Friday, January 27, 2006

Angelos Charisteas for Greece (v Portugal), 4 July 2004

Predictions are here.

So, the draw for the qualifying for Euro 2008 took place today. The host nations qualify automatically (Switzerland and a very lucky Austria) and the top two from each group also qualify - there are no play-offs this time round. The draw in full:

Group A

Portugal, Poland, Serbia and Montenegro, Belgium, Finland, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan

Not one for the faint hearted, with three away trips to former Russian republics for the likes of Portugal and Belgium. If Serbia continue with their World Cup qualifying form, they could cause some problems in this group. I also don't fancy Portugal much on a bumpy pitch in stormy Baku, so this could be more open than it looks.

Picks: Serbia and Portugal (just)

Group B

France, Italy, Ukraine, Scotland, Lithuania, Georgia, Faroe Islands

Well, this was Scotland's worst nightmare. They were facing an uphill struggle anyway, but their chances are pretty much dead and buried by landing not only France and Italy but also the Ukraine. Expect them to lose to Lithuania or the Faroes but beat France or Italy along the way. I like Ukraine - they are one of my each way bets for this summers World Cup but it is hard to look past the "big" two, even though I think France are increasingly vulnerable.

Picks: France and Italy

Group C

Greece, Turkey, Norway, Bosnia, Hungary, Moldova, Malta

Even though they won the last tournament, Greece seem oddly highly seeded and have shown no form since their unexpected triumph in Lisbon. It's an interesting group this as even the Moldovan's can give a decent side a game and Hungary have shown signs of improvement of late.

Picks: Turkey and Norway

Group D

Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, Rep. Ireland, Wales, Cyprus, San Marino

Well, the "home" nations will feel that they have a chance in this group. The Czech's are invariably strong, but Germany's problems are well documented and Slovakia punched above their weight in reaching the World Cup qualifying play-offs. Cyprus and San Marino should cause no problems, and so this could prove to be one of the more open groups. Unfortunately, I think Welsh in-fighting and an increasingly weak looking Ireland squad will mean disappointment for both.

Picks : Czech Republic and Germany

Group E

England, Croatia, Russia, Israel, Macedonia, Estonia, Andorra

Well, could England have landed any more comfortable a group? No long away trips to ex Russian republics, no home nations and none of the big name second seeds. Croatia are a decent side but would expect to be beaten, and beyond that England (the best team in Europe currently?) should comfortably qualify. On paper you'd have to go for Croatia or Russia, but there is often a surprise qualifier. If their Premiership based players perform consistently, it could be the least European nation in the draw that makes it to Switzerland.

Picks: England and Israel

Group F

Sweden, Spain, Denmark, Latvia, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Liechtenstein

Again, an interesting group. The top four seeds will all fancy their chances here, with Sweden and Spain early favourites for the tournament itself, Denmark winners in 1992 and Latvia qualifying in 2004. I think Northern Ireland will struggle against all four of those sides, and I think it will be a fight between the Scandinavian nations for the second qualifying spot.

Picks: Sweden and Spain

Group G

Holland, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Albania, Belarus, Luxembourg

Well, the second place here is anyones guess. I expect Holland to qualify comfortably, but then it is a good scrap for the other place. Romania and Bulgaria are solid sides if unlikely to trouble Europe's top teams, whilst little Slovenia have put together some decent sides over the last 10 years. Albania are one of the most improved nations in Europe also. I think this is another group where we might see a surprise qualifier.

Picks: Holland and Slovenia

Anyone fly low cost to Skopje?.....

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Rio Ferdinand for Manchester Utd (v Liverpool), 22 January 2006

Hello. Predictions from the FA Cup this week - and I will update the table soon, I promise.

Aston Villa 3-0 Port Vale
Bolton 2-1 Arsenal
Brentford 1-1 Sunderland
Charlton 2-0 Leyton Orient
Cheltenham 0-2 Newcastle
Colchester 2-1 Derby
Coventry 0-1 Middlesbrough Nil
Everton 0-1 Chelsea
Leicester 1-0 Southampton
Man City 2-1 Super Wigan
West Ham 2-2 Blackburn
Portsmouth 1-1 Liverpool
Wolves 1-3 Man Utd

and a random wildcard from the Pools coupon:

Hartlepool 2-1 Blackpool

Monday, January 23, 2006

Michael Owen for England (v Germany), 1 September 2001

So, he's on his way then, after the World Cup.

I think the press in this country should sit back and reflect that they need to be careful what they wish for when we get landed with some f*cking useless muppet after the World Cup. Whatever indiscretions there have been, I still maintain he has done a fantastic job and put English football properly back on the map.

I hope we do really well in the World Cup so it reminds everyone what the England managers job is all about....

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Peter Beardsley for England (v Poland), 17 October 1990

If you are looking for the predictions, they are here. Up early this week!...

