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Holy Shit balls New Zealand got a point!!!

16 Jun

The Result

In case you have been dead or don’t care about New Zealand football, the All Whites drew 1-1 with Slovakia last night. This is a historic moment for New Zealand football as it is our first point ever at a world cup tournament.

In the dying minutes of the game, central defender Winston Reid scored a header from a Shane Smeltz cross in open play to equalise (striker crossing to a central defender…). This guy only started playing for New Zealand this year after previously playing for Danish youth teams, yet he will now be immortalised in New Zealand football folklore. As you can see below he was a very happy camper and quite aware of how much his goal meant.

ZOMG, I just made history!

Reid arguably was at fault for Slovakia’s goal so he will be even more happy that he will be remembered as the hero from this game.

I’m very sleep deprived and have already had my first of many coffees for the day, I wonder how long the euphoria of last night’s result will stave off exhaustion??

NZ formation/Tactics

Note: the following is my attempt at discussing tactics and therefore is likely an utter load of crap. You probably shouldn’t even read this…

On a more serious note, I do worry about the tactical rigidity of Ricki Herbert. The Slovakians were running circles around us in midfield which is unsurprising given our formation is effectively a 5-2-3. This leaves a black hole in the mid field (It bothers me that the NZ press like to call it a 3-4-3). In the second half the Slovakians were quite content to sit back which forced us to try to play a passing game and have a more patient build up (as opposed to our usual counter attack/bang it up field strategy). Pretty much every time we got the ball in midfield, we were isolated and didn’t know what to do with the ball so we ended up passing it backwards all the time. The same thing happened against Australia in the second half. This was frustrating to watch, and even more frustrating that when Ricki did make substitutions they were simply like for like swaps.

I worry that a better side will expose us tactically….then again we did score, so Ricki is probably a tactical genius, lol.

UPDATE: Winston Reid was not under orders to get forward which confirms my suspicion that the goal was not a result of Herbert’s tactical genius. From this article about the Reid:

He admitted that it was not a tactical ploy to join Rory Fallon in the frontline for the final minutes, but that he just happened to be lingering. ”I was going up for a free-kick but the ball was going back and forward so I just decided to stay up there.” With devastating results.

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FIFA World Cup: Group G analysis

3 Jun

Group G (April FIFA rankings):

  • Brazil (1)
  • Portugal (3)
  • Ivory Coast (27)
  • North Korea (105)

Group G provides that very special “Group of Death” feeling to the 2010 Fifa World Cup.  Prior to the draw Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast all would have felt confident about reaching the knockout stages of the competition.  However, only two of those teams are going to make it through this harsh test.

As the lowest ranked team in the tournament, North Korea would have had trouble getting out of any group.  However, to make matters even more extreme they have been placed in a group with three of the tournaments top teams.  So far they have looked surprisingly robust, pulling out an unlucky 1-0 loss against Paraguay and a 2-2 draw against Greece.  Furthermore, they are a relatively unknown quantity – implying that they could be ready to snake some tactical surprises on their more illustrious opponents.  Yet this seems to be where the positives end.  There has been a lot of talk about how strong their defense is with North Korea only conceding seven times in their 16 qualification games.  Although this is true, football in Asia is very different from the sort of football they play in Europe and South America.  Generally the play is less physical and direct in Asia, and defenders put less pressure on allowing for more time on the ball.  As a result, I do not expect their defence to hold up against such high level opposition – and they will come last in this group.

Missing out on a place in the last 16 will be Ivory Coast.  Although Ivory Coast has a strong, and surprisingly balanced, squad and although Portugal are a shadow of the team they were in 2006 I expect Portugal to pip them into second place.  I didn’t want to believe this, I wanted to see Portugal unceremoniously dumped out, I wanted to see Ivory Coast push on (even if they do have Drogba in their team).  But it just doesn’t seem to stack up.

Ivory Coast has been leaking goals in the lead up to the competition.  With their defence out of form, even top quality strikers like Drogba and Kalou will not be able to do enough to keep their dream alive.  Portugal on the other hand have looked “good enough”.  The main risk for Portugal stems from their incredible randomness – some days they produce such electric football that they look nearly untouchable, other days they have a 0-0 draw with Cape Verde.  Portugal’s squad is also starting to show its age, with a number of its “golden age” players (such as Deco and Carvalho) starting to experiece the sharp drop in ability that comes with age.  Even so, there is enough there for them to snake second place.

Drogba trying to keep his defenders inline

This leaves Brazil for top spot.  The Brazilian squad does not have the same degree of flair we may have previously associated with Brazil, but it is an incredibly strong squad.  Although they have big names like Kaka and Adriano (even Adriano got taken out of the final squad) at the front, their squad is very much built from the back – with Dunga tending towards a more defensive style of play from the Samba Kings.  Interestingly, when choosing the squad Dunga showed a preference towards players who helped Brazil to qualify.  The most high profile casuality of this decision was Ronaldinho – whose form has improved markedly over the past year.  Overall, Dunga appears to view the team atmosphere as too important to mess with coming into the World Cup – a refreshing and sensible point of view from a national football team manager.

FIFA World Cup: Group F analysis

2 Jun

The group consists of (FIFA ranking):

  • Italy (5)
  • Paraguay (31)
  • New Zealand (78)
  • Slovakia (34)

Group F sees a number of defensively minded teams drawn together, so I would not be at all surprised to see it win the ‘Golden Group For Fewest Goals Conceded’ award at the end of the group stages.

Let’s start with the reigning World Cup holders Italy. Every pundit and his blog are pronouncing this an “easy” group for the defending champions. On the plus side, the Azzurri collectively possess vast amounts of experience. And, like France and Germany are well renowned as being a ‘tournament’ team, able to step up when it matters most. However, this experience could also prove to be Italy’s weakness. The team is OLD, make no mistake. I expect them to make it out of the Group but perhaps not advance much further than that, although of course few pundits thought that Italy would go as far as they did in 2006 either.

Paraguay have had a very impressive CONMEBOL qualification, beating both South American powerhouses Argentina and Brazil along the way. Over qualification Paraguay also conceded less than one goal per game, quite a contrast from some of the comical defending that is often seen in the region. Recent friendlies have seen La Albirroja (the white and red) beat N Korea 1-0, lose to crybabies Ireland 2-1 and draw with the Ivorian Coasters 2-2, which is a rather more ordinary return. The final squad of 23 was devoid of key striker Salvador Cabanas, who was shot in the head earlier this year. The manager reportedly said he didn’t want to risk any brain explosions in front of goal.

It is hard to look past New Zealand‘s All Whites to progress out of Group F. They are coming off the back of a historic victory in Europe over Serbia (1-0), they played local rivals Australia off the park in Melbourne  (despite eventually losing to a extra-extra time goal), and they are led by a tactical genius in Ricki Herbert, who has revolutionised football as we know it with his bold 7-0-3 formation. Furthermore, New Zealand got well amongst the goals against Italy in a warm-up match to last year’s Confederations Cup, putting three past the normally miserly blue defence. If the All Whites live up to their potential, with a little bit of luck thrown in for good measure, expect more than them simply topping Group F: expect this…

July 11 2010: The All Whites being presented with the World Cup

This is Slovakia‘s first World Cup and hence they don’t have the pedigree of the New Zealanders or Italians. Slovakia are only here as a result of a relatively easy qualification group in Europe. Recent form has been pretty ordinary, with a lacklustre 1-1 draw against Cameroon in their recent curtain-raiser to New Zealand-Serbia in Austria. I expect repre (not sure what this means sorry) to be at the bottom of the pile once Group play comes to an end.

FIFA World Cup: Group E analysis

1 Jun

Group E (April FIFA rankings):

  • Netherlands (4)
  • Denmark (36)
  • Japan (45)
  • Cameroon (19)

Outside of Group F (which has my team, perennial strugglers New Zealand [ed or maybe not following the result against Serbia  …], in it) Group E is the most exciting group for me.

Like a number of other groups, first and last appear clear in Group E.  More than likely topping this group, unbeaten, will be the Netherlands.

The Dutch were the first European team to qualify for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, winning all 8 of their group games.  Even more importantly, they only conceded two goals.

The quality of the Dutch strikeforce has been apparent since Euro 2008, when their electric performances took them to the last 16 – where they conceded twice in extra time to lose to Russia.  I remember watching that game and thinking how frustrating it was that such a good squad had just thrown it away.  However, over the past two years their defenders have continued to play together with Bronckhorst, Ooijer, Heitinga, and Mathijsen forming an increasingly impressive backline.  Even as their defence has improved, the attacking acumen of their strikers and attacking midfielders has grown – compare Van Persie, Robben, and (to a degree) Sneijder to the players they were two years ago!

The Dutch should not only clean up this group, but go the whole way in the tournament as long as:

  • Van Persie and Robben don’t break down,
  • The defensive line doesn’t experience spontaneous brain explosions.

Whatever you guys are doing, DO NOT get injured doing it!

While these things occur far too often for the Dutch – I am relatively certain they won’t happen until a knockout round – as a result, the prediction of the Dutch topping this group holds 😉

At the other end of the spectrum is Japan.  The Japanese team has looked devoid of creativity and has lacked that cutting edge in front of goal – a severely problematic issue when you are a team relying on pace and counter attacking play to get anywhere.  In their last three games they have conceded six goals and, apart from Keisuke Honda, no-one has been playing with much intent.  Although the narrow loss to England will provide them with some hope, the close result came off the back of England playing poorly, not Japan playing well.  As a result, Japan is destined to hold up the bottom of this group.

This leaves us with Denmark and Cameroon.  Both squads have their share of quality, and yet both squads have looked subdued coming into the tournament.  While the market is just backing Cameroon to snake second spot, I’m leaning towards Denmark.  The reason for this is GOALS.

Now don’t get me wrong, the best thing about the Danish team is their defence, not their attack.  Sorenson (who I’m assuming will be back from injury) has been in spectacular form between the sticks, Agger is a technically gifted defender, and even though Kajer is out injured Kroldrup provides a ready made replacement (given that he was the first choice defender less than a year ago).  However, with Bendtner, Tomasson, and Rommedahl at the front, the Danish team will be able to put away the occasional goal.

And this is where Cameroon has struggled recently.  They have scored once in their last three games, two goaless draws (against an aging Italian side and lowly Georgia) and a 1-1 draw with World Cup virgins Slovakia.  Even following a lacklustre season at Inter, Eto’o is the Indomitable Lions greatest goal scoring threat – and he is talking about leaving the squad.  Overall, unless Cameroon can pull their finger out the Danish are going to push their way into second spot in this group.

FIFA World Cup: Group D Analysis

29 May

Current FIFA rankings 

  • Germany (6)
  • Serbia (15)
  • Ghana (32)
  • Australia (20)

Controversy has engulfed Group D from the moment Germany captain Michael Ballack was ruled out of the World Cup via a challenge by Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng during the English FA Cup final. Conspiracists in the German media have framed this incident as an intentional ploy to weaken “Der Nationalmannschaft’s” chances of topping the group and German born Boateng has been vilified as an enemy of the nation. Adding fuel to the fire, it is likely Kevin-Prince will line up for Ghana against younger brother Derek, who has opted to play for Germany, in Johannesburg on June 26 (NZ time). Ghana meanwhile have their own injury problems with key playmaker Michael Essien officially out of the tournament. Still, an Essien-less Ghana finished second at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations showing that the “Black Stars” are not to be underestimated despite the absence of their talisman. 

Despite the loss of their most influential and experienced player, Germany are steady favourites to top the group. German coach Joachim Low will likely implement the same striking duo of Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski from the last world cup, and despite both Polish born players having largely disappointing Bundesliga seasons for their clubs (Klose for instance only scored one league goal last season) their international pedigree is one for others to fear. Behind them, young Werder Bremen midfielder Mezut Ozil and Bayern Munich schemer Bastian Schweinsteiger will be pulling the strings. Both players have been in fine form for their respective clubs of late, and Ozil in particular may quickly become one of the stars of the tournament. 

The reasons behind Miroslav Klose's poor Bundesliga form are revealed.

However this is a young German team in comparison to previous campaigns, and it is unlikely that Ballacks presence will not be missed. Exemplifying this, the most suitable replacements for Ballack in the central midfield position have also been ruled out the tournament, Simon Rolfes and Christian Trasch through injury, while Torsten Frings is not on speaking terms with Low. If the Germans have a weakness, this is it, and the opposition will be aiming to exploit this. 

And if anyone can beat Germany to the top it’s Serbia, my personal dark horse for the tournament. The Serbs are a well organised and efficient unit under coach Radomir Antic and showed this by topping a group containing the likes of France and Romania in qualifying. Serbia’s attack will be spearheaded by 6 foot 8 inch giant Nikola Zigic and assisted by a midfield containing the likes of Inter Milan treble winner Dejan Stankovich and the much coveted CSKA Moscow playmaker Milos Krasic. This is backed by a rock solid defence containing Nemanja Vidic, Branislav Ivanovich, and Neven Subotic. Serbia’s only real weakness is the lack of a top quality keeper, with Vladimir Stojkovic more known for his tantrums than his prowess in goal. Despite this, don’t expect Serbia to be embarrassed in 2010 like they were in 2006. 

Making up the numbers in Group D are our Australian cousins. Coach Pim Verbeek has assembled a motley crew of seasoned veterans who will likely rely more on hard graft and tough tackling than attractive ball skills to progress past the first round. The Socceroo’s cause is not helped by the lack of a recognised prolific striker and it will up to midfielders such as Tim Cahill to hit the back of the net on a regular basis. However one should never discount the Aussies, with the likes of Craig Moore, Harry Kewell, and Lucas Neill likely to give everything to secure a successful swan song at the World Cup. 

FIFA World Cup: Group C analysis

28 May

The contenders (and latest FIFA rankings):

  • England (8)
  • USA (14)
  • Algeria (30)
  • Slovenia (25)

We’ll start things off with a worthless fact: Group C is the Group with the highest-ranked ‘worst’ team.

England are a team that are in pretty good form. They went through qualification losing only one match, which was after they had already qualified. Moreover, under Capello the team are scoring a lot of goals from across the park. Their recent friendly saw a very poor England still defeat Mexico 3-1, which is the mark of a good side. These factors all suggest England could have a genuine crack. But then I don’t think there has been an English side since 1966 that wasn’t going to triumph over all before it and lift the Cup (excluding the years when they failed to qualify, of course). Will England live up to the hype? Will Capello be able to banish the demons that have seemingly haunted England for over 40 years? Will Peter Crouch perform the robot when he scores a goal?

Interviewer: "What would you be if you weren't a footballer?" Crouch: "A virgin."

Their biggest competition is going to come from the USA. In fact the first match in the group is a mouthwatering tie between the old country and the new. While the USA may not have the big names of their former coloniser (that word looks so wrong but Google assures me I’m right), they are a true ‘team’. The USA didn’t have the toughest road to qualification, and there were speed bumps along the way, but I have a good feeling about them (even after they got shanked by the Czech Republic in a recent friendly). After all, recall that it was the USA that knocked out favourites Spain in last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup. I’m going to tip an upset and say they will take the group.

Algeria may well be Africa’s best chance at the World Cup. Which isn’t saying much. They have a friendly against cry-babies Ireland coming up as they look to build a head of steam heading into the tournament. In order to qualify for the World Cup, Algeria had a feisty playoff against bitter rivals Egypt, who they knocked out. The match up also involved a serious attack on the Algerian team bus and Algeria subsequently halting gas exports to their competitor. Only in Africa. The team will struggle in South Africa and I don’t expect them to make it out of the group…

…much like Slovenia. Slovenia were also involved in a playoff in order to make the tournament, where they defeated the heavily favoured Russian side. I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot about the team. Apparently they have a fantastic keeper though. Before you criticise me too heavily for my ignorance, you probably don’t even know where Slovenia is. It’s in the Balkans.

FIFA World Cup: Group B analysis

27 May

Group B (April FIFA rankings):

  • Argentina (7)
  • Nigeria (21)
  • South Korea (47)
  • Greece (13)

On the face of it this group looks like a simple one to pick:  Argentina and Greece.  Both teams have history, strong players (namely Argentina), and they are highly ranked.  However, the relatively awful form of these teams heading into the World Cup has made this a far more open group than meets the eye.

Even though Argentina struggled to qualify for the World Cup (only ensuring qualification in the final round of the CONMEBOL with victory over Uruguay), they remain one of the favourite teams to win the tournament.  And given the insane amount of quality they have in their strikeforce and midfield (Messi, Agüero, Milito, Tévez, Higuaín, etc) it is hard to argue with this conclusion.  However, Argentina has felt unbalanced, and unstable, under the coaching of Maradona.

Maradona keeps an eye on the players while they train

Combined with the relative frailty of their defensive line this implies that Argentian aren’t a shoe-in for getting out of the group stage – even if they are massive favourites.

In my opinion Greece is the most over-rated team in this group, by a long shot.  The Greek squad lacks depth AND quality, and unlike previous Greek squads they are vulnerable at the back.  The one big plus for the Greek side is their physical nature – a factor that has led many to believe that they will be able to force their way past Nigeria and South Korea.  However, as the friendly against North Korea illustrated, a physical game plan doesn’t mean much when it is all you have.  The Greeks lacked quality during qualification and have looked flat in the lead up to the World Cup.  I expect them to come last in this group.

The president of Nigeria has demanded that they bring back the World cup … or at least get to the next round.  And while the Nigerian team isn’t bad on paper, there are issues.  With their new manager (Lars Largerback) only seeing them play a competitive match for the first time on Monday (against Saudi Arabia) and Nigeria consistently showing itself to be inconsistent in front of goal (even with Obafemi Martins and Yakubu) I can’t see Nigeria getting out of the 1st round.

South Korea is not expected to achieve much.  Although they topped their group in Asia (undefeated), the fact that they are generally quite a short team, lack a recognised striker, and do not have the physical presence of many European sides, has seen them written off.  However, they are the only one of these four teams coming into the World Cup on form – beating Ivory Coast, Ecuador, and Japan in their last three games.  Furthermore, even though I despise Manchester United, Park Ji-Sung is a great player – a great player who has been on form in recent months.  Combining the momentum of the team and the good form of Park Ji-Sung with the weakness of the Greek side, and general inconsistency of Nigeria, has lead me to put South Korea as favourites for the coverted second place in Group B.

So, who is going to take out Group B?