Monday, May 31, 2010

Player Profile Number 8: Alexander Frei

My Group H player profile is Alexander Frei of Switzerland.

Alexander Frei, 30, of Basel is a prolific goalscorer. Throughout his career his strike rate has been roughly a goal every two games - at both domestic (for the likes of Luzern, Servette, Renais, Borussia Dortmund and Basel) and international level. For Basel and for Switzerland he has forged a good partnership with Marco Streller who is also a regular goalscorer. With the recent news that Streller has been ruled out of the World Cup due to injury the onus goes right back on Frei.

For me Frei is probably going to be the difference between Switzerland progressing to the second round or not. He is Switzerland's all time record goalscorer (40 from 73 games) and has 5 goals in qualifying. He is a poacher with excellent anticipation and timing. He can go missing for long periods of a game but then come up trumps with a goal.

For Switzerland's hopes Frei must be on top form at the World Cup if he is to make an impression on the biggest stage of them all.

Player Profile Number 7: Didier Zokora

My player profile for Group G is Didier Zokora of the Ivory Coast (C'ote d'Ivoire).

The lesser known Didier of the Ivory Coast pack, Zokora is crucial to the Ivory Coast's World Cup chances. He is a defensive central midfield player who also loves to get forward. He is powerful, tough in the tackle and with the propensity for the Ivory Coast to want to attack his defensive attributes in the middle of the park will be key. Sometimes he likes to get forward just a little too often which can leave the team exposed - hopefully Sven Goran Erikkson has impressed on him that he must not neglect his defensive duties, particularly when you have to combat the attacking thrusts of Brazil and Portugal.

Zokora makes good runs on the ball and is a useful passer of the ball, albeit his precision over longer distances is inconsistent. He is one half of his integral partnership with Yaya Toure whose game is built more around quick incisive passing and getting the ball to players in threatening areas of the park.

Zokora is the Ivory Coast's most capped player (80) and has played a considerable number of games at Racing Genk, Saint-Etienne and Tottenham Hotspurs. He is currently plying his trade at Sevilla. At 29 he is at an excellent age to dominate in the middle of the park but please don't encourage him to shoot...check out his goalscoring record if you don't believe me!

Hopefully Didier will help his side navigate the murky waters of Group G.

Player Profile Number 6: Tommy Smith

Tommy Smith of NZ is the player I profile from Group F.

Tommy Smith is a product of the Ipswich Town academy. At the tender age of 20 he has already suffered two horrific injuries - the first a broken ankle, the second to his hand. This has meant opportunities for him to impress in the Ipswich Town first team have been limited. He has played 16 league games for Ipswich Town of the Championship,15 on loan for Stevenage Borough of the Conference and 8 on loan for Brentford of League 1.

Thus the English born Smith (like many of the NZ team) has had an inauspicious start as a professional footballer. However this defender can boast being a member of the England U17 and U18 squad. He is allowed to play for NZ thanks to FIFA recently overturning the rule that said if you play for one country's age group side they are also the only international team you can play for. Having spent a number of years living in NZ as a youngster Smith had dual nationality and elected to play for the All Whites once they had qualified for South Africa.

I have only had the pleasure of watching him in one and a half games of football: first as a substitute in the friendly against Australia and then starting in New Zealand's historic victory over Serbia. Against Australia he was employed in the left wing-back role and was very composed both in defence and attack. Against Serbia, ranked 15th in the world, he played on the left side in a central defensive three and barely put a foot wrong.

He appears to be a young man who has a big future. He is a very likely starter in the New Zealand defence. NZ will have to be at its top defensively if it is to have any chance of positive results at the World Cup and so Tommy Smith shapes up as a crucial player. I have the sneaking suspicion he will equip himself very well.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Player Profile Number 5: Arjen Robben

Arjen Robben of the Netherlands is my player profile from Group E.

Every single game I have watched Robben play I have been impressed. He always appears to have such time on the ball. He is an exciting player and a very adept winger. He creates opportunities for his team mates and has scored many very high quality goals. In a team that has so many good players Robben continually stands out for me and if the Netherlands are to win their first ever world cup they will need this man at the top of his game.

Whether it be for Groningen, PSV, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or the Netherlands Robben never fails to excite. This season particularly he is in excellent goalscoring form. He also won the title of footballer of the year in Germany on 25 May 2010. My only criticism of him is that he appears to be a bit of a diver. I can't imagine the World Cup featuring no simulation for Robben, and when it does occur, it will be interesting to see if it wins his side freekicks or if he will get booked.

Player Profile Number 4: Sulley Muntari

Sulley Muntari of Ghana is my player profile for Group D.

If Ghana are going to qualify from Group D they will need Sulley Muntari to be on fire. Reeling from the absence of Michael Essien Muntari will have to do the work of about 1.5 men.

Muntari is a strong ball winning midfielder currently plying his trade at Inter Milan. He also has the ability to bomb forward and create goal scoring opportunities for the strikers, occasionally popping up with one himself. He has always been immensely talented but has suffered from ill-discipline. He gets far too many red cards. He needs to make sure that at the World Cup he channels his aggression into a positive focus. I will back him to do so.

