Patrice Evra- The Rise and Fall of a Fullback

He arrived without too much fanfare, and his acquisition left many Manchester United supporters confused.  He came with Nemanja Vidic, another puzzling buy that Fergie made in January of 2006.  Not many United fans knew much about the two defenders.  They cost decent money (for the time) and we didn’t really need them.  We had enough centerbacks, so the Vidic purchase seemed like spending money on luxury when we needed players elsewhere.  And we had a leftback, a fan favourite, Gabriel H****e.  Why the hell did we need another leftback for?  He was small, did not look like he could defend and had no aerial presence.  Maybe we could make him into a winger?  We all read in Wikipedia that he did play on the wing at times for his old club.  Either way, the money that was spent that January did not appear to be a great investment.  And it looked even worse once we saw them play.

But as any armchair fan has (or should have) learned by now, we can’t judge players based on Youtube videos, or just a few games.  Evra made his debut just days after his arrival, against out bitter local rivals Manchester city.  And he was shit.  We were awful all around to be honest, but Patrice did not make a good first impression.  Or second, or third.  He was quite poor all winter and spring.  In most of his 14 appearances.  So we were left wondering, just why the hell did Fergie buy him, and what did he see in him?  Well by the end of his second season at United we all knew why.  He displaced the fan favourtie (his injury helped) and became the undisputed number one leftback at United.  He had pace, despite his small frame he was pretty good in the air, his tackling was very good.  He had good positioning and awareness, he was combative, and boy could he attack.  Pretty soon Evra became a fan favourite.  Everyone loved him, well except for the opposition players and fans.

Less than two months after his arrival Patrice picked up his first medal with United, a League Cup medal, he came on as a sub.  And he continued to pick up medals in every season he has been at United so far.  3 League medals, a Champions League medal, and 3 League Cup medals along with a CWC medal and a few lesser ones.  He has won everything at United except for the FA Cup.  And he was instrumental to United’s success in all of those seasons.  Not only a fan favourite but consistently one of our best players and one of the best leftbacks in the League and the world.  He even captained the side on several occasions.  Patrice also has shown to be a proper United player by learning about United and the club’s history.  Even though he is a foreigner he speaks about United as if he was from Salford.  And he winds up the opposition.  Arsenal fans and players I think love him the most, closely followed by Chelsea and our main rivals Liverpool and city.  So the perfect United player.

Defends properly, attacks with flair, knows what it means to be a United player, the opposition hate him, we love him.  Its a wonder why there are no great songs about him.  Only knock could be that despite his great attacking abilities he does not score enough, just 3 goals in over 220 games.  But we did not get him for goals.  We loved him when he called Arsenal players babies.  We loved him when he went after the racist groundsmen.  We loved him after he displaced a former fan favourite.  He was dependable, rarely injured, and hardly ever made mistakes.  The perfect United player.

Or so it was till about a year ago.  It was then that I noticed something wrong with his game.  He still helped out in the attack, bombing down the wing and making the opposing defenders’ lives difficult.  But a lot of times he did not track back.  His tackles became mistimed more and more.  He seemed lost at times.  Did not read the game well, was out of position more and more.  He became a bit shit.  Then there was the disastrous French World Cup in South Africa.  But he got a bit of rest and we all thought that once he got back to his proper team the old Patrice would be back.  Well he was back.  The Patrice of his early days at United, or of last Spring.  That one we don’t like so much.  And as the season progressed he became worse and worse.

Now in the last months of last season, and the first months of this, many fans simply did not see his poor play.  Evra’s reputation got him off from most of the criticism.  Instead we concentrated on Evans, Rooney, Neville, Fletcher, Carrick and others who had poor games.  Evra was our dependable great fullback, the best in the League, one of the best in the business.  He still had his moments here and there.  Still attacked with flair.  He still made a few great tackles.  So more games passed and he played as badly as he did earlier.

Finally people started to notice.  The slow trot back to our area while the opposition attack.  The frequent loss of possession, the poor tackles.  The great Evra had become a liability.  What was wrong with our great Patrice?  My theory is simple.  Fergie burned him out.  Out of the 56 games we played last season, he played in 51.  The next ones were Valencia (11 less starts, but 49 games), Rooney 44 (42 starts) and Fletcher 41 (39 starts).  There is a common theme with all those players, bar Valencia who was injured for a long time.  They have been shit this season.  Fletcher is half the player he was last season.  And Rooney, well we all know what happened with him.  In the past 4 seasons Evra has not played less than 48 games (37 already this season, all starts).  Now that would be fine for a centerback, but is a bit much for an attacking fullback like Evra.  He simply works too hard to play so much.  While in the middle of last season pretty much all our defenders were hurt, it was Evra playing alongside Carrick and Fletcher in defence.  It fell on him to lead the line.  And while we had injuries there was no one to come in and relieve him from time to time.  Fergie did not yet trust Fabio, while O’Shea was either injured or playing RB, or CB, or CM.  So, by late March and April Patrice was burned out physically and mentally.  Now, instead of resting in the summer he went to the WC with France and captained that side.  And we all know what a disaster that was.  It lead to his suspension from the team.  He just had a few short weeks of rest, along with official inquiries in France, and he came back to United.

Our poor midfield play added more pressure on defenders.  Soon we fell behind in the title race and we needed our veterans more and more.  And since Patrice is hardly ever hurt it means he’s had more starts than any other player on the team.  And so his poor form continues.  That is by no means to suggest that he has been one of our worst players, or even the worst defender, we have enough of worthy candidates for that.  However has has been far from the stellar fullback we all know and love.  And certainly not one of the best in the world anymore.  But I have not given up on Evra.  Fabio’s maturing  and good performances will mean a rest from time to time in the future.  And there will be no great pressure of a major international tournament this summer.  Finally Evra will get a proper rest.  And that should mean he will be back next season as good as ever.  He will be 30 in a month or so.  This means he still has a good couple of years in him.  In the meantime Fabio will come good.  And by 2012 might be ready to take over.  So we will be fine at LB no matter what.  There is no need to panic.  No need to sell Evra, or buy replacements.  He can still give us good service.  And for what he did over the time he has been here he deserves our loyalty and support.  So far that support has been there.  The evidence is the lack of criticism for a year’s worth of poor performances.

Now it may seem harsh to some that I felt the need to write about how shit Evra has been.  But I hardly hear a peep out of anyone about his poor play.  And I am judging him by the very high standards he has set.  So no, he has not been as shit as Evans or Carrick, but he should also not get a free ride from criticism when we are ready (and in most cases correctly) to criticize almost anyone in the squad.  And unlike with Gibson or Carrick my sentence, while harsh to some, is not a life sentence.  I do not believe that Patrice is done, just burned out a bit and in need of rest.  Once that comes all should be fine.  Hopefully.

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Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm  Comments (16)  
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Chaos In the French National Camp- World Cup 2010, South Africa

Wow, it gets more bizarre daily.

Today according to news reports the French squad refused to train, two days before their (last?) crucial group match against the hosts, South Africa, in this World Cup.

