Saturday, July 29, 2006

Rob Edwards for Wolves (vs Swansea), 22nd July 2006

"My initials stand for Mick McCarthy, not Merlin the Magician" Mick McCarthy realises that he wasn't the first-choice candidate for the job as manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

I go away for 8 measley days and this happens?

Actually, whisper it quietly, but I think this could actually be a very sensible decision. Wolves like to see themselves as a big club, a sleeping giant.... but the reality of it is that we are a solid Championship club: never likely to be seriously threatened with relegation, but never really likely to be any more than a long shot for promotion. Wolves were promoted back into the second-tier of English football in 1989, and in all the time since then we have only made it to the play-offs three times, finally gaining promotion (for a single season) in 2002/3. The expectation and the money invested in the team mean that we start every season as one of the favourites for automatic promotion. The simple truth though is that we just haven't been good enough or consistent enough to merit it. A succession of managers have thrown money at the problem, but instead of unearthing another Steve Bull (£64,000 from West Brom in 1986, 306 goals for Wolves in all competitions) we have been left with a squad full of big-time charlies who simply do not justify their salaries with their performances on the pitch.

It's high time that the club stopped pretending it is anything other than what it is: a Championship side that needs to build some solid foundations before it can seriously hope to achieve a place in the Premiership. The Premiership parachute payments have now finished and many of the stalwarts of the last few years have left the club: Kenny Miller, Colin Cameron, Paul Ince, Mark Kennedy, Jolean Lescott..... We need a pragmatic manager who can start again and build a side that will first and foremost be consistent and hard to beat - something that Wolves haven't been for many, many years. It's no good being able to beat the best sides in the division, as Wolves have long been able to do, if you also make a habit of losing to some of the worst.

So I for one welcome the dawning of the McCarthy era at Molineux. I would have loved for Glenn Hoddle to have have been able to build a side based on his own image as a player, but he simply wasn't able to do it in the rough and tumble of the Championship. If McCarthy is able to forge a side that displays some of his attributes as a player, then I will be a happy man. It will be far less flashy - sure - but it will also be determined, gritty and driven to squeeze the maximum return from the talent available (and with only 16 players in the first team squad, this could be tricky). McCarthy's plain speaking will also come as a breath of fresh air after Hoddle's gobbledy-gook.

Will this improve Wolves' chances of promotion in the coming season? Perhaps. Are we likely to challenge for an automatic promotion slot? well..... let's just say it's a shame that Merlin the Magician wasn't available.....

The goal? The first (and so far only) one scored for Wolves under the new management. 4 goals conceded.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Zinedine Zidane for France (v Italy), 9 July 2006

OK, so just before we plan our away trips to Grimsby, moan about having appointed Mick McCarthy as manager (sorry, Swiss), wonder how big a squad Rafael Benitez needs and watch as Chelsea disappear over the horizon, we have one more World Cup issue to resolve.

The CUAS World Cup Predictions League

And this was all decided on two matches - the third place play off and the final. Ties are settled by an odd countback system of actual correct score predictions and the bonuses for Zidane being first goalscorer certainly helped...

1. Swiss Toni - 65 points
2. El Tel - 65 points
3. Sarah - 63 points
4. Mike - 62 points
5. Statue John - 56 points
6. Weenie - 54 points
7. Lord Bargain - 53 points
8. KJ - 48 points
9. Ben - 46 points
10= Paul - 45 points
10= Poll Star - 45 points
12. Charby - 44 points
13. Adem - 44 points
14. Dom - 43 points
15. Paul A - 38 points
16. Flash - 38 points

Congratulations to Swiss who pipped it with the 'Germany 3-1 Portugal' prediction, and a shout out to El Tel, Sarah and Mike who made it a close contest.

Premiership Predictions League returns in a couple of weeks. More endless nights of stats for me....

Monday, July 17, 2006

Lucas Radebe for Liverpool (v Leeds United), 23 August 1999

You know when you are flicking around the internet, absent-mindedly reading articles a bit tired and hungover in search of something more interesting than the work you are supposed to be doing?