Getting past a midfield wall of Essien and Muntari is incredibly difficult. Now with Essien gone Muntari will really have his work cut out. Whether he manages to step up to the mark could easily be the difference between qualification or not.

Player Profile Number 3 Aaron Lennon

Aaron Lennon of England is my Group C Player Profile.

Aaron Lennon is a player I have followed very closely since he was 16 years old and broke into Leeds Utd's first team squad, in the Premier League. He moved to Tottenham Hotspurs in 2005 due to Leeds financial difficulties (for a shockingly low 1 million pounds) and because they were playing in the Championship and not the Premier League. For 3 seasons in a row Lennon was nominated as the PFA young player of the year but on each occasion was beaten to the title - by Wayne Rooney, Christiano Ronaldo and Ashley Young respectively.

Right from the age of 16 it was apparent to me that he was something special and would one day in the not so distant future play for England. He has blistering pace, close ball control and the ability to beat players. He can pass quickly, move into dangerous positions at pace, whip in a good cross and finish adeptly. Lennon has been injured for much of this season but is coming back to full fitness. He is probably vying with Walcott for a starting role on the right wing, and I for one would pick him. Lennon is of higher quality and is more consistent than Walcott but it's a nice selection dilemma for England to have.

I am hoping for big things from this young man at the 2010 World Cup

Let's Shock The World: World Cup podcast

My friend Hayden Henderson and I are doing a regular podcast for the World Cup. We recorded our first one about half a day before the All Whites played Serbia. We talk about New Zealand's side and our chances at World Cup 2010, we preview Groups A, B, C and D and we both pick a dark horse.

The All Whites magnificent and monumental victory over Serbia just proves we do have the potential to shock the world. And just goes to prove our fallibility as well particularly given some of Hayden's comments.

You can find the link here. Enjoy! You can also subscribe through iTunes.

Let me know what you think.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Player Profile Number 2: Angel di Maria

Angel di Maria of Argentina is a player I've never seen play. Up until recently I had barely even heard of him. What then makes me qualified to write about him? Nothing. But by putting something together based on reading from a number of different sources I can inform both myself and you about him. Why have I chosen to profile him? Because from the reading I have done, and the youtube clips I have watched, I get the feeling that he could do something very special at the World Cup.

Angel di Maria is 22 and is a left winger for Portugese champions Benfica. He has exceptional dribbling skills, pace, creativity, picks a good pass and has a venomous shot.

Angel has only played 8 games for the national side but has played for them at the Under 20 World Cup and the Under 23 Olympics, with starring roles for both. He has played 82 league games for Benfica (scoring ten goals) and is rumoured to be a target of big clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United. This last season has been his best ever in terms of goals to games ratio - scoring about one every 4 games.

Should he be given opportunities to impress at World Cup 2010 I am convinced that he will do so.

Player Profile Number 1: Rafael Marquez

I am going to profile one player from each group who I believe will make a big impact on that group or indeed on the World Cup in general. I am not going to choose the likes of Messi, Rooney, Ronaldo etc - they will be someone who is perhaps less celebrated worldwide but crucial nevertheless.

My player for Group A is Rafael Marquez of Mexico.

To me it feels like Marquez has been around forever, yet he is only 31. I watched him closely at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and I have watched him play a number of times for Barcelona who he joined from Monaco in 2003 for 5 million euros (what a bargain!). He is my favourite Mexican player, a team for whom I have a soft spot that I cannot explain.

Marquez is generally a centre-back. I say generally because whilst that is his best and usual position he offers a versatility that means he has also filled in quite successfully at right-back and defensive midfield. At centre-back he reads the game so well and is calm, composed and self-assured on the tackle and distributes the ball intelligently. He has an excellent cross-field ball and is strong in the air.

He is also Mexican captain and has been for many years. He is a true leader that leads by example and he marshalls his troops very well. He has made a total of 327 appearances in the league for Atlas, Monaco and Barcelona, 57 in European competitions and has 88 international caps.

Despite being a defender Marquez has contributed important goals for whoever he has played. He is more prolific at international level for whom he has ten. Don't be surprised if he adds another during the World Cup.

Marquez is mature, utterly dependable and an all round excellent player who is even capable of the spectacular. One doesn't become a mainstay for a mesmerising team like Barcelona without being a quality player. A brilliant centre-half and a consummate professional. Good luck for the World Cup Rafa.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Big names NOT playing at the 2010 World Cup

There are a number of big name/star players who have not been selected for World Cup 2010 squads. There are also a number who will be missing through injury and there are others who are under an injury cloud. I will try to provide a list below. No doubt I will miss a number so feel free to add players in the comments section. It can be quite subjective as to whom one considers a star player or not. Especially as for some of the weaker nations their star player(s) may be also-rans in relation to players from the traditional power house nations.

We must also consider that some of the star names we bemoan the managers for omitting are over the hill, are not what they were four years ago, and are still twinkling in our minds eye as the amazing player they used to be. Some of the surprise inclusions, or should I say the new players we haven’t heard of, will dazzle us all at the World Cup. I am excited to find out who and how!

