yes, there are others) who find the subject totally without interest of any kind.

The British Cowboy said...

I am sorry, but it is bat shit fucking crazy to even consider leaving yourself with no substitutes for the entire second half of a world cup game.

We are all pissed at Green. He should never have been playing. But subbing him at half time would have been a FAR greater mistake than picking him in the first place. I cannot believe people are suggesting it would have been a good idea.

Froog said...

Well, you know, just for the sake of argument, Cowboy....

Was Milner injured, or was Fabio just being petulant about him not following team orders well enough? Was Ledley incapable of continuing? (If so, why did they wait till half time to pull him off?)

And if that's happened, maybe you just have to figure them's the breaks, and with any luck you shouldn't suffer any more injuries in the second half (as in fact happened, didn't it?). It comes down to picking a squad full of dubiously fit players in the first place; having done that, you pretty much have to accept that you are probably going to be starting games with makeshift lineups and maybe here and there finishing games with 10 men.

Admittedly it would have been a high-risk choice (not 'bat-shit crazy', I don't think, just high-risk) - and Capello is not a risk-taker; which is why he's never going to win anything as an international manager; at least, not with a second rank team like England.

The arguments on the other side are: a mistake that bad might indicate your keeper has been taking bribes from gamblers; an unlikely (but not impossible) conspiracy theory, perhaps, but if that's not so, it's highly likely that his confidence will be so shot that he'll make a similar egregious cock-up in the second half, or at least not be very effective (I'm told he made one or two competent saves in the second half); even if he came back out for the second half on fire, the rest of the team probably played more nervously, more cautiously because of worries about his reliability, and I am damn certain the USA team got a hell of a lift out of thinking that he might be vulnerable.

Replacing Green, we would have had a better chance of scoring a second goal. If we'd been reduced to 10 men by another injury, things could scarcely have been any worse than they were already.

I mean, it's not like we have any decent substitutes on the bench anyway.....

Froog said...

I was gutted by the Argentina v Korea result. I really wanted the Asian boys to take something out of this game, thought they had it in them to get at least a draw, perhaps even sneak a win if the breaks had gone their way.

Like Nigeria, they were giving Argentina too much respect early on. And they fell apart a bit towards the end. But they were royally abused by Fate: the first goal was freakishly unlucky; the second (and the fourth, too) was offside. They came back strongly with that goal just before half time. And if that attempt early in the second where the guy broke through and hit the side netting (I really thought that was in!!!) had been the right side of the post, it would have been a whole different story. Or if the Argies second goal had been properly disallowed, it might have been a whole different story. The Argies certainly showed themselves to have a class advantage here, but the result flattered them.

I still fancy Korea to qualify in second place from this group (Greece have done them a huge favour by beating Nigeria).

And I still fancy Argentina not to make much of an impression in the latter stages.

Froog said...

I don't think I have the stamina to stay up for the Mexico v France game (suspect it will be a fairly turgid 0-0 or 1-1 draw), but... it occurs to me that if Mexico should somehow manage to win, we'll have a situation where they and Uruguay could go through by playing to a draw in their last game. I wonder if FIFA has given any thought to this problem?

It seems to me that it would be perfectly reasonable to lay down an edict that teams which do not appear to be making a genuine effort to win from the outset in the third group game should not receive any points for a draw. Indeed, if it's brazen enough, they should be disqualified outright. But threatening no points for the draw unless they really show willing seems fair and sensible to me(hard to define and justify, I know; but I think it could be done, and the basic principle is sound).

The British Cowboy said...

Not a good edict at all. If you have a situation where one team goes through with a draw, and the other needs a win, you would punish the former team for playing for the result that benefits them.

More on your idiocy regarding Green later. :-)

Froog said...

I had meant that this should only apply to games where both sides would qualify with a draw, TBC. We don't want a repeat of that Austria-Germany malarkey from... was that '78 or '82?

Froog said...

Is FIFA going to be using video evidence to crack down on play-acting, I wonder.

The Nigerian guy last night deserved to be sent off for aiming a kick at the Greek, but he didn't actually make contact (or only so grazingly as to have been barely perceptible). All of that rolling around on the ground in mock agony, and having two or three of his team mates lobbying the ref for the red card, was disgraceful.

Similarly with the South African keeper getting sent off: after seeing the replay umpteen times, I still can't decide if there was any contact or not; from some angles it looks as if there might just have been a little, from others it looks like an outright dive. The Uruguayan striker clearly went looking for it; and even if it was technically a foul, it wasn't dirty, or even deliberate; the keeper spread himself to try and block the shot, and the Uruguayan decided to cut inside and try and hurdle his outstretched leg when he was already prone on the ground. A sending off in those circumstances seemed very, very harsh.

Froog said...

I have a sense of mounting dread about our forthcoming clash with Algeria tonight. It's difficult to conceive of them beating us, even with the help of more goalkeeping howlers; but they're big lads and hard bastards, and it will be frustrating trying to break them down. I suspect we will only just squeak through by a goal or two.

My fear, though, is that it is the sort of game where we could very well pick up some more injuries, or maybe a red card (Terry for a professional foul; Gerrard for two over-enthusiastic tackles; Rooney for a fit of petulant aggro). If something like that happens, the Algerians might well hold us to a draw (or worse). Please let it not be so...

stuart said...

Relax, Froog.

England to win 4-0 tonight in a no-mercy operation to secure the win and the goal difference that may yet be a factor in this group.

Rooney 1, Gerrard 1, Lampard 2

Froog said...

I admire your optimism, Stuart. But I fear I don't share it.

If the Algerian keeper doesn't drop any more clangers, I think they'll be more of an obstacle than the Slovenians.

It doesn't look as though the Yanks have lots of goals in them either. And I wouldn't be too unhappy with second place. (So, we'd face the Germans in the first knockout game. But we can't be running scared of teams like that if we really aspire to make any progress in this tournament. And I think I'd rather play them early on, before they really hit their stride.)

I'll be happy with a 1-0 tonight, just so long as we actually start playing like a team, evincing a bit of confidence and composure on the ball.

Swordsman said...

Germany to romp it, eh? We can write off Serbia, can we? Like I said, funny old game.

Froog said...

Looks like we may have swapped jinxes, Swordsman. Your predictions for Euro '08 were universally disastrous; this time I seem to be heading the same way.

There may be a World Cup jinx about this for me. I've always enjoyed a very strong record of calling results correctly in the Euros, but having my World Cup hopes cruelly and improbably dashed (perhaps it all started off with those two outrageously unjust final defeats for Holland in the '70s?). Last time out, I backed first the Czechs, then Germany, and then France in the final. And we know how that worked out.

I think we can write Serbia off. Don't deserve to qualify out of the group, but probably will now - thanks to that absurd referee.

Germany will still go through, perhaps even still in first place. This might be a useful growth experience for them.

Froog said...

The officiating had looked mostly very good for most of the first week, but in the last couple of days it took a nosedive.

I realised on a replay this evening that the third Argentine goal against Korea was offside as well (as 2 and 4). All very close calls, and forgivable errors in the heat of the action. But even so, it does make the Koreans seem very, very hard done by.

Klose's sending off tonight was ridiculous - both completely innocuous offences, neither anywhere near deserving of a card. Both causing no harm, both non-malicious, both probably entirely accidental. Tickling a guy's ankle as you race to catch up, and putting in the slightest of trips as you try and get a toe in on the ball - really? Fouls, yes; yellow cards, no. Red card, fucking outrageous.

Jerries probably should have had another penalty in added on time when that guy got clattered on the edge of the box as well.

And the third American goal was denied for what? No-one was anywhere near being offside, but most of them were being wrestled to the ground by the Slovenian defenders. Either the goal stands, or they get a pen. Terrible refereeing.

The Yanks are growing on me. Donovan is a class act, and they showed more determination and composure in digging themselves out of the shit than Germany.

I said after the first game I thought the result flattered them, Australia having fielded a pair of shop-window mannequins in central defence. Klose really isn't looking all that sharp in front of goal..... and he's the only outright striker they've got? And they miss having a hard-ass like Frings in central midfield. Podolski could miss 7 or 8 chances, including a pen? And the young guy in goal hasn't yet got the presence of a Kahn or a Schumacher.

But they're a decent team. And the Germans have a history of beating people even when they're a bit crap. They're still one of the best 5 or 6 sides in this. They were just royally abused by Fate and the referee in this game (although admittedly he showed some leniency to Lahm for his second cardable offence).

Swordsman said...

England: no creativity, no passion, no pace, no hope. Pathetic.

Froog said...

I didn't see the whole game, Swordsman, but I thought it looked like a huge improvement over the performance against the USA.

As I'd expected, the Algerians defended very well, and in numbers, with at least 7 or 8 men behind the ball the whole time. Every team has been struggling to break down packed defences like that in this tournament (don't the pitches look kind of narrow??).

We had some shape and tempo about our game this time, were keeping the ball and moving it around decently. All we were missing was that spark of greatness: Rooney just hasn't recovered that dominating form he was showing for Manchester Utd mid-season. We really need to find another striker who can work well alongside him. (In general, I don't rate Defoe that highly, but I thought we looked more dangerous upfront after he came on last night.)

So, we need to beat Slovenia in the last game. That really shouldn't be a tall order.

Froog said...

I'm sorry I didn't stay up for the France v Mexico game now. From the look of the highlights, it was completely one-sided - might well have been a 7-0 or 8-0 drubbing.

Perhaps now, finally, they'll get rid of that clown Domenech, who's been keeping France out of the top rank of European teams for 6 years now. Amazing that he was given the job in the first place. Amazing that he kept it after the Euro '08 debacle.

We do now have that situation I'd speculated about, where Uruguay and Mexico could progress by sitting down in the centre circle and singing peace songs together for 90 minutes. Fortunately, the incentive of not playing Argentina in their first knockout game should be enough to make them contest the match. But I think FIFA ought to be having words with them beforehand, just to be on the safe side.

Richard P said...

Neat of you to curse Spain so effectively.

I spent the month before pointing out that Argentina had the best players and you should never rule out Germany in the World Cup... that was supposed to sink them both, but the jinx that destroyed Huddersfield Town and Yorkshire County Cricket Club seems to have deserted me.

Froog said...

It's not clear whether you've lost your power of jinx or not, Rick.

Germany were looking pretty bloody jinxed last night. (The worst of it is not so much the result itself; or the fact that FIFA will stand by their referee, and not countenance an appeal against Klose's red card ban; but the fact that half a dozen of their players are now on yellows - Joachim Loew will probably have to rotate the side just to reduce the risk of getting too many players suspended at the same time.)

And Argentina?? I don't think the withdrawn role gets the best out of Messi. They struggled to get a win against a mediocre Nigeria (who unaccountably refused to try and take the game to the Argies), and were extremely flattered by the scoreline against Korea (a game which could so easily have turned the other way: if even one of their offside goals had been called, the Koreans might have got right back into it).

Argentina and Germany are never a pushover in the World Cup - but they're certainly not looking likely winners thus far.

JK said...

I think it would be unwise to ignore the potential of Australia to rise up and claim this world cup. The farce of a match against Germany was an obvious ploy to collect all the gambling winnings the players and their partners/families had wagered on Germany to win. How else can you explain such a poor performance? I see an Australia - New Zealand final with the Aussies taking the title 3:1

Froog said...

I don't know what you've been smoking, JK, but I want to try some.

Ghana were a pretty negligible force even with the redoubtable Michael Essien at the heart of their midfield. Without him, they should be a pushover for just about anyone.

On the other hand, that means your boys have probably been able to get really long odds on Ghana winning 3-0.

You're right - it's the only possible explanation.

I wonder if Germany were following your example and betting on Serbia the other night??

Froog said...

For some reason, Blogger is being very inconsistent as to whether it recognises other posts of mine linking to this one.

Thus, you may have missed, for example, my posting a day or two ago the updated 2010 version of Three Lions (complete with a very good - and refreshingly high picture quality - fan video of some the the great moments in England's footballing past).

A week ago on brother blog Froogville, I posted a selection of great England goals, including Gazza's impish piece of wizardry against the Scots at Wembley in Euro 96 and John Barnes out-Brazilling the Brazilians at the Maracana Stadium (in '84, was it?).

We've also had a wonderfully barbed observation on Lionel Messi from JK, my favourite bar owner, and a deft metaphor of my own drawing on the Robert Green cock-up to comment on my own state of being (it's not only Nick Hornby who can play that game), a headline from an American tabloid celebrating the 1-1 result against England as "a win", and some speculation on how they might be reporting the World Cup in the DPRK.

And amongst the articles I've been reading online, I think this blog post from the Football365 website best sums up what's going wrong for Capello and England. We still have a few days to try and put some of it right.

Froog said...

Ah, and how could I have omitted to mention this LEGO re-enactment of the two key moments in last weekend's England v USA clash??

Froog said...

Well, my powers of precognition seem to be returning to me. I'm not going to beat myself up too much about failing to foresee the Spain and Germany upsets (did anyone??), or for being a tad over-optimistic in my hopes for Japan and Cameroon.