I was undertaking this most noble of pursuits this morning, when I happened upon a Manchester United fixture list.

My brain just didn't register this correctlyat all.

18 July 2006 - Manchester United v Kaizer Chiefs

It was only after a minute of slightly bewildered puzzlement that it dawned on me that we might be playing these:

and not the catchy if slightly annoying pub band. I did think it was an odd choice of friendly, considering there was no sign of us playing The Kooks on Sunday and Franz Ferdinand on Tuesday....

I hope there is decent segregation between the two sets of fans otherwise (Don't even go there - Ed).

Saturday, July 15, 2006

David Trezeguet for Juventus (v Reggina), 14 May 2006

From the top of the world to the worst scandal ever seen in world football in less than a week.

That's not bad going, is it?

Four of Italy's leading clubs have been found guilty of influencing the outcome of matches by interfering with the appointment of match officials.

Worst cuplrits were Juventus who have been stripped of their last two Serie A titles, relegated to Serie B and docked 30 points. That effectively means that barring a miracle they will be playing in Serie B for two seasons and are out of the financially lucrative Champions League for probably at least three seasons.

Fiorentina and Lazio have also been relegated to Serie B with a 12 and 7 point deduction respectively. AC Milan escaped relegation but will start next season with a fifteen point deduction.

This also means a windfall for Inter, Roma, Palermo and Chievo who are now Italy's representatives in next seasons Champions League.

What it of course means is that there is now likely to be an exodus of players from these clubs, particularly Juventus. Cannavaro, Emerson and Zambrotta are tipped to join Fabio Capello at Real Madrid, Vieira and Trezeguet are set to join Lyon and other players like Buffon, Zebina, Thuram, Ibrahimovic, Camoranesi and Nedved are also likely to join the exodus. Other players set to leave their clubs include Luca Toni, Massimo Oddo, Tomas Ujfalusi and any number of Milan stars such as Gattuso, Pirlo, Kaka, Nesta and Gilardino.

It is an almost unbelievable situation. Imagine a Premiership without Chelsea, Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal (although some would say that would make it more interesting). But won't it be a hollow Serie A title for Inter or Roma or Palermo next season?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Maxi Rodrigues for Argentina (v Mexico), 24 June 2006

In a no way derivative manner, I think it is time for a review of the World Cup.


Goal of the Tournament

I tell you what, it isn't that daft Argentinian one that the BBC gave it to, that's for sure. Oh look! They can pass it to each other a few times and then someone can sidefoot it in from 10 yards! Wahey!

I did consider Joe Cole's against Sweden, but on balance, I'll hand it to the genius chest and left foot volley Maxi Rodrigues effort that saw Argentina to a second round win over Mexico.

Biggest Underperformance

Frankly, there are candidates galore here. How about the Czech Republic who went into the tournament as FIFA's second best team in the world. Or how about the USA, the fifth best team in the world? Both failed to make it out of the group stages. What about Holland who disappeared without trace early on? Brazil who flattered for a while and then went out without much of a fight?

Or there are plenty of individual candidates. Ronaldinho. Henry. Gerrard. Lampard. Raul. van Nistelrooy. Adriano.

On balance, and with the best will in the world, it has got to be us, hasn't it? Did we play well at any point? Maybe the first half against Sweden. We got to the quarter finals of the World Cup by beating Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago and Ecuador. I reckon I could have managed us that far, and on a fraction of Svennis' salary.

Oh My Word How Our Opinion Of You has Changed

Dort nur kann ein möglicher Kandidat hier, und deshalb eine riesige Anfeuerung für Deutschland sein.

We used to hate them, didn't we? They are our bitterest football enemy. The country is ugly and full of miserable humourless hairy women called Helga.

Firstly, the tournament was fantastic. Having been fortunate to go, I can;t priase the hosting of the matches enough in terms of organisation, entertainment and fun. The stadia were packed out, the support tremendous. And, furthermore, they were so unbelievably hospitable. If a load of foreigners descneded on England, I think our hoteliers and restauranteurs would pull their face and complain. Not so our German friends who welcomed everyone with open arms. So much so that I am planning on heading back to the country again soon.