Not selected

Ronaldinho (AC Milan)
Pato (AC Milan)
Adriano (Flamengo)

Ronaldinho has barely featured for Brazil over the last year so I and many others had predicted he wouldn’t make the World Cup squad. It was still a shock nevertheless to have it confirmed. Ronaldinho is synonymous throughout the world (including for those who know nothing about football) with breathtaking skill and has been on good form for AC Milan. He is also one of the stars of the brilliant new Nike ad. His inclusion could be considered by some as a Nike fail.

Pato is 20 years old, an immense player for AC Milan and has somehow been overlooked. This is a shocking decision.

Zanetti (Inter Milan)
Cambiasso (Inter Milan)
(Gabriel) Milito (Barcelona)
The omissions of Zanetti and Cambiasso are criminal. What was Maradona thinking? Zanetti has been in brilliant form for Inter Milan and Cambiasso is the only player I’ve seen contain Messi. I repeat, criminal.
Totti (Roma)
Del Pierro (Juventus)
Toni (Roma, on loan from Bayern Munich)
Grosso (Juventus)

Manager Lippi seems intent on bringing through new prospects and as a result these four players on the wrong side of 30 miss out. Totti hasn’t played for his country since the last World Cup but after making himself available many had expected him to be picked. The only one of the four I am really surprised about is Grosso. He is the youngest of the four at 32 (and this is normally young for an Italian defender!) and seemed to still have a lot to offer. He did come the closest as he was picked in the preliminary 30 man squad but Lippi has deigned to cull him since then.
Vieira (Man City)
Nasri (Arsenal)
Benzema (Real Madrid)

Surprised with Nasri who is a talent I would have expected Domenech to want at his disposal. I am sure Benzema’s absence is in part because of his inability to hold down a place at Real Madrid.

Van Nistelrooy (Hamburg)

Was surprised at this but he is certainly past his prime.

Moutinho (Sporting)

Rodriguez (Porto)


Charlie Davis - USA (Sochaux) – serious car crash in October 2009
Beckham - England (AC Milan)
Michael Ballack – Germany (Chelsea)
Rene Adler – Germany (Bayer Leverkusen)
Diarra – France (Real Madrid)
Cabanas – Paraguay (Club America)

Michael Ballack is a massive blow to Germany. He is the main cog in the German machine. It’s all very well for people to say that Schweinsteiger should step up but they play a different type of game. His direct replacement in the team is to be Sami Khedira: he has big shoes to fill.

Rene Adler is hardly a superstar but he is the first choice goalkeeper for Germany so he deserves to be included in this list. Germany will have to employ their 2nd choice goalkeeper who will be hoping the fans won’t be making Oliver Kahn comparisons.

You have to feel sorry for David Beckham – a model professional and a man who is still one of the best exponents of the precision pass from one side of the field to another. He was very unlikely to have been a starter but his experience and quality of the bench may have been useful. He will be in South Africa with the team, probably in a mentoring capacity.

Diarra has an odd problem. He developed stomach pains during altitude training and is ‘indefinitely’ out due to a genetic red blood cell disorder.

Cabanas is Paraguay’s star striker. In January of this year he was shot in the head at a nightclub. He has recovered very well since but is not able to play football yet.

Under an injury cloud

Torres (Liverpool)
Fabregas (Arsenal)
Iniesta (Barcelona)

3 of the best players in the world all under an injury cloud but expected to recover in time for the tournament. For Spain’s sake you have to hope it won’t affect their preparations too badly.

Other Countries
Essien – Ghana (Chelsea)
Kewell – Australia (Galatasaray)
Sorenson – Denmark (Stoke)
Skrtel – Slovakia (Liverpool)

Kewell seems like he’s always injured. Neither has he been the same player since his wonderful displays for Leeds United in the early 2000’s. But he’s the most naturally talented player in the Australian squad.

Skrtel’s been out of action for Liverpool for 3 months and hoping to be fit in time.

There are also some excellent players who can’t play at the World Cup because their country failed to qualify. The player that I will most miss, from a country which did not qualify, is Arshavin of Russia. He is a superb midfielder I love to watch play.

As the World Cup nears there will be other stars who pick up injuries, and again when it starts unhelpful injuries and suspensions are a given.

No doubt I have missed a very many fine individuals out from these lists. Please do inform me of who they might be and anything you might disagree with.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The England Selection Debate - who will stay behind?

As an avid follower of English club and international football since my earliest days as a football fan this is probably the team on which I can speak with most authority. Obviously my authority has nothing on Capello’s but it doesn’t stop me from airing my views. That, after all, is the purpose of a blog.

England are one of the few countries not to have named their final 23. They have named a 30 man preliminary squad that needs to cut 7. I will explore who these might or should be.

First of all: a reminder of the 30 man squad – 3 goalkeepers, 10 defenders, 12 midfielders and 5 strikers

James - Portsmouth
Hart – Man City (on loan at Birmingham)
Green – West Ham
(Ashley) Cole – Chelsea
Carragher – Liverpool
Ferdinand – Man Utd
Terry – Chelsea
Dawson – Spurs
(Glen) Johnson – Liverpool
Upