Saturday, June 26, 2010

2010 World Cup: England v Germany

International football's biggest rivalry, apart from all the other big international rivalries, returns to entertain us.

England v Germany. Germany v England.

A footballing powerhouse with an enviable World Cup record meets a team that envies that record.

We all know that this particular rivalry began in the 1940's when England (represented by various nationalities) and Germany met in Paris.

That game was almost abandoned at half time but thankfully Russell Osman intervened and persuaded one of England's ringers - Sylvester Stallone - that the game could be won.

International football's most enduring rivalry, apart from all the more enduring rivalries, was born.

1966, 1970, 1990, 1996 and on and on.

Since that storied Wembley day in 1966 Germany have had the upper hand. Without being an expert on such matters I get the impression that this nags a bit at England's national psyche.

Had everything gone according to plan this game wouldn't be happening at this stage. But England stuttered against the United States before offering a more than passable impersonation of the Chipping Norton Red Lion 2nd XI against Algeria.

Such is the emotional tightrope of the World Cup as digested by the English media that an English win over Slovenia saw the pendulum swing from suicidal recrimination to unquestioning belief in 90 brief minutes of a much improved but still hardly world-beating performance.

For their part the Germans thrilled against a woeful Australia, were unlucky against Serbia and set about the job with every possible cliche of professional efficiency against Ghana.

Whatever else happened in the group stages, the two teams arrive at this match on the back of 1-0 victories that were not much more than functional.

They both need more than that if they are to progress.

History suggests that the Germans are favourites. They might be a young team who came into the tournament relatively unfancied. But they remain Germany. They've got a habit of winning these games. Stereotype. Probably. But they just do.

England have a habit of losing these games. It's often agonisingly close but it's still defeat.

But for some reason I've got a feeling that England might just sneak. Based on what? Not history, not form. Just a little feeling.

England's performances thus far have led to much soul searching and no little sniggering this side of the border. But Wayne Rooney hasn't become a bad player since arriving in South Africa. Fabio Capello hasn't become a bad manager since Robert Green fumbled a shot against the United States.

Do England lack the world class players that can win the World Cup? Yes. But so do Germany. And neither squad will feel that going out in what Clive Tyldesley might well call "the round of 16" is not a reflection of their ambitions.

England need to play better than they have done so far. They'll probably need Germany to have an off day.

Stranger things have happened.

Mind you, if it goes to penalties all bets are off.

I remain, as ever, neutral. But. Anyone wondering why the Anyone But England campaign rears it's head every two to four years (depending on qualification) should probably take a look at the English papers tomorrow morning. They might be perfectly sensible. Or they might display the English media at its jingoistic worst.

On the other hand: A note to the ABE squad. England aren't going to win the World Cup. Would it not suit your aim of laughing at England more if they beat Germany before a more agonising quarter final or semi final defeat? Just a thought.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Graham Taylor and the Budget

So. The budget.

Being poorer than I was before. Just what the accountant ordered.

The next time you happen to see Nick Clegg or Danny Alexander can I suggest borrowing a few lines from Graham Taylor to convey your displeasure:

“What a fucking budget. What a budget, eh, from Darling to Gideon. What a fucking… It was our economy.”

“We’ve done that fucking… CAN WE NOT CUT IT? They’ve done everything that we told them not to do. Everything that we told them not to do.”

“Lib Dems, Lib Dems, what sort of thing is happening here? You know it, you know it, don’t you? Absolutely disgraceful.”

“I’ll tell you, you don’t fucking deserve. Fucking. That is absolutely shocking.”

“You know we’ve been cheated, don’t you.”

“You can’t say anything. I know you can’t say anything. I know that.”

“But, you see at the end of the day, I get the sack. Will you say to the fella, the Chancellor has got me the sack.”

“Thank him ever so much for that, won’t you?”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

2010 World Cup: Money matters

An excellent infographic on dealing with the economics of the World Cup.

In light of yesterday's budget you wonder how this British government can support England's 2018 bid.

And, given the money that has been spent, Sepp Blatter and FIFA should be hunted down - haunted even - if just one of their claims about the legacy in South Africa is not acted upon.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

2010 World Cup: England v Slovenia

It says much for the dearth of excitement that England have offered at this World Cup that even their implosion has been overshadowed by a French effort that has been truly magnificent.

To get one over on Domenech, Anelka, Evra et al John Terry would have had to repeatedly stick the heid on Ray Clemence whilst hollering "and yer ma" at Fabio Capello. It says much about Terry that such a scenario doesn't seem impossible.