I predicted Australia v Ghana would be a 1-1 draw - and I stuck to that, even after Ghana took that early lead and Australia suffered the unjust sending off (and in defiance of one of our German fellow drinkers, normally quite an astute judge of the game, who felt that Ghana would then roll over the Aussies and get another goal or two). Ghana are just dismal: they couldn't impose themselves on the game at all; in fact, they were lucky to hang on to a point; for long periods it looked as though it was they rather than the Australians who were playing a man short.

I had been hopeful that Japan could get a draw out of the Dutch, but suspected that in fact they wouldn't. They move the ball around quite nicely but, alas, they have absolutely nothing up front. But again, the Dutch laboured to an unconvincing win. If the Japs had been able to get a goal from somewhere, I think they would have been very rattled.

Denmark are, for me, the best team in the group. I said a while back that I thought they would be more dangerous than the touch if they could rediscover their scoring touch. Cameroon are a decent team, but lack a cutting edge up front (with Eto'o being wasted in a wide position; a lot of coaches seem to be pursuing such perversity, squandering their most prolific goal scorers in withdrawn, unfamiliar roles - playing Roque Santa Cruz on the left wing isn't helping my little wager on him taking the Golden Boot).

I predicted Paraguay to win fairly comfortably against Slovakia (although I'd thought they might well get a third, but perhaps concede one as well; since they had that powerful header go inches wide, and then had their keeper bring off a great save in the dying minutes - I wasn't too far off).

I called New Zealand v Italy as a 1-1 before the start. I was tempted to revise that to 2-2 when the goals came early, but I never fancied the Italians to win. They have looked pathetic in this tournament so far, even worse than the French: their forwards look like Sunday league donkeys. It's baffling that such a great footballing nation - and such an experienced coach as Lippi - can produce such a godawful team. The Kiwis, on the other hand, are a revelation. They haven't got anything up front, but they defend really well. And they keep the ball. England should be watching this match as a training video!!

Froog said...

"More dangerous than the touch"?!

More dangerous than the Dutch, I meant, of course.

Froog said...

I'm really hoping the DPRK can upset Portugal tonight. It's hard to see them winning, but I think a 1-1 or 2-2 draw is a distinct possibility. If the Koreans manage an early goal, the Portuguese could get seriously unsettled. More realistically, though, Portugal will probably win it narrowly, but with the DPRK again getting a consolation goal.

Chile will take Switzerland 2-1.

And Spain will do Honduras. It would be nice to see them get their mojo back and romp it by 3 or 4 goals, but I'm thinking in fact they'll probably huff and puff again, and have to settle for 1-0 or 2-0.

No jinx here, no jinx here...

Froog said...

Oh, I'd called Brazil v Ivory Coast as a 2-1 - but Fabiano's second goal should have been disallowed for handball, so I was pretty much spot on there as well.

I hope they can get Kaka's red card overturned. He'll be sorely missed in the last game against Portugal. Another unaccountable refereeing balls-up!

I suppose Ivory Coast could still go through, if they manage to stick some goals past the DPRK. At the moment, Drogba is still looking a bit out of sorts, and Kalou was completely ananonymous against Brazil (is he injured?). With those two at the top of their game, they can put the wind up anyone, but at the moment they're a bit of a ho-hum side - and I've always thought of Sven as a quietly efficient rather inspirational kind of manager (ditto Capello, one fears).

Amongst the African sides, only Cameroon and Ivory Coast have enough players playing overseas to mount a decent challenge to the Europeans and South Americans, but so far they've proved to be very disappointing. It will be sad not to have any African teams reach the knockout stage. (But I do fancy Portugal to struggle, maybe drop points against the DPRK tonight, and get spanked by Brazil, even without Kaka, in the final game, so maybe, just maybe....)

Swordsman said...

It appears the jinx has returned. 7-0? I always fancied Portugal to win the group and found it difficult to think they would struggle against North Korea. Makes the Brazil-Portugal match very interesting.

Swordsman said...

Apparently pollsters have now turned to footie predictions:

Froog said...

Aaagh, I really did not want that to happen!

DPRK were in the game for the first half, had more of the ball, made some decent chances. If they'd managed to get a goal, it might have been a whole different story - but they just fell apart in the second half.

Credit to Portugal for finally discovering some fluency and finishing, but.... I don't want to see them progress, didn't want to see them getting such a confidence booster ahead of the showdown with Brazil, didn't want to see them discovering that they can play without Deco.

If they'd been held to a draw or laboured to a narrow victory - as I hoped, anticipated - I think they would like have felt under too much pressure in the last game, and have caved in relatively easily. Now they're in buoyant mood, and facing a side robbed of their best player - they might even win it. Boo!!

Soft spot though I have for the boys from the DPRK, I am now praying that Didier can stick 9 or 10 past them....

The Chile game was very disappointing, I thought: right result for me in the end, but they didn't look a shadow of the team they had against Honduras in the first match.

Haven't seen the Spanish game yet. Waiting for a re-run on CCTV.... that may never happen!

Froog said...

Well, that was a much better performance from my boys. Although Torres is still lacking sharpness. And David Villa was lucky not to get himself sent off for that slap. And missing penalties is never good. And the omission of Fabregas from the starting line-up is a worry...

The Spanish have a nervous few days ahead of them, I fear.

Froog said...


Well, France might finally show us a glimmer of what they should have been capable of, now that it's almost certainly too late for them. However, the spirit in the camp seems so abject that it seems unlikely there'll be much of a renaissance, even against the fairly poor hosts. I'd like to see South Africa get a good result, for pride's sake (although I fear they might miss their first choice keeper; the substitute who came on after the unfortunate - unjust - sending off looked rather shaky). I'm hoping it might be 2-0 or 3-0 to the hosts, but I think a 1-1 is more likely.

Uruguay v Mexico is the night's most interesting fixture. Both sides will be a little cautious, I imagine, since each will qualify with a point from this. But avoiding Argentina in the first knockout game should be a pretty powerful incentive. Uruguay don't really seem to have much apart from Forlan, and Mexico should be in ebullient form after their demolition of the French. I fancy this to be a high-anxiety 2-2 draw... or maybe the Mexicans could sneak a win?

I would so love to see Greece pull off some sort of upset tonight, but I doubt they have it in them. They surprised us all by showing they can play a bit going forwards in the last game, but only after they got the encouragement of seeing the Nigerians reduced to 10 men. I doubt if they'll have the confidence to go after the Argentinians, however badly they need the win to qualify. They are pretty well-drilled in defence, though, and the Argies might get frustrated. If the Greeks can get a lead - a freak goal from somewhere, or a penalty - maybe they could rattle the Argies; although, in practice, I think they'd probably need a two-goal lead to get them really rattled. If the Argies score early, Greece might well fall apart as the two Koreas have done; but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a 0-0 or 1-1..... just to remind everyone that (apart from Messi) Argentina really don't look all that good this year.

South Korea should get past the Nigerians easily enough, although the African lads might manage one goal out of it. 2-1 or 3-1 there, I reckon (I hope that doesn't jink the Koreans!).

Froog said...

Well, my predictions aren't looking too shabby so far.

I was glad that South Africa salvaged some pride - could have won it by two or three (even before the French sending off - a tad harsh? Only saw it once, but it looked like one of those fairly routine raised arm clashes - ugly, but not malicious?), and the new keeper did a decent job. I was delighted with the Uruguay v Mexico match - the best I've seen in the tournament so far: very open and high tempo. Mexico were unlucky not to get a point out of it, although it was a very impressive performance from Uruguay - who are finally starting to show that they have something more than just Forlan, particularly in their defence (although their forward line still fails to impress that much - despite the one good header from Suarez). I know I didn't actually nominate Mexico to go through, finding the group too tough to call at the outset of the competition - but I did say the French would be pants, and the South Africans wouldn't be up to much and would have to ride the home advantage. Mexico looked weak against us in that friendly, and against the South Africans in the opener, but they've improved enormously in the last two games. I just hope they're not overawed by the Argentinians: they may just have it in them to cause an upset, if they have the self-belief.

Much as I anticipated, the Greeks mounted a spirited defence against the Argies, but failed to create much of a threat at the other end: it remained goalless till quite late in the game, but credit to the Argies for sticking to the task. That was their best performance yet, utterly dominating - and they could well have won by four or five, if Messi could just find the inside of the post. I still don't think they've got all that much apart from Messi, but they're growing in confidence in every game - if somebody doesn't stop them soon, they might perhaps go all the way to the final.

The South Koreans have gone through as I expected, although they haven't been quite as impressive as I'd hoped - prone to leaks at the back (and god, what an awful pen to give away!). It's hard to fancy them against Uruguay now, on the form of last night's two games.... but it should be a good match.

I was glad the Nigerians salvaged a bit of pride, particularly pleased for Vincent Enyeama, who - apart from that one unfortunate goof against the Greeks - has been absolutely outstanding, one of the goalkeepers of the tournament. Oh boy, Martins will be haunted by the way he fluffed that late chance. Missing out on qualification by a single goal - by a few widths of the post - will probably make the Nigerians the best-performing African team.

Froog said...

Is FIFA going to do something about this spate of outrageous play-acting?

I don't see any problem with suspending players after a match - for 'bringing the game into disrepute' - if video evidence clearly shows that they were faking (as with that guy who got Kaka sent off the other day).

In fact, as a possibly more effective preventive measure, I'd like to instruct referees that they can yellow card a player for putting his hands to his face. Yes, you might occasionally unfairly penalise a player who is genuinely hurt - but I think that would be a price worth paying with the situation of rampant over-acting we're suffering at the moment. And you should be able to rely on referees exercising a reasonable discretion: a serious blow to the face will usually draw blood, or raise an immediate welt or bruise, so it's not usually very hard to distinguish whether or not a player is making a meal of something (where players have genuinely suffered a facial injury - like the Uruguayan defender who got his eyebrow opened up last night, or the Spaniard who got his front teeth knocked out - they never do put their hands to their face!).

Hands to face - immediate yellow card for presumed play-acting. Just try it.

I think it would immediately rein in most of the acting up, and it shouldn't be too hard for players who are genuinely hurt to try to remember not to put their hands to their face (it's an irritating and unnecessary affectation even if you are in agony!).

Froog said...

I'm a bit nervous about predicting tonight's results - particularly haunted by the suspicion of jinx in games in which I take such a close personal interest.

Yes, I like the Germans - particularly since they were so abused by Fate and an incompetent referee in that last game. Apart from squeaking a win against a very lacklustre Serbia in the first game, the Ghanaians have looked like one of the worst teams in the tournament, and it's difficult to imagine even a nervous and half-strength Germany not being able to knock at least two or three past them, maybe more.

I was also impressed by the spirit the Aussies showed in fighting back against Ghana - and nearly taking the game - with only 10 men. I think they have it in them to beat Serbia, but probably only by the odd goal or two; they'll be relying on the Germans to drub Ghana to close the goal difference gap and put them through. I'd dearly love that to happen, but I don't think it will. I don't want to see Ghana squeak through on goal difference either: they're simply not good enough to be in the last 16. My prediction is that the Serbs will tough out a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, and be hoping the Germans win by at least two clear goals - which they will, so Germany and Serbia qualify.

USA have been reasonably impressive - the best team in a rather poor group - but the Algerians won't be a pushover, particularly in the last game of the group when they're still in with a chance of qualifying. I expect them to make the Yanks work uncomfortably hard, and perhaps even pick up a goal of their own somewhere. But the Yanks should score two.

I'd say exactly the same about the England v Slovenia match - except that England have thus far been the worst team in the Group, and you wonder where a goal might come from.

However, even with multiple injuries, dismal form, low confidence, and an autocratic coach arguably unsuited to international management.... we still should have the class to beat the Slovenians by two or three goals. The lad Birsa is obviously a bit dangerous, but apart from that they've got nothing.

I think we need to drop Lampard (ineffective when Gerrard's anywhere on the pitch), restore Joe Cole (who may not have had much of a season, but is egregiously talented, and will now be itching to get into the action) to one or both wings, and try Defoe up front alongside Rooney (Heskey has been his usual industrious self, but he doesn't click with Rooney, and he doesn't score goals; and having either him or Crouch up front, when our confidence is so low, just encourages us to play hit-n'hope 'route one' stuff). Are you listening, Mr Capello, sir??

Swordsman said...

Well, the yanks did score two. Well prognosticated, sir!

As I pointed out on Cde Meggitt's Facebook page, we now stand to have to play Germany, Argentina, Spain and Brazil, in that order, assuming the other play as expected.

Of course, I'll be supporting Mexico on Sunday afternoon.

Froog said...

Well, winning the World Cup isn't supposed to be easy, is it, Swordsman?

You can't really fancy us to take any of those four, with the kind of form we've been showing so far. If we'd managed to top the Group, we would have had a very winnable game against Ghana (or whoever) in the next round; and once you're in the quarter-finals, anything can happen. As it is, I stand by my pre-tournament prediction: we produce our best display of the tournament, but still go down to Germany.