Following on a tangent from the previous post, here's a point that was made to me by a female friend of mine some time ago.

A lot of blokes between the age of 18 and 35 are good looking. I know it's all in the eye of the beholder, blah blah blah but a lot of guys of this age are decent enough looking fellas.

There are 44 teams in the top two divisions of British football. They have first team squads of, what, 20 players? So that's the best part of 900 blokes between the ages of 18 and 35, say.

Name more than about half a dozen that are good looking.

Now, I'm not a great authority on what constitutes a great looking young man, and so we will maybe have to turn to our female/gay readers at this point for assistance with disproving this theory or otherwise. But, whilst you could presumably name any number of pop stars, film stars or other celebs of that age that are regarded as good looking, try and do the same with footballers from the Premiership and Championship.

James Beattie, maybe? Thierry Henry? Freddie Ljungberg, I guess.

But For every Thierry there are a busload of Crouches and Nevilles and Repkas and Radzinskis and Bents and Earnshaws (etc).

Why is this? And am I missing lots?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Alan Hansen for Liverpool (vs West Ham Utd), 1 April 1981

Here I am, minding my own business in front of the telly with a glass of red wine, a creme egg watching the FA Cup replay between Manchester Utd and Burton Albion... and suddenly I become aware of something; something not quite right. I can't quite put my finger on it. What is it? What's bothering me?

Oh. My. God.

Alan Hansen.

8 League Championships, 2 FA Cups, 3 European Cups, 4 League Cups Alan Hansen. 621 appearances and 14 goals for Liverpool Alan Hansen. 26 caps for Scotland Alan Hansen. Big central defender Alan Hansen.

That Alan Hansen. The Alan Hansen.

He's only gone and had his bloody eyebrows shaped.

What's the world coming to?

Thierry Henry for Arsenal (v Middlesbrough), 14 January 2006

I have had a request to bang the predictions up a bit earlier this week - always happy to oblige...!

No-one got the 7-0 scoreline from last week, by the way. It was a great experience for some of Boro's young players, apparently. God help their hysterical state of mind if they had won 7-0 then....

Birmingham 1-1 Portsmouth
Bolton 2-1 Man City
Everton 0-2 Arsenal
Middlesbrough nil 2-1 Wigan
Newcastle 1-1 Blackburn
Spurs 2-1 Villa
West Brom 1-0 Sunderland (ooooh! glamour fixture alert!)
Chelsea 3-0 Charlton
Man Utd - Liverpool
West Ham 1-2 Fulham

and a couple of oddball European wildcards:

Vitesse 3-0 Willem II
Lyon 2-0 Auxerre

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Lee Hendrie for Aston Villa (vs West Ham United), 15 January 2006

Aston Villa fans must have been delighted to discover this morning that Sven has been busy touting their club to apparently wealthy Sheikhs in Dubai. The good news for the FA and for all England fans is that apparently Sven wouldn't dream of walking out on his £4.2m a year contract to manage England until after the World Cup (he is under contract until 2008). After the World Cup he would be available for the simple matter of £5m net and a three year contract.

£15m to manage Aston Villa? Is he mad? Surely that's not enough? I'd want double that.

Ah. But Sven has a plan: his best pal David Beckham is apparently itching for a way to leave Real Madrid and return to the Premiership. A London club would be ideal, naturally, but Sven was confident that he would be able to convince DB that Birmingham was as close to Beckingham Palace as London, if not closer. He then offered to ring up the England captain on the spot to sound him out.

Sound enticing? The Sven and David Beckham dream team at Villa Park?

No. It doesn't to me either (and to be honest I'm struggling to see someone of David Beckham's gargantuan opinion of his own brilliance contemplating playing for the claret and blue. By 'London club', I'm pretty sure he'll imagine Arsenal or Chelsea. Or maybe AC Milan. That's just outside the M25, isn't it?)

That's not all the information that a few glasses of champagne managed to extract from Sven.... apparently Wayne Rooney grew up in a very rough area, Michael Owen wasn't that keen on going to Newcastle but they offered him a shitheap of money and *gasp* Rio Ferdinand is a bit lazy.

No shit Sherlock.

It would clearly be ridiculous and counter-productive of the FA sack this clown in a World Cup year, but it surely has to be a question of when now. I have some sympathy with him over the intrusions into his private life by the tabloid press, but to be so openly disloyal to his employers - at least twice - is surely too much.

Then again, in showing such a total disregard for the small matter of his contract, is Sven really behaving any differently to anyone else in football?

Of course, if he comes back in July with the World Cup trophy, I'm sure all will be forgiven.


On an almost completely different subject, whilst watching Match of the Day last night, I was struck how much the current incumbent in the dugout at Villa Park has put on a bit of weight recently and is starting to look like a gerbil. Or is it just me? These pictures are from 1976 and 2006 respectively.... what do you think?