Alas not. Instead he gave a press conference that, rather than rallying the troops, seems to have got little more than an embarrassed silence and some feet shuffling from his comrades in arms.

It was enough to get Capello irked but that seems to be all. If a clear the air session was needed then Terry's intervention didn't deliver the desired result.

England reached this sorry mess thanks to a mind blowingly bad performance against Algeria. It was awful. For a team with England's ambitions to perform in their second World Cup match like a group of reluctant strangers cajoled into a kickabout by an over eager Butlins redcoat suggests there is a problem somewhere.

Whatever friction may exist in the squad they should all be aware that more of the same will mean an early trip home. It's unlikely that the welcoming committee will be in a party mood.

So they must improve. But can they?

England should beat Slovenia. They should also have beaten Algeria.

The problem for the players is how to deliver a performance that is a more fitting reflection of their talent. And I don't say that as someone who subscribes to the view that this England team is full of world class players who ply their trade in the greatest league on earth. That is clearly a nonsense.

But they should still be capable of offering more than they did against Algeria. Even if they were at their wits end with the manager by last Friday they should have done more. Professional pride should kick in. National pride should kick in. What do they think they are? French?

It was the media's chosen angle that this England squad carried the weight of 44 years of hurt on their shoulders, all the way back to that rarely mentioned day in 1966.

Somehow the players now find themselves fighting 52 years of history.1958 was the last time an English team went to the World Cup and crashed out in Round 1.

Obviously this predicament had caused no little celebration north of the border.

Fair enough.

But I'm genuinely perplexed at how a good manager and a solid, if not world beating, squad have managed to be so poor. Theories abound, of course, but if England lose today might people come to the conclusion that player power in the English Premier League makes the national team all but unmanageable?

Maybe we're all too influenced by the hysterical, contradictory, schizophrenic English media. Lest we forget England have been here before. In 1990 when another manager was being written off, stories of unrest were spreading like the winter vomiting bug and all seemed doomed.

That squad reached the semi finals and Bobby Robson became a national treasure.

So, whether Scotland likes it or not, England are not yet dead and buried. I think they'll secure the win they need today and go through to the last 16.

I expect them to have improved, to at least give a display of some strength and defiance against the World Cup's smallest nation.

England expects. Too much as it turns out. But, today at least, they should deliver.

USA v Algeria

Group C's other game today. I suspect the United States will be able to get past Algeria to ensure qualification. The Bleacher Report slideshow has details on what each country needs to do. Basically a win will make England's life a lot easier in a number of different ways. England and USA to go through I think.

2010 World Cup: Makana FA - More Than Just A Game

I wrote something last week about the story of the Makana Football Association, the organisation that prisoners founded to run football on Robben Island during apartheid.

You can now watch their story, as told by the film More Than Just A Game, on the BBC iPlayer. Featuring interviews with many of those involved it is well worth a watch. (Note: You've got until 1.19am on Saturday 26th June to view More Than Just A Game.)

You can also hear Alan Green recount the story when he visits Robben Island for the World Service's World Football programme. (Note: Apparently this one is available until 2099)

Also up for some iPlayer viewing is Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. The only thing worth watching about France at the 2010 World Cup. (Note: You've got until 5:59am on Sunday 27th June to view Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.)

Amazingly I don't see A Shot At Glory in the iPlayer listings.

Some other stuff for your listening pleasure:

Heart and Soul: Is There Room For God On The Football Pitch? (Note: 2099 again - does God know something we don't?)

The Monday Documentary: The Power And The Passion (Note: 2099 again):

"With the 2010 World Cup underway, many football fans around the world will be avidly debating and agonising over the fate of their nations in the tournament. However it is often at the domestic club level that the game finds its most passionate support.

David Goldblatt, embarks on an assortment of adventures into the meaning and madness of the game. He travels to four very different football games in Italy, Egypt, Ghana and the UK, to experience the build-up and pitch action from the perspective of the fans."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

2010 World Cup: Miss

Nigeria's Yakubu Ayegbeni earned a certain infamy this evening when he somehow contrived to pull of the worst miss of the 2010 World Cup against South Korea.

One of those moments when it really did seem easier to score.

Some talk on Twitter of it being even worse than Chris Iwelumo's effort against Norway.

What do you think? Iwelumo or Yakubu? Comments below or you can vote in our poll. Or comment and vote if you prefer.

Yakubu tonight:

And poor old Chris:

Full marks to Yakubu for staying calm enough to score the penalty moments later. We await Iwelumo's first international goal.

Summer dreams ripped at the seams

I’m glad we’ve got the World Cup to distract us from the dullness of the SPL summer.

