Friday, June 30, 2006

Luca Toni for Italy (vs Ukraine), 30th June 2006

I have no idea what kind of brainstorm came over Argentina's coach this afternoon (Riquelme and Crespo off but Messi and Saviola overlooked in place of Cambiasso and Cruz?? Really??)... but I think Germany thoroughly deserved to go through. Argentina had looked by far the most impressive side in the group stages, but had struggled against the Mexicans, and looked short of ambition this evening. Their bad-tempered exit on penalties just about summed up their day.

Mind you, the hosts may be picking up momentum as the tournament progresses, but they don't really look that good do they? Frail at the back and a bit lightweight up front? Klose has scored goals, sure... but against a really decent defence? I reckon Italy will keep them out.

As for Italy... well. It was a pretty un-Italian performance in that they won by 3-0, and therefore scored two more goals than they strictly needed to progress. When I walked into the pub after 10 minutes and Italy were already 1-0 up, I did rather fear that they would be happy to sit back on that. They're a frustrating side to watch: they have so much individual talent, but they often seem content to do no more than they have to in a game. Today they played pretty well. I fancy them to beat Germany, and I think they have an excellent chance in the final itself. Totti is one of my favourite players (Roma are my Italian team), but he's never really performed in a major tournament. I was in Rome a few years ago, and it's amazing how popular he is there: he's Roman born, has a thick Roman accent, plays for Roma and has a tattoo of a Roman Centurion on his arm. They really love him there, and you can see why he might be reluctant to ever move clubs. Most of the really big Italian clubs are from the North of the country, and they tend to mock Totti for his Roman accent - it makes him sound a bit like a country bumpkin. To his eternal credit, rather than get offended by this, Francesco Totti has published a book of jokes about himself being stupid. I somehow can't imagine David Beckham doing the same thing about himself (and Totti has twice Beckham's talent). Totti is currently recovering from a nasty broken leg, and doesn't seem quite fit yet... but hopefully he'll do something magic before the end of the Tournament.

As for tomorrow.... well, France v Brazil is an intriguing game. Neither team has played particularly well so far, but France look like they may finally be coming into some form. Forget score predictions, if Zidane lays on a scoring pass for Thierry Henry tomorrow, then the French will definitely win. It hasn't happened in more than 50 internationals, but it could happen tomorrow, right?

And England?

Hmmmmm. I think we could beat Portugal... but it's going to be a rollercoaster, isn't it? Whatever the result, it's bound to be emotional.

Hands up who picked a Brazil v Argentina final then?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Frank Ribery for France (vs Spain), 27th June 2006

...what do you mean there's no bloody football on today? what the hell am I supposed to do now? watching Property Ladder and Gordon Ramsey on the telly is no bloody consolation.... (well, unless they're showing Switzerland vs Ukraine again on the other side).



Predictions time:

Remember that we're looking for the score at 90 minutes here, although you should have a stab at saying who you think will go through to the next round for bonus points.

Germany 2 - 2 Argentina (with Argentina going through)
Italy 2 - 0 Ukraine
Brazil 1 - 1 France (with France squeaking through)
England 1 - 1 Portugal (in a triumph of hope over experience, England to go through)

And I also need your predictions for the two finalists.

Mine? Italy and France.... well, it might happen, right?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ronaldo for Brazil (vs Ghana), 27th June 2006


So Ronaldo is now the leading scorer in World Cup history: his 15th goal in the World Cup finals and his 62nd goal in 96 games for Brazil was enough to take him past Gerd Muller.

He's 29 years old... and what a career: 2 world cups (1994, 2002), 3 time FIFA world player of the year (1996, 1997, 2002), European footballer of the year (1997, 2002), Golden Boot as top scorer in the 2002 World Cup..... if there is a prize to be won in the game, Ronaldo has pretty much won it.


29 years old, 3 goals in 4 games so far in the 2006 World Cup, and yet Ronaldo is consistenly written off as a has-been. He looks at least a stone overweight, is immobile and Brazil seem to play infinitely more fluidly when he is replaced by Robinho - a younger man injecting both pace and purpose that is noticeably lacking when Ronaldo is on the pitch. Yet still Carlos Alberto Parreira perisists in picking him.... and still Ronaldo looks capable of scoring if he receives the ball in the box (as long as he doesn't have to run too far to get it).


Has any player had a comparable career in the World Cup?

He was an unused subsitute in the World Cup winning side in 1994 as a teenager. He was the centre of attention in the 1998 final for all the wrong reasons, but people forget that he scored 4 goals and was voted as the tournament's best player. In 2002 he won the golden boot and the World Cup with his 8 goals (and caught the eye with his bizarre haircut). In 2006 so far he has scored 3 goals and seems a fixture in the Brazilian side.


He may be overweight, but how much would England give for a striker of this calibre?

He's a legend, and we should make the most of him in what is surely going to be his last World Cup.

Mind you. I have to say that I am starting to think that France have destiny on their side. They were mostly awful in the group stages and looked lucky to qualify.... and yet.. and yet.... they totally deserved their win against Spain this evening. Thierry Henry may have shamed himself with his play-acting (although it was clearly a free kick anyway), but surely no-one can deny that the French richly deserved to win the game. The Spaniards barely had a shot on goal in the whole game, and go home yet again having under-achieved in a major tournament.

Brazil will need to improve to stop the French advancing to a semi-final game... possibly against England.


Tranquillo Barnetta for Switzerland (v Togo), 19 June 2006

Monday morning in the Altstadt in Cologne. Fresh from quite a quantity of assorted German beer, and some typical continental breakfast (cheese, bread and salami. And pork. And potatoes) we sat by the Rhine in a café for hours reading the Sunday papers and drinking alternate milchkaffee and kolsch.

Cologne was bustling today with fans descending on the city for the final game the city would host in the tournament. There were a smattering of Ukrainian fans, but thousands of Swiss bedecked in flags and odd hats.

Having spent a lazy day pottering around the place, we eventually headed out towards the stadium for the game. The main station is adjacent to the city’s magnificent gothic cathedral, the obvious point for fans to mix…
Needless to say, the public transport out to the new RheinEnergie Stadion was punctual and plentiful, meaning we got to the ground well in time for the match.

Having availed ourselves of some beers (the bloody official beer of the tournament is that dreadful American p*ss, so of course that’s what they were serving) we sat on the grass in the sunshine and watched the masses arrive.

And then we saw this, which is possibly the bizarrest thing I have ever seen at a football match.Our position was adjacent to one of the corporate hospitality tents, and so we were treated to some frankly dreadful cabaret singing, from a couple of guys who looked like Milli Vanilli and, frankly, sounded like them as well.

The Swiss fans, it should be said, were absolutely fantastic. I particularly liked this fella…

When we got into the ground, the selection of in-stadium fare could not have been more German if it had tried.Sausage or Schnitzel, anyone?