Maybe he always has?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Theo Walcott for Southampton (v Luton Town), 11 December 2005

OK, predictions time. Back to the Premiership this week.

Some interesting stuff about the FA Cup and Xabi Alonso here and about the League Cup here (if you're interested).

Arsenal 2-0 Middlesbrough
Aston Villa 2-0 West Ham
Blackburn 2-1 Bolton
Charlton 1-2 Birmingham
Fulham 2-1 Newcastle
Liverpool 1-0 Spurs
Man City 1-3 Man Utd
Dinamo Portsmouth 2-1 Everton
Sunderland 1-1 Chelsea
Wigan 2-0 West Brom

and random wild card from League Two:

Rochdale 2-0 Stockport

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Paul Scharner for Wigan Athletic (v Arsenal), 10 January 2006

Isn't it about time we ditched the League Cup?

Wigan Athletic yesterday played the biggest game in the club's history. They faced the mighty Arsenal at home in the semi-final of the League Cup, a competition whereby a final appearance would be likely to reward them with a place in next seasons UEFA Cup competition, less than thirty years after entering the League.

Attendance: 12,181

Tonight, Blackburn Rovers (again, looking for a UEFA Cup spot) held Manchester Utd to a 1-1 draw in front of less than a full house at Ewood Park.

It's not so much the spectators disinterest in the tournament, it's the teams disinterest that is undermining it as well. Arsenal's line up in a major Cup semi final included Kerrea Gilbert, Johan Djorou, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, Sebastian Larsson and Arturo Lupoli. Wigan fielded Steve McMillan, Gary Teale and Andreas Johansson. Man United fielded Louis Saha and Mikael Silvestre.

From my experiences this season, the only thing that has kept it going was the great run Doncaster Rovers had, as at least their fans turned out in force and at least they played like they wanted to win the thing.

Were you excited when your team played in the Carling Cup this season? Am I being unfair to this forty year old competition, or is it time we consigned it to the dustbin and freed up some of the fixture congestion?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Xabi Alonso for Liverpool (vs Luton), 7 August 2006

The magic of the FA Cup, isn't it? Hmmm?

It's frequently called the best weekend of the football calendar, and it certainly didn't disappoint, with lots of great games, a few cracking goals and, most importantly, a few shocks. Where do you start? Huddersfield giving Chelsea a game at Stamford Bridge? Luton giving the European champions a bit of a fright? Millwall holding Everton? Nuneaton deservedly holding Boro? Torquay holding Birmingham? Leyton Orient beating Fulham? Leicester beating Spurs?

All great results, but I think my favourite was seeing plucky northerners Manchester United being given a financial lifeline by holding the mighty Burton Albion to a draw and a lucrative replay. Their reward if they get through that? Another payday when they take on the mighty, mighty Wolves at Molineux. If they get past Burton that is...

Tee Hee.


I see that some lucky punter from Liverpool made £25,000 out of a bet on Xabi Alonso scoring from the half way line at some point this season. Apparently he watched him try it a few times last season, and thought it was worth a punt. Some punt though. How many goals are scored from behind the halfway line every season? It can't be many - certainly for Premiership teams. The last one I can remember is David Beckham against Spurs about ten years ago. But this guy didn't only bet that someone would score one this season, he also nominated the player. That's quite a bet. Even more so when you hear that this guy was so confident that he put £200 on it. And fair play to him - it came in.

Is it just me who thinks that the odds of 125/1 are a bit stingy?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Ronnie Radford for Hereford Utd (v Newcastle Utd), 5 February 1972

so, welcome to "The Magic Of The FA Cup" 3rd Round predictions weekend....

"Tudor's gone down for Newcastle. Radford again. What a goal! What a goal! Radford the scorer, Ronnie Radford!"

Blackburn 2-0 QPR
Chelsea 3-0 Huddersfield
Derby 2-1 Burnley
Hull City 1-3 Aston Villa
Ipswich 1-1 Portsmouth
Luton Town 0-2 Liverpool
Millwall 0-1 Everton
Newcastle Utd 2-0 Mansfield
Nuneaton 0-2 Middlesbrough
Sheff Wed 2-1 Charlton
Torquay 1-2 Birmingham
Wigan 2-1 Leeds
Leicester 0-3 Spurs

and random wild card

Burton Albion 0-3 Buccaneers

And for a bonus 5 points for each correct prediction at the end of the season - FA Cup finalists, please. I'll go for Chelsea and Liverpool.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Ian Westlake for Ipswich Town (v Luton Town), 31 December 2005

One of those silly footie trivia questions asks:

"Which is the only club in the football league not to contain any of the first five letters of the alphabet?"

I know the answer to this (it's Luton Town), but can someone explain to me why Portsmouth wouldn't be the answer I have? Is it AFC Portsmouth? Or is the question just completely wrong?