It’s simply not cricket

Branded bear

Something unusual is happening in English sport. Our team is number one in the world. Eight of the top 15 players in the world are English. The game is riding a wave of positive support and there’s the unusual feeling that affairs are in order from the national governing body down to grass roots level. But that’s enough about cricket. Another fractious and unedifying football season awaits…

Look – I love our national sport but to be honest I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for it with the Premier League kick-off just two days away. I’m sure that’s going to change at 3pm on Saturday, though with England heading for a third straight test victory against mighty India maybe I’ll be tuned into that instead. Hang on, this was meant to be a blog about football, full of enthusiasm and expectation … let’s try again…

The modern game is as much a soap opera as Coronation Street if that’s your thing. There are, despite the lobotomisation of modern professionals, still characters in the game willing to speak their minds or just be plain entertaining. Meanwhile on the pitch, amidst the oft dull and the desperate fare are moments of magic if you are brave enough to hang around until the final whistle. Then there’s the rich football fan subculture with it’s own community and humour. There’s a chance that 22 men kicking a ball around may yet cleanse our souls of the latest toxic FIFA corruption shenanigans. We need some positive news stories on the pitch – football owes us.

Every year I make a few predictions on the season ahead. Last years predictions – well, the less said the better. I might as well have pulled names out of a hat for all of the hopelessly inaccurate predictions I made. Let’s pretend that didn’t happen and take a punt on the season ahead…

Premiership

There has been a lot of money flying around this year with three weeks of the transfer window to go. Money alone can’t buy success and that’s why I expect Alex Ferguson to steer Manchester United to yet another title. City and Chelsea have to somehow keep their overpaid and overpopulated squads happy now that they are limited to 25 players under FA rules. Liverpool, revitalised under King Kenny, will be an interesting proposition following a huge spending binge and eyes will also be on Arsene Wenger as the perennial also-rans of Arsenal face life without Fabregas. Once again there may be more drama at the other end of the table with the likes of newly promoted Norwich and Swansea setting out to finish 4th from bottom.

Champions

  • Manchester United – Some senior pro’s have retired but assuming they land Wesley Sneijder I think the mix will be right for them to finish top again.

Relegated

  • Norwich – I know it’s an easy call but so far they haven’t recruited nearly enough quality players to compete at this level over a season
  • Swansea – same as Norwich, simply not good strong enough as things stand
  • Wigan – only just survived last season since which their squad has weakened. Pretty football alone does not translate to points

Dark horse

  • Stoke – Like Skoda they initially became efficient and have since had the nerve to add some quality. Top eight?
Championship

The days when you assumed clubs relegated from the Premiership would bounce straight back have gone. Relegated clubs tend to bring financial woes with them or underestimate how hard it is to escape from this division. The finances have started to bite many clubs and some that gambled on a failed promotion bid last season will struggle this time around as the purse strings are tightened. Leicester are bucking the trend as manager Sven throws millions at players in a bid to secure a top 2 finish.

As a Derby fan I have to believe we will finish a lot higher than last seasons dismal showing. The squad looks stronger this season and there are certainly more leaders on the pitch but at the time of writing we need a midfield general, tall old-school striker and a left back not called Kilbane if we are to challenge for the play-offs. I’m hoping for top half.

Promoted

  • West Ham – Premiership quality
  • Leicester – Money doesn’t buy you promotion. OK, maybe it does then.
  • Cardiff – Not that far off last season and they have improved the squad since then

Relegated

  • Coventry – Struggling on and off the pitch.
  • Peterborough – They punched above their weight last season. They will need to do it again.
  • Barnsley – A lack of quality may tell.

Dark horse

  • Brighton – on a roll with their new stadium, last seasons promotion and some quality signings.
League 1

This division is a melting pot and a lot of teams will fancy their chances this season. The two Sheffields find themselves in the same division and some attendance records will likely be set when those two meet. Did you know that Nolberto Solano is plying his trade at Hartlepool? There’s a lot to capture the imagination in this division…

Promoted

  • Charlton – Unlucky not to make it last season they should have a little more know-how this season
  • Preston – A strong squad with a spine of experience, they have a fighting chance
  • Huddersfield – Nearly did it last year and still a good bet this year

Relegated

  • Rochdale – Only a hunch but their second season back at this level could be tougher than the first
  • Stevenage – Where are the goals coming from?
  • Tranmere – The startling move of striker Dale Jennings to Bayern Munich may prove to be a body blow
  • Yeovil – They begin with a “Y” so in the event that every game this season is a draw they are doomed

Dark horse

  • Notts County – Last season was about survival but manager “Mad Dog” Martin Allen has brought a new way of thinking to the club that may take them on a run.
League 2

It would be nice if all the talk this season was of football and not finances. One thing’s for sure there will be plenty of neutrals looking out for AFC Wimbledon – a club reborn by purist fans after the MK Dons debacle. Also under the spotlight will be Crawley who spent astronomical money by non-league standards to leap into the football league.

Promoted

  • Bristol Rovers – A big club with a plethora of new signings often fails to produce results but I’m backing them anyway
  • Crewe – You can’t keep Dario Gradi down
  • Oxford – They have a strong defence for this division and I’m backing them to be there or thereabouts
  • Shrewsbury – They play a lot of good football. If they can show some steel they will be well placed for promotion.