We were sat behind the goal with the hardcore Swiss support. Now, I have been to a fair bit of international football (the last two Euros for a start) and I don’t think I have ever heard such enthusiastic and constant support as the Swiss gave their side throughout the entire game. “Hopp Suisse” seemed to be the favourite chant and, having sunk a few beers, I got involved in that also.

The game itself wasn’t the finest the tournament has ever seen, but I enjoyed it. A match of few chances, I thought the Swiss pretty much dominated the game. Alexander Frei ran his b*llocks off, Johann Vogel tidied everything in the midfield and Barnetta and Wicky provided some crisp passing on each flank.The Ukrainians were, frankly, rubbish. And, before he has even landed in the UK, I hate Andriy Shevchenko. His body language reminds me a lot of the French incarnation of Thierry Henry. Whenever a team mate missed a pass to him, or crossed out of touch, he would shrug and berate them. He is clearly their best player by a mile, but if I were a team-mate of his, he would drive me mental. He is also a cheat (his handball that almost led to a goal) and not above doing something sh*t himself….

Anyway, a penalty shootout was the inevitable outcome, and the Swiss took three of the worst penalties I have ever seen to lose 3-0 on the night. A travesty of a result if ever there was one.

It was almost midnight by the time we piled out of the stadium and headed back into the city, which was still pretty busy even for that time in the morning. One €3 doner kebab later, it was time for bed….

Monday, June 26, 2006

Freddie Mercury for Queen (v Live Aid) 13 July 1985

Greetings from the fair German city of Cologne. Oh, did I not mention that CUAS was going to be live and interactive from the World Cup this week?....

A ludicrously early start yesterday as fellow CUAS stab-in-the-dark predictions guru Sarah and I headed to darkest Essex. Stansted Airport wasn’t anywhere near as busy as I had anticipated but there were a fair sprinkling of footie kits and extra flights to Stuttgart.

Of course we weren’t going to Stuttgart (unlike a bloke in a ridiculous pink linen suit and Nick Hancock) – drawing an England game out of the FIFA ticket ballot would have been far too lucky. Instead, we were heading to Cologne.

I have never flown with Germanwings before, and, indeed, have never been to Germany. The flight was only about a third full, and we seemed to land about ten minutes after taking off. The Germans clearly don’t have immigration concerns, as we found ourselves at the baggage carousel and outside the airport without the inconvenience of any passport control.

Our taxi driver spoke limited (read “no”) English, so decided to communicate by reading a broadsheet newspaper whilst on the autobahn and by pointing at relevant pictures and articles about the England game. He dropped us off at our hotel in central Cologne, whose reception was absolutely chock full of Koreans, no doubt off home in disappointment.

So, out we headed.

Cologne itself is nice. We sat and had a bit of lunch (everything on the menu is pork, pork, potatoes, pork, sausage, pork, potatoes, pork sausage, pork, sausage or pork). I had the pork with sausage, Sarah the same. They also have a local brew called Kolsch, which slips down very nicely also. Necking a few Kolsch’s in a place overlooking the Rhine was a very nice way to spend a Sunday lunchtime.

There are quite a few footie fans in the city. The English and Portuguese were the most obvious, both of whom had a match. We headed over to the Heumarkt, in the centre of Cologne where the official “fan fest” site was located, and bumped into a couple of England fns who told us that you were only allowed in the FanFest for an hour at a time. After some banter about how “it’s only worth watching England in the first half anyway”, we realized that this information was clearly b*llocks.

So, after a pit stop at the hotel, we headed into the FanFest about an hour and a half before the England v Ecuador match.

Equipped with anther kolsch, we wandered to the big screen and were greeted by the unnerving sight of a bloke in a vest and red leather trousers on the stage with his group. They were a Queen tribute band and were “wowing” (I use that word advisedly) the crowd with a series of slightly ropey Queen covers.

I am vaguely embarrassed by this, but I thought I would throw myself into the atmosphere (and a few beers on a hot day hadn’t helped my restraint) by getting embroiled in a Radio Ga-Ga moment…..

I would also mention at this point that it was chuffing hot. Estimates put the temperature at about 34 degrees with no breeze whatsoever. Standing under the shade of the beer tent, it was still unbelievably hot.

Just as the FanFest was filled, 5pm came and the match kicked off. It was a pretty uninspiring first half – a mistake from John Terry almost cost England a goal but an excellent last ditch tackle from Ashley Cole saved England.

The second half was about five minutes old when, without any warning, the sky turned black. You know that bit in “Independence Day” when the alien ships appear over the cities? It was just like that. Then the wind came. Frantic closing of the beer tent ensued as the gales began.

The announcer came over the tannoy and told the watching crowds that “if you want to watch the match somewhere dry, you should leave now…” Of course no-one left.

The thunder and lightning began shortly after, as the sky got blacker still. Then, England were awarded a free kick just outside the left side of the Ecuadorian penalty area.

The wind continued to howl and the first spots of rain began to fall on the amassed Cologne crowd.

This is what happened next. I swear this is absolutely genuine.

So, the big screen flickered back into action as the Ecuadorians lined up on the half way line. No-one was quite sure what had gone on until the German TV coverage showed a replay of Beckham’s free-kick hitting the back of the Ecuadorian net. Slightly belatedly, the crowd went potty and began the singing.

And then the rain came.

It wasn’t a shower. Or a downpour. It was a black sky rainfest of biblical proportions. Everyone began to run in every direction, as we joined the exodus from the town square and headed towards some neighbouring hostelries. They were both full already, and so we ended up in a pizza restaurant with a large number of other England fans and some bemused German families who had come for a quiet Italian meal with their kids. To be fair to the restaurant, they did a reasonable job of accommodating us for the last 25 minutes, before they made us all sit at tables when the final whistle went.

We then had an amusing argument with some fellow English fans who were complaining about the performance, and Sven’s tactics. “The Germans”, said I, “took to the streets in their millions last night to celebrate getting to the quarter-finals, and here you are complaining about our performance. We should be out in the street celebrating reaching the quarter-finals also….”

I asked this young guy if he’d be bothered about how we performed if we ended up winning the trophy. “Actually, yes I would a little bit,” he replied.

What a load of old cobblers that is. I told him so.

Off they went, and we found the BierMuseum locally which has eighteen varieties of beer on tap. Having sampled several of those, we sat down in a local steakhouse and watched Portugal v Holland in the company of some Swiss fans.

An interesting game, and probably the least dirty game with four sendings off that I can ever remember. The longer the game went on, the more we wanted Portugal to win (from a selfish England perspective as Costinha and Deco will be banned and Ronaldo was injured). Of course they did hold on, and the Portuguese population of Cologne then took to the streets with their flags waving and horns blaring. That’s what the World Cup is all about….

Our match later on – we are off to the Rhein-Energie stadium to see Switzerland v Ukraine. More on that later….