Worst Game Of The Tournament

I am going to argue to toss here as I was at Switzerland v Ukraine, and I didn't find it as dull as everyone else seemed to. I'd go for France v Switzerland which was dire, but purely because the gap between expectation and reality was so great, I am going to go for Holland v Argentina. Absolute pap.

Give Up Now And Don't Waste Any More Money

ITV. Apparently the BBC had five times the viewers of ITV for the final, and I am frankly not surprised. ITV is clearly hamstrung by its advertising, but my word is their punditry non-existent. Their commentary is pretty ropey, Steve Rider would clearly rather be watching the golf and if I hear "Where Do They Get Their Energy From?" again or see Gabriel Clarke skulking outside an England team hotel, I shall scream.

They were also responsible for "Rio Ferdinand's World Cup Wind-Ups", lest we forget. I had better stop now before I get merc-ed.

Player of the Tournament

For me, it was the little fella who had the honour of picking up the trophy. Clearly FIFA can't give a Golden Ball award to a defender, as that would be silly (look at the World Player Of The Year Awards and find anyone but someone who scores a lot of goals amongst them) but I'd give it to Fabio Cannavaro without hesitation.

Team of the Tournament

It would be tempting here to suggest the Italians might be a candidate seeing as they ended up winning the thing, but I think I would rather pick another side.

For sheer enthusiasm, and keeping the competition entertaining right up to the final week, and demonstrating that it is possible to play some nice attacking football rather than eight holding midfielders and one lanky striker, I'd like to give the Germans the nod. And going back to my point above, when did you ever think you might be cheering the Germans on in a football tournament, eh?

Person Least Likely To Be Welcomed Back To England With Open Arms

3. Victoria Beckham

2. Sven Goran Eriksson

1. This cock

Game of the Tournament

I am not sure there was one outstanding match. I enjoyed Australia v Croatia, but that would have been nowhere near as entertaining a spectacle without Graham Poll's intervention. Argentina v Ivory Coast and Portugal v Holland (for lots of wrong reasons) were also great, but on balance, and because it was the semi-final and the stakes were so high, I think my Game of the Tournament was Germany v Italy.

Daftest Thing To Do In The Last Ten Minutes Of A Glittering Career


Best Person To Meet In A Cologne Pub Who Buys You Drinks And You Only Later Realise He Is A Huge Celebrity

Gisbert Baltes. Bought us a beer whilst we were watching France v Spain, had a good chat with us about where we had come from, the tournament, our work etc, disappeared off home and then the following day we realised he presents a TV football show.

General Rants About Football At The World Cup In General

This whole "two yellow cards and suspended" thing needs looking at to save reserve team outings in group games. Going back to my point earlier, Holland v Argentina suffered big time on that basis.

Players should be retrospectively banned for blatant diving.

Portugal should be forced to play a striker for 90 minutes in a game.

England Are Not And Have Never Really Been (Lets Face It) A World Class Footballing Outfit

General Cheers About Football At The World Cup In General

The whole thing was ace. Particularly the group stages which were, on the whole, tremendous.

The Germans (see above).

Steve Wilson and Jonathan Pearce. Quality at work.


So, it's all done for another four years, and we are forced to get our football fix by getting interested in whether Michele Di Piedi will sign for Yeovil Town and how effective Soel Ki-Hyon will be for Reading in the Premiership. I, for one, always enjoy the World Cup and this has been no exception. I think it has been a fantastic and intriguing tournament with no one outstanding team.

The final word goes to me, from this very blog several weeks ago:

".....We touched on tournament betting last week, and Italy were my pre-tournament tips to win the World Cup. Why? Because despite everything, the World Cup is invariably won by a team on their own continent (only Brazil have done otherwise) and almost always by a previous winner. That rationale leaves Germany (I think they have no chance), England (we will blow it), France (aging) and the Italians. I got 12-1 on them, and with probably the best centre half pairing in the tournament, some talented strikers (Luca Toni was the first player in 51 years to score over 30 goals in Serie A last season) and the creativity of the likes of Pirlo, Totti, Camaronesi and Perrotta in midfield, I think they have an excellent chance of going all the way...."