Froog said...

Last night's performance from England was pretty nearly as abject as the first two.

At least the inclusion of Defoe gave us some chance of getting a goal, and Rooney is starting to get something of his touch back - though he still looks well short of his full pace, and lacking confidence in front of goal too (when he hit that chance against the post, I would have preferred to see some fighting rage, furious self-reproach; instead he just hung his head... not a good sign. Same thing with the Rob Green blunder: if he'd screamed blue murder and kicked the shit out of his goalposts, I would have believed he could bounce back from it; but he just looked dismayed, gutted - and it was apparent that his international goalkeeping career was over right then and there).

Elsewhere, though, the team selection and tactics are still all over the place. Gerrard was advertised as playing wide on the right, but seemed to start on the left - but soon tired of that, and, as he always does, drifted inside. He looked tired and desperate. Lampard was again mostly pretty anonymous; he seemed, as usual, to be following the B-52s' injunction to Roam, if you want to... (which at least gave me an excuse to down a shot!), which, as usual, left us with a shapeless and leaky midfield. Milner, apart from a few half-decent crosses, looked fairly inept - just not international class, I don't think.

At least Joe Cole finally got a run out, though too late in the game to have much of an impact. Has he been struggling with an injury, or does Capello just not like him? Why's he in the squad, if Capello is so reluctant to use him? Why is Milner in the squad - rather than Stewart Downing, Adam Johnson, or Scott Parker? Why is Carrick in the squad, after a fairly poor season with Man Utd, and an absolutely abysmal showing in the warm-up games?

Why was Ferdinand in the squad when there was such a huge question-mark over his fitness? (His whole season has been compromised by injury - and, class player though he is, it would be difficult to justify picking him on form, even if he were fully fit.) Why was the perpetually injury-haunted Ledley King made his understudy? Why are the over-the-hill Carragher, and the inexperienced Upson and Dawson filling out the ranks, rather than the lately rejuvenated Sol Campbell? Why do we have no cover at right-back? (Steven Gerrard would almost inevitably end up playing there if we progressed to the latter stages!)

Why the heck is the past-it and non-goal-scoring Heskey preferred to a promising youngster like Agbonlahor? (I've been a supporter/defender of big Bruno in the past, but he's, what, 32, 33 now: his day is past. You have to respect Martin O'Neill's judgment on this: Agbonlahor's been his regular starter, while Heskey's rarely even been called off the bench in the second half of the season.)

Why was Rob Green ever preferred to Joe Hart and Ben Foster? Why has Hart - surely the most in-form English keeper this season - not been given a chance to prove himself?

These are all quite baffling - nay, daft - decisions. And I think they raise serious doubts about whether Fabio Capello is such a genius and a miracle-worker as everyone would have us believe.

Froog said...

Capello might be tactically shrewd, but there's always been a doubt about his man-management and motivational skills; and his arrogance, dourness, and complete lack of diplomatic finesse - with players, fans, media, administration - have often caused him problems. His last spell at Real was particularly torrid, and I gather he's widely reviled by the fans there - even though he won them another title (it was rather gifted to them by a late-season implosion from Barcelona, and ranks as one of their worst season performances in quite a few years).

International management requires a very different skill-set to club management. Experience of managing on the Continent, or in European competition, is useful for developing tactical diversity and sophistication, but on the whole, I'd rather have someone who's had experience of international management - and/or experience in the English leagues, someone who better knows the English players and the environment they play in each week; someone who's completely familiar with their preferred styles or tactical systems, their little psychological quirks and foibles; someone who can "speak their language", literally and metaphorically.

Not necessarily a manager from one of the top clubs, either. Those guys get rather spoiled. Piecing together a well-balanced and well-motivated side from very limited resources - the achievements of a Sam Allardyce or Harry Redknapp - are a better training for the England job, I would suggest.

I think that's a large part of Capello's problem. He's only worked with the very top clubs - where there were superb scouting and coaching set-ups, large squads, huge transfer budgets, and an established record of domestic success, not to say dominance. If you already have a winning team, and almost unlimited resource to maintain it at that peak, perhaps that isn't such a hard job. I wonder if Capello's stellar record comes down to much more than If it ain't broke, don't break it. But last time out at Madrid, he pretty much did break it. You know, if I had mega-talents like Gullit, Del Piero, Totti and Raul at my disposal, I think I might be able to win some championships too.

Trying to manage a team drawn from such a limited talent pool as England must be very frustrating for a man who has known little but success in his career. I just don't feel Capello is the right personality for the England job. I'd love him to prove me wrong, to show us some of his supposed 'magic' again. But thus far, I'd say at least 90% of our problems in this tournament have been down to him.

God, I wish we'd gone for Mourinho instead. I wonder if we might still have a chance of getting him one day? If not, step forward Sir Harry Redknapp, I say....

Froog said...

Were you complaining that the Yanks' first "goal" should have stood, Swordsman?

I only saw a single replay of it, but it looked clearly offside to me.

Froog said...

I think my predictions are holding up pretty reasonably so far.

I said France wouldn't make it out of their Group. I said Holland and Italy might not. I said England would, though undeservedly. I maintained Germany and Spain would still go through despite the unforeseen early setbacks they suffered.

I predicted Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, USA and Korea to make the last 16 - which probably not a lot of people did. And I fancy USA and Paraguay (and, maybe, Korea?) to make the quarter-finals. I think I could have picked up a nice piece of cash from the bookies for calling all of that.

Froog said...

God, though, the Yanks made me suffer last night. I salute them to plugging away right to the last. I also have to applaud Algeria, who were a way better team than most people gave them credit for; they may not have been able to mount any threat going forward, but they defended very well indeed - apart from that one unfortunate goalkeeping blunder against Slovenia, they'd played over 270 minutes of football without conceding - pretty damned impressive.

Some will no doubt carp that the Yanks were lucky to qualify at the last gasp like that, but I reckon they deserved it: their performances in all three games had shown them to be - thus far - a much better side than England (or anyone else in this Group). And that game against Algeria was a much better one than our nervous huff-and-puff against the Slovenians.

It's an indication of how dire we've been so far, and how desperate/delusional our press and fans have become, that last night's England performance can be hailed by some as a 'turnaround'. We won against a nothing team by a single goal, but suffered numerous moments of panic at our own end; an equaliser by the Slovenians would have put us out; we hung on by the skin of our teeth. I'm happy - well, relieved - with the result, but very unimpressed with the performance.

Germany were under the cosh a bit as well. Credit to the Ghanaians for producing their best performance of the competition so far - but they still look utterly toothless in attack, and I can't see how they could trouble the USA in the next game. The Jerries were nervous, and missing Klose badly, but.... they kept at it, didn't get too rattled or impatient. And the young keeper, Neuer, is starting to look very solid. Even so, to squeak through by a single goal, and to have to wait 60 minutes for that, and to have the Ghanaians making vague threats of equalising in the latter stages.... well, it wasn't at all the result that they, or I, wanted.

At least they're through, in first place. But it looks like Schweinsteiger - their best player in recent years - picked up a nasty muscle strain in the back of his thigh; and the goalscorer Moesil was limping badly from a knock on the ankle at the end; and half, more than half, of the first choice starters are on a yellow card. And they don't seem to have any established strikers other than Klose.... Things are not looking good for the Germans at the moment; it may be decades before we have a better chance to beat them again in a major tournament. But with the state of our team at the moment, I just can't see us doing it.

Froog said...

I was rather annoyed that Ghana got through. In general, I've been hoping for the African nations to do well, but Ghana have been fairly conspicuously the worst of the bunch in this tournament. And I find myself irritated that they have been widely touted as the best African nation - and perhaps even potential winners of the whole tournament! - here in Beijing, largely by people from countries that have no interest in football and really ought to keep their mouths shut (to wit, Australia, Canada...). If they hadn't got that late goal against Serbia, if Australia hadn't unluckily had a man sent off early in the game, Ghana wouldn't even have been still in contention last night. If Germany hadn't been under such pressure (and missing their best - only - forward) after the freakish loss to Serbia, Ghana would have been spanked 3-0 or 4-0 last night. Ghana do not deserve to be in the last 16, and will not progress any further.

Australia and Serbia produced the best game of the night, an end-to-end humdinger. Looks to me like the Serbs were a bit unlucky, with a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside. The Aussies were, I think, as per my pre-tournament assessment, the best of the rest in Germany's group, but they left themselves a mountain to climb after that horrible opening match against Germany (I don't think you can entirely blame the coach's over-conservative tactics: the whole team showed too much respect, too much fear to the Germans; and the central defenders both had a bit of a nightmare). And when they opened their second match with their best attacking player being harshly sent off early on, it was obvious that Fate was conspiring against them in the tournament.

Alas, poor Oz - the first of my picks to fall by the wayside. (Well, no, I suppose Cameroon were out of contention after Game 2, and I had been hoping they might be capable of dislodging Holland or Denmark from their spots in the next round.)

There will be others of my predictions to go awry as well, I'm sure. Ivory Coast look as good as dead. And Spain and Japan have very tough final games...

Froog said...

Predictions for tonight: I backed Japan at the outset, so I'd like to see them go through - but I fear Denmark might be just a bit too strong for them. I'm hoping Japan can get a 1-1 or 2-2 draw, and go through on goal difference.

Cameroon are playing for pride only. They really ought to be one of the best of the African teams, but they just haven't clicked this time. I am hopeful that they might find some inspiration in this last game, and go out and cause an upset - if only to remind people that, thus far, Holland haven't looked like much of a team. Cameroon have it in them to win - but perhaps only if they give their best player, Samuel Eto'o, a freer role to go looking for goals (perhaps not as an outright centre forward, but as a withdrawn striker or attacking midfielder). However, I fear that in practice the best they'll be able to do is hold the Dutch to a 1-1 or 2-2 draw.

New Zealand have looked quite impressive in defence (if rather overly physical, which could get them into trouble), but really have nothing much in attack. And I don't fancy them being able to shut out Paraguay. They'd be doing well to hold them to a 1-0, but I think if the Paraguayans manage an early breakthrough, they'll probably get 2 or 3, maybe more.

If Italy didn't look capable of winning a match even when they were trying to, I think it's very unlikely that they'll do so tonight. They won't put themselves out too much when a draw will be sufficient to get them through, but they have little realistic prospect of overtaking Paraguay to win the group. I'd love to see Slovakia take a lead, to put the Eyeties under some pressure... but the chances of that are fairly slim. I'm hoping, hoping that just maybe we'll end up with a humdinger of a 2-2 or 3-3 draw, but the smart money's on a 0-0.

Froog said...

So, my god, we got the humdinger!!!

I was wary of predicting the Eyeties to go out, because I didn't want to give them the benefit of a positive jinx!

And, to be honest, I thought that - awful as they had been thus far - if they played for a draw, they could almost certainly get one.

And it's dangerous to write Italy off, because, well, they do have one of those reputations of being "slow starters" - or rather, perhaps, of being near-impossible to beat even when they're playing CRAP, and thus obstinately hanging around until the latter stages of tournaments, where... occasionally... they suddenly come up with a moment of inspiration (the triumphal rehabilitation of bribe-taking Paolo Rossi in the 1982 quarter-final; the young Roberto Baggio mocking the coach's hesitancy to play with a swaggering solo goal in 1990; Alessandro Del Piero's international swansong last time out, an amazing supersub appearance that stole the semi-final from Germany in the dying minutes of extra time). Dire as their first two performances had been, it was difficult to shake the suspicion that they might yet be capable of pulling something like that off again.

But their problems this time were rather more deep-seated than just being "a bit slow out of the blocks". Marcello Lippi's excessive caution has become positively pathological. The core of the team - Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Gattuso, and Camoranesi - are all now well past their prime (and really were not playing well in this tournament, any of them). They don't seem to have any proven strikers (Iaquinta looked like he would struggle to hit the side of a barn). And Buffon's injury was a HUGE blow: he's been the best keeper in the world for the past decade - Marchetti is a very, very poor substitute (Gigi almost certainly would have saved at least one of those Slovakian goals last night, if not all three).

The thing about "playing for a draw" - against a fairly weak team like Slovakia - is that you have to attack conservatively: keep your defenders a little deeper, don't throw too many midfielders forward, be wary of the counter, but.... ATTACK. Italy came out to DEFEND for the entire 90 minutes. Slovakia revelled in the amount of space they were being given, and took heart from their early goal. Did Lippi change anything? NO! The Slovakians continued to mount wave after wave of attacks, and Italy offered almost nothing in response. If Slovakia's finishing had been better, they could have been 3-0 or 4-0 up by half-time.

Even at the half, Lippi didn't change anything! The Italians came came out as defence-minded as before, sitting deep, keeping 7 or 8 men back behind the ball at all times, not pushing up in support of the dismal forward pair. The Slovakians continued to grown in confidence: another goal had become inevitable.

Only when the Slovakians finally went two up did Italy start to go after the game! In the last 15 minutes or so, they finally started to show what they're capable of. Credit to them for a very spirited fight-back, and almost tying it up in the dying minutes.

They'll probably whinge that they were robbed, having two "goals" denied them - but I think both of those decisions, though tight, were quite correct.

And they just didn't deserve to win it. Their tactics had been all wrong in this game. Their attitude had been all wrong (cheating, whining, play-acting bastards!). They'd been complete pants in all three games (until the very end, at least), and were comprehensively outplayed by Slovakia for most of this one.

Bye-bye, Italy. So long, and good riddance. The tournament is better off without your arrogance, your petulance (Lippi stomping off without shaking hands with the other coach!), and your stultifyingly dull defensiveness.

Froog said...

The thing that really got my blood up was that ugly tussle in the back of the goal.

I like Howard Webb; I think he's probably the best ref in the Premiership (and our likeliest representative in the Final here), and he did a very good job in this game, not putting up with much play-acting or time-wasting from either side.

However, I was mystified by his response to this incident. What the hell did the Slovakian keeper get booked for? Was this just a misguided attempt at "even-handedness"? Did Webb (who was on the scene very sharpish) notice something we couldn't catch on television - some provocation or retaliation, or some angry words directed at the ref? Did he think he was guilty of making too much of a meal of it, or of some kind of time-wasting? I couldn't see anything like that.

I didn't notice him book either of the two Italians involved at the time, although I gather one of them did get a card. Why not both of them? And WHY NOT RED??

One of them charged into the keeper from behind, and then the second immediately started mobbing him too - when he was lying on the ground, possibly injured - and appeared to try to stamp on him. Utterly disgraceful!

I was incensed by that. Any slight sympathy I might have had for the Italians - based on the strength of their late comeback last night or the beauty of the football they have occasionally produced in years past - evaporated right then and there.

It would have been a travesty of justice if they'd been able to pull off a win or a draw after a disgusting piece of foul play like that had gone almost completely unpunished.

Froog said...

The other games on Thursday night - I was happy (and a little surprised) the Japanese managed to win in style. I think it might have been quite otherwise if Denmark had scored first. I hadn't realised the Danes were so shaky at the back (and the keeper, Sorensen, especially so: those free-kicks were accurate and sweetly struck, but really not all that hard.... and he nearly conceded three of them!).

I'm still not that impressed by the Dutch, but they have admittedly come through a tough-ish Group fairly comfortably, and have been getting slightly better in each game. If Arjen Robben really has shaken off his injury, he can be a transformative force for them (as we glimpsed during his 20-minute run out last night). And if Robin Van Persie is starting to find his scoring touch again, maybe they won't have such a hard time converting all their possession into goals from now on. However, I still think, in general, that they're vulnerable at the back, will be missing Van Der Sar for some time, and just aren't firing on all cylinders (Sneijder has been their best player so far, but even he's been nothing like the constant danger he was in the Euros two years ago). Can they go any further? I doubt it. Not without a major step up in peformance.

I'm glad Cameroon at least made them work for it a bit last night - but they've been perhaps my biggest disappointment of the tournament, not playing to their potential at all.

The Paraguay v New Zealand match was pretty dull stuff. Congratulations to the Kiwis for remaining unbeaten (and finishing ahead of Italy - hahahahahahahahahaha!!!!), but playing a 7-man defence didn't make for a pretty game. Even so, I was disappointed that Paraguay couldn't find a way to break them down: if their going to live up to my hopes and progress to the quarter-finals, or maybe even the semis, they really ought to be able to overcome a side like this. I sensed a certain lack of ambition from the Paraguayans, a suggestion that they were content to settle for the draw which would almost certainly see them qualify top (a dangerous outlook, given that the Kiwis did manage to mount a few decent attacks themselves).

Froog said...

Tonight's predictions:

Well, of course, Brazil v Portugal has the potential to be a fantastic game (and perhaps a rehearsal for the Final), but... there might be a lack of competitive fire about them, since they're both through anyway (and since it's very uncertain how their sister group will pan out, and there's not that much to choose between the two likely qualifiers, Chile and Spain, as next round opponents).

I'm hoping that pride will be enough to motivate them to turn on their best stuff. (Remember that astonishing last group game between France and Holland in Euro 2000? Although they were both resting a lot of key players, it was a tremendously hard-fought - and high-scoring - match.)

It will be interesting to see how well Brazil can function without Kaka. And it will be interesting to see if Portugal can turn it on against top-flight opposition. They struggled against a sadly out-of-sorts Ivory Coast in the first match, and were far from overwhelming the DPRK in the first half. However, the goal glut they enjoyed in the second half against the Koreans will have done great things for their confidence, and I suppose most people would be making them narrow favourites tonight. Not me. I don't think they've got that much class about them, apart from Deco and Ronaldo (and Ronaldo doesn't have the fighting spirit of a Zidane or a Messi; he's not the kind of player who takes a game by the scruff of the neck if things are going against his team).

I'd like to see Brazil consolidate their credentials as likely world champions with a solid 2-1 or 3-1 win: but I fear a 1-1 or 2-2 draw is more likely.

I'd hate to see the DPRK humiliated so thoroughly again, but.... I'm not sure that they know any other way to play. It's the Chollima spirit: if they fall behind, they just go all out for attack, and trust in the inspirational leadership of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il to work some sort of miracle for them.... and they fall apart in defence.

Well, in fact, I have to lay my traditional English sentiment for underdogs aside on this occasion, because I despise the prima-donna-ish Portuguese and their poncey mascara-wearing poster boy so much that I'd really like to see the Ivory Coast close that enormous goal difference deficit and edge them out of qualifying. I think if they can get an early breakthrough to unhinge the Koreans, Didier should be good for at least a double hat-trick, and two or three of his team mates ought to be able to make a contribution as well. Ah, a man can dream...

The late games are probably going to be much tighter and tenser. Switzerland could throw a spanner in the works if they manage a good victory against Honduras, but their strengths lie in defence rather than attack. And Honduras aren't at all a bad side, I don't think; I'd like to see them salvage some pride with a good performance tonight - I think they can certainly hold the Swiss to a 1-1 draw, and perhaps even beat them 1-0 or 2-0.

I think Spain can beat Chile, but it's going to be very, very close - maybe 2-1. Chile have it in them to cause an upset here, but both sides are likely to be very nervous, and perhaps a draw is more likely. (Although Spain will presumably be battling like crazy to avoid that, since I guess Switzerland would qualify ahead of them even with a 1-1 draw against Honduras - on the basis of their head-to-head record.)

Jia you, Xibanya! This is the moment of truth - please don't let me down. Please don't let yourselves down. You are certainly one of the 5 or 6 best teams in this tournament, probably one of the best 2 or 3: it would be a tragedy for you go out this early.

Gary said...

Much respect to your powers of prediction, Mr Froog! I don't see a whole lot of jinxing going on here.

I think maybe this is going to be the year that soccer finally breaks into mass consciousness here in the States. We've been getting way more media coverage this time than we did back when we were hosting it in the 90s, especially since Landon's last minute winner on Wednesday.

Go, USA!

Froog said...

Why, thank you, Gary.

I don't get a lot of respect from my English buddies around here.

(Unless you were being sarcastic?)

Good luck to Team USA! I've been rooting for them all along, but especially since their tenacious fight-back from the unexpected two-goal deficit against Slovenia - that showed a lot of heart.

We did you a big favour by allowing you to finish top of the Group. And then the Germans did you a HUGE favour by allowing Ghana to finish second in theirs. You've got a free pass through to the quarter-finals now. And once there, well you only need another couple of wins to make it to the Final. (Or a couple of draws even - how are your boys on penalties? Do you still have penalty shootouts to break a tie in the American league? If so, I'd think your team would be pretty darned good at them.)

Interesting that you feel the World Cup's getting more attention over there this time. I remember watching the '94 tournament in America, and seeing the stadiums half-empty most of the time. And I was Greyhounding through America when the '98 tournament was being played in France, and it was often pretty difficult to get a sports bar to play the games at all - if there was any baseball on. In Chicago, I passed the sports field where the German squad were training - and only about a dozen people had turned out to watch. I was in awe, thinking "My god, that's Jurgen f***ing Klinsmann 100 yards away over there" (he was a fantastic striker who had a great spell with Tottenham Hotspur at the end of his career, and so had become a big hero in England); most of the local people seemed not to know or care who these amazing sportsmen were. Rather sad.

But maybe the Landon Donovan show is finally going to change all that. I gather he's playing to try to win back the love of his ex-wife? Aw, sweet.

Great football, and soap opera, too.

Froog said...

So, last night's final group games went much as I'd expected (or feared, in the Brazil v Portugal case).

A goalless draw from two such big names was a major disappointment, but not all that unexpected in the circumstances. Portugal seemed to come out in the first half determined only to defend, and take away a 0-0 for a safe qualification. Perhaps it was only the news that Ivory Coast had got two early goals against the DPRK (and had another disallowed for a marginal offside, and hit the woodwork twice...) that prompted them to adopt a more positive approach in the second half.

Brazil do look emasculated without Kaka. And it's also disturbing how ragged their defence looks at times; although there was a touch of lethargy about them last night, since the game didn't really matter much. (I trust Dunga is on the case; It looked like he was getting pretty agitated about the state of his team!) And they have picked up a worryingly large number of yellow cards now. Not all plain sailing for the Boys from Brazil, I fear...

Mixed feelings for the other game: quite pleased for the Koreans that they kept their shape and discipline much better than they had against Portugal, and came out of the game with some honour (though another goal for them would have been nice). Ivory Coast got off to a decent start, but ran out of ideas in the second half. Drogba never reached more than 60% or 70% of his full, fearsome capacity, and the rest of the team was pretty muted too; considering the wealth of talent they have in their squad, it's been a very, very poor performance from these boys - 'Group of Death' or no.

I was mightily relieved to see Spain go through top of the Group (and with the scoreline I predicted), although the continuing abysmal form of Fernando Torres is a major concern. I also feel rather sorry for Chile (and antagonistic towards my former darlings, the Spanairds) over that unjust sending-off. The amount of play-acting in this tournament has just got ridculous, and FIFA really needs to do something drastic about it.

I was pleased, too, that Honduras at least got a point out of the tournament. And their clash with the Swiss was quite an entertaining match: they're both short of finishing power, but it was a vigorous end-to-end game.

I suppose I'd better revisit my predictions for the Round of 16, now that all the Group results are in...

Froog said...

Revised thoughts on the Round of 16....

Uruguay v Korea
(NB I picked both of these at the outset!) Originally I favoured Korea. I still do, sentimentally; the old English affinity for the underdog, and a hope to see Asian teams impose themselves more on the world rankings. However, I've found their form thus far to be a tad disappointing - haven't seen the Park Ji-sung who's been such a revelation at Man U over the past couple of seasons. Uruguay, meanwhile, have been way better than I'd expected - although I'm not convinced that they have much firepower, and they rely too heavily on Forlan to make them tick. It should be a good match. A bit too close to call. I'll go for Korea by 2-1 or 3-1... but I can imagine it might well go down to pens.

USA v Ghana
(OK, so I goofed there. But I still maintain that Australia were clearly the second best team in Germany's Group, and were desperately unlucky.) Ghana looked rather better against Germany than they had in their first two games, and might perhaps step their game up, buoyed by being the only African team still in it. This, though, is one of those matches where - if you played it ten times - the Ghanaians would be lucky to win once. On form so far, the USA should cruise it. Well, they'll win it 2-0 or 3-0, I should think.

Argentina v Mexico
(I'm claiming Mexico amongst my picks, dammit! I only said I hoped South Africa could do it, but doubted they could - even with the following wind of all those vuvuzelas.)
It's nice to see old Diego rehabilitated (no, really), looking healthy and happy again. And he's clearly quite an inspiration figure. But I'm not sure that he can coach his way out of a paper bag (hence the awful struggle Argentina had to qualify for this World Cup). Apart from the attack, Argentina really haven't got very much. And even the attacks not firing on all cylinders: we haven't seen much of Tevez; favouring Higuain over Milito is somewhat baffling; and the withdrawn role doesn't get the best out of Messi (still no goals in this tournament, from one of the most prolific scorers in the game?). Mexico will hopefully have taken some confidence from their demolition of the French. Realistically, they are a class below the Argentinians (and Messi will terrify any defence), but I think Argentina are vulnerable. I'm praying for a 2-1 Mexico win (or maybe extra time, maybe penalties).

Germany v England
(Again, I called it!) Germany have all sorts of injury and suspension problems, and confidence rocked by their uphill experience in qualifying through the Group. However, with a team with as much character and experience as them, I fear it may be a case of Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I said the other day that England may not have a better chance to beat Germany in a major tournament for decades - but, on present form, it's almost impossible to imagine it happening. And, to be honest, I really don't think I want it to happen. Germany are a way better team, and will give us more entertainment in the quarters and semis. England are lucky to have made it this far; I think they'll be catching a plane on Monday. Germany 2-1.

Froog said...