(nb - thanks to Sarah for amazing technical genius and patience on the video front)

Luis Figo for Portugal (vs England), 13th June 2000

Quote of the day:

"Jesus said we should turn the other cheek, unfortunately, Figo is not Jesus Christ."

(Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari)

You don't say.... Unless JC had some Portuguese grandparents or qualified through residency, I'm assuming that he would have been playing for Israel, for starters.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Maniche for Portugal (vs Holland), 25th June 2006

16 yellow cards and 4 red cards. A new World Cup record. I suppose congratulations are due to the referee, Mr. Valentin Ivanov from Russia.

The TV pictures right at the end of Deco and Giovanni van Bronckhorst sitting disconsolately together said it all: two Barcelona team mates, one playing for Portugal and one playing for Holland, both shown the red card and forced to watch the conclusion of the game from the sidelines. Were they talking about the match? Hell no, they were both talking about the referee.

Somewhere in there, a football game got lost.

...and now Portugal must prepare themselves (minus the suspended Costinha and Deco, and also possibly without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo) to face England at Gelsenkirchen next Saturday. It's Eriksson vs Big Phil Scolari round three..... and Big Phil's won them both of the other rounds so far.... both in quarter finals in the last two major international competitions. It's the outgoing England manager vs the man who might have been his successor but thought better of it. The fiery latin against the icy swede. It should be an interesting match.

Whatever the result, let's hope the match is about the players and not about the referee, eh?

David Beckham for England (vs Ecuador), 25th June 2006

I have been slightly surprised at the volume of criticism in the English papers over the last couple of days aimed at David Beckham. Not contributing enough, apparently. Only in the side because of his profile and because Sven will never drop him. Aaron Lennon would offer more dynamism and more penetration down the right-hand side.

Maybe so.

I'm not the biggest Beckham fan (its pretty well documented here and elsewhere that I think he's a preening clown), but I have to say that I've been relatively happy with his contribution to the England side in this World Cup. The whole England side has been performing some way under par thus far into the competition, but Beckham has been a constant threat with his dead ball delivery. It worries me a little when he deserts the right flank to take a free kick or a throw-in on the left, but he has weighed in with two assists (only one other player has contributed more in the World Cup so far - Schweinsteiger with three)... and of course he scored the winner against Ecuador this evening.

Lennon definitely offered us a glimpse of the future when he came on for the last ten minutes (presumably neatly stepping over the product of Beckham's technicolour yawn as well as the ball), but I think he remains best used as an option off the bench for now.

I thought England played okay tonight. Yes, we offered Ecuador chances far too late in the game, and yes, the centre of defence is looking worryingly (and unexpectedly) wobbly, but I think we have made some real strides in the right direction tonight. Owen Hargreaves had another solid game, this time at right back, and Wayne Rooney lasted a whole 90 minutes - even if he was blowing quite hard by the end of the game. Perhaps most importantly of all, the introduction of Michael Carrick seemed to encourage a shorter passing game; there were fewer Hollywood balls from Beckham and Gerrard and as a consequence it was easier to keep possession.

Overall though, much more promising. We'll have to wait for the result of tonight's Portugal v Holland to see who we'll get in the quarter-final.... but on the evidence of the group games, I don't think either of them are unbeatable.

I tell you what though, if an Ecuadorian player had time-wasted as blatantly as Paul Robinson did at the end of the game, the whole nation would have been incandescent with rage. What the hell was he playing at? Don't tell me he was being professional.... it's little better than cheating, and it has to stop.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Maxi Rodriguez for Argentina (vs Mexico), 24th June 2006

[Predictions are down here]

Well, that was a *proper* game of football, wasn't it?

Two sides going at each other hell-for-leather for the chance of a place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

According to the slightly absurd FIFA world rankings, Mexico are the 4th best team in the world (Argentina are placed 9th). I don't know if they were that good, but they certainly made the team who must be favourites for the World Cup work hard for their victory.

What a goal to win it though, eh? An absolute screamer in extra time by Maxi Rodriguez. I'm sure that Mexico will be disappointed to lose, but I don't think their can be much argument with the quality of the goal that put them out of the tournament.

This now sets up a very intriguing quarter-final tie between Germany and Argentina. I know they only beat a fairly ordinary Sweden side (the fact that England struggled against them doesn't mean they are world-beaters), but Germany are starting to build up a head of steam in this competition, and I think that, in spite of a lack of genuine quality, they might take some stopping.

I'm not saying that Germany will beat Argentina... it's just that I have a funny feeling that Argentina aren't going to win this tournament. I'm not sure why I think this as they've clearly been the best team on display up until now, but I really don't think they're going to win. Their struggle to overcome Mexico has only reinforced this belief.

Mind you, on the evidence so far, I don't think that teams like France, Brazil or England are going to win it either.

Ecuador anyone?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Ronaldo for Brazil (v Japan), 22 June 2006

Predictions Time again...

Right. Listen carefully....

Every game from now on in will count. So, for a start, we have:

Germany v Sweden
Mexico v Argentina
England v Ecuador
Portugal v Holland
Brazil v Ghana
Australia v Italy
Spain v France
Switzerland v Ukraine

And then quarter finals, semi-finals and final will all count.

It is 90 minute results that count (i.e discounting extra time and penalties).

Your best bet is to keep checking regularly and simply post any upcoming predictions in the comments on any post (preferably the predictions one...)

Five bonus points for correctly naming each finalist, also -I'll need these before the quarter finals, please...

good luck!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Harry Kewell for Australia (v Croatia), 22 June 2006

That's his World Cup over, then. What a pillock.

Massimo Maccarone for Middlesbrough (v Steaua Bucharest), 27 April 2006

I suddenly have a newfound respect for this club and particularly the besuited man in the middle.

He is Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson.

But why, Lord B? Why any kindness towards the Smoggies at all?

The reason can be found at:

It is not a particularly original idea - a normal punter applies for a top managers job based on years experience of Championship Manager - but this tale has a fantastic ending.....

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Joe Cole for England (v Sweden), 20 June 2006

Let's cut to the chase. This fella is getting on my tits.

For those of you who don't recognise this smug pug-nosed smarmball, this is ITV's chief football commentator, Clive Tyldesley.

Manchester United worshipping Clive has been ITVs main commentator for a goodly number of years now, remembered best I guess for being in the right place at the right time to commentate on United's two late goals in the Champions League final of 1999.

I have had no previous beef with Clive, largely speaking. But something seems to have happened to him on entering this World Cup. Instead of the relaxed jovial Clive, he seems to have morphed into some sort of cross between a headline writer on a tabloid newspaper and Tony Blair. His commentary, such as it is, has turned from accurate and informative football chitchat into a series of screaming soundbite tabloid headlines. Take his introduction to last night's game:

"The last time England beat Sweden," he said, "Abba were six years from winning the Eurovision Song Contest, Bjorn Borg was eight years away from winning Wimbledon, Ikea were 20 years away from opening their first store in Britain, and ... Ulrika was only nine months old...."