Stick with me, folks, stick with me.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Marco Tardelli for Italy (vs West Germany), 11th July 1982

Oh Zizou, what have you done?

It had all started so well. That penalty in the 7th minute was stunning: this is the World Cup final, the game is set at 0-0 and you have the nerve to step up to face the tournament's best goalkeeper and produce an audacious chip.

You could have settled it too. If that header in the 104th minute had just been a fraction wider of Buffon, then it could all have ended so differently. But it wasn't to be. A short conversation with Marco Materazzi six minutes later was followed by that moment of madness and it was all over. What a way to end such a stunning career. What a way to be remembered. Our final glimpse of one of the legends of the game is as he trudges past the World Cup trophy on his way to the dressing room.

It wasn't a great game, truth be told. Italy looked the stronger for the first hour, but then seemed to fade badly after Lippi took off Francesco Totti and moved Camoranesi over to the left flank. From then on, France seemed marginally the better of the two sides, but it was essentially a stalemate. The fear of losing seemed to be greater than the urge to go out and win the game outright, and penalties looked a real possibility fairly early in the second half.

Nobody seemed to stand out. Matarazzi certainly had an interesting game: conceding a penalty, scoring a goal, playing a central part in the dramatic end to Zinedine Zidane and then stepping up to score a penalty in the shootout.... but did any player really stand out? Certainly not for the right reasons.

What can you say about Zidane? Our memories of this fantastic player are forever going to be coloured by his sending off. It doesn't matter what Matarazzi said to him - and he certainly said something. I know that Zidane has shown a streak of malice in the past - and I'm thinking of his stamp on that Saudi Arabian in the 1998 tournament as well as his suspension this time around.... but surely a player of that much experience could have walked away? As it was, if Matarazzi hadn't fallen to the ground after that intial headbutt, it looked like Zidane would have followed it up with a punch. Madness. The red card was surely inevitable. It looked for a moment as though the referee and the linesman had missed it, but after a short delay, out came the card and France's number 10 was off. France were stunned. I was stunned. The world was stunned. The penalties went by in a daze. The Italians have an even worse record in shootouts than the English, but this time I never really thought it was in any doubt.... with Zidane, Henry and Viera off the pitch, France were surely missing three of their penalty takers. Neither keeper made a save, and Italy were World Champions thanks to David Trezeguet's miss.

In the end, I think the best side won the tournament.... tomorrow 13 members of the Italian squad could be looking for a new club, but for tonight they can celebrate the clinching of their 4th World Cup. Will the rest of the world remember Fabio Cannavaro, probably the tournament's outstanding player, lifting that trophy?

Probably not.

It will all be about Zidane.

The 2006 World Cup's defining images?

Shouldn't we be remembering this?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Bastian Schweinsteiger for Germany (vs Portugal), 8th July 2006

Ah, the genius of the third-placed play-off. The Germans always seemed to be more likely to be motivated to get something out of the game, and so it proved. The Portuguese played pretty well, but in the end nothing was going to deny the host nation from closing their participation in the tournament with a bang.

....and just in case Cristiano Ronaldo was wondering why people have been booing him over the last couple of weeks, and why he was robbed of the FIFA Young Player of the Tournament award a couple of days ago (won by Lukas Podolski), then he should watch a tape of this game. It's ridiculous: he's clearly a talented player, but he really does throw himself to the ground every chance he gets looking for a freekick. The good news is that this referee was wise to him and barely gave him anything for all his histrionics.


The 'Cheer Up Alan Shearer' Team Of The Tournament

Thanks for all your nominations for this. Here's what I thought (with a little input from Lord B, but with all his Swiss nominations omitted):


GK - Buffon (Ita)
DR - Sagnol (Fra)
DL - Lahm (Ger)
DC - Cannavaro (Ita)
DC - Thuram (Fra)
ML - Figo (Por)
MR - Ribery (Fra)
MC - Gattuso (Ita)
MC - Zidane (Fra)
FC - Klose (Ger)
FC - Torres (Esp)

Subs: Lehmann (Ger), Zambrotta (Ita), Neill (Aus), Marquez (Mex), Ayala (Arg), Zokora (CIV), Rodriguez (Arg), Frings (Ger), Pirlo (Ita), Podolski (Ger), Ronaldo (Bra),

This is harder than it looks. It pains me to leave out Francesco Totti, and I've really struggled to name some wingers. Ribery has almost looked the part, but he gave away possession dreadfully in the semi-final. He gets in largely because I can't think of anyone else. I was almost tempted to put Henry out on the left wing, but then remembered his play-acting in the game against Spain and left him out. Same goes for Cristiano Ronaldo. I also contemplated putting Zambrotta there, as he used to play in the midield, and it seems harsh to leave him out of the side altogether (although Lahm's goal in the opening game really set the tone, so he's in for that). Figo gets the slot in the end because he has looked dangerous, albeit a little lacking in pace these days. His cross to Nuno Gomes tonight was a peach. I even managed to find a (big) place on the bench for Ronaldo. He's not the player he was, but he was undeniably effective in a very disappointing Brazil side.

What happened to Ronaldinho?


For reference, here's the FIFA squad of the tournament in full:

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), Jens Lehmann (Germany), Ricardo (Portugal).

Defenders: Roberto Ayala (Argentina), John Terry (England), Lilian Thuram (France), Philipp Lahm (Germany), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy), Gianluca Zambrotta (Italy), Ricardo Carvalho (Portugal).

Midfielders: Ze Roberto (Brazil), Patrick Vieira (France), Zinedine Zidane (France), Michael Ballack (Germany), Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Gennaro Gattuso (Italy), Luis Figo (Portugal), Maniche (Portugal).

Strikers: Hernan Crespo (Argentina), Thierry Henry (France), Miroslav Klose (Germany), Francesco Totti (Italy), Luca Toni (Italy).

I'd criticise the selection, but given how much I've just struggled, I don't think I'll bother.


Oh, and check out this US view of the English exit from the Tournament:

"Maybe the reality is that England just isn't that good. The fact is that England has only won one World Cup, and that was 40 years ago. Maybe they've fallen behind the rest of the football world. When was the last time an English player won the FIFA World Player of the Year Award? Never, would the answer. How come there are no English coaches at the helm of a World Cup team for any nation in Germany? Why do English players consistently whither in the white heat of a penalty shootout at a major competition?"


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Alessandro Del Piero for Italy (v Germany), 4 July 2006

Nominations for team of the tournament here please.

The CUAS World Cup Predictions League

OK, so heading into the final two games, here is an update on scores and bonus point success/failure.

No bonus points awarded for the "top scoring nation in the group stages" - you could have had Argentina, Germany or Spain with 8 goals, but no-one picked any of those.

One African team into the knockout stages for a maximum 15 bonus points.

The first bookings in the semi-finals were Borowski for Germany (v Italy) and Carvalho for Portugal (v France). Congratulations to El Tel who picked Borowski to be the only bonus scorer here.

And hearts got the better of heads in the "guess the finalists" - some got Italy but Swiss Toni did correctly predict Italy v France (bizarrely, after this comment he made earlier in the competition).

So, I need score predictions for the 3rd/4th place play-off and for the final please. If you think either game will be a draw, the eventual winner required also.

Bonus points this time for "first goalscorer" in the final. If it is 0-0 and penalties, the first penalty scorer will count.

And so for the current positions....