Apparently Patrice Evra, the great Manchester United leftback and, French Captain, had a row with a member of the staff.  The director of the team said he is ashamed of the team and resigned is protest and embarrassment.  Yesterday the very talented and enigmatic French striker, Nicholas Anelka, was dismissed from the team and sent home for insulting the French coach Raymond Domenech, and refusing to apologize.  That argument took place at half time of their game against Mexico, which they duly lost 0-2.  Anelka was substituted right away, mainly because he was piss poor and quite possibly due to that argument.

And that’s not all.  From the beginning there were questions about the team.  They qualified, after a very poor campaign, in the playoffs against Ireland in a controversial manner.  The infamous Henry handball is known all over the world.  Even before the World Cup started the French Football Federation (FFF) named Laurent Blanc as Domenech’s replacement after the World Cup.  A change was needed to be sure, but the timing of the announcement could not be worst.  They should have waited till after the World Cup.  Actually they should have fired Domenech two years ago, or at the very least right after qualification.

Then came the issue of captaincy.  Patrice Evra was named.  A great player, and a good leader IMO.  But some on the team, especially William Gallas (who had his captaincy at Arsenal stripped away for being a major pussy), were not happy with the choice.  So discontent started on the team.  Then there was the question of the role of Thierry Henry.  Domenech announced that Henry will be used mainly as a sub and Govou will start.  Many on the team were not happy with that.  More discontent.

French Team In Slightly Happier Times

Their first game against Uruguay resulted in a 0-0 draw.  Aside from the first 10 minutes (the last 10 they played against ten men) , they were very lacklustre and uninspired.  Most were poor, not one was trying, and after plan A failed miserably, they had no plan B.  There seemed to be no adjustments.  The substitutions hardly changed a thing as mostly they were like for like.  It was a dire performance.  Uruguay were content to sit back and absorb the pressure and France failed to create enough quality chances.  Then came the even worse performance against Mexico, thanks to which they duly lost 0-2.  They are now at risk of not qualifying out of what seemed like a very manageable group.

Patrice Evra complained about the noise of the vuvuzelas after the game.  Apparently the French had trouble communicating.  It may be so, but that did not stop Uruguay nor many other teams from playing well.  Then there is the controversy of the spy.  After yesterday’s events which shook the team and the whole footballing world, the now tiresome Evra complained again, this time about a spy who was leaking stories to the media.  He called the “spy” a traitor.  He has a point as most such issues should be kept within the team.  But to keep moaning and to claim its so disruptive to the team is bollocks.

This of course is not the first time that there is trouble in the French camp of with the team.  The enigmatic genius Eric Cantona had a famous row with the team.  Anelka himself was in, and out, and back in, then out again for several different reasons.  So considering the history, the events of the past year, this is not a shock.  There was also their shocking group play in 2002 when they were defending their title.  There is history there.  What is surprising is their play on the pitch.

No matter the problems they have with the manager or spies, or each other, this is still one of the most talented sides in the world.  Its full of veterans who won many things for their clubs.  Its full of supposed leaders.  But no one steps up, no one inspires the team.  They are pretty much all crap.  The captain, one of the best fullback in the world, Franc Ribery, the great attacking midfielder, Anelka, Henry, on paper they should be competing for the World Cup.  But no, no Zidane and there is no one to save their sorry French asses.  Its a disaster.  How they can’t put everything on the back burner for just a few weeks to try to win the WC is beyond me.  But they deserve nothing.  The problems are of their own making.  They started with the FFF and continued right on down to the players.  I hope they crush out in disgrace.

Read more at the United Buzz

World Cup, Week One Review- South Africa 2010 Group Stages

World Cup 2010 South Africa

Its Finally Here

Four years we’ve waited and finally there were WC games played.  Each of the 32 teams that qualified for this edition of the WC has played.  We learned a few things, though some things are still a mystery.  Lets Quickly rund down each group to look at what we saw.

Group A

South Africa 1-1 Mexico

South Africa opened against Mexico.  And if this was any indication, it was going to be a great WC.  The Mexicans dominated possession and created a few chances in the first half.  They even put the ball into the net only for it to be recalled for offside.  A great decision as replays showed.  Perhaps the refs will be good during this one for a change.  The second half was more even.  With South Africa scoring on a very good move with a great finish that left the Mexican keeper helpless.  The South Africans quickly could have put the game away, unfortunately they could not finish.  The Mexicans managed to tie due to poor defending as Marquez was played onside.  Almost in the last minute the South Africans had two very good chances, yet again they could not put them away.  So a draw, but a fun, exciting game with lost of action.  A great start to the WC.

France 0-0 Uruguay

Unfortunately there was another game played later that day.  And it was this game that proved to be the one that will be emulated more often than not.  France and Uruguay are the other two teams in Group A.  France, the 1998 WC winners, are a very talented side.  Unfortunately they are managed by a clueless cretin.  They have no plan B, and plan A is awful.  Uruguay respected France’s quality, so they set up not to lose.  And that they accomplished.  Even after one of their players was sent off.  The French, after a decent first 10 minutes looked clueless.  Ribery went anonymous, Anelka was poor and isolated, Govou was rubbish.  The midfield was poor too and the fullback, two very good ones, hardly supported the attack.  The South Americans were content to sit back and soak up the pressure.  If you missed the game or fell asleep, you did not lose much.  Domenech, the French coach, shown that he was an idiot with no adjustments for the second half and with his late and poor substitutions.  The players who came on were not the problem, its the players he took off.

South Africa 0-3 Uruguay

There was one more game we saw from Group A already.  The hosts played the dour and defensive Uruguay.  Only this time Uruguay set up differently and went on the attack from the start.  Forlan was moved back a bit and was played as part of 3 pronged attack.  They did not fear the hosts.  As it turned out there was not much to fear.  The hosts, after a very courageous performance against Mexico showed why everyone speculated that they will be the first hosts not to advance past the group stage.  Forlan scored of a deflected effort.  Then we saw the SA keeper take down Suarez and be sent off.  Diego once again scored, penalty, to put the game away.  The third came late and was just the icing on the cake.  Not many people in the stadium saw it as by then almost half the seats were empty.  The South Africans realized that their hopes for moving on were just crushed by Uruguay.

Group B

South Korea 2-0 Greece

The best thing that could happen to this game did happen.  The Koreans scored early due to some poor defending on a free kick.  It forced the dreadfully boring and defensive Greece to attack.  And they tried, bless them.  Unfortunately trying is not doing.  And they could not do, their first shot on goal came well into the second half.  Another mistake, a bad touch, saw Park of Korea steal the ball and dash toward the Greek goal, the move resulted in a goal and that’s how it finished.  The good guys won.  Boring and defensive Greece will hopefully not get out of the group so we wont have to watch them any more.

Argentina 1-0 Nigeria

Not exactly the result you expect from an attack that included Messi, Teves and Higuain, especially against an attack minded Nigeria.  They were also supported by di Maria and Veron.  Both very good passers and players who can score in their own right.  Yet the goal came early, from a corner.  Heinze, a defender, scored with a great header completely unmarked.  Nigeria tried to attack but could not sustain pressure and only managed one shot on goal.  Argentina managed 7, some very good ones, but they just could not finish.  All in all, not a very impressive performance, though 3 points is 3 points so they did their job.