In his defence, working alongside Gareth Southgate (a man who makes the Archbishop of Canterbury look like Jonathan Ross) he hasn't much to go on. Still, quite why he feels the necessity to talk in snapshot soundbites rather than full sentences, I am not sure.

Although ITVs coverage in general has been pretty poor. Steve Rider with his Gloria Hunniford hair would clearly far rather be watching the golf. And, anyone else infuriated by the fact that we will have watched a scintillating half of football, they come back from the adverts and the first thing they do is "....bring us the latest from the England camp" at which point grumpy eejit Gabriel Clarke gives us the lowdown on what flavour Oatso Simple Wayne Bridge had for breakfast? I don't give a flying f*ck whether Gary Neville has been doing some light training, get back to the game I was watching and analyse that. Useless beggars.

Plus they have David Pleat who has a God-given inability to pronounce anyone's name correctly. Tonight he pronounced Abramovich "ab-ram-oh-vich", with pretty much those pauses between syllables.

Anyway, I wonder how long it will be before ITV promote to full service the often entertaining duo of Brad Lescargo and Hal Butchgrass?

BBC aren't prefect, mind, but at least they have some tactical knowhow to share. Ignoring Mick McCarthy for a moment (most people thankfully do) and Gary Lineker (a man in danger of disappearing up his own fundament) the BBC pundits are generally pretty handy. Hansen, Strachan and O'Neill are an ideal line up. Lee Dixon is improving, and even the likes of Leonardo and Desailly have proved to be useful additions.

Ian Wright, however, should be forced to sit in a darkened room and listen to tapes of himself for hours on end. Either be a football pundit, or present "This Is My Moment". I haven't seen Martine McCutcheon or Kate Thornton alongside Adrian Chiles recently, so why should he be there? Talentless light-entertainment muppet.

Motty and Lawro all the way now. For the murment, anyway (as Lawro would say)....

[Predictions back on Thursday teatime (hopefully)]

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Henrik Larsson for Sweden (vs England), 20th June 2006


What were you expecting?

We're though. We're top of the group. No one got suspended.

Job done.

... on the other hand....

Owen's injury leaves us with three strikers: one who is half-fit, one who has never played in the Premiership and has less than 10 professional goals to his name and one who is Peter Crouch. We look distinctly short of goals, and the fact that we conceded two to an average looking Sweden side doesn't fill me with confidence in our defence either.

Perhaps we'll fall into the perfect formation by mistake? A five man midfield finally unleashing Gerrard and Lampard at the right end of the pitch....? Let's hope so.

Mind you. I did get Ecuador in the office sweepstake.... so perhaps I can't lose?

(oh, and for the record, I thought Owen Hargreaves played ok, so leave him alone)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Park Ji-Sung for South Korea (vs France), 18th June 2006

[The A-Z of football starts here]

You might remember that France and South Korea had somewhat contrasting fortunes in the last World Cup: the Koreans performed well above expectations to reach the semi-finals and the French - defending champions, lest we forget - were eliminated in the first phase without scoring a single goal. No one outside of the Korean peninsular seriously expected the Koreans to do as well in 2006, but the French were once again amongst the four or five sides thought to have a serious chance of winning the tournament.

The total failure of the French to turn up for their opening group game against the Swiss meant that all eyes were on them to see if their campaign would be a repeat of 1998 or 2002. France vs Korea is something of a grudge match in my family: my partner is French and my elder brother's wife is Korean.

The French scored a goal (so an improvement on 2002 whatever happens) and were robbed of another when the Korean goalkeeper clearly carried the ball over the line from a Patrick Viera header.... and then they tried to swagger their way through the game and it all went wrong.

But you don't come here to read match reports, do you? I want to talk about Frank Ribery.

I first clapped eyes on Ribery when I was in France a few weeks ago and the national side was playing their last warm-up game at the Stade de France in Paris. I sat with C's father in front of the telly in Orleans and watched with the smug detachment of the neutral as the French made rather hard work of a 1-0 win against Mexico. Neither side was especially impressive, but France looked sluggish. On the occasion of his 100th cap and his last appearance as a player in France, Zidane looked well off the place and was subsituted early.... and you have to worry about a side that takes off Gallas and Thuram and brings on Silvestre and Boumsong into the heart of their defence.

Thierry Henry wasn't playing, but he was at the ground looking very relaxed and mucking about with the substitutes. Just after half-time, as the teams were coming back out onto the pitch, Henry began to hug and playfully ruffle the hair of some poor chap. This guy looked a bit simple and looked a little like he had been in a terrible accident. I seriously thought that he was handicapped and being given the day of a lifetime with the French squad. Either that or he was a competition winner of some kind. Imagine my surprise then when this guy stripped off and came on to replace Zidane. That's some prize.

Turns out he was Frank Ribery. Apparently he's some hotshot player from Marseilles who is touted as being the new Zidane.


He played a bit like a competition winner, mind you - both in that game against Mexico AND in both games he's played in the World Cup so far (most notably when he incurred the wrath of Thierry Henry when he fluffed a simple looking chance against the Swiss by opting to take what looked the harder option of trying to find Henry with a pass in the box).

The French may still qualify but they certainly don't look like anything to be scared of. We might be critical of Sven, but England have got 6 points and are definitely through to the next round.... I think Raymond Domenech is in for a hammering in the French press tomorrow.

You also should have heard the scream in our house when Park Ji-Sung popped in the equaliser this evening. Bloodcurdling.

Norman Whiteside for Manchester United (v Everton), 18 May 1985

Well, it's finally here. I am delighted to begin our brand new fortnightly series with the personal thoughts of long-suffering football fans as we plough through the alphabet in our A-Z of Football.

Thanks to everyone for their contributions, and I hope we can pick others up along the way. Without further ado, here's some conjecture on two Scotsman, two pundits, a Chilean, a centre half, three strikers and a pair of buttocks. That's what this great game is all about.

A is for......

...... Alex Ferguson – Lord B

Well, there wasn’t really anywhere else I could start, was there? Since his arrival in 1986, and his near departure in 1990, Sir Alex has become one of the most successful managers in British footballing history, and in terms of trophies, United’s all time most successful.

Most people dislike Ferguson whilst grudgingly accepting his success, and I fall largely into that category. The one thing that separates Fergie from your average punter, however, is his ability to make odd/difficult decisions that the more mortals amongst us find perplexing, but that ultimately turn out for the best.

Look at the transfer record. He has shipped out any number of players supposedly in the prime of their careers and in virtually every instance this decision has been vindicated. Ince. Hughes. Kanchelskis. Butt. Sharpe. Even Keane’s departure saw a newly unshackled United go on a fantastic run of results. The exception that proves this rule is the unexpected sale of Jaap Stam although the future of Ruud van Nistelrooy should provide an interesting topic of conjecture also.