Holland v Slovakia
(OK, so here's the one major goof-up in my preliminary predictions. I thought Holland might struggle to qualify at all, and could certainly be bumped down into second by Japan. I thought Italy, however over-the-hill they were, couldn't fail to finish second in such a weak group. Well, it's a funny old game, indeed...)
Holland, despite winning all three games, have failed to impress me so far. They've had a lot of posession against sides who were a little bit overawed by them; but they did bugger-all with it - fairly few clearcut chances made, and those that were made were spurned by a badly out-of-form Van Persie. If Robben can play 90 minutes, then they're a completely different prospect. But if he's still hampered by his thigh strain, then I think the Dutch will struggle. Slovakia must be in euphoric mood after their sensational victory over Italy; and I think they may now have it in them to cause one or two more upsets in this tournament. Slovakia 2-1.

Brazil v Chile
(Again, I called it! Some people really thought Portugal were going to win Group G??!!) Brazil have got their problems (not least a cluster of yellow cards hanging over them); and Chile are a very decent side. But you have to favour the Brazilians - 2-1 or 3-1 to Brazil, I'd say; although I hope Chile can make a close game of it.

Paraguay v Japan
(Well, I had Japan down to qualify from Group E, but had over-optimistically suggested they might even get the top spot.) It should be a very good game. Japan will be on a high after their last group game, but, honestly, that result really flattered them - it came principally from the Danish keeper being crap on free-kicks. I don't think Paraguay will be doing them those sorts of favours. On the other hand, Paraguay had a frustrating time against the packed New Zealand defence the other night, and may have lost some of their confidence in front of goal. Another 2-1, I think - to Paraguay.

Spain v Portugal
(Well, darn - I really didn't want to see the poncey Portuguese qualify; and if the Ivory Coast, and the prodigious Didier Drogba, had been at something like full strength, they wouldn't have.)
Spain still aren't purring very sweetly: they're lacking width; Fernando Torres, the 2nd best centre forward in the English Premiership, has been replaced with a clumsy clone; and the continuing omission of Cesc Fabregas from the starting 11 is a source of bafflement to me. However, even with all of these problems, Spain are still way better than Portugal. And, hopefully, their morale should be much higher now that they've dug themselves out of that hole the unexpected defeat by the Swiss had left them in. Portugal got a big boost from their second half trouncing of the DPRK (though it shouldn't be forgotten that in the first half, the Koreans were making a game of it), and a few dangerous spells against the Brazilians last night. However, my analysis is basically this: what real class have they got apart from Ronaldo? Only Deco, who appears to be injured (and overweight). And Ronaldo is not a centre forward. He plays best as a withdrawn striker, or a winger, ghosting into the box occasionally for an unmarked header. Playing him in the middle on his own effectively guarantees that: a) he probably won't score himself, because he doesn't like having to deal with the constant attention of central defenders; and b) he won't lay on much for anyone else, because he's not spending enough time in the wide or deep positions in which he is most creative. Spain to win it 2-0. (Yes, yes, OK, Portugal might score one, but no more than that, I don't think. And I'd fancy Spain to get 3 or 4, if they were playing with the kind of fluency and confidence they showed in Euro '08.)

Gary said...

OK, so you ARE a jinx!

Are you doing this deliberately to try to give England a chance?

Froog said...

Sorry about that, Gary. I don't believe in such superstitious nonsense myself, but it can seem an intriguing coincidence when I (or one of old college friends who occasionally look in here to contribute their punditry) has a particularly striking run of correct (or incorrect!) preditions.

It hadn't occurred to me to try to 'improve' England's chances by speaking against them on here - but I dare say some of my friends may take comfort from that thought. We do, after all, need some kind of supernatural intervention...

Froog said...

Well, I did say that my backing of Korea was more a heart than a head kind of thing. And I did say I thought it would be very, very close. If that early free kick that curled against the outside of the post with the Uruguayan keeper well beaten had just managed to sneak in, the match might have taken a very different course. Instead, just a few minutes later, Uruguay went ahead after that terrible misjudgement by the Korean keeper, feebly letting Forlan's low cross go by him when Suarez was waiting unmarked beyond the far post. The Koreans' heads dropped a bit at that, and the Uruguayans enjoyed quite a spell of sustained pressure. However, the Koreans clawed their way back into very gamely; indeed, for a short while after their equaliser they looked like they were going to take the lead. And even after that delightful curler from Suarez, they kept coming back - oh so nearly got a second equaliser in the dying minutes. A cracking game!

I'm sorry to see Korea go out, but they gave a good account of themselves. And Uruguay impress me more and more. They seem to be improving in each game, and are starting to look like they might just have the wherewithal to win it.

Froog said...

OK, so it appears I was unduly dismissive of Ghana.

However, last night's team was unrecognisable as the one that had struggled through Group D, labouring to a lucky win against a lame Serbia, and then getting pretty comprehensively outplayed by a 10-man Australia. Really, unrecognisable: when they came out in those red shirts, I wondered for a while if it was a completely different set of players (CCTV5 re-runs dispense with such distracting frivolities as the team lists [in English] and tactical formation diagrams). Perhaps that change strip brings them luck? Or is this "playing for Africa" thing really such a huge boost??

The Americans, by contrast, looked somehow rather jaded in this game. Perhaps physically (and emotionally?) exhausted by their two tense games against Slovenia and Algeria? Or perhaps just suffering from "altitude sickness", disoriented at finding themselves unexpectedly in the knockout phase. Whatever it was, they weren't showing quite the same fighting spirit as they had in those earlier games. The Ghanaians were playing with far more pace and energy. In comparison with them, the Americans often appeared to be moving in slow-motion.

The somewhat over-physical Africans always looked in danger of giving away a penalty or two (or free-kicks in dangerous areas... or getting a man sent off), but apart from that, the Americans weren't able to mount much of a threat. And the Ghanaian keeper was in fine form, particularly in dealing with crosses (OK, mostly punching rather than catching them; but that's often the only course, and he was doing it well).

Ghana have always been very robust in defence - often frustrating their opponents, boring them to death, and then stealing the odd goal on a quick counter-attack. However, thus far in this tournament, they hadn't often been any sort of threat in front of goal. Then, last night, they come up with two stunning finishes out of nothing!!

It would be nice to see the "playing for the honour of the whole continent" mystique inspiring them to greater and greater heights from here on, but.... I rather suspect that this great performance against the USA will be the highlight of their tournament. I don't see them having the beating of Uruguay. (And it looks as though Prince Boateng - their outstanding player in the first half - has done his hamstring. That will be a most unfortunate loss for them.)

Gary said...

So the anti-jinx didn't work?

Sorry, man. You gave them a good game but they were a class above.

That goal they didn't give you sucked ass. How can they not have review on VT in this sport?

Froog said...

No, I didn't manage to jinx the Germans by predicting they'd win. Maybe this will lay to rest the baseless accusation that I am a jinx. Most of my predictions thus far have been phenomenally accurate.

The one consolation I take from last night's inexplicable officiating cock-up over the Lampard goal is that perhaps now - after witnessing such an egregious miscarriage of justice to the benefit of his own country - even the loathesome Sepp Blatter may finally be shamed into dropping his opposition to video replays.

With game incidents like this being replayed immediately on stadium screens (and readily available on mobile devices), it's placing officials in a ridiculous, invidious position - unable to revise decisions that everyone knows were wrong.

Froog said...

The Mexico v Argentina game was a corker, and the final scoreline flattered the Argies. Mexico were the better team for long spells. They played some very slick football, and probably created more scoring chances overall.

It's unfortunate that they got a bit rattled by that unjust opening goal (another instance where instant video replay by the 4th official could have saved everyone a lot of embarrassment). At least four of Argentina's goals in this tournament should have been disallowed as offside; I wonder if FIFA isn't conspiring to help them, because they (or Messi) are a 'big name' that the sponsors want to see reach the Final.

However, the Mexicans really should have kept their composure a bit better. Throwing away a stupid second goal a couple of minutes later was unforgivable. Square ball across the edge of the penalty area, with two attackers in close attendance - what the fuck?? Even if the fullback hadn't scuffed it, it would still have been a suicidal ball. And what the hell was the keeper doing dropping to his knees in despair rather than trying to stop Higuain walking it into the goal? That was so unbelievably BAD you almost suspect those players had been bribed. At least the rest of the team stuck to the task and made a great game of it. A pity their goal came too late to change things. And a pity they found themselves chasing a three-goal deficit. Two goals they might have got back, but three was always looking a bit too much.

Froog said...

As I predicted, England looked a lot better in this game than they had previously, fought hard, left with some honour. There were still some baffling tactical decisions by Capello, though. Why was the largely ineffectual Milner on the pitch? Why was Gerrard nominally on the left again (a positional instruction he largely ignored)? Why were the pace of Lennon or the tricksiness of Cole ignored, when we so obviously needed something different to try to break the Germans down? Why did we leave it so late to make a substitution? Why was Rooney left on when he looked so jaded, was hardly getting a kick? And why was that (so late in the day as to be pointless, but still...) substitution HESKEY, rather than Crouch?? Somewhere beyond baffling.

Above all, why was David James our keeper - rather than the brimful-of-confidence Joe Hart, who was consistently brilliant for Birmingham this season? James is a big lad, and he's got a good pair of hands, but.... he's never impressed consistently with his positional sense, nor does he seem to have that dominating confidence about him that intimidates or flusters attackers. It's perhaps a bit harsh to fault him for the goals last night, since they were all extremely well taken; but you have to feel that a really top-class keeper should have saved at least one of them... or at least got something on the shots. I don't think he spread himself very well for Klose's opener, he allowed Podolski's shot to go right through his legs, and for the fourth - having done well to get across his goal sharply - his attempt to smother Muller's shot was a bit feeble. And on the third (which he did at least manage to deflect on to the post) it looked as though he anticipated it was going the other side of him: he seemed to be throwing his arms to the right to make a catch or parry, rather than throwing his legs to the left to make a low block; in effect, he simply moved his body out of the way of the shot, although a late readjustment got an elbow to the ball. Not terrible goalkeeping perhaps, but certainly not stellar either.

So, we fought back well from the early disasters, and enjoyed a period of dominance where we were getting the Germans rattled. If we had tied it up at 2-2, perhaps things would have turned out differently. But somehow, I doubt it. The Germans were on balance a much, much better team than us - and looked at times as if they could score at will. They cut us to ribbons five or six times with slick diagonal passing movements - playing the ball on the ground, whereas we were mostly just hoiking it forward in the air.

As I've observed a couple of times before, when you make a mistake or suffer a piece of ill fortune, I'd like to see a fiery response: martial rage, fuming determination to make amends. Our heads dropped a bit when the Lampard goal was unfairly disallowed (Frank was still whingeing about it at half-time), when we should have just been redoubling our efforts to score another one. You sensed that this was going to become our excuse for the defeat - rather than that we were the second best team.

(You can't help feeling also that it was some sort of karmic payback for 1966. Our one victory in the World Cup is somewhat tainted by the knowledge that our crucial third goal in the final probably shouldn't have counted. I've seen that replay dozens of times, and I don't think anyone really believes that ball was over the line.)

Froog said...

I've committed many bizarre typos in this thread (missing the opportunity to revise afforded by Blogger's regular 'compose' function!), but one of the oddest is surely that in this comment I somehow managed to refer to Germany's promising young Turkish midfielder (and scorer of the crucial goal in their victory over Ghana) Mesut Oezil as Moesil - my apologies. Brainfade caused by massively disrupted sleep patterns over the past two or three weeks.

I was glad to see that Oezil and Schweinsteiger were back in action against us after suffering injuries late in the Ghana game. I would not wanted to have prevailed over a sub-strength opponent - but England were so awful in this tournament, the German reserves could probably have given us a spanking.

Froog said...

Slovakia were OK last night, but not apparently benefitting much from a surge in spirits after their defeat of Italy. Perhaps they were, on the contrary, just a bit emotionally burned out by the closeness of the finish in that encounter (much as the Americans had seemed to be against Ghana, after pulling off that splendid last-ditch winner against Algeria). They still played some quite sprightly football, but they just didn't quite have that extra oomph that you need to help you get past a more technically gifted team; and they didn't have the finishing to match their sometimes slick approach work. At least the late penalty for them stopped the scoreline flattering Holland too much.

As I said, Holland with Robben are a completely different prospect. If he stays fit, and can last a full 90 minutes, then they can be a threat to anyone. His performance last night suggested that he has it in him to become the player of the tournament. However, I still don't think the rest of the Dutch side is up to all that much, and the form of Van Persie is a concern; he hasn't been complete pants like Torres or Rooney, but he's definitely looking a bit goal-shy.

Brazil are looking very smooth. I thought Chile might have done a bit more to trouble them, but they are starting to play like world champions again now - after a little bit of a slow start against the DPRK, and then the unfortunate loss of Kaka for the Portugal match.

I'm really torn between Spain and Brazil: can't decide which team I like better, or which is more likely to pull it off. I'd be quite happy with either of them. I'd be quite happy with the Germans too, actually. Anyone but Argentina!

Swordsman said...