1. El Tel - 63 points
2. Swiss Toni - 61 points
3. Sarah - 56 points
4. Mike - 52 points
5. Lord Bargain - 51 points
6. Statue John - 49 points
7. Weenie - 45 points
8. Ben - 45 points
9. Charby - 44 points
10. KJ - 44 points
11. Paul - 43 points
12. Dom - 43 points
13= Adem - 42 points
13= Poll Star - 42 points
15. Flash - 38 points
16. Paul A - 36 points

Good luck, all....

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Zinedine Zidane for France (vs Portugal), 5th July 2006

In the end, I think that the right teams have gone through to the final... but if France play like that on Sunday, then I can see Italy spoiling Zidane's swansong. France did enough tonight, but they did no more than that. They got a relatively early goal, and then they sat back and made little or no attempt to go after the goal that would kill the game. Luckily for them, Portugal lacked the talent and the application to make them pay. 'Tactical genius' Phil Scolari again responded to a situation where he needed a goal by taking off the only recognised striker in his team and replacing him with another winger. Portugal were poor and they deserved to lose - but doesn't that fact just emphasise all the more how disappointing England's defeat on Saturday was? The sad truth is that Portugal are a poor side, but England were worse. Having played so well against Brazil, France were a big disappointment tonight, but they're through to the World Cup final, and ultimately that's what semi-finals are all about. They're in the World Cup final and Portugal go to face Germany in the third place play-off.

Alan Hansen felt moved at full time to suggest that this World Cup has become a showcase for negative football. I disagree - yesterday's game was remarkably open for such a massive game, and it was a joy to see two sides trying to win the game outright in extra time and not hang on for penalties. What we have seen an awful lot of in this tournament though is diving: it's been all too common a sight to see players throwing themselves to the ground with minimal contact and trying to con the referee. Ronaldo has been the most obvious exponent of this, and he was at it again in this game. Having sat through this kind of stuff all the way through Saturday's game against England, it was actually quite gratifying to hear him so roundly booed by tonight's crowd (which may have contained a few England fans who had been hoping for a rather different game). Ronaldo has been the most conspicuous offender, but he's been far from the only culprit. This evening's penalty may well have been a foul, but on the replay you can almost see the thought going through Thierry Henry's head as he hesitates ever-so slightly before throwing himself to the ground. It's not an edifying spectacle. Book them and make it stop. Use the fourth official if you have to, just stop letting them get away with it.

Speaking of bookings, it's been a notable feature of both these semi-finals that the officials have been astonishingly reluctant to wave their cards around - in stark contrast to the earlier rounds. I'm all for having as many of the great players on the pitch as possible on Sunday (and it would have been disastrous to lose someone like Zidane), but the contrast is ridiculous. There were some pretty dreadful hacks this evening, and the players largely got away with it. This just served to add niggle to the game and increased the tendency to dive as players seemed to think that they were 'owed' something. There has to be some middle ground. All it takes is common sense from the officials, right?

So the final then. Could be interesting. Of the two teams, I think Italy have shown the most form. The Germans had a lot of the ball on Tuesday night, but the Italian defence kept them a comfortable distance away from their goal, and if they can manage the same on Sunday, then they should have enough up front to win the game. The French have the players to win the game, I think, but Henry looks as uncomfortable in a France shirt as he looks comfortable in an Arsenal shirt.... and they will no doubt be looking to Zidane to turn in one last performance before his retirement (if he can get around Gattuso, that is). I have a feeling that this World Cup won't be complete without one of Fabien Barthez's hopeless flaps at the ball leading to a goal. He's a total liability, and it's amazing that he's got away with it so far. Expect Totti and Pirlo to put him to the test with some stinging long shots and a few crosses into the box. By contrast, I reckon Buffon can take pretty much anything France can throw at him.

The result? I'm torn. My heart wants Zidane to end his magnificent career with a bang, but my head is saying that Italy should win. Italy then - my French girlfriend will disagree, but Italy.

Whatever. Let's just hope that both sides come out and play.


I'd like your nominations for the CUAS team of the tournament please......

To give you a few ideas, Lord B and I will be having a crack at our own team in the next couple of days, but I reckon we should try to put the official CUAS team out to the public vote. Pop your initial suggestions in the comments below. You don't need to name a whole team - just pop down the names of a few players that spring to mind as having been great in this tournament, and we'll see what we can cobble together.