Whilst in charge if United he has guided them to one European Cup, a European Cup Winners Cup, 8 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 2 League Cups, an Intercontinental Cup, a European Super Cup and 5 Charity Shields.

Irreplaceable? No. Perfect? Not nearly. An impossible person to follow into the job? Almost certainly.

........ Clarence Acuna - Ben

Though not the finest player we’ve ever had at St James’ Park, Chilean midfielder Clarence Acuna was at least a real 110%er – more than could be said for most of our foreign imports, and many of the homegrown players too. He arrived in October 2000, established himself in the first team and scored some handy goals. Three years later, having fallen out of favour, he was allowed to leave, apparently so he could look after his sick mother.

But it’s not for his abilities as a footballer or a nurse that he’s remembered. It isn’t even for his name, which conjures up visions of him as a pipe-smoking moustachioed lothario from the 1930s: “Me? Clarence Acuna? In a lady’s boudoir? With my reputation?”

No, what springs to mind when his name is mentioned – and what makes that last vision impossible to sustain – is his phenomenal ugliness. It’s hard to pinpoint quite what it is about him that’s wrong, but his facial features are squashed together so that he seems to have a head as squat as his 5’7” stature. It’s no surprise that when you put his name into Google, the first page listed is on the Ugly Footballers site.

At least the Big Man Upstairs blessed him with footballing talent to compensate, though, eh? Just like Ronaldo, Gianfranco Zola, Nwankwo Kanu, er, Francis Jeffers, Phil Neville, Luke Chadwick… But then there are great players whose faces aren’t so upsettingly unpleasant – so does that mean Clarence sits at home bemoaning his luck and sticking pins into dolls of David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Jamie Redknapp?

.....Added Time – Paul

We all know the score. You're at Old Trafford, clinging on to a 2-1 lead as the clock ticks down and as the ninety minutes expires, up steps the forth official and holds up the board to signal the amount of injury time to be played. The whole ground holds it's breath (except Fergie, who keeps cheing his gum because he already knows what's coming):

20 minutes.

Surely some mistake? Then the fourth official holds up another board which says: "Unless Man Utd score, in which case we can go for a cup of tea"

I realise I'm over exaggerating slightly, but you can guarantee that if your team are doing the business against Man Utd then Fergie will have intimidated the referee to allow his team every possible opportunity to get a goal, and if that means playing on and on into the night, so be it.

...........Tony Adams – Swiss Toni

It used to be true that you knew exactly where you stood with Tony Adams: he was the talented but no-nonsense stopper who captained a boring but successful Arsenal side and sometimes played for England. He was ugly and ungainly. He was a donkey. You knew where you stood with Tony Adams.

And then it all changed.

It all started when he admitted that he was an alcoholic. Before I knew what was happening, Tony Adams had stopped drinking and had turned into some kind of poetry-reading, piano playing Renaissance man. Worse still: the archetypal English stopper had been replaced by some sort of free-spirited libero. I was horrified to see a rejuvenated Adams serenely sailing across the halfway line with hair flowing and the ball at his feet. He would glide into the penalty area and would calmly place the ball beyond the mesmerised goalkeeper.

It was a remarkable transformation, but it was also a terrible betrayal of our history and our heritage. I thought we lived in a world of simple truths, a world where centre-halves knew their place: to kick strikers into the air and the ball into row Z. If I could no longer hold onto those simple truths, then I didn’t know what the hell to believe.

I don’t suppose he’ll be opening a pub anytime soon either.

..........Ron Atkinson - Mike

Bejewelled, huge-headed and orange-skinned, Big Ron was a class act. He was one of the game’s last real characters. He was the kind of man we would all want to be if we were a football manager-turned-pundit…


Until Big Ron made a racist comment about Marcel Desailly which was broadcast when he thought his mic was switched off.

I read an interview with him about 6 months later. Although still remorseful, sadly, he also tried to excuse himself. He suggested that when he had said “some schools would call Desailly a lazy fucking nigger”, the “some schools” bit referred to a particular person who he had worked with in the past. It wasn’t his racism, he argued, it was this other chap’s. In the article, Ron also wondered why it’s ok for gangsta rappers to use the word “nigger” when he can’t.

Oh dear.

This incident was a shock and a matter of great disappointment for me. I had loved Atkinson’s co-commentary. His “Big-Ronisms” were legendary and I used to discuss them with my students in my A Level English Language class. Whether he invented them or not, he certainly brought many new expressions to the public consciousness. I particularly enjoyed “he’s given that the eyebrows” to describe a flick-on and “Scholes has gone for the Hollywood ball” to describe an over-ambitious pass. According to my projections, if he’d carried on co-commentating for another ten years, he would have become the most prolific wordsmith since Shakespeare. Indeed, like Shakespeare, he even turned verbs into nouns, as in “that’s a great arrive at the far post” (although the “far post” was always the “second stick” to Ron). Ron was quick to pick up on poor ball control, too, once claiming that a player (can’t remember who, but it was probably Heskey) could “trap the ball further than I go on holiday.”

My feelings about him are mixed. In many ways, Ron Atkinson represents my feelings about the game in general: happy memories combined with disappointment, disgust and the feeling that I’ve been cheated and let down.

.......Andy Gray - Paul A

I consider myself to be a fan of football rather than a football fan. There is perhaps a subtle difference between the two. For example I would generally rather watch my team (West Ham) loose a great game than see them grind out a lucky and undeserved victory (a view that I held right up to Steven Gerrard's last minute goal in the Cup!). As a sometimes casual observer of the game, there are many things which
guarantee to ruin my enjoyment of a match and the one that comes top of the list is usually preceded by Richard Keys saying "so its over to our commentary team of Martin Tyler and ANDY GRAY".

I don't know how tough it can be to make a living as a "summariser" but given the generally appalling standards across the board, I assume it must be something of an intellectual challenge. Over the last decade, Andy Gray has raised the bar of commentary gibberish to a level that looked unsurpassable until the recent arrival on the scene of Graeme "he must be blackmailing the BBC'c head of Sport" Le Saux. Even the best efforts of Chris Kamara, David Pleat, Trevor Francis and Ian Wright have been unable to wrest the crown from Andy's head. In the interests of fairness, it has to be said however, that if anyone were ever stupid enough to allow Ian Wright anything more than his current 3 moronic comments per broadcast, Andy could find himself as yesterday's man!

I can only believe that Sky pay Andy by the word (with a premium for filling their "Scottish" quota) but have not included in his contract that repeating the same word or phrase over and over does not count. Andy does at least let his long suffering public have advance warning of impending "wisdom" by prefacing with "you don't need me to tell you......" before going in excruciating detail through whatever it was we didn't need to have pointed out to us. I don't know the details of
Andy's education but if degrees were offered in hindsight or the bloody obvious, never would a double first have been so rightfully awarded.

With all the technology at Sky's fingertips, can they please allow us the "Real" Fanzone which offers the same commentary but with dear old Andy blissfully muted and the old maxim of "less is more" well and truly fulfilled!

Searching on the web for Andy Gray related articles, i came across a biog on the "Celebrity Speakers" site. Whilst i could go through and list all of the supposed "strengths" that Mr. Gray brings as an after-dinner speaker i will content myself with this. Under the "Language" section, we are told that "He presents in English" could have fooled me.

.......arse - Sarah

Or more to the point, Souleymane Oulare's arse!

Who? You may well say...

Stoke City had been wallowing in the 2nd Division (now 1st Division, previously 3rd Division) since they moved into their new stadium in 1998. In a bid to avoid the continuing rot an ex Belgian footballer of the year, striker Souleymane Oulare, was brought in during the 2002 January transfer window. Alas, within days of his arrival and before he'd had a chance to feature in a first team game, he was rushed to hospital with what turned out to be a blood clot in his lungs. He was out for the whole season.

In his absence, Stoke somehow managed to improve sufficiently to find themselves in a playoff semi final against arch rivals Cardiff, where they found themselves entering the second leg at Ninian Park 2-1 down (agg). The recently recovered Oulare was brought on as a super sub and a 90th minute strike from Stoke forced the game into extra time – 5 minutes after the Cardiff PA had asked the celebrating Bluebirds to stay off the pitch for the home side’s lap of honour (snigger).

In the 115th minute Stoke were awarded a free kick on the edge of the penalty area, which was taken by Super James O’Connor. The Cardiff goalie read exactly where the ball was headed and was in place to easily stop the shot. Fortunately for Stoke, their Guinean striker also happened to be in place and, as the ball rounded the Cardiff wall, it fortuitously headed directly to his arse and was deflected into the net to provide the winning goal.

Stoke went on to easily win the final two weeks later and clambered back to the 1st Division (now Championship, previously 2nd Division), where they’ve been wallowing ever since. Oulare never played for Stoke again, but his backside has remained a club legend.


Thanks to Mike, Swiss Toni, Sarah, Paul, Ben and Paul A for their contributions. More in two weeks....

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Cristian Zaccardo for the USA (vs Italy), 17th June 2006

According to David Pleat, Brian McBride is "pound for pound the best striker in the Premier League"

Er.... really?? He scored 9 goals in 35 games for Fulham last year - some way down the goal scoring lists and the same number as Shola Ameobi managed. No one's arguing that Shola is the best striker in the Premiership by any measure, are they?

Did Pleat mean £ for £ or lb for lb?

I'm not sure he's right either way.

Why am I not surprised? Still, at least he's not Gareth Southgate.

Esteban Cambiasso for Argentina (vs Serbia & Montenegro), 16th June 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, the standard has been set.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Freddie Ljungberg for Sweden (v Paraguay), 15 June 2006

The CUAS World Cup Predictions League
OK, here are the eagerly anticipated current standings after the first round of matches. It's pretty close and all to play for although it doesnt look like anyone will get any bonus points for naming the top scorers, unless Brazil pull something out of the bag. Flash's Mexico look current favourites...
1. Weenie - 18 points
2. Swiss Toni - 15 points
3= Ben - 15 points
3= El Tel - 15 points
5. Statue John - 14 points
6. Charby - 14 points
7= Adem - 14 points
7= Mike - 14 points
9. Sarah - 13 points
10= Dom - 12 points
10= Flash - 12 points
10= KJ - 12 points
10= Paul A - 12 points
14. Lord B - 11 points
15. Poll Star - 10 points
16. Paul - 7 points
If people are level on points, then "no of correct scores" decided the order.
If you haven't done the next round of predictions yet they are here, and more here next Tuesday.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Steven Gerrard for England (vs Trinidad & Tobago), 15th June 2006

England --> The CUAS player-by-player analysis:

-> Paul 'don't it make you feel good' Robinson
Little occupied except when caught out of position for the T&T chance that was cleared off the line. Has the largest gloves in the world.

-> Jamie Carragher
Little noticed at right-back for the first hour of the game. Not much threatened and had at least one decent gallop into the opposition penalty area. Fairly anonymous and David Beckham later played the same position to more effect. Quite ugly.

-> Ashley Cole
Largely anonymous and lacking attacking threat for much of the game. Was caught out several times as the last line of defence when all the centre backs were up for corners. Tiny feet.

-> Rio Ferdinand
Solid enough in the main but I would have liked to have seen him step up into midfield more to help push Steven Gerrard further up the pitch. Probably had enough time to plot some 'hilarious' practical jokes. Maybe this game was one of them.

-> John Terry
England's best player - which is a little worrying in itself against a team like T&T. Timely goal line clearance just before half-time (which Gareth Southgate helpfully informed us would be a terrible time to concede a goal). Has the haircut of an 8 year old and a look of perpetual bewilderment.

-> Steven Gerrard
Spent far too much of the game playing in our half. Scored a Stevie G special when he finally managed to get forwards. Largely wasted as a holding player. Weird hairline but now developing worry lines on his (tiny) forehead.

-> Frank Lampard
Looks out of touch and missed three or four gilt edged chances to score. Nice tan but looks to have just the faintest hint of man-breasts.

-> Joe Cole
Did little except play ill-judged one-twos with Ashley Cole and generally give the ball away. Nice tan.

-> David Beckham
Delivers the ball superbly when given the chance and worth his place for exactly the sort of cross he put in for Crouch's goal. Played OK at right back and linked well with Aaron Lennon. Looks fit and determined but as captain is clearly unable to lift his team when their heads start to drop. The George Cross on his boots looks as though it was painted by a child.

-> Peter Crouch
England legend in the making. Slow to react and too slow to run onto most through balls. Still offers some threat but surely better used off the bench. Too many teeth.

-> Michael Owen
Patently lacking match fitness and playing far too deep: so far away from Crouch that he was frequently playing behind Frank Lampard. Must play 90 minutes against Sweden even if he has to finish the game on his hands and knees - or he should be dropped. England's Ronaldo: sluggish and a shadow of his former self. Mind you, Paolo Rossi was pretty hopeless in the Group Stages of the 1982 World Cup.....


-> Wayne Rooney
Looked fit and determined. Was demanding the ball the moment he stepped onto the pitch and really tried to take command. Looked to finish the game with his foot intact, which can only be good news. Looking more like a boxer with every passing day. Is it me though, or is his hair looking a touch thin for a 20 year old?

-> Aaron Lennon
Made a real impact running at defenders with the ball. Dovetailed nicely with Beckham at full-back (although probably not against better opposition). If he could cross the ball he'd be brilliant.

-> Stewart Downing
Also played.... apparently.


Not a great performance, and I can't see many sides quaking in their boots at the prospect of playing us..... but in the end it's the result that's important. Worth noting too that Sven's substitutions made a positive impact on a game for the first time ever AND England actually won a game in the second half for the first time in years.

Must do better and perhaps time to try something different against Sweden?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Chun Soo-Lee for South Korea (v Togo), 13 June 2006

Next round of predictions are here.

Well, a slightly less entertaining day yesterday, overall. First up, we had debutants Togo, entering the tournament in disarray with the coach resigning and then returning and several of the squad having never met before. Yet, for 45 minutes they put up a decent show before some dodgy goalkeeping surrendered their lead and they went down 2-1 to 2002 semi-finalists South Korea.

This match did give us the entertaining revelation from Gordon Strachan (as detailed on the excellently entertaining Finals Fantasy blog) that he tried to sign Emmanuel Adebayor whilst at Southampton, but Rupert Lowe "didn't like his attitude". This was fresh from the previous days revelation that he tried to sign Tomas Rosicky but he was too much money. Tomorrow we'll no doubt discover Rupert Lowe-Profile didn't like Wayne Rooney's tattoo, or something.

Next up, we had the worst game of the tournament so far, as ageing and clueless France were ultimately lucky to escape with a 0-0 draw against Switzerland. Zinedine Zidane looks a pale, pale shadow of the player who is generally regarded as the best of his generation, Frank Ribery looked completely out of his depth and Thierry Henry did nothing to dispel the myth that he is brilliant for Arsenal and utter cack for France. Mind you, had another French player been within 30 yards of him when France were attacking, he may have done better.

Before the tournament began, I put a tenner on Thierry Henry being one of the top three goalscorers at the tournament, on the basis France were up against Switzerland, Togo and the Koreans. Now I wish I'd never bothered, as France have to improve significantly just to get out of that group....

Perhaps the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies might help. I don't know.

Talking of players that are a pale, pale shadow of their former selves, fat, disinterested bundle of ar*e Ronaldo hardly set the World Cup alight in the evening game from Berlin, as Brazil opened their defence of the title with a narrow 1-0 win over the doughty Croatians. Apparently, he touched the ball eight times before being substituted for Robinho after just over an hour. It was a lovely goal that won the match - a sweet curling effort from Kakakakakakakakakakakakaka.

I remain convinced that Brazil are going to come unstuck in this tournament against an organised side with a decent defence. I don't know who that will be, but I am absolutely sure they aren't going to win the tournament. Watch that prediction bite me on the backside....

(N.B. I am having some horrid e-mail issues at present and so the A-Z of football is temporarily delayed whilst I try and sort out my issues. Thanks to all who have sent a contribution, it will be here soon. It will be extremely entertaining....)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tomas Rosicky for the Czech Republic (v USA), 12 June 2006

Predictions are below....

So, day four of the World Cup saw three debutant nations. Ghana started brightly but were ultimately undone by a workmanlike, and slightly less-defensive-than-expected performance from the Italians.

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.

In the other games yesterday, the USA made a mockery of the FIFA world rankings (they are supposedly fifth) by putting in a performance which would have seen them struggle against a decent Championship side. With no creativity, no penetration and no flair whatsoever they were humbled by a good performance from another debutant nation, the Czech Republic. The Czech star was undoubtedly Arsenal-bound Tomas Rosicky who scored two and hit the crossbar with a long range effort. The commentators were purring reminding viewers that "..this is what Arsenal can expect next season..." I wouldn't be so sure. John Jensen, anyone?

The final game saw a spirited comeback from the Australians (left) as they overcame a slightly dubious Japanese opener to score three times in the last six minutes to win the game 3-1. The Japanese were largely awful, but fair play to the Australians who never gave up. The highlight of this game for me was Gareth Southgate telling Clive Tyldesley that ".....Luke Wilkshire is another ex-Middlesbrough player." Pause. "Not that Viduka and Schwarzer are, of course....." Well done Gareth. Man management at its finest.

Anyway, some more predictions for you, matches starting this Friday - this will see us through to the end of the group stages...

Holland v Ivory Coast
Mexico v Angola
Italy v USA
Czech Republic v Ghana
Brazil v Australia
France v South Korea
Spain v Tunisia
Ecuador v Germany
Sweden v England
Holland v Argentina
Portugal v Mexico
Czech Republic v Italy
Japan v Brazil
Ukraine v Tunisia
Saudi Arabia v Spain

Kaka for Brazil (vs Croatia), 13th June 2006

High time we had a Panini update, I think.

Here's what I need:

stamp, 2, 4, 10, 16, 17, 19, 23, 25, 27, 29, 33, 34, 35, 42, 46, 48, 50, 53, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 61, 63, 64, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72 (dreadful poland skills there), 75, 77, 79, 80, 82, 84, 87, 90, 91, 94, 102, 103, 105, 106, 108 (missing Peter Crouch! disaster!), 109, 112, 115, 117, 118, 121, 123, 124, 125, 132, 134, 136, 138, 141, 143, 145, 150, 151, 152, 154, 158, 159, 161, 166, 167, 168, 173, 175, 177, 180, 185, 190, 193, 194, 197, 198, 199, 200, 201, 202, 204, 207, 208, 216, 217, 218, 219, 221, 222, 223, 224, a completed Dutch page, 244, 248, 250, 252, 255, 258, 259, 263, 270, 272, 273, 275, 276, 279, 280, 282, 283, 286, 288, 290, 292, 293, 295, 303, 305, 306, 311, 312, 314, 317, 318, 320, 321, 322, 324, 326, 332, 337, 341 (The US shiny is my only missing sticker on that page!), 363, 365, 368, 372, 373, 375, 376, 377, 381, 386, 387, 391, 396, 397, 401, 402, 403, 406, 409, 415, 420, 425, 427, 428, 431, 436, 439, 442, 444, 446, 449, 455, 462, 465, 468 (No Djibril Cisse... just like the World Cup generally then), 475, 476, 480, 482, 483, 486, 488, 490, 492, 495, 497, 499, 500, 502, 505, 515, 519, 522, 526, 528, 529, 530, 534, 536, 540, 543, 544, 546, 547, 549, 550, 551, 552, 553, 555, 556, 559, 560, 561, 562, 563, 564, 568, 569, 571, 572, 573, 574, 575, 579, 581, 582, 588, 589, 591, 592

... so some way to go then. To be precise, that's 231 needed out of 597.

Must try harder.

If anyone has need of any swaps, then let me know and I will list my swapsies pile. But in the meantime, if you'll excuse me, I'm just off to the corner shop for some stickers....


By the way.... could all commentators please take their tongues out of Brazil's arses? They **can** be beaten and are not a shoe-in for the title.

Not yet.

Remember the 1982 side.... the best side never to win the World Cup apparently. All very well. That Italian side was hardly vintage, but they left with the cup, and that's ultimately all that matters isn't it?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Pauleta for Portugal (v Angola), 11 June 2006

Day Three of the World Cup was probably the last interesting so far.

In the first match, the Dutch played well but ultimately snuck a 1-0 win against both Serbia and Montenegro.

Then, in the most entertaining match of the day, Mexico beat Iran 3-1. Mexico are officially the fourth best team in the world, according to FIFA, so a certain shoe-in for the semi-finals...

And in the evening match, an early Pauleta goal sealed a 1-0 win for Portugal, and Cristiano Ronaldo threw a bit of a strop when substituted. The Angolan's were frankly a bit poor, although factors such as their goalkeeper not actually having played club football since 2005 not helping....

Nothing much else of interest to report, really. I hate Ian Wright increasingly, am liking Adrian Chiles' late night show on the BBC (particularly Gordon Strachan who manages to be both entertaining and have something worthwhile to say) and am bored with every single World Cup match being interrupted for "the latest from the England camp...."

Arjen Robben for Holland (v Serbia and Montenegro), 11 June 2006

Did you know that exactly 20% of the singles in this weeks UK are football records, including three in the top 10?

I bet they are all sh*t, as well. (except the Embrace one which I like, although think I am the only person in the world that is true for. Oh, and "Three Lions" also.)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Carlos Gamarra for England (v Paraguay), 10 June 2006

So, day two of the World Cup provided some terrific television entertainment (more of that later...)

And so, it was a great day for England, if not a breathtaking performance as they scraped a 1-0 win over Paraguay. Of course, the weather was to blame as it was a little bit hot for our lads. It must have been hot every day England have played a competitive match since 2002 on that basis, as our inability to turn up for the second half is now becoming stuff of legend.

In the other match in Group B, Trinidad and Tobago did England a huge favour by holding Sweden to a 0-0 draw (above). Sweden pretty much dominated the game, but Trinidad were unlucky when Cornell Glen hit the crossbar in the second half with a screamer from a seemingly impossible angle. ITV decided to wheel out bloody Gareth Southgate again for this one, which didn't do much for my enjoyment of a scoreless draw.

And then in the evening kick-off, an entertaining match between Argentina and the Ivory Coast ended 2-1 to the South Americans. The "plucky" African "underdogs" clearly showed their "lack of experience" as they "bravely" fought back from 2-0 down to nearly pull the match back level in the closing stages. Some kudos however to Mr & Mrs Toure who decided to call their kids Kolo and Yaya...

And then came the TV football event of the day.

Rio Ferdinand's World Cup Wind-Ups.

I have genuinely no idea where to start with this. For those of you unfortunate enough to miss it, it was an hour of hilarious prankster and famous ugly Gungan Rio "Jar Jar" Ferdinand setting up and carrying out some side-splitting candid camera type stunts on his unsuspecting England teammates. Victims of this loveable rogue included Gary Neville (the carbon monoxide levels on his car are too high! How we laughed!!!!), Shaun Wright-Phillips (but only after original target John Terry got wind of the stunt by reading all the details on a text message to his fiance), Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch and David Beckham.

The stunts themselves were absolute cobblers. That in itself would have made the thing cringeworthy, but that was nothing. The fact that none of the players involved batted a f*cking eyelid to the hysterical misfortune that had befallen them, whilst Rio directed proceedings with a walkie-talkie from behind the scenes, clapping his hands like a seal and being The Only Person In The Country who found this stuff amusing made this one of the worst hours of television I have ever, ever seen.

Indeed, the programme backfired in the sense that all it did was to portray the players involved as generous, upstanding, sensible and civilised people. Take Gary Neville preferring to take points on his licence than indulge a bent copper by giving him a photo instead. Take Wayne Rooney seriously considering giving a dogs home £50,000 as a donation to save it from closing. Take Shaun Wright-Phillips protesting in defense of a waiter in a restaurant who is about to be fired. Take David Beckham who is too polite to scream and shout at his driver, preferring to ask him repeatedly in that polite British way to turn the car around.

Rio also used the phrase "you've been merc-ed" an awful lot. Anyone have the faintest idea what "you've been merc-ed" means?

So, whilst other ex-footballers take their coaching badges to become managers and coaches, degrees to become physiotherapists or even qualify as referees, Rio has his post-football career lined up as the new Jeremy Beadle. Or not, if last night was anything to go by....

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Torsten Frings for Germany (v Costa Rica), 9 June 2006

Well, we're off then.

An unexpectedly entertaining first game as hosts Germany saw off Costa Rica 4-2. A couple of early contenders for "goal of the tournament" as well, not least that amazing long range effort from bemulleted Teutonic midfielder Torsten Frings (left). Costa Rica were clearly fairly rubbish, but they still made the German's defence look entirely pedestrian - other sides must be licking the lips at the prospect of facing the host nation bearing in mind all you need is a nippy striker and someone to loft the ball over the centre halves.....

And then came a bit of a surprise as Poland succumbed 2-0 to unfancied Ecuador. I was convinced Poland would win this game, but they created little (other than hitting the woodwork late on) and Premiership reject Agustin Delgado scored the South American's second goal.

Other observations on the opening day of the World Cup Finals:

Gareth Southgate keeps his charisma in the smallest velvet bag in the universe. If the tactical nous and inspired analysis he showed last night is anything to go by, I'd stick a tenner on the Smoggies being in the Championship in 2007.

Alan Shearer is the last man in the world I want to hear uninspired wooden punditry from.

Except Gareth Southgate.

Gary Lineker is in danger of imploding with smugness.

Germany are not going to win the World Cup. Someone with a decent defence and a fast striker will wallop them.

I wouldn't like to be left with an Ecuadorian defender in a dark alley late at night.

The funniest player name in the World Cup so far is "Bak" pronounced "bonk". Highlight in my household thus far when discussing childish football names is the phrase "I love Quim" (I think aimed at the Portuguese reserve goalkeeper, not at Gabby Logan)....

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ronaldo for Brazil (v Germany), 30 June 2002

The CUAS World Cup Predictions League

OK, all, it's that time. Doors open for the World Cup predictions league. Rules are as follows:

3 points for the correct result/score
1 point for the correct outcome (within 90 minutes)

I'll also be lobbing in some ways of scoring bonus points along the way to keep the interest going. There will be predictions here every Tuesday during the tournament - you will then have a few days before the games actually take place. If you forget to come before the next round of games start, you will probably still be OK for some later games in that round.

So, without further ado, here's a random selection of first round matches to get you started:

Germany v Costa Rica
Poland v Ecuador
England v Paraguay
Trinidad and Tobago v Sweden
Argentina v Ivory Coast
Serbia and Montenegro v Holland
Mexico v Iran
Angola v Portugal
Australia v Japan
USA v Czech Republic
Italy v Ghana
South Korea v Togo
France v Switzerland
Brazil v Croatia
Spain v Ukraine
Tunisia v Saudi Arabia

And five bonus points if you can name the country that will have scored the most goals at the end of the group stages.

And, finally, three points added or deducted for "the number of African teams to reach the knockout stages". For example, if you said "all five African teams will reach the knockout stages" and none do, you'll lose 15 points. If you say "all five African teams will reach the knockout stages" and all do, you gain 15 points.

Good luck, all...