Given how bad some of last season’s football was I’m really quite depressed by the lack of activity. It seems to promise a whole heap of more of the same.

I know it’s still early. But, come on, throw us some kind of bone.

Yes, yes, I know. Celtic got Neil Lennon, Walter Smith stayed on and Rangers are no longer up for sale.

None of that was really exciting though. Lennon’s appointment was an open secret long before he was officially unveiled and its protracted nature ended up making it more boring than a fortnight at an activity centre run by Fabio Capello.

Likewise Smith’s new contract always seemed Rangers’ best option. And given that only a criminal and a jumped up estate agent seemed at all interested in buying the club the prospect of them being taken off the market was looking increasingly likely for weeks before it was announced.

Forgive me if I don’t start doing cartwheels at the news that Kevin Kyle will be bringing his human battering ram stage show to Tynecastle or that Hibs have signed Edwin de Graaf, a player who I almost saw once but didn’t.

St Mirren have installed a new manager and I applauded them for it. But that was because I rate Danny Lennon and like to see Scottish manager given a chance after working in the lower division. It’s certainly not because I’ve any great confidence that Lennon will bring more success to Paisley than Gus MacPherson did.

A suspicion confirmed by Lennon’s almost immediate swoop for David van Zanten, a capture that falls somewhere short of inspirational.

Motherwell at least showed some verve in getting the best named player so far in Angelis Charalambous from Anorthosis Famagusta. And Hamilton added that missing splash of showbiz at New Douglas Park when they signed her off Blue Peter’s brother, Gavin Skelton, from Kilmarnock.

My heart almost missed a beat when it looked like World Cup winning German Thomas Hassler might take the Kilmarnock job before he disappointed us all by recovering his sanity and asking how he had ended up on a tour of Rugby Park and could somebody kindly take him back to the airport please.

Even the Kris Boyd saga has gone quiet. Where will he go? Nobody knows. I thought I had the answer when I heard Kris had been spotted in Blackpool. It turns out he just takes a caravan down there every summer. It’s the candy floss and penny falls that he can’t get enough of.

Obviously it is hard to get things done with a World Cup on. Not because lots of players won’t start talking to new clubs until their national commitments are finished. No, it’s more that all our managers are sat in front of the TV sickening themselves with a diet of Pringles and Special Brew while ruminating on exciting new variations on 4-5-1.

So basically nowt is happening. Even the daily round-ups of all the SPL gossip are better saved and read at night when you need to drop off to sleep.

Maybe we should help them out by beginning our own rumours. Any suggestions?

2010 World Cup: Group A to draw to a close?

Today's Group A game between Uruguay and Mexico seems to be attracting conspiracy theories already.

With both teams needing just a point to progress is there a risk that they'll both settle for a draw?

It's a tricky one. Our collective memory of such things is coloured by the footage of West Germany and Austria and their 1982 farce. It's unfair to judge the players of Mexico and Uruguay because we've seen dodgy dealings in the past.

There's also the spectre of Argentina. Winning the group means avoiding them in the last 16. Hopefully that's enough to ensure we see a proper game between the Group A's best two teams today.

On the other hand both teams will be aware that they deserve to progress. Will a couple of changes to the starting teams, a little shift in the tactics, lead to an unofficial non-aggression pact that suits both?

I don't think so. I think Uruguay in particular will go for it and get the win that sends them through.

And, given the required swing in goal difference, I expect Mexico to go through with them. Although we can but hope that South Africa hand France the beating they so richly deserve.

2010 World Cup: Halfway there

Half way through. 32 games played.

Some excitement, some dross, some off field drama, some amusement.

Switzerland beating Spain and New Zealand getting a draw with Italy have probably been the stand out results.

France have added a certain Gallic flair to a remarkable implosion. I can’t wait to see what form the post World Cup inquest takes in Paris. The guillotine might be pressed into action.

It’s difficult to comment on England after the Algeria. Mainly because I fall asleep whenever I think of the game. Wayne Rooney has given me narcolepsy.

The fluidity of some of Brazil’s passing on Sunday evening and Spain’s 2-0 demolition job on Honduras last night suggest that the next 32 games might offer more sustained quality than we’ve seen over the course of the first 32.

What teams are going to progress to the second round? A number of groups remain in the balance, a number of big teams face an anxious third game.

If nothing else the South Africa has made World Cup betting hugely exciting. Unfortunately it’s played havoc with my powers of prediction.

Bleacher Report has an interesting couple of slideshows showing what the teams in Group A and Group B need to do qualify. I presume they’ll be doing this throughout the week so it will be worth checking back.