Off sick today so I got to see the Spain-Portugal game. Spain were definitely the better side and played a mature game, waiting for their chance. They deserved to progress.

HOWEVER, their lack of sportsmanship apalls me. The way they worked to get Costa sent off was disgusting, and it's not the first time. I hope they get thrashed by Brazil.

Froog said...

Agreed, Swordsman - although none of the replays I saw showed definitively whether Capdevilla really had caught an arm round the side of the face or not. It seemed unlikely, but I remain in some uncertainty about it.

And I have to say, I thought most of the other Spanish players - Puyol and Casillas, anyway - were doing their best to keep the peace between players rather than lobbying the ref (who seemed to have made his mind up about the incident immediately anyway; for things like that, you'd think they'd always want to consult the linesman for a second opinion. Does that all happen over the radio headset now?? There didn't seem to have been time for any such discussion in this instance.).

The play-acting to try and get free kicks (and yellow and red cards) has reached epidemic proportions in this World Cup (and FIFA has done nothing to try to address the problem??). I'm disappointed to see my favourite team stooping to these dishonest tactics, but it's hard to think of a single team that hasn't done this (this might be England's one distinction, in a tournament we're otherwise in a hurry to forget?).

Froog said...

Well, a cracking pair of games again!

Paraguay v Japan was enthralling, not a dull 0-0 at all. You have to feel for Japan: they were probably the better side on balance - one of those teams that had got some momentum going, growing in stature and confidence with each game. Certainly in the first half they were on top, looking much pacier and more incisive than their opponents; although Paraguay gradually imposed their dominance more and more in the second half, Japan started coming back at them again, and looked the more likely team to score in extra time. Paraguay haven't impressed quite as much as I'd hoped so far (the decision to play Roque Santa Cruz - surely their best striker by far? - out on the wing is perplexing; they only really look dangerous when he comes into the box on set pieces). However, going through on pens usually gives a side a big lift, generates a feeling that they are 'destined' to progress. They could be quite a handful in the quarters.

I had been very nervous about the Spanish game, since an overheard snatch of highlights from CCTV5 had revealed to me that the game was decided by a single goal, and seemed to hint that it might have gone against Spain. When I inadvertently clicked on your comment in my e-mail Inbox this morning, Swordsman, I had to instantly avert my gaze, for fear of definitively learning the result before I settled down to watch the early morning TV re-run here.

Watching the game, though, it seemed less and less possible - or more and more unjust - that Portugal could possibly have prevailed. Spain must have had 70% or 80% of the match, but just couldn't break them down. A lot of that was down to Torres. I thought he was playing a little better this time, but still looking a yard or two short of his full pace, and getting hustled off the ball way too easily whenever he did manage to get possession inside the penalty area. I see David Villa was speaking up for him (though perhaps in slightly equivocal terms) the other day, saying that he'd been working hard for the team and helping to create some dangerous situations. But basically, every time an opening came his way, he squandered it egregiously. It was amazing that Del Bosque persisted with him so long in the tournament, or in this game. Spain immediately looked 10 times more dangerous when he was substituted by Llorente around about the hour, and had got their crucial goal within a few minutes (and could have had a hatful more in the next quarter of an hour).

The first half wobbles where Casillas mislaid his usually immaculate handling were a bit of a worry (is the Jabulani ball really that much of a slippery customer??!!), but were hopefully just a fleeting aberration. He should prove himself to be the best keeper in the tournament. And David Villa has established himself as the most in-form striker.

This was a much more solid team performance too, with Sergio Ramos looking very dangerous down the right flank.

Viva Espana!

Froog said...

My powers of prognostication aren't looking too shabby thus far, I don't think.

OK, I didn't nail any exact scores in this round, but my general analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the sides was pretty accurate.

Rooting for Korea, Mexico, and Slovakia was a more heart than head, more hope than prediction kind of call. And none of those teams disgraced themselves. Korea, in particular, might oh so nearly have won.

My only real error was in writing off Ghana - but they were something of a revelation, making a huge step up in performance from their qualifying group games. And the USA, sadly, seemed a littled burned out from their draining tussles with Slovenia and Algeria.

I will take a day or two to ruminate on trends in form and injury news, before sticking my neck out on the quarters (although, apart from Ghana - and Holland - I think the line-up has panned out exactly as I said it would at the start of the tournament).

Froog said...

Revised outlook on the final games:

Uruguay v Ghana - OK, so this is the one match-up that I didn't foresee in my initial prognostications. I should perhaps be wary of writing Ghana off again, since the last two times I've done it, it seems to have inspired them to spite me (battling to a narrow 1-0 loss against Germany to squeak through in second place in their group, and then impressively outplaying the Americans in the first knockout game). However, I think this should be where altitude sickness sets in for them. They really haven't got any business to have progressed this far in the tournament, and it's very hard to see how they could get a result from any of the other 7 teams still involved. Defensively, they are very hard to break down: they best they can hope for, perhaps, is to frustrate Uruguay, and try to take it into extra time, where their superior stamina may give them the edge. However, I suspect that if it went down to a penalty shootout, the pride of "playing for Africa" would suddenly become a burden rather than a boost, and they'd choke fairly spectacularly. In fact, their stirring performance against the USA is likely, I think, to remain the high point of their tournament; I rather doubt they can quite reach those heights again, particularly against a team that is so vastly superior to the Americans. Uruguay impress more and more in each game, and are playing now with a certain strut and swagger; prevailing in a ding-dong game with the Koreans should have boosted their confidence even further. They're starting to look like they might be capable of winning the whole thing. Uruguay 2-0 or 3-0, I say.

Argentina v Germany - "the final before the final" in many people's eyes (although there are a number of teams I would fancy to be capable of taking out Argentina: Uruguay, Brazil, Spain... perhaps even Holland). Argentina are winning games and scoring goals, but.... they're not looking all that comfortable about it, I don't think. And they're getting a lot of help from the officials (at least two of their goals against Korea, and the crucial first strike against Mexico on Sunday should have been ruled offside). Messi is getting increasingly frustrated about the limited scoring opportunities that his withdrawn role affords him. And Diego is batshit crazy - he seems to have become an oddly lovable loon in his old age, but the idea that he can coach the national football team is just ludicrous. So, Argentina are there for the taking, and Germany certainly have the wherewithal to do it. If they can just contain young Lionel, they could win it relatively comfortably, I think; but that's a HUGE 'if' - you have to fancy the Argies to bag at least one. 2-1 or 3-1 to the Jerries, I'm hoping.

Froog said...

Brazil v Holland - Holland were the other team I hadn't fancied to progress this far (without Van Der Sar, without Robben, with Van Der Persie short of match practice, and even Sneijder looking a little out of sorts), but.... Well, they seem to have taken over Italy's traditional role in this tournament: they refuse to go away; they keep grinding out the results, winning by the odd goal, despite the fact that they're really not playing at all well. So far, though, they haven't really played anyone any good: Japan hadn't fully hit their stride in the early group games, Denmark and Cameroon were severely disappointing, and Slovakia (probably the weakest of the teams to make the cut - after England) weren't quite able to recreate the heroics of their win over Italy. Now, Holland are playing Brazil; and, on form thus far, they're simply not in the same league. However, they're a very technically gifted side, and if they can just rediscover their scoring touch (Robin, we're looking at you particularly here), they might give the South American favourites a bit of a scare. It all depends on Arjen Robben: he's perhaps the only player in this tournament who's looked like he could win a game singlehandedly (yes, there's a case to be made for Messi and Forlan as well). I don't think the Robben factor will be quite enough in this; I fancy Brazil to win fairly comfortably, scoring 2 or 3 goals, with the Dutch perhaps failing to score even one.

Spain v Paraguay - I'd like to see Paraguay step up a level here, because they've disappointed me rather so far. I think Santa Cruz, an excellent centre forward, is being wasted in a wide position. Coming through a tie on a penalty shootout usually gives a side a big lift; but Paraguay need it, going into this game! Spain are starting to get their act together again now, with Villa looking dangerous every time he gets on the ball. If Casillas has found his 'sticky' gloves again, and if they start with Llorente alongside Villa rather than the mentally AWOL Torres, then Spain should win this quite comfortably: 2-0 or 3-0, I think.

Froog said...

The Semis

Well, the draw I'd originally consulted was ballsed-up, so I was misled as to the match-ups here.

Spain v Germany (or Argentina??) - too close to call. I backed Spain at the outset, so should stand by that (well, I've had a bet on them with JK down at the bar, so I must!). I think they have more class overall, though Germany are perhaps a more disciplined and consistent unit. Casillas could make the difference (young Manuel Neuer has looked pretty impressive between the sticks for Germany too; but Iker will occasionally stop shots that just shouldn't be stoppable). If Argentina somehow make it through, I'll definitely be rooting for Spain even harder. I'd fancy them to have the beating of the Argies in regulation time, but I suspect the Jerries might tough out a 1-1 or 2-2 draw and take into a nail-biting extra thirty minutes.

Brazil v Uruguay - again, it should be a very close and entertaining game, but Brazil are everyone's favourite football team for a reason: they have more game-turners than Uruguay, and they'll eventually make it pay, although it could be a high-scoring game - 3-2.

And so.... I'm saying it will be a Spain v Brazil final. And I really don't care who wins that (my small wager on the Spanish notwithstanding). I'll venture that it will be a close, edgy game - with Spain prevailing perhaps only 1-0 or 2-1.

We shall see.....

Froog said...

Bugger! I do hope I'm not becoming a jinx....

As I just wrote in a full Barstool post, last night's result was surely a bitter disappointment to all true football fans, because everybody loves Brazil! Don't they?

It was a fantastic performance by the Dutch, especially to rally from their first half trouncing and largely take control in the second. However, I still felt Brazil were the better team overall, and were desperately unlucky not to win. Even after the unfortunate sending off of Felipe Melo, they didn't look a man short, were still very much in the game. And they just couldn't catch a break from the officials: having their first strike ruled out for offside was a bitter blow (probably a correct call, but very tight); they could, should have had a couple of pens (although arguably Lucio might later have conceded one as well, for a handball on the edge of the box); the donkey Van Bommel, who was routinely kicking the player rather than the ball, should have seen a red card long before Melo; and it took a freak goal (and a dismal goalkeeping error) to put the Dutch back on terms. However, none of this should really have made any difference: the Brazilians have only themselve to blame for not capitalizing enough on their first half domination (they should have been 3 or 4 goals up by half-time), and then not adapting to the revitalised Dutch attack in the second half.

Oddly enough, it was not Robben who made the difference last night (he was exhibiting his creativity more in his acting than his use of the ball), but Sneijder, who was brilliantly dictating the play from his central position. The Dutch still look rather short of finishing, though: their forwards scarcely had a decent attempt at goal the whole game, and they had to rely on two somewhat fortuitous efforts from Sneijder to see them through (why was he not credited for the first one?? the defender's touch was accidental, did not significantly deflect the ball, and Julio Cesar had already missed it anyway - no way was that an 'own goal'!).

The Dutch played out of their socks for this one, but I'm not convinced that they have it in them to reproduce - or surpass - that kind of performance in the next game. Winners or finalists almost always have both an outstanding goalkeeper and a really in-form striker: I don't believe the Dutch have either, so will probably founder in the semi-final.

Much applause for the brave lads from Ghana - they produced another really good performance last night, and made a tremendous game of it. However, I think it would have been somewhat unjust if Uruguay had lost: they must have had nearly 60% of the play and maybe 80% of the best scoring chances - it was the keeper, Kingson, keeping the Ghanaians in the game for so long.

Yes, so, Ghana defended in numbers, toughed out the draw, were glad to take it into extra time, nearly nicked it at the death, perhaps thanks to a slight edge in fitness.... and then bottled the penalties.

Does anyone still scoff at my predictions??

Froog said...

Jia you, Deguo!

Ah, sweet it was to watch that game last night in a room full of Chinese 'fans' all supporting Argentina - all cowed into silence within the opening minutes, and mostly switching their allegiance before the end (no loyalty, no reall appreciation of the game: most of the time, they simply root for whoever they think is going to win).

Germany, I suppose, now have to be favourites to take the tournament (and the Argentine claim to that accolade was exposed as having very little foundation!). My one reservation was that - as with the England game - the Jerries were absolutely rampant in the first 20 minutes or so, but then rather took their foot off the gas, gradually allowing the Argies to start getting back into contention in the second quarter of the game. When they went in at half-time with a slender 1-0 lead rather than the four or five-goal advantage they deserved, I was just a little nervous that they might find a way to balls it up.

When they started the second half so conservatively - sitting back and letting the Argentinians have the ball - I was even more nervous, thinking perhaps they had found a way to balls it up. But credit to Low, the tactics seemed to work. They let the Argies have the ball, but only in their own half - and they didn't seem to have any idea how to move it forward: several times poor little Messi had to come all the way back to the half-way line, or beyond, to collect the ball and carry it forward to the opposing penalty box. And that was asking too much of the guy. His goallessness in this tournament was obviously beginning to weigh on him, and he was having way too many hopeful pops from distance. When he's playing up front, breaking into the penalty to get on the end of crosses or through-balls, his finishing is devastating. But when he's having to carry the ball himself from wide or deep positions - as the not-so-sage Diego was requiring him to do - eventually he runs into three defenders, or gets tempted to try to shoot from outside the box. His dribbling is very, very good - but it's not Georgie Best or Pele good, or Ronaldinho good or Maradona good. [It's probably a bit off-pissing for him too that Diego's half-time talks will so often be along the lines of "I could have scored from there."] Young Lionel, I fear, is now in danger of missing out on the coachs' pick of the 'Best 11' in the tournament: David Villa and Miroslav Klose are clearly the two best forwards; Messi hasn't been allowed to play in that position, and he's not that great a midfielder.

The Germans, though, defended superbly - recovering and regrouping with amazing speed even when they did briefly look exposed. It's becoming difficult to look beyond their back-four for the tournament 'Best 11'. And their rapier-like counter-attacks eventually humiliated the Argies. I'd predicted a fairly big margin of success, but even I hadn't anticipated a 4-0 (that might have been 7-0 or 8-0; if Klose's second chance hadn't flown just over the bar, I think the Argies might have completely fallen apart). However, I thought there was a suspicion of offside about the second one (odd that there were no re-runs, and no-one seemed to question it; maybe there was a full-back out of shot, clearly playing him on?).

Neuer is looking very safe in the goal, too. I said the other day that the winners of this tournament are usually distinguished by having both a very good keeper and a very good forward. Neuer and Klose, there you go. It's an intriguing match-up against Casillas and Villa. The other semi-final really isn't looking nearly as formidable.

Froog said...

Sorry about that: the Blogger comment form has got very glitchy the last few days - crashing when I try to submit, but sometimes (after a brief period in limbo) publishing duplicate versions of it (and then failing to recognise me as blog administrator, so that I can't remove them - vexing!).

I hope this won't happen again.

Froog said...

Spain, alas, were much less impressive. Casillas is still flapping uncharacteristically on occasion (although still mostly pretty awesome, making penalty saves look routine). Torres played better this time, but was still a crucial yard or two short of pace whenever it really mattered; and if you're going to pull him 10 or 15 minutes into the second half, you have to question why he was on in the first place? His form thus far has been just abysmal; while Fernando Llorente looked very sharp and dangerous when he was brought on for the last half-hour against Chile. And why is Cesc Fabregas still not playing - in preference, say, to Xabi Alonso, who seems to be the most anonymous member of Del Bosque's favoured starting line-up?

And the play-acting and ref lobbying is alienating me even more. Capdevilla got a player sent off in the last game with some fakery. This time they were mobbing the referee after they'd won their soft penalty - what for, to try and get the offending player red carded?? Disgraceful behaviour! In fact, they were lucky to get the call at all, and justice was served that they had to retake it and missed (ha! Xabi Alonso's one memorable contribution to the match!). I would have been inclined to book Villa for diving. Yes, there did seem to be some contact, but it was very, very slight, and it might well have been deemed an accidental bump rather than a deliberate jostle: the penalty and the yellow card for that incident were very, very harsh; a red card would have been an absolute travesty.

Paraguay were pretty hard done by in this. Ruling Valdez's effort out for offside was again desperately harsh: it was the guy in the middle, not the man receiving the pass and scoring, who was offside - but only very narrowly, and not interfering with play, trying to step back onside. And they should have been given a second try with their penalty too, since half the Spanish side were encroaching into the box when the first attempt was struck.

Paraguay didn't really deserve to win, though. They stepped up their game a bit from previous performances, as I'd hoped, and played a very disciplined game, doing a good job of containing and frustrating the Spaniards; but they've got very little firepower of their own - they always left you wondering where a goal could possibly come from.

Spain, though, with their variable form, perverse tactical selections, and a few instances of appalling bad sportsmanships are really alienating the non-aligned support. They're such a good team, it was always difficult to conceive of them not making it at least as far as the quarters or semis; but they haven't yet looked like worthy winners. And, after the last two performances by Germany, I don't much fancy their chances of making the final any more. Even third place might be seen as quite a good result for them, given their long history of underperformance in major competitions. I just hope they can find their best game at last (because they do play some wonderful football when they're on song).... and renounce this despicable tactic and trying to get opposing players sent off.

James the Nags said...

So what are the Froog predictions for the scores in the semis now?

Froog said...

Give me a while, James.

I shall gaze into the crystal ball and make my next pronouncements on Tuesday morning (Monday evening for you).

Froog said...

Uruguay have alienated a lot of people's affections with their elimination of the popular Ghanaians at the weekend, and in particular with the goal-line handling incident which denied the Africans a last-gasp winner.

I think the criticism of Suarez has been a bit over-the-top there. I disapprove of handling the ball, particularly where it prevents a certain goal, but in situations like that, for most defending players, it's pretty much instinctive (if Suarez had taken a few nano-seconds to think about it, he probably would have realised he could have headed the ball; but with the ball flying towards your face at pace from fairly close range, flinging up your arms is a reflex of self-protection as much as one of trying to guard your goalmouth). And it's fatuous to suggest a tougher punishment for incidents like this (a red card and a penalty really ought to be enough: it's not Uruguay's/Suarez's fault that Asamoah Gyan fluffed the spot-kick).

It's impossible to adequately define 'deliberate intent' (Kewell hardly moved his arm at all in his sending-off incident, but he didn't need to; Suarez threw his arm above his head, but it might have been reflexive rather than conscious); impossible also, or very, very difficult, to define when a "certain goal" has been denied - what about when the defender is a little forward of the goal line, and other players might have been able to get in behind him? what about when the offending hand/arm is in front of the player's body (it does happen that way sometimes!)? what about when the trajectory of the ball is taking it close to the woodwork? what about when the handball rebound falls immediately to an attacking player to provide another scoring chance?

I sympathise with the frustration many have voiced over this incident, but I don't think awarding an automatic goal in such situations is a feasible solution.

What we need is a more effective deterrent to try to stop players committing this kind of foul with conscious intent. I think categorizing this type of foul as 'unsportsmanlike conduct' or 'bringing the game into disrepute' and making it subject to multi-match bans (and perhaps some form of sanction against the team, whether club side or national association, as well) would do the trick.

What say the rest of you??

(Is anyone still there?)

[By the by, I continue to be plagued by mysterious Blogger glitches. The first time I tried to post this one, it was swallowed by the void. Well, oddly, it went through to the 'comment notification' folder in my e-mail account, but still hasn't shown up on the blog half an hour later. Very strange! And very annoying!]

Froog said...

I remain a bit of a sceptic about the Dutch this year. I haven't seen anything to rave about, even in the performance against Brazil, where they raised their game several notches from the ploddingly competent displays they produced in their first four matches. Van Persie and Huntelaar don't look to have a goal in them, which leaves quite a burden on the midfield's shoulders. Sneijder and Robben have played extremely well, but the rest of the side have been anonymous. And, frankly, Robben's relentless play-acting every single bloody time he's challenged is really pissing me off. I'm beginning to wish that someone would clog the cheating ponce properly and send him to the hospital.

Uruguay will miss the suspended Suarez tonight(who seems to be their only decent forward; in fact, he's been looking like the third best in the tournament, after Klose and Villa), and I gather they've got some other injury worries too. However, they've been playing very well as a unit, they seem to have good spirit in the team, and Forlan is enjoying a stupendous major tournament swansong. If they can just contain the threat of Robben, I fancy them to be the better side, and find a goal from somewhere.

I'd like to see Uruguay take it 1-0. However, the Dutch, even without playing well, always seem to come up with a goal from somewhere, so I have a nasty feeling this will develop into another nail-biter, perhaps even going to extra time and penalties. The Dutch, as we know, have an even worse record than England for flubbing penalties, but I've got a suspicion they might have got over that now (they seem to be playing with more quiet industry, more unity and less dressing-room prima-donna-ishness than ever before).

Nevertheless, I'm backing Uruguay go through somehow, because they have been one of the revelations of the tournament - while the Dutch are tedious, and Robben's a whining little cheat.

Froog said...

As to tomorrow's Germany v Spain clash, well....

I'm changing horses. I'm allowed to - it's my blog.

And, well, Spain have forfeited my support through their sickening gamesmanship - feigning injuries and mobbing the referee.

I said right at the outset that my initially picking them as winners of the tournament was based on them fielding basically the same side as in Euro 2008. With Marco Senna, who provided the steel in their midfield in that tournament, passed over by Del Bosque this time as "too old", they look a much less formidable proposition. And with Fabregas out of favour, Torres hopelessly out of form, and even the normally immaculate Iker Casillas suffering a few spazzy moments.... well, it's just not looking like their year.

I've never been convinced by Del Bosque as a coach, and his flaky performance in this tournament has vindicated my misgivings about him. Persisting with Torres and neglecting Fabregas (and, maybe [I don't know what his form and fitness were like at the end of this season] omitting Senna from the squad altogether) are unfathomable decisions, for which Spain has nearly paid a high price already.

They can play some gorgeous football on occasion, they have many wonderful players, and David Villa seems to be in white-hot form. Against Holland or Uruguay, that might have been enough. But against Germany, you can't help feeling that they're going to be found badly wanting. Germany have been the team of the tournament, and they seem to get better in each game.

I hope this match won't end up being as one-sided as the clinical demolition of the Argies on Saturday; I fancy Villa & co. to get a goal (maybe two) to put the Jerries under some pressure... but there can only be one winner at the end of it. Germany to score three, I reckon.

Of course, if it goes into an extra period, then the outcome becomes much more susceptible to the odd random event... but I still have to fancy the Germans. If it goes as far as penalties, the Jerries should have the better temperament (and I suspect young Neuer might have one or two decent saves in him); although it was unfortunate that Herr Podolski compromised the aura of German infallibility in penalty-taking against Serbia; and Casillas, of course, is likely to stop one or two.

Let us not ponder such dire possibilities. I hope Germany can win this in regular time. I'm sure they can.

Swordsman said...

Funny - I've got a host more of your insight in my inbox than appears here, including your thoughts on Spain v Germany.

In any event, I tend to agree with you. So that's a Netherlands-Spain final guaranteed, then.

Froog said...

Yes, sorry, Swordsman, Blogger has been a pain-in-the-arse for the last few days - either losing stuff altogether, or else posting multiple copies of it. No idea what's been going on with that - very strange.

Spain v Holland will be the third place play-off. And I think I take Spain in that.

Germany are - absent more horrific ill-luck (Schweinsteiger breaking a leg, Lahm getting suspended, Klose suddenly deciding he really is Polish after all) - going to win the semi-final and the final in relative comfort (I think, I hope).

Swordsman said...

Odd. In any event, I completely agree with this, from one of the disappeared posts.

It's impossible to adequately define 'deliberate intent' (Kewell hardly moved his arm at all in his sending-off incident, but he didn't need to; Suarez threw his arm above his head, but it might have been reflexive rather than conscious); impossible also, or very, very difficult, to define when a "certain goal" has been denied - what about when the defender is a little forward of the goal line, and other players might have been able to get in behind him? what about when the offending hand/arm is in front of the player's body (it does happen that way sometimes!)? what about when the trajectory of the ball is taking it close to the woodwork? what about when the handball rebound falls immediately to an attacking player to provide another scoring chance?

I sympathise with the frustration many have voiced over this incident, but I don't think awarding an automatic goal in such situations is a feasible solution.

What we need is a more effective deterrent to try to stop players committing this kind of foul with conscious intent. I think categorizing this type of foul as 'unsportsmanlike conduct' or 'bringing the game into disrepute' and making it subject to multi-match bans (and perhaps some form of sanction against the team, whether club side or national association, as well) would do the trick.

What say the rest of you??

Swordsman said...

Ah, and in between me writing that and posting it, the comments appear to have reappeared.

Swordsman said...

And to finish my thought without pressing publish prematurely, I always thought the Penalty Try was an abomination in rugger. To introduce it in soccer (see what I did there?) would be doubly abominable.

Word verification: gloatiol - a person uncomfortably prone to gloating.

Froog said...

Great word, gloatiol!

Can't help thinking it sounds like it should be a way of describing a protracted South American goal celebration - particularly by an over-exuberant commentator.

Froog said...

Two further thoughts on the debate arising from the Suarez handball against Ghana.

1) Circumstance plays too much of a part in the significance of such incidents to the match outcome, and hence to the perceived 'need' for some more severe kind of sanction within the rules of ghe game. Something like this has much more impact when the scores are tied, or very close. If one side already has a two or three goal advantage, then it's usually not going to matter that much. Similarly, even if the scores are tied or close, such an incident can't really be deemed to have a decisive impact on the final result, unless it's very near the end of the game. It's not often going to happen that such a crucial handball occurs in the dying seconds of a game with the score tied. Freak occurrences like that shouldn't be the basis for changes to the rules.

2) There's a problem of reciprocity too. A striker who uses his hand/arm in attempting to score is committing exactly the same kind of offence, with exactly the same possible consequences for the outcome of the game. Would the 'penalty goal' lobby advocate this sanction for 'goals' scored with the hand as well as for goal chances saved by the hand? I think not.

Froog said...

Damn, I hope I'm not becoming A JINX!

Uruguay, alas, looked a bit depleted by their bruising tussle with Ghana the other night. And without Suarez, they couldn't mount any sort of threat in the box.

Nevertheless, they had the best of the game for long passages in the first half (apart from the one spell of sustained Dutch pressure when their keeper got a bit flaky for a while after conceding the goal). I think they had the wind taken out of their sales a bit by the succession of bad offside calls against them early on (two or three dangerous moves pulled back when the players had been quite clearly, though narrowly, onside, and another - with Forlan - where he probably was offside, but it was very, very tight). Although the call at the other against Kuyt right at the end of the half was even worse. The ref was a bit of a plonker too, and dangerously malleable on occasion. Some of the worst officiating we've seen (and lordy, there's been some bad stuff).

Particularly galling that that same linesman who wouldn't cut Uruguay a break in the first 15 minutes later allowed the second Dutch goal where Van Persie looked to be clearly - but again narrowly - offside. That call could have made a HUGE difference to the final outcome. I felt that the Dutch were just starting to run out of steam a little at that point, and wouldn't have fancied them to score again if that one hadn't been allowed.

(I don't know what the current wording of the 'offside rule' is. We've had a couple of incidents in this World Cup where goals were ruled out for offside calls against players who didn't appear to be "interfering with play" - or whatever other formulation they favour these days. And I don't think the rules have ever clearly defined how you fix a player's relative position to the last defender: especially when players are running in opposite directions, the attacker's head and upper body may appear to be well behind the defender's, while his feet may still be level with or in front of the defender's feet. I'd always favour giving the attacking side the benefit of any doubt: I'd say that the attacker should be 'clearly behind' the relevant last defending player, not 'in front of' or 'level with' - and that should mean at least a few inches of daylight between the players at the level of their hips.)

It was another good performance from the Dutch. And, as in the Brazil game, Bert van Marwijk must have sprinkled some kind of fairy dust in the dressing room at the break, because they really came out and took control of the game in the second half. I was glad, though, to see the thuggish Van Bommell finally get a yellow card. And I pray that Robben will soon get one for his diving or play-acting as well.

Uruguay just weren't quite good enough (at least on this performance, without Suarez: I think, on their performances against Mexico and South Korea, they did look just about good enough to go all the way to the final, though probably not win it).

Froog said...

The Dutch.... god, it's difficult to feel any joy in their victory. Their mass petulance and deception have been, if anything, even worse than the Spaniards'. If both of those sides make the Final, I will have no interest in the result - and may not even bother to watch.

I adored the 'Total Football' Dutch sides of the '70s, but this lot don't have a tenth of the flair or the charm. They're playing more like an Italian side: very well drilled, very physical, defending in numbers, scoring the odd goal or two with midfielders or defenders breaking from deep (because the attack's toothless). Nothing to love here.

Really, we should blame FIFA for this shocking state of affairs. The play-acting and lobbying of the referees has got completely out of hand in this World Cup, and the governing body appears to have done NOTHING to try to restrain. It's really marring a tournament that has otherwise been distinguished by some excellent football. If the two worst offenders make it to the final, it will be a tragedy for the game.

(Another reason to root for the Germans: they're about the only one of the big sides not to have stooped to such shameful tricks. I just hope they haven't peaked too soon....)

Froog said...

SHIT!!!! Am I a jinx?

Well, at least it was a game played in a decent spirit, with almost no petulance or kidding of the referee (the odd bit of going down with almost no contact, and the exaggerated wince here or there; but nothing compared to the sort of antics we've been seeing in other games). There seemed to be a lot of respect between the two sides, and Spain were perhaps inspired to emulate the German example of fair play, and - for once - just got on with the game. I sincerely hope they (and the Dutch - but that's probably asking for too much!) can manage to do so again for the Final on Sunday.

It's hard to say the Spanish didn't deserve it: without the spare part Torres encumbering them, they immediately looked a much more potent force. I felt the Germans were just lacking a little bit of spark in this game, looked perhaps just a tad physically and emotionally drained... maybe tightening up with nerves a little on such a big occasion? And how much did they miss the excellent Thomas Muller (suspended after a harsh yellow card in the last game)? Neither of the replacements they tried for him, Trochowski or Kroos, made much of an impression.

I felt, too, that, as with Uruguay in their semi-final, the wind might have been taken out of the German sails a little with that dreadful offside decision against them in the opening minutes. They then had to suffer several more (probably correct, but desperately finicky) such decisions in the opening period, and could have had a penalty shout as well. And how did Sergio Ramos not get booked for clogging Podolski like that?

But desite these few whinges about the officiating, Spain were value for their win. The Germans this time sat back too much, let them have too much of the ball. In the second half against Argentina this had worked fine, because the Argies didn't have the wherewithal to move the ball out of their own half; but the Spaniards did. Arguably, the tactics might seem to have been working OK last night too, at first, because in the first half, despite the overwhelming preponderance of possession for Spain, Germany had contrived to make far more decent scoring opportunities.

However, Spain just got more and more on top as the game went on, and for once Joachim Low didn't seem to be able to find a way to shake things up. The German counter-attacking moves weren't gelling as before, the packed Spanish midfield just not allowing the space for them. It started to seem like only a matter of time before Spain would score - especially after that desperately close chance they had right after the break.

Once they finally got their breakthrough, the Germans lost composure a little - hoiking long balls in the air or shooting from outside the area rather than continuing to play it on the ground, work it down the flanks. They were badly exposed on counter-attacks a number of times, and were extremely lucky not to have suffered a much more unflattering scoreline.

Oh well, a decent enough - if slightly dour - game. Well done, Spain.

I suppose I'm happy (up to a point) that my initial prediction has been vindicated (I had thought this was going to be the Final, because I'd consulted an erroneous version of the draw)... and that I may after all have won my little bet with JK down at the bar.

However, my heart feels that Germany and Brazil were the best teams in this tournament, and would have given us a much more entertaining final. Neither Holland nor Spain have yet really lived up to the potential of their many talented players, and have compromised our admiration for them with their incessant cheating.

Swordsman said...

No, you're not a jinx. I am. By endorsing your assessments, I doomed them. I shall therefore confidently disagree with your analysis for the final and take the opposite view on principle. That will guarantee your favored team winning.

Froog said...

Unfortunately, I no longer really have a favoured team for the Final.

Froog said...

I discover the octopus is backing Spain.

I just put some predictions for the last two games on Froogville here: I say 3-2 to Germany in the third-place play-off and 2-1 to Spain in the Final.

I have hopes that the Germany v Uruguay could be a ding-dong tussle, with the South Americans being much more relaxed now that the big stakes are gone, Suarez relishing a chance to get back among the goals after his supension, and the majestic Diego Forlan looking to bow out in style. I worry rather that Germany might be a bit deflated by their defeat against Spain, might not be able to fully bounce back from it. But they'll have Muller available again, and I think everyone else is fit. And there's some making amends to do for a very disappointing game against the Spanish. If they can reproduce something like the form we showed against Argentina or England, then we're in for a hell of a game (they might even overpower Uruguay; although I think they're much better defensively than either England or Argentina were); but if not, well, the Uruguayans might just come out on top. It would be a 'fairytale ending' to the tournament for such a tiny footballing nation to finish with a win. But I like the Germans better. Jia you, Deguo.

My concern about the Holland v Spain game is that it might prove to be an arid tactical battle, with the midfields cancelling each other, and scarcely a goalscoring attempt in 90 minutes. My other, even greater fear is that - since these two have been the worst offenders so far in the kidding and cajoling of referees - it will just degenerate into a farrago of face-holding and writhing on the ground. I hope there's going to be a good ref in charge. (Is it going to be Howard Webb?)

The Spaniards look much better on paper in every department: much better keeper, much better striker, much better defence. Sneijder has been carrying the Dutch team, with only occasional supporting contributions from the likes of Robben, van Bronckhorst and Kuyt. However, the Dutch - damn them! - somehow manage to keep on winning. It's not entirely impossible that they might just pull it off one more time (particularly if the dangerously flaky Del Bosque decides to try out the lame Torres up front again, in preference to an effective striker like Llorente, or an extra midfielder who'll help them keep possession and smother counter-attacks). However, I think that would be a grave footballing injustice. Spain - despite their occasional shabby gamesmanship - have been one of the three or four best sides in the tournament (whereas the Dutch really haven't), and are capable of playing much more attractive and incisive football.

I was heartbroken by the narrow - unjust! - World Cup Final defeats of the beautiful Dutch sides in 1974 and 1978, my earliest footballing memories. I would love to see that disappointment, that injustice compensated for with a Dutch victory one day (would have loved to see the Bergkamp team pull it off in '98: probably the closest they've come). But this is not the team to do that. This is a dour, physical, often dishonest team, with - currently - no worthwhile attack. It's not the kind of team you want to see lift this trophy.

Froog said...

I did a post a little earlier over on Froogville on my fantasy 'team of the tournament'.

Please go and take a look.

I also did a post yesterday on Paul, the World Cup Octopus, who apparently shares my view that Spain will prevail over Holland. I have tried to outdo the pesky cepaholopod by predicting the exact scores of the last two games. So far, so good....

Froog said...

Am I good, or what?

How do you like them clams, Mr Octopus?

Well, OK, I was off on the score for the final, but I got the winner and the margin of victory. I was spot on for the third-place play-off (I wonder what the odds were for that? I really should have tried to get a bet on somehow.)

In my fuller analysis above I noted that the game might turn out to be a rather sterile one, with the midfields cancelling each other out and a shortage of good scoring chances. It wasn't quite as dour as that: it managed to be quite an entertaining game, despite the defences being on top throughout - but it was obvious from pretty early on that it was likely to go into extra time scoreless, and maybe even end up in a penalty shoot-out.

I had (rashly!) made the more elaborate prediction to friends that it would end 2-1 in regular time, with Iniesta getting the breakthrough for Spain round about the half hour, Kuyt getting an equaliser for Holland (he was due!) shortly before or after the half, and David Villa nicking the winner with about 15 minutes left. That was based on a more optimistic reading of the game pattern, where there would be some scoring chances.... and, obviously, it fell to pieces when Kuyt was substituted. Still, at least I got Iniesta as the first goalscorer (though I suspect crafty English bookies would try to screw me with some small print to the effect that 'first scorer' bets only count within 90 minutes...).

I was a bit disappointed in Howard Webb's refereeing. I think he got conned by play-acting into waving yellow cards for fairly innocuous fouls a couple of times early on, and then didn't do enough to penalise continuing diving and play-acting through the game (almost all of it from the Dutch). At least he was quite good about waving away protesters and lobbyers.

I also think Spain should have had a penalty for Van Bommel's charging the Spaniard (Xabi Alonso, was it?) in the back. That was an utterly clearcut foul, for me. (The later appeal for Xavi's trip I wouldn't have given: it looked to me like an accident: he caught the guy's foot as he cocked his leg to shoot, rather than being wilfully tripped, and the contact wasn't enough to bring him down - although he was enough to make him miss the shooting chance.)

Nigel de Jong might have received a straight red for his attempt to kick Xabi Alonso in the throat (yeah, it might have been 'an accident', but it was still wildly dangerous play, even if he hadn't realised the player was that close to him), and I can't understand how Van Bommel stayed on the pitch after a string of nasty fouls (I can't understand how he wasn't already suspended, actually: he has been the dirtiest - most inept as well as roughest - challenger in this tournament, but refs have been amazingly lenient with him). On the other hand, the eventual sending of Heitinga was unjust - although it was too late in the game to make any difference, really.

No, our Howard didn't exactly cover himself in glory there.

Froog said...

The Dutch again rose to the challenge, producing probably the best team performance we've seen from them - but Robben was again largely ineffective, Sneijder had a relatively anonymous game, and Van Persie was still looking unfamiliar with the whereabouts of the goal. It was worrying to me that Spain, although having nearly twice as much possession, were creating fewer decent scoring chances than Holland - and when it got to extra time, I was starting to fret that the Dutch might steal it.

And then Del Bosque's decision to bring on Torres for Villa with ten minutes left was the kind of lunacy that deserves to lose a match. Villa, on his recent form, might snatch a goal out of nothing at the death; and you can't see him missing a penalty. Torres, on his recent form, you just can't see scoring at all, even from the penalty spot. And in the brief time he was on, he was dispossessed far too easily four or five times, and gave the ball away a few times with lazily misplaced passes - complete f***ing liability. Thank god for Iniesta's late breakthrough!

And, as if the Dutch hadn't done enough to damn the reputation of their football with their wild tackling and their horrible gamesmanship, we then had the ugly spectacle of Sneijder, Robben, and Van Bommel haranguing the ref (for what??) after the final whistle.

Morally, this was the right result. The Spaniards were far from spotless in their sporting conduct, but the Dutch were a complete bloody disgrace.