Michael Owen is a shoe-in, obviously.


Did anyone pick a France v Italy final then? eh? eh? (that's 100 bonus points, right? I did say that, didn't I?)

Alan Shearer for England (vs Germany), 17th June 2000

Looking for the clip of Alan Shearer singing along in his car to "Elevation" by U2??

Then you're looking for this.

Filmed by one of his daughters on her mobile phone, apparently, and deemed so amusing that she just had to share it with the rest of the world on t'internet.

Genius or cunning post-retirement plan to reinvent his dour image? You decide.

With his punditry going great guns, and with his singing career getting off to such a great start, all big Al needs to do now is to invent something as brilliant as the thingummywig, and he'll definitely be well on his way to becoming the new Terry Venables.

Perhaps a Newcastle branch of the Scribes West nightclub could be in the offing?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Jurgen Klinsmann for Tottenham Hotspur (v Sheffield Wednesday), 20 August 1994

So, we were standing outside the Rhein-Energie Stadion in Cologne last week in the sunshine waiting to go into the ground for the Ukraine v Swizerland match. Outside the stadium were any number of stalls and sideshows hosted by the main "official partners" of the tournament.

My eye was particularly caught by the Mastercard stand where you could have your photograph taken and superimposed with a major footballing legend. By the magic of clever technology, it looked like you had been snapped with a giant of the game...

Unfortunately, I was beaten to it by Tim Howard....

Monday, July 03, 2006

Thierry Henry for France (vs Brazil), 1st July 2006

How are you doing on your predictions for the two finalists? What's that? You all thought Brazil or Argentina or England would get there? Oh, well.... nevermind. See if you can do a little better with this round of predictions then.

Right, come on then... here we go:

Germany 1 - 2 Italy

Portugal 0 - 2 France

Remember, I'm looking for the score after 90 minutes here.... but if you predict a draw, I want to know who you think progresses to the final.

For bonus points, I want you to name who you think will be the first player to be booked in each match.

I think - Materazzi in the first game and Costinah in the second game.

I've also got a horrible sneaking feeling that Zidane will pick up the yellow card that would seem him suspended for the Final.... I do hope not.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

David Beckham for England (vs Argentina), 7th June 2002

David Beckham. England Captain for 58 games, 15th November 2000 - 2nd July 2006.

Undoubtedly a whole-hearted trier, but much like the sides he skippered, in the main he was a triumph of hype over substance. Steve McClaren is now possibly spared the tricky decision about dropping the England captain and will now be to appoint his own man to the job (presumably either Terry, Gerrard or Owen).

As for Becks, well, he'll now presumably have to find himself a new marketing angle. Never before has one man profited so much off the field from an on-field appointment. You know those little one-to-ones on the telly where the members of England's team introduced themselves and the position they played? Beckham always smirked at the camera and announced "David Beckham. Captain". No mention of any position. Given his propensity to wander around the field, perhaps Sven never told him what that was. Perhaps at the next tournament we'll actually have someone playing on the right flank, and not just a specialist captain.

So long and thanks for all the fish.

Glenn Hoddle for England (vs Bulgaria), 22 November 1979's not all bad news though. Glenn Hoddle has resigned as manager of Wolves.

The Premiership parachute payments have now ended, forcing the club to begin a series of financial cut-backs, starting with the sale of Joleon Lescott to Everton for £5m. Kenny Miller has already left for Celtic, and other first team players seem certain to follow him out of the door. As a result, apparently Hoddle has now decided that the club's ambitions no longer match his own and has quit.

All I would say is that Hoddle should take a long hard look at his achievements (or lack of achievement) during his time at the club, and ask himself why the club have had to cut their cloth. He arrived in December 2004 when the club still had the bones of the squad that took them into the Premiership. What did he actually do for the club? Under Hoddle, Wolves finished 9th in 2004/5 and finished 7th in 2005/6.... 8 points and a million miles away from Crystal Palace and the last playoff slot. For all his reputation and astonishingly high opinion of his own talents, Hoddle achieved bugger all at Wolves and now apparently has the cheek to try to blame the club's "lack of ambition" for his own failures.