In the meantime, here’s my thoughts on who will live to fight another day:

Group A: Uruguay and Mexico. I’d love South Africa to get through and I think they’ll beat France but I don’t think it will be enough.

Group B: Argentina and South Korea. Argentina should beat Greece and I expect South Korea to do enough against Nigeria.

Group C: England and USA. Close one this. I think England will beat Slovenia and I fancy the US to sneak past Algeria.

Group D: Germany and Serbia. Another close one. The German will get past Ghana and I expect Serbia will have just enough to dispatch Australia.

Group E: Netherlands and Denmark. The Dutch are already through and I think Denmark will beat Japan to join them.

Group F: Paraguay and Italy. Paraguay will top the group with a win over New Zealand, Italy will beat Slovakia although a draw would be enough.

Group G: Brazil and Portugal. Portugal’s demolition of North Korea has all but finished this group. I’d love both Brazil and Portugal to really go for it when they meet in the final game though.

Group H: Spain and Switzerland. Another tight one. Spain will beat Chile and Switzerland will beat Honduras. Then it’s down to goal difference. Almost too close to call but I’m backing the European double.

History suggests that I’m unlikely to have called many of these right. It does strike me that after a topsy-turvy opening my predictions don’t throw up many shocks. An unpredictable World Cup but, in the shakedown, probably not a World Cup that’s going to be remembered for a massacre of the usual suspects in the opening round.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Some things get funnier with the passage of time.

Seems he can't even lead a mutiny of an underperforming football team.

Best brand for England's brave John Terry to represent? Answers on a postcard please.

Motherwell visit the gods

Motherwell will play Iceland's Breidablik when they kick off the SPL's 2010/2011 Europa League challenge.

The first leg will be played at Fir Park on 1st July with the return match played seven days later.

Not much of a holiday for Craig Brown and his players.

Breidablik's home town is Kópavogur where, apparently, they are the smaller of the two clubs.

Still, there's no easy games in Europe these days, a wisdom that we might write of as a cliché if Scottish teams weren't so hell-bent on proving it to be a truism.

More on Breidablik here. (A translation might be required.)

Breidalbik was where the Norse god Baldur lived.

Baldur was associated with light, beauty, love and happiness.

Kind of like a Norse Craig Brown then.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Britons unite

A really bizarre article on the New Statesman blog the other day.

James Macintyre offering his arguments in favour of a British football team:
The reason I do not support England has nothing to do with its abilities, dire though they are (I will be very surprised indeed if it gets any further than the quarter final in Africa). No, it is because there is no logic at all in its existence.

We all belong -- for now at least -- to the United Kingdom. There is a "Team GB" British side in the Olympics. So why not in international football?

Englishness is ultimately, alas, a racial brand. Britishness, on the other hand, is cultural. Most first -- or even, dare it be said, second -- generation foreigners who live here can comfortably consider themselves British, but less so English. I, for example, am roughly three-quarter Canadian and a quarter Scottish.

My Scottish descent but London up-bringing makes me Anglo-Scottish, and therefore British, not English.

Which is why I feel like a stranger in my own land amid the creepy mass influx of St. George's flags -- by definition exclusive emblems -- that are now prevalent in cars and house windows. And why I felt so queesy at the Prime Minister, David Cameron's populist decision to fly the red and white flag over Downing Street during England's -- albeit limited -- "campaign". That the Union is under much more threat under the Conservatives (increasingly the English party) is another story, and I won't go into it here.

But it is because of a growing fear for the future of the Scottish-English Union -- one that represents 300 years of rich social, cultural and political integration -- that I hope one day to be able to cheer on British goals in the World Cup. And do so with great pride and patriotism.

(Doubtless, some of the many attacks such a view would provoke, will be that such a side would only be Englandm players plus Ryan Giggs of Wales. And it is true that -- apart from, say Colin Hendry and Ally McCoist -- it isn't easy for someone whose close interest in football has tragically waned over the years, to think of a British squad today that would be that much better than England's. But that is not the point.)

It's time to replace English aggression with open, generous British unity, before it's too late.
Easy of course to write such pieces during a World Cup hoping for a reaction – we’ve seen a few them this side of the border as well.

And always nice for a political hack to get his teeth into something else and play devil’s advocate.

But it does tend to work slightly better if the author has some knowledge of football. As it does this doesn't even come across well as the tongue-in-cheek piece I suspect was intended.

And it takes a certain arrogance – however Anglo-Scottish the author – to argue for the abolition of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish footballing identities because you’re not comfortable with English aggression.

Sorry James, but leave the football to Hunter Davies from now on.