Relegated

  • Hereford – I saw them last season and was amazed they survived
  • Barnet – struggled last season and have lost players since. It doesn’t look good for them.

Dark horse

  • AFC Wimbledon – they really aren’t ready for league 1. Not a chance. But wouldn’t it be fun! Football remains the preserve of dreamers…

 

World Cup – Friday 2nd July

End Of The African Dream

Brazil out! That wasn’t supposed to happen yet. Holland seem to always do just enough – can they keep it up? The African dream is over as Ghana fall just short but if you are a neutral(ish) it’s a great game to watch.

Results – Friday 2nd July

  Quarter
Finals
Holland 2 – 1 Brazil
    (pens) Uruguay 1 – 1 Ghana
Post Match Review
Ron Atkinson We were all looking forward to see two giants of the game Holland and Brazil go toe to toe and the game didn’t disappoint. It was very much a game of two halves though. Brazil look more likely early doors and when the Dutch defence parted like the red sea after 10 minutes Robinho made his finish look like childs play.

Holland worked their socks off though and it was just reward when midfield maestro Sneider put in a telling cross and the lad Melo could only help it into his own net. He will have been gutted about that but he never got a shout from the keeper.

In the second half Sneider nods the Dutch ahead and if that wasn’t enough Melo gets his marching orders for some afters with Robben. Then it’s backs to the wall time for the boys from Brazil. All credit to them they gave 110% but at the end of the day it wasn’t enough and it just goes to show that the game’s not played on paper.

The evening match was a mouth watering clash between minnows Uruguay and underdogs Ghana. The South Americans lorded it early on and the Ghana were at sixes and sevens to start off with. Then just when we thought they weren’t at the races Muntari picks the ball up and just smashes in from a mile out. The keeper was caught off guard and all he can do is pick the ball out of the net.

Then in the second half it’s the African lads turn to pile on the pressure but what happens? Forlan drives in a free kick to level things up and it’s all square again. The Uruguayans come out of their shell and it’s end to end for a while. The ref blows up and it’s extra time.

There’s tired legs out there and at times it’s men against boys. The tension’s staring to show and then with literally the last kick of the game Suarez handles on the line and it’s an early bath! It’s a spot kick to decide the game but the lad Gyan stuffs it off the crossbar! He’s gutted – that was the semi-final!

Now it’s penalties and high stakes with every kick. Forlan nets for Uruguay. Gyan is straight back to put in a great kick after missing a minute earlier – that takes courage! Mensah hits a stinker and the keeper gathers it up – advantage Uruguay. But then Pereira knocks his kick into row Z – all square! Ghana turn again and they miss the next kick too!! This is seat of your pants stuff! It leaves Uruguay with a kick for a place in the semis. The striker runs up and dinks it down the middle calm as you like! He’s over the moon and Ghana are all as sick as parrots.

It could have been so different but it can be a cruel game. At the end of the day it’s been a great advert for the game and when the fat lady sings there can only be one team left standing.

Fixtures – Saturday 3rd July

  Quarter
Finals
Germany vs Argentina
    Spain vs Paraguay
Gazza’s Daily Football Factoids
 Curiously nothing is known about the Paraguayan football team. Indeed the country itself lives only on the fringes of western consciousness and even on the internet there is scant mention of it. The general belief is that this is a country in South America, possibly ruled by a strange bird like god but then it gets a bit sketchy.
Scientific Siegfried’s Rational Assessment Of Football Results
Scientific Siegfried Achtung football enthusiast. Hier ist ze prediktions for July 3. Spain vill Paraguay gethumpen. This ist obvious. Also there is played the Deutsche against Argentina. Diese match vill be “tight like ein gnats arsen” be.

Ze outkome of this match ist however simple. Die fatherland will triumph – this is the logikal result. The ladz know no fear und each stands 3 metre tall und fire breathen. For Argentina they are weak through grossen druggen gecheaten Maradonan dwarf.

Struesal kuchen

Meine celebration starts jetz mit drei stuck Struesalkuchen, und eine pack rennie.

View from the sofa

There have been two fantastic quarter final games today. It hasn’t always been a feast of beautiful football but there has been drama, triumph and tears all in good measure. Not all of the news is being made on the pitch however…

News from the England camp

  • England’s defence arrived back at Heathrow airport today, trailing the rest of the team by 2 days.
  • Emile Heskey has remained on the pitch by himself since the end of the England vs Germany match and has yet to score. He did have the ball in the net last night but was adjudged to be offside.
  • Fabio has received a vote of confidence from the FA. Apparently he is “still the man for the job” which of course has nothing to do with the fact it would cost many millions to oust him. The FA is at least consistent in presenting an incompetent public face.

In other news…
Following hot on the heels of Wednesdays role call of fantastic team names from the Ghanaian league we learn that the Nigerian President is called Goodluck Jonathan! How cool is that?

He’s in the news because he has threatened to stop the Nigerian team entering any tournaments for 2 years due to their perceived failure, having been KO’d in the group stages last week. Let’s hope this trend doesn’t catch on or England might find themselves grounded until 2014.

Finally – Dunga has resigned as manager of Brazil after their quarter final defeat. Are you listening Fabio?