Good riddance. Time for a manager who can focus on the task in hand and not spend all his time linking himself with other jobs..

.... please God not Paul Ince.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal (vs England, penalty shootout), 1st July 2006

It had to be him, didn't it?

Cristiano Ronaldo spent most of this game in England's (and the referee's) face. When he wasn't running at the defenders with the ball at his feet, he was shamelessly throwing himself all over the ground looking for free kicks or needlessly imploring the referee to send off Wayne Rooney. He didn't actually play particularly well, but he certainly worked hard to make sure Portugal won the game.

How inevitable was it that he would score the winning penalty?

We played heroically after Rooney's dismissal. We absorbed wave after wave of Portuguese attacks and still managed to break forwards to create the better chances. If there is a fitter player at this World Cup than Owen Hargreaves, then I haven't seen him yet. He was everywhere. He started this tournament to jeers from his own fans, but he can leave it with his head held high. Ashley Cole too was tireless in defence and supporting the attacks. Ferdinand and Terry were heroic and generally solid. Lennon was a constant threat, injecting pace into the game and showing a great willingness to take on the defenders. Even Peter Crouch played well, ploughing a lonely furrow up-front and holding up the ball magnificently.

Did we deserve to win the game though? Really?

I'm not sure. Portugal look poor to me, and I fully expect the winner of tonight's game between France and Brazil to beat them and progress to the final. But did England really create the chances to go through? We were poor in the first half when it was 11 v 11, and we shouldn't let our magnificent rear-guard action conceal the fact that this England squad is lacking goals and invention. Sven was criticised for picking too few strikers in his squad, and even if we had come through this match, who the hell would we have played up front in the semi-final with Rooney suspended? Walcott was clearly never going to get a game. Never. Why the hell was he in the squad? Was Crouch likely to rip apart Brazil or France in a lone frontman role? Hardly.

What of Beckham? I think it's safe to assume that McClaren won't be discarding him, but he played poorly today even before he was forced off with a foot injury. His distribution was unusually slack and even his set piece delivery was woeful. It took an injury to force Sven's hand and replace his apparently un-droppable captain with a player who clearly represents England's future on the right flank.

As extra time drew to a close and Sven made his final roll of the dice, I rolled my eyes. With 90 seconds to go, the only possible reason for Lennon's substitution was that his replacement was going to be taking a penalty..... and who should trot on but Jamie Carragher. He's as honest a defender as you'll find, but in the nicest way possible, you had to fear the worst, didn't you?

Still, we would still have won the game if Lampard and Gerrard had scored from the spot. Who would have imagined that both of them would miss and that Hargreaves would score?

.... and it was those misses, together with Carragher's, that gave Ronaldo his chance to put Portugal through. Unfortunately he seized that chance with both hands.

England have been generally poor in this World Cup, but make no mistake about the fact that they had a brilliant chance of winning it: nobody left in the tournament is playing particularly well and all look beatable. With players like Rooney, Gerrard, Terry, Joe Cole, Lampard and... yes... players like David Beckham, we had a side well capable of winning the whole damn competition. But talent alone is not enough; it must be backed up by performances, and by that measure, England were never at the races. We could have won the World Cup. We really could have. That we didn't win it is partly down to bad luck -- shootouts are always a lottery -- but it must also partly be down to the manager: his tactics, his motivational skills... and yes, his squad selection.

So. Exit Sven Goran Eriksson. Not with a bang, but with an all too characteristic whimper.


..... and that winning goal for the French? Scoring pass provided to Thierry Henry by Zinedine Zidane, unless I'm very much mistaken. Zidane was magnificent tonight - and he's delivered where his successor as World Player of the Year has singularly failed to do so in this World Cup....

Retirement delayed for another week, and the best haircut in football plays on.