Argentina 4-1 South Korea

Early today we saw the second round Group B matches play out.  The two first game winners met to determine who will go through and who will have a fight on their hands.  After a 3 goal first game of the second round we saw another goal fest.  This time it was the Argies who woke up.  A free kick on 16 minutes saw Argentina up 1-0.  Messi’s ball into the box went over two players and hit a Korean defender right on the shin, an own goal.  But it was deserved.  Argentina played well, not very pretty football, but direct and attacking.  The trio of forwards, Messi, Tevez and Higuain worked hard to create chances.  Soon after the half hour mark it paid off.  The Argies worked the ball out of the corner with Maxi crossing the ball into the box, there is was headed on to a waiting Higuin who headed into the net for the first of his three.  The Koreans, lively, organized, and attacking in the first match, were plainly rubbish.  Heavy touches, terrible passes, bad movement off the ball, wrong decisions.  But right before half-time they were back in the game.  Similar to Park’s goal against Greece, this one involved Demichelis with a  shockingly bad touch, a Korean running onto it and scoring.  Game on, 2-1 at the half.  The Koreans were not as bad in the second.  And were able to sustain some pressure, partly thanks to some stupidity from Guitierrez, Maradona’s makeshift RB.  A silly yellow will see him suspended for the last game (which is not pretty much immaterial considering later developments).  Mascherano earned a proper yellow for a hard tackle.  Heinze got one for an idiotic handball later.  But then Messi took over the game.  And along with Aguero (subbed in for Tevez) and Higuain combined for the next two goals.  Higuain finished both of them, another header and the easiest of tap ins.  Messi, the world’s best players, already compared by some to Pele and Maradona (prematurely IMO), finally showed up in a WC game.  Though he did not score he was very influential in the Argentinian attack.  If the 3 Argie forwards play like they did today they can go far despite the suspect midfield and defence.  Di Maria (moving to Real Madrid according to reports) was also very good.  The midfield and defence coped with most of what Koreans threw at them, though it was not much admittedly.  They were much better in the second half, but by then the game was over.  Argentina were simply better and Higuain got a deserved hat trick.  The win puts Argentina in the driver’s seat, where a draw in the last game will see them win the group.

Greece 2-1 Nigeria

The Greeks were finally involved in a thrilling game.  And not because they got a proper hiding from another team.  The Greeks attacked, it turned out they can.  Who knew?  From the beginning the boring Hellas were set up to go forward.  Which they tried.  The always exciting Nigerians too wanted to attack.  And what we got was a thrilling match.  Just 15 minutes in a Greek defender got himself a yellow for cynically pulling down a Nigerian attacker.  It turned out to be the wrong thing to do as the subsequent free kick saw Nigeria go up 1-0.  it was comedy at its best.  35 yards out, the ball was floated in, and missed the Greek defenders, the Nigerian Odemwingie, ducked and the ball flew into the corner of the net.  The Greek keeper threw himself the wrong way, but it was not really his fault, those crosses are difficult to defend and anticipate.  1-0 to the good guys.  But Greece, unusually kept going forward and attacking, without much luck.  And then thing got weird.  An innocent throw in turned bizarre and we saw the Nigerian Kaita sent off.  The Greek left back Torosidis grabbed the ball out of play, turned to Kaita and made a sneaky attempt to hit him with it in the stomach without actually making any contact.  Kaita lost it and kicked out at him, kicking him on his thigh.  It was not much, but Torosidis went down as if shot, to make sure.  Kicking at other players is a no no, even when cynically goaded, so the Columbian ref Ruiz had no choice but to show Kaita the red card.  The Nigerians were to play the game with 10 men for an hour.  A tough ask.  The Greeks took advantage of being a man up and kept on pressing the Nigerians.  Finally, a nice lay off to Salpingidis paid off.  He took a hard shot aimed at the corner, it was likely to go in, but in the way it took a wicked deflection and went into the opposite corner.  1-1 at halftime.  Legarbeck, the Migerian manager made a sub at halftime, Odemwingie was sacrificed for a midfielder.  The Nigerians, to their credit tried to attack, but down to ten men it was hard.  It was the Greeks who started to dominate the game.  At around 70 minutes we saw the Greeks almost score, only to be caught on the counter with a 2 on 1.  The Nigerians did everything right.  Made the right pass, got 1-1 with the keeper, but the shot was saved, a combination of bad placement and good reflexes from the keeper.  The rebound went to a Nigerian forward who from an angle missed the open net.  It went from bad to worse for the Super Eagles.  A couple of minutes later they went behind.  With two players down in the box from a head collision (the play possibly should have been stopped at that moment, but Ruiz wanted to see what developed), the Greeks took a long speculative shot, the so far brilliant Enyeama spilled an easy shot and the rebound was put in by Torosidis (the same one who got Kaita sent off).  After that Nigeria just cold not comeback.  Mentally crushed by two goals, a sending off, and two injuries, which forced substitutions, and saw them play for some minute with 9 men they could not muster the strength to tie the game.  But credit has to be given to Greece.  After over 400 minutes of WC football they finally scored and won a game.  They peppered the Nigerian goal with shots.  Forcing Enyeama to make some spectacular saves.  Its really a shame that he spilled that shot.  He was brilliant in both games, the best keeper so far, even better than Howard of the US and the Swiss keeper yesterday.  Nigeria look done.  The red, 2 losses, injuries, proved too much.  We wont see a spectacular run like in the 96 Olympics.  And its a shame as it is a team full of good players and they do play good football.

Group C

England 1-1 United States

So here we were, the “Y” (for Yanks) in England’s “EASY” group.  The country that invented the game, against the country that barely notices its existence.  Rejoice oh you Europeans, here is something you can regularly crush the Yanks at.  Except its England.  Along with inventing the game they also perfected underachieving at it.  On paper the US should not have had a chance.  Unfortunately for England the game is played on grass.  And on grass they could have lost this one.  It all started terribly for the Americans.  Just 4 minutes in, a series of nice passed and American defensive errors ended with the English stand in captain, Steven Gerrard, scoring.  It looked like the start of a bad day for the Americans.  But the US team does not give up that easily.  The collected themselves and went on.  The game to be fair, was edged by England, they had more possession, attempted a few more shots.  But the Americans also created chances, and some very good ones too.  But it was not a good chance that saw the US tie the score.  A long range speculative shot by Clint Dempsey came in the 40th minute.  Nothing to get excited about, we watched the ball roll towards the net, it was going to be easily caught by the English keeper Robert Green and we move on.  Except is wasn’t.  Green set himself up wrong.  His body was not really lined up with the shot.  He tried to catch it, but it went off his hand and trickled into the net.  Great stuff, another calamity for an England keeper.  Still, there is 50 minutes left in the game to crush the Yanks.  And England did have some chances, but they failed to take them.  Good keeping from Howard combined with good US defending and terrible finishing from England saw us through the end at 1-1.  England underachieved again.  And against a US side that was not at its best.  Both teams can certainly play better.  And both were left wondering with what could have been.

Algeria 0-1 Slovenia

The two “minnows” of the group.  Algeria a hard working but a limited side.  Slovenia, a talented and organized, but an unknown side.  Not a great game, but we’ve seen, and will see, worse.  Lots of play in the midfield, both teams lost possession too easily.  And we saw our first red card of the tournament.  Ghazzai, within minutes of coming on as a sub held the Slovenian player’s shirt right in front of the ref.  A clear, and stupid yellow.  He did even better not much later, a cross came into the penalty area and the Algerian forward stuck out his arm and the ball hit it.  He lay there hand in his head knowing what was about to come.  Another yellow and a red.  Algeria down to 10 with almost 20 minutes to play.  But the Slovenian goal did not come from numerical advantage.  Or from some sustained pressure because of it.  Robert Koran, the Slovenian midfielder hit a speculative long range shot toward the Algerian net.  it should have been saved, but it wasn’t, the keeper flopped at it, but it went in.  Clearly Green’s mishap was contagious.

Group D

Serbia 0-1 Ghana

Group D opened up with Serbia against Ghana.  Two fairly evenly matched teams.  Well organized, with good defences.  For Serbia the word great would not be far off.  Vidic and Ivanovic are two of the best at what they do.  And it was even, a bit scrappy, and defensive.  Not crap, but not great attacking football either.  There were some chances for both sides, but they could not put them away.  Mainly it was because of terrible finishing by Serbia, the main culprits were Pantelic and Krasic.  In the second half Ghana pushed forward a bit and had the edge, a hard, bad tackle saw Lukovic get a yellow at 55 minutes.  He did something even worse less than 20 minutes later, he held back Gyan to stop an attack,  A clear yellow, his second, and Serbia were down to 10.  Ghana pressed on with the man advantage bout some terrible shooting saw the still scoreless.  That was until the sub Kuzmanovic (who came on just 20 minutes earlier), inexplicably handled the ball in his own penalty area.  Gyan put away the penalty and we saw Ghana win the game 1-0.  Its interesting that Serbia, under a bit of pressure in the second half, after going down to ten men, started playing much better and created a few chances themselves.  All this was undone by the brainfart of Kuzmanovic.  So Ghana started their WC well, a win against a tough opponent.  Serbia meanwhile did themselves no favours with Germany still to play.

Germany 4-0 Australia

its not your father’s Germany.  No more cynical, methodical, though efficient and effective, play from those lovable Krauts.  Yep, these boys want to play football, and attacking football at that.  The Klinsmann led attacking style was left in by the new manager Joachim Low.  With an added bonus of good organized defence and tactics.  low however was under pressure.  Just calling up the shocking Klose and Podolski raised many an eyebrow.  To actually start the thwo Polish born forwards was a bit of a shock.  But not to Low.  Those two have fantastic NT scoring records, averaging about a goal every two games each.  But still, they were both very poor for their clubs and leaving the high scoring Cacau and Kiessling on the bench could have backfired.  Except it did not.  Both Podolski and Klose repaid the faith that Low showed in them.  After 26 minutes Germany was up 2-0 and both of them scored.  Klose still had a bad game, numerous chances that he could not put away, he finally scored with a great header beating a defender and the late in reacting Swarzer.  Podolski’s goal was a one timed rocket of a shot that opened the scoring.  Australia were utter rubbish.  after the initial and promising few minutes, the ageing squad showed its bad, negative, set up.  Germany dominated the game in every aspect.  Young Khadira coped with his midfield role.  Schweinsteiger, the converted midfield general, showed that Germany did not miss Ballack.  Ozil, the young creative player, attacked and passed well.  Germany set up with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Klose leading the line.  Ozil supporting in the middle, Podolski and Muller out wide.  That attack is supported and protected by Khedira and Schweini.  Lahm was made Captain when Ballack was injured.  He is the RB, the very young and inexperienced Badstuber is on the opposite flank.  Mertesaker the leader of the back 4.  His partner, after the injury to Westerman, is a shitty RB, Arne Friedrich.  Don’t know what possessed Low to pick him and play him there, the lack of proper and good German central defenders was one reason I guess.  But Friedrich has been quite good at CB, go figure.  Manuel Neuer got the call to be Germany’s shot stopper after the number one Rene Adler got injured.  So a fairly decimated German team, forced to play some very young and inexperienced players, comes out and thrashed a very poor Australian side to become the measuring stick of the first round of games.  The Aussies resorted to kicking the Germans and attempting some feeble shots.  But the Germans were always in control.  Cahill’s red (harsh perhaps, but understandable) just made sure that there was no comeback by the Aussies (not that one was coming) .  Germany kept pressing forward and were rewarded by two more goals by Muller and the sub Cacau.  Interestingly, the Germans squad reflects modern day, multi-cultural Germany.  8 of the 23 players Low called up could have played for different countries, but chose Germany instead.  One even has a brother playing for Ghana.

Group E

Netherlands 2-0 Denmark

Monday started of with one of the most anticipated matches of the first round.  The always exciting Holland faced off against the pretty decent Danes.  Surely this was going to be the best match of the round.  it wasn’t.  Denmark set up brilliantly in defence.  Holland was off balance as van der vaart who was supposed to be the Left Attacking Midfielder constantly strayed into the middle clogged up play and generally got in others way.  Holland enjoyed more possession but failed in front of goal in the first half.  Denmark defended stoutly and even made efforts to counter creating a few chances themselves.  But it was still 0-0 at the half.  At the start of the second things happened quickly.  Right off the kick off Holland found themselves with the ball on the end line, van Persie crossed into the six yard box only to see the badly positioned Simon Poullsen head the ball off Daniel Agger’s back and into the net for an unfortunate own goal.  It was quite comical with even Simon laughing in resignation.  The Dutch pressed on without much effect.  The introduction of the youngster Ellia for the terrible van der Vaart injected pace and creativity into the game.  ill then we were forced to watch slow passing slowly developing attack that came into naught.  On 85 minutes the always brilliant Sneijder made a great pass to an onrushing Ellia and put him clear on goal, the clever shot careened off the post but the always hard working Dirk Kuyt was quicker to the rebound ahead of the ball watching Kjaer.  at 2-0 it was over.  Some questions were asked of the Dutch, but the other side is that they finally won while playing badly.

Japan 1-0 Cameroon

A forgettable affair.  Japan was the better team and fairly won against the defensively set up Cameroon.  Even Samuel Eto’o, the star of the team was played out wide.  Leaving him out of position and isolated.  Japan finally won a game on foreign soil in the WC.  A lovely cross from the right wing ended up at Honda’s feet.  After a good first touch he put in a shot from up close.  Cameroon managed to his the crossbar once, but there was not much more to the game.

Group F

Italy 1-1 Paraguay

Monday’s last game saw Group F kick off as the World Champions Italy begun to defend their title against the South American side Paraguay.  Its Italy, group stages, so their performance was predictably unimpressive.  They controlled possession and enjoyed a territorial advantage but it all went wrong for them after 38 minutes.  A dubious free kick was awarded to Paraguay, it was floated into the box and Alcaraz got his head onto it giving Buffon no chance.  The culprits who allowed Alcares get to the ball were de Rossi and especially Italy’s 36 year old Captain Cannavaro.  It went from bad to worse for Italy as Buffon the great Italian keeper got injured and had to be subbed out.  Word is its unlikely he’ll be back.  Italy kept pressing, but were unable to create many chances.  Finally a breakthrough came off a corner in the 63rd.  Villar, the mostly solid Paraguayan keeper, swung his fist at and missed the ball.  It went to de Rossi who made it 1-1.  Both teams had chances to go ahead, but could not finish and it ended 1-1.

New Zealand 1-1 Slovakia

Yes, you read it right.  The All Whites (as opposed to the All Blacks of New Zealand Rugby) drew 1-1 against a decent European side.  To be fair Slovakia are a bit of a hit and miss.  They won their qualifying group, losing only to Slovenia twice, but at times they were quite lucky.  Other times however they played very good football beating Poland twice and their rivals the Czechs.  But still, even on a bad day they should be able to beat New Zealand.  But they could not put the game away, scoring only once, and from and offside position (bad positioning by the linesman).  New Zealand defended bravely and attempted to attack.  The breakthrough came at 94 minutes.  A floated cross saw Winston Reid beat the defenders and Jan Mucha for a historic goal and result for the Kiwis.  Their first WC goal and their first point.  Well done them.  Something of historical note happened in this match.  Young Vladimir Weiss is the 3rd of the Weiss family to play in a WC game.  His father (current manager of Slovakia)and grandfather both played for Czechoslovakia in previous WCs.

Group G

Ivory Coast 0-0 Portugal

The Group of Death.  3 highly rated teams, and North Korea.  One of Brazil, Ivory Coast or Portugal wont make it out of the group.  After seeing the Ivorians play Portugal I wish both were knocked out.  An awful game.  Ivory Coast, the most balanced African side, is full of talented players, both in attack and defence.  Portugal has Ronaldo, Simao, Deco, Carvalho.  Unfortunately they also have Carlos Queroz as manager.  The game was shocking.  While Ivory Coast at least made feeble attempts to attack, Portugal did not even try.  One great long range shot that went off the post by Ronaldo is all we can remember from this match.  Well not all.  We can remember cynical fouls, defensive set up, and moaning from both sides.  The second half was a bit better, at least the Portuguese made an effort.  Some chances came and went, the introduction of Simao had its positive effect.  Drogba too came on for the Ivorians, had one god chance.  but it ended 0-0, with more moaning, kicking and accusations of play acting.  The final whistle could not come quickly enough.  It did, so lets forget about this misery.

Brazil 2-1 Korean DPR

Number 1, against number 102.  The famous 5 time champions Brazil against some no marks from behind what is left over from the Iron Curtain.  North Korea was in the WC only for the second time, the first was in 1966 when they were the surprise of the tournament making the quarter finals.  But not this time, Group of Death and the mighty Brazil in the first match.  Speculation was ripe, just by how many goals will Brazil win, 5, 6?  One thing everyone agreed on was that they know nothing of the North Korean team.  Well they can play.  And play quite well too.  As fit as any team, well organized, fast, decent on the counter.  Holy shit, who knew?  I can be excused, but apparently even the professionals did not bother to watch any of N. Korea’s games before the WC.  It took Brazil 55 minutes to break them down.  Maicon the brilliant RB scored almost off the end line.  A cross, a shot?  We’ll never know, but it went in.  Then Robinho put Elano in on goal with a brilliant pass, Elano made it 2-0.  But the Koreans were not done, they scored at 89 minutes.  And created some chances that could have tied the game.  Luck was not with them, so Brazil avoided embarrassment.  But they were poor.  Passing was slow, movement bad, played right into the Korean tactics.  Still, a win is a win and Brazil are in control of their destiny leading their group.

Group H

Honduras 0-1 Chile

Any one who knows anything could have predicted a win for Chile.  They play very well, good attacking football  Honduras are just happy to be there.  Still they tried.  And it made for a decent game.  The scoreline is somewhat deceptive as Chile could have and should have won more convincingly, only to be failed by their finishing.  But slick passing and good runs were the order of the day in this entertaining match.  The winning goal came in the first half and reflected Chile’s performance.  A very nice move was capped off by a lucky bounce that went into the net.  A great pass found the onrushing Sanchez, he then pulled the ball back and it hit off the defender and Chile’s Beausejour into the net.  The second half, though without goals, was more of the same, good passing coupled with poor finishing.

Spain 0-1 Switzerland

A shock to say the least.  The slick European Champions lose to the minnows from the Alps.  But was it such a shock?  The Swiss have a great defensive record, they went out on penalty the last WC, without allowing one goal in 4 matches.  Their new manager is the brilliant German, Ottmar Hitzfeld.  He knew what he had.  And set his team up perfectly.  Still its Spain, they just dismantled Poland 6-0 in their last preparation game.  But other than both having white and red kits there end similarities between the Poles and the Swiss.  Hizfeld set his team up brilliantly, the keeper played well, the defenders made timely tackles.  But it was Spain mostly responsible for their lack of goals.  The formation looked ok.  Villa leading the line with the brilliant Iniesta and Silva wide supporting him.  Xavi, Alonso and Busquets were the midfielders.  The very attacking Ramos on the right flank, Capdevilla on the other, Puol and Pique in the centre.  Cassilas the Captain, in goal.  So all good so far.  Except it was not like that at all.  Spain attacked almost exclusively from their left side.  Even Silva drifted over to the left wing more often than not.  That created a crowd, at times it looked more like a kids match where everyone is close to the ball, rather than a professional football game.  Ramos was all alone on the right screaming for the ball.  Almost none came.  After the very poor Silva was subbed out Navas did stay on his proper flank, but Spain could not break through.  It all played straight into the Swiss set up and tactics.  The first half went on basically like this.  Spain, short pas, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, Swiss clear, Spain short pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, Swiss clear.  Rinse and repeat.  Spain made over 300 passes in the first half.  It was a joke.  Absolutely no shape, no conviction.  They looked like Arsenal on a very poor day, trying to be too clever and attempting to walk the ball into the net.  Pathetic.

The Swiss meanwhile, defended with formation, not panicking, not in awe of Spain’s 3 yard passes.  They countered when they could.  And in the second half it paid off.  A long ball, a flick on, a nice pass saw Derdiyok clean on goal.  Cassilas fouled him and was clearly going to be sent off, but luckily for him in the ensuing scramble Fernandez managed to get to the ball first.  1-0 to Switzerland.  The shock was on.  Torres came on.  But he was quite rusty, unable to finish.  Switzerland almost had another, Derdiyok beat both Pique and Puyol only to see his clever shot careen off the post.  Alonso hit a rocket of a shot that hit of the bar.  And that was it.  Yes Spain had chances, forcing the Swiss keeper to make some great saves.  And the Spanish fans will claim the number of attempts, time of possession and territorial advantage.  But so what, the aim of the game is not to pass yourself dizzy, but to score goals.  In that they failed, because they were shit.  Perhaps they were to enamoured with themselves.  Perhaps they saw the Poland game as a sign of things to come.  Perhaps they wanted to win in style.  That’s nice, but win first, then worry about style.  They deserved nothing from this game.

Breaking Score

France 0-2 Mexico    Group A

Ha ha ha ha ha ha.  The French find themselves almost out of the WC just after two games.  They will need to beat SA handily and hope that there is no draw in the other game.  And that is because they got beat by Mexico by the score of 2-0.  Another bad performance by the French.  And this time they may not get away with having a shitty group campaign.  Mexico executed their plan brilliantly.  Domenech made a change, but not in tactics, he just threw in Malouda and that was that.  Anelka was poor.  Govou was Govou, and Ribery is no Zidane.  The French got caught trying a poorly executed offside trap.  That left the substitute youngster Hernande all alone against Lloris.  He went around him and put the ball into the open net.  Blanco, another sub, converted a penalty to dash all hoped of a comeback.  This time Abidal was the culprit.  The penalty was sold by the Mexican player who went down easily, making sure of tripping himself over the sliding Aidal, but still, there is no excuse for diving in on that play.  There was hardly any danger and he was late.  Hopefully we’ll see the French out of the WC early next week and Domenech will leave in infamy.  Its no more than the French FA deserve by keeping this clown on.

World Cup Provisional Squads- Part 2, South Africa 2010

continued from here

Well well, more shocks in store.  This time Domenech and Maradona did not fail to raise many an eyebrow.  Though I must say that Joachim Low’s selections are not without controversy.  Well here goes.

France:

France squad:

Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Olympique Lyon), Steve Mandanda(Olympique Marseille), Cedric Carrasso (Girondins Bordeaux), Mickael Landreau (Lille)

Defenders: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), William Gallas (Arsenal), Eric Abidal (Barcelona), Rod Fanni (Stade Rennes), Sebastien Squillaci (Sevilla), Adil Rami (Lille), Marc Planus (Girondins Bordeaux), Gael Clichy(Arsenal), Anthony Reveillere (Olympique Lyon)

Midfielders: Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid), Alou Diarra(Girondins Bordeaux), Jeremy Toulalan (Olympique Lyon), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Yoann Gourcuff (Girondins Bordeaux), Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Yann M’Vila (Stade Rennes)

Forwards: Thierry Henry (Barcelona), Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea), Andre-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Sidney Govou (Olympique Lyon), Djibril Cisse (Panathinaikos), Hatem Ben Arfa (Olympique Marseille), Mathieu Valbuena (Olympique Marseille), Jimmy Briand (Stade Rennes)

The fact that Mr. Domenech still has a job can only mean that the French FA are either all insane, or that he has something on them.  France barely qualified for this WC, and that was not without controversy.  Henry’s handball is the most famous handball since Maradona’s in 1986.  But whatever one may think of the way they got there, the fact remains that France made is to the WC.  And on paper at least, they have a reasonably easy group.  Mexico, South Africa and Uruguay can be had by the talented French team.  And they are talented.  People might not think of them as a great team any more, but its not because of the players they have.  It because that under the current coach, they play uninspiring, boring football.  And recently they have failed to get the results.   There are several newcomers on this provisional team.  Like the Rennes midfielder M’Vila.  Yet there was no room for the likes of Patrick Viera who has 107 caps, nor for Karim Benzema of Real Madrid.  The young superstar striker who cost Madrid well over 30 million pounds may have gotten his dream transfer last season, but that transfer cost him as place in the French Squad.  He failed to impress at Madrid.  Then again, he rarely shone for France, but he is still young and I am sure he will improve his national team record.

Predicting the line up for France is like predicting the future based on the horoscope, … oh wait.  But unlike Mr. Domenech I am not an expert on such matters, so do excuse me if this effort proves to be mostly wrong, we don’t know what will be written in the starts in a month.  The very young and very talented Lloris should start in goal.  Sagna at RB perhaps, Evra looks good for the other flank.  Gallas should be fit for the WC and should start at CB, his partner might be Abidal who can certainly play CB.

The midfield should include two defensive midfielders, Lassana Diarra and Toulalan look the part.  It would be hard to not play Malouda after the season he had, so it think he and Gourcuff will play, with Ribery in a free attacking role supporting Henry.

As I mentioned, many have given up on France.  Their group is manageable, the teams they face are solid teams, but no more talented than the French.  It all depends which team shows up.  They were inspired in 98, shocking in 2002, a combination of both in 2006.  With no Zidane who will lead the team mow?  The most likely seems to be Ribery.  Much depends on Domenech himself.  His line ups and tactics leave many shaking their heads.  I think they will get out of the group, the rest depends on the draw they have and momentum.  This team can be dangerous to anyone given the right circumstances.

Argentina:

Argentina squad:

Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar), Mariano Andujar (Catania), Diego Pozo (Colon)

Defenders: Nicolas Burdisso (Inter Milan), Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich), Walter Samuel (Inter Milan), Gabriel Heinze (Olympique Marseille), Nicolas Otamendi (Velez Sarsfield), Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle), Juan Manuel Insaurralde (Newell’s Old Boys), Clemente Rodriguez (Estudiantes), Ariel Garce (Colon)

Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Liverpool), Sebastian Blanco (Lanus), Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes), Jesus Datolo (Olympiacos), Jose Sosa (Estudiantes), Maximiliano Rodriguez (Liverpool), Mario Bolatti (Fiorentina), Juan Mercier (Argentinos Juniors), Angel Di Maria (Benfica), Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle), Javier Pastore (Palermo)

Forwards: Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid), Diego Milito (Inter Milan), Martin Palermo (Boca Juniors), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli).

Well, this is strange.  But that’s one of the kindest words that Maradona’s reign as NT manager can used to describe as.  And he did not fail to live up to the weirdness when making his selections for the WC squad.  This is certainly his team.  No Zannetti or Cambiasso, who have been inspiring for Inter on their way to the Champions League final.  Yet Coloccini and Gutierrez who play for second division Newcastle make it.  As well as Maxi Rodriguez of Liverpool.  Go figure.  Frankly I have no idea who will start in goal.  The defence is weird as well.  Maradona says he will play four central defenders, though the likes of Heinze can play on the flanks.  Samuel, Demichelis and Heinze look most likely to start at the back.  The fourth I am not sure about.

In the midfield it definitely will be Mascherano and I think Veron.  Beyond that I just don’t know.  Depends on what system Maradona will try to play.  Leaving Di Maria out of the line up would seem strange, but its Maradona.  Messi will play.  That is certain.  Maradona claims he will give him a free role, but will it be in support of one or two forwards?  And which forwards?  Maradona loves Tevez and Aguero, but while Tevez had a very good season for Manchester City, he did not shine much for Argentina.  Aguero, Maradona’s son in law, a very talented player, has failed last season both for the national team and his club Atletico.  And then we come to Martin Palermo of Boca, he did not fail at his club.  But Diego Milito and Gonzalo Higuain have also shone for their clubs, and at a higher level.  Which ones will be left out of the line up or the squad altogether?  And I have still not mentioned the talented Lavezzi of Napoli.  That gives us seven players for at most 3 spots on the pitch and most likely 4, perhaps 5, spots on the team.  How can Maradona justify taking Aguero and leaving out Higuin or Palermo?

This team has even more questions than France.  The tactics, line ups are all unconventional and unpredictable.  Again, a talented team to be sure, but one that almost failed to qualify.  Frankly I do not expect much of them.  Unless someone like Messi will inspire the whole team I think they will fail.  They have an easy group.  Greece is a second tier European side, with boring players and tactics.  Nigeria talented, but tactically undisciplined and without continuity when it comes to management.  North Korea, well its North Korea, so who the hell knows what they will do.  From what little I have seen of them I was not inspired, nor shocked, a second level Asian side.  So Argentina should get out of the group.  Beyond that I do not expect much, even with an inspired Messi it could prove too much for them.  After all, Argentina does not have a Xavi to pass the ball to Messi, Veron is a very good player, but he is no Xavi.

Germany:

Germany’s provisional 27-man World Cup squad:

Goalkeepers: Hans-Jorg Butt (Bayern Munich), Manuel Neuer (Schalke 04), Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen)

Defenders: Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Heiko Westermann (Schalke 04), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Jerome Boateng (Hamburg), Andreas Beck (Hoffenheim), Arne Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), Serdar Tasci (Stuttgart), Marcell Jansen (Hamburg), Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munich), Dennis Aogo (Hamburg).

Midfielders: Michael Ballack (Chelsea/ENG), Sami Khedira (Stuggart), Piotr Trochowski (Hamburg), Marko Marin (Werder Bremen), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Christian Trasch (Stuttgart), Mesut Ozil (Werder Bremen), Toni Kroos (Bayer Leverkusen).

Forwards: Lukas Podolski (Cologne), Miroslav Klose (Bayern Munich), Stefan Kiessling (Bayer Leverkusen), Cacau (Stuttgart), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich).

Not 30 but 27.  It leaves only 4 players to cut in June.  But Joachim Low still managed to rework the squad once again.  This is a German side that is a work in progress IMO.  While it has the likes of Ballack and Schewinsteiger and Klose, it also has many youngsters.  Now to be fair, some of those younger players are quite experienced at the national level but this is nothing like the 94 side.  Then again that side failed miserably, so it might not be such a bad thing.  Aside from Ballack they all play in the Bundesliga.  However not one player was called up from last year’s Bundesliga Champions Wolfsburg.  No Reitner, no Gentner.  Yet two uncapped players managed to get on the squad.  Kuryani also did not make it, his spat with Low has apparently not been forgotten.

At goalkeeper the Germans have a bit of a problem.  Rene Adler is injured.  He was inspiring for Germany, as brilliant as Kahn was, but seemingly sane.  Now I think another young keeper will get the nod.  Shalke’s Manuel Neuer is a very good keeper, and while Low called up the veteran Butt, it think it was mostly as a calming figure.  In defence Mertesaker is likely to play, as is Westermann I think.  Lahm will be on the flank, which one though?  Not sure Low will give another shot to Jansen or Friedrich, then again I would not be shocked if he just played some kid.

Ballack is the Captain, and along with Schweinsteiger will be in the midfield.  But along with whom?  Trochowski, Marin, Ozil, and even the young Kroos all seem to deserve a chance to play.  Just what roles will Low give the players will depend on who plays, so I think quite a few of the midfielders will get a shot at one time or another.

The forwards look familiar, well some of them.  Klose and Podolski, the Polish born tandem, have been great for Germany.  But Klose is not getting any younger, and Podolski has been less than inspiring for his clubs the last two seasons.  His record for Germany though has been brilliant.  Gomez has been also less than stellar for Munich, and for Germany too.  Then there is the in form Kiessling and young Muller.  Cacau imo is the outsider.  Klose and Podolski I think will both go.  Gomes should as well.  But how can Low leave out Kiessling, he might be not very experienced at the national level, but not taking him might prove to be a mistake.  A hot forward is a good thing to have.

Germany is traditionally strong in major tournaments.  They made the final of the Euros just two years ago.  But I think a a semi final might be too high a goal this time around.  Then again, its the Germans, count them out at your peril.

Spain:

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), David De Gea (Atletico de Madrid), Diego Lopez (Villareal), Jose Manuel ‘Pepe’ Reina (Liverpool), Victor Valdes (Barcelona).

Defenders: Raul Albiol (Real Madrid), Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Cesar Azpilicueta (Osasuna), Joan Capdevila (Villarreal), Carlos Marchena (Valencia), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Carles Puyol (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid).

Midfielders: Xabier Alonso (Real Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Javier Martinez (Athletic Bilbao), Marcos Senna (Villarreal), David Silva (Valencia), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona).

Forwards: Santiago Cazorla (Villarreal), Jesus Navas (Sevilla), Juan Manuel Mata (Valencia), Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona), Daniel Guiza (Fenerbache), Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla), Fernando Torres (Liverpool), David Villa (Valencia).

The European Champions look to be one of the strongest contenders for the WC title.  But its Spain, they only became the European Champions after years of terrible performances in major tournaments.  Will the last one prove to be the catalyst for great things or was is a one off?  The team on paper is certainly good enough to win.  One of the best keepers in the world, a good enough defence, several world class midfielders and two of the world’s best forwards.  Yep, on paper there is not much doubt.  But.  Yes, but, as I mentioned, its Spain, so don’t count your medals just yet.  Not many controversies in the provisional squad.  Some promising younsters did not make it, but they are youngsters, so they will get their shot in the future.  A couple of veterans who were somewhat poor last seasons did make it, but Senna is hard to leave out.  He has been always inspiring for Spain and gave them the needed protection in the midfield.  But he might not get to play.  Perhaps del Bosque will go with the passing midfielders?  Only questions are the injured players.  Torres, Fabregas are said to be recovering well, but until they play its a question mark.  Iniesta and Xavi have also not been injury free.

Cassilas is the undisputed number one.  His back up will be Pepe Reina, and remarkably that means one of Valdes or De Gea wont go.  Valdes has been very good this season, and the youngster De Gea just won the Europa League with his club.  Spain is as solid in the net as any country out there.  Personally, though its not fair, I would take the kid to let him get the feel of the great event.

Defence is good, but not great IMO.  Pique is a brilliant, and still young, defender.  The rest can be either inspiring or frustrating.  Puyol has his faults, but can be great and he should be the one partnering alongside Pique.  Ramos of Madrid thinks he’s an attacking superstar, unfortunately he plays at RB and at times is missing from the defence because he mindlessly ventures forward.  Still, a very good player that can be an asset to have as Spain will be on the ball more than without.  Capdevilla should be on the other flank.

In the midfield we have a problem.  Too many great players.  Xavi when healthy is a must.  But a more defensive minded player is needed alongside him.  Will it be Alonso or Senna, or perhaps the young Busquets?  Iniesta should also start, but will there then be any room for the likes of Silva and Fabregas?  Either way, its better t have these sort of problems than shit players.

If healthy both Torres and Villa play.  Problem is Torres is not very healthy.  So perhaps Villa alone up front and one of those great midfielders will be in support?  But even the supporting forwards are quite talented.  Problem is that because of the talent of Villa and Torres they do not get to play much for Spain.

Spain should go far in the tournament.  Whether they will win it or not will of course depend on the draw and a bit of luck, but if they can stay fit its hard to look past them.

World Cup Provisional Squads Announced- South Africa 2010

Well a few surprises were in store yesterday when national team managers named their World Cup Squads for the tournament that begins in a month in South Africa.  Lets quickly go through some of the “bigger” nations.  Those who are thought to compete for the title, and US.

USA

The 30 called up, to be narrowed down to 23 by next month are:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolves)

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Jonathan Spector (West Ham)

Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro), Michael Bradley (Borussia Monchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), Jose Torres (Pachuca)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Villarreal), Edson Buddle (Los Angeles Galaxy), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Herculez Gomez (Puebla), Eddie Johnson (Aris Thessaloniki).

No Charlie Davies of course, as he is not yet fit after the horrific accident in October that almost cost him his life.  The 3 called up keepers will definitely go.  That is where the US strength is.  And those 3 are not far apart in terms of talent, but Tim Howard of Everton and an ex Manchester United player, will start if healthy.  Defence is a bit of a worry.  Leftback is weak no matter who plays.  Right back is no prize either.  Spector, another United reject, can be very good on his day, but those do not happen often enough.  The centre of the defence is a worry as well.  Bocanegra was always a solid player, but his regular partner Oneywu just came of a long term injury and has hardly played at all this season for Milan.

What will coach Bradley do in the middle of the pitch is another question.  US will most likely play 4-5-1.  But will the three midfielders be defensive or attacking?  Michael Bradley is the one most likely to start, and not because of nepotism, he truly earned his place.  His partners are a bit of a question mark.  Will Edu play alongside with him?  Or will it be Holden?  Perhaps all three?  What is likely to happen is Beasly playing out wide.  However I would rather the US play someone like Torres to support the attack.  Not likely though.  Landon Donovan will also start, in support of the lone striker, likely to be Jozy Altidore.  The other supporting attacker will be Clint Dempsey who did very well this season at Fulham.  The player I would like to see left out are Ching, who I do not know why he was called up.  Gomez should be given a shot, as should Buddle who has been on fire for the Galaxy.  Either way, the US will have a tough task getting out of the group.  Anything beyond 3 and out should be considered a success.

England

England’s 30-man provisional squad for the World Cup finals:

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), David James (Portsmouth), Robert Green (West Ham).

Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Michael Dawson (Tottenham), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Ledley King (Tottenham), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham), Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa).

Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Tom Huddlestone (Tottenham), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham), James Milner (Aston Villa), Scott Parker (West Ham), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City).

Forwards: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Peter Crouch (Tottenham), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United).

So, Fabio named his players.  The 30 will also narrowed down to 23.  Everything was going right for England last fall.  They qualified in style, they were scoring for fun, their midfield was working, their defence solid.  Then everything started going pear shaped.  Beckham got injured and will miss the World Cup.  Now he might not have been a starter but his presence alone would have been good for the team.  Then Mr Chelsea himself turned out to be a complete and utter prat and lost his Captaincy.  There was even talk of Terry being banned from the team altogether.  Wayne Bridge announced he would not play for England is Terry was on the team.  Then injuries hit, Glenn  Johnson, Ashley Cole, Ferdinand, Rooney, Barry now, Lennon, and others.  Now there are question marks.  But lets get to the call ups:

Interesting.  Jamie Carragher convinced to come out of international retirement.  King of Totenham called up.  The man has two very bad knees, he hardly trains, is injury prone, but is still on of England’s top defenders.  With Rio Ferdinand’s injury worries, the England defence could get thin and fast.  Not sure who Fabio will start in goal, the very experienced James or the very good Hart.  I would play Hart, he lacks the experience but he has been brilliant all season.  On defence, if everyone is healthy there will be no shocks.  Johnson at RB, Rio Ferdinand the Captain and Terry in the middle, and Ashley Cole at LB

The midfield is a bit weird.  Capello likes to play both Gerrard and Lampard together, but if he is to play 2 up front then Gerrard might be on the bench, or out of position on the left.  Personally I would bench Gerrad, as he was shocking this season for Liverpool.  I would play Barry or Parker with Lampard and have Milner on the left.  And I would play the novice Johnson on the right ahead of Aaron Lennon.  I think Johnson brings more to the game, he is more creative, can defend, unlike Lennon, and is just a better player.  But he might not even go as his call up was not certain.  The shock is the call up of Shaun Wright Phillips who lost his place at City to Johnson.  How he is called up and Ashley Young not is beyond me, I guess Fabio does not like Young.  Carrick is also a bit of a surprise, he has played enough games for England and they are not too rich in the central defensive department, but Carrick has been very poor all season.  So not sure he should play or even go.

Up front we have another dilemma.  Defoe has been scoring a lot of goals this season, not many lately, but he is not the player who will start with Rooney.  Rooney’s injuries are a worry, but he starts if he can stand.  His partner is a question mark.  Fabio, for some strange reason really likes Heskey.  And it sort of works, but Heskey is not the player many would pick.  Darren Bent deserves a chance at least in the friendlies to show what he can do.  Crouch is destined to be on the bench I think.  Its likely that Fabio will take 4 strikers so the likely odd one out is either Heskey or Bent.

England are going to South Africa to win it all.  Anything less than a semi-final will be considered a failure.  A medal will be a good campaign for them, the gold and being crowned Champions of the World will be the promised land.

Update:  News Just came out that John Terry got injured in training and may miss the WC, depending on scan results, a foot injury is reported.

Brazil

Brazil squad: Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Inter Milan), Doni (AS Roma), Gomes (Tottenham Hotspur)

Defenders: Maicon (Inter Milan), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Michel Bastos (Olympique Lyon), Gilberto (Cruzeiro), Lucio (Inter Milan), Juan (AS Roma), Luisao (Benfica), Thiago Silva (AC Milan)

Midfielders: Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos), Felipe Melo (Fiorentina), Ramires (Benfica), Elano (Galatasaray), Kaka (Real Madrid), Julio Baptista (Roma), Kleberson (Flamengo), Josue (VfL Wolfsburg).

Forwards: Robinho (Santos), Luis Fabiano (Sevilla), Nilmar (Villarreal), Grafite (VfL Wolfsburg).

Dunga, the former Captain of the World Cup 1994 winning side is doing things differently, he named only 23 players with 7 stand bys to be added.  Hmm.  No two time World Player of the Year Ronaldinho, no Ronaldo.  Dunga is banking on his kind of players.  Hell the former WC winner and United reject Kleberson got a call up.  Its a gutsy move not to call up Ronaldinho, Dunga will of course be criticized for it by everyone in Brazil, but its his job on the line, so its best to do it your way.  Cesar will likely start in goal, he is one of he best keepers in the world, a usual weakness of Brazil is now their strength.  Left back on the other hand is not so great.  No more of Cafu and Carlos on the flanks.  Now they have Maicon and Alves, except that they both play the same position.  But Maicon is much better than the overrated Alves, he is as good (better IMO) an attacker, but he can actually defend unlike his Barcelona counterpart.  Lucio is a shoe in for the middle, with Juan likely to be his partner.

In the middle is where we might see something different.  Melo has been rather disappointing for Juventus.  But Diego who did not get a call up was much better.  However he plays a role similar to Kaka so he wasn’t going to play anyway.  But its likely Melo and Gilberto Silva will start in the middle, With Kaka, Robinho and Elano supporting Fabiano?

Perhaps.  Its Dunga’s job on the line.  He is going to South Africa to win the World Cup.  But in Brazil just winning is not enough, it must be won Brazilian style.  However this team does not play like the 1982 Brazil.  Its closer to the 94 side.  In 94 they won but did not play Joga Bonito.  In 82 they did, but did not win.  Dunga wants to win.  He will do it his way, and will be criticised for it whatever the outcome.

My next instalment will have Germany, France and Argentina as well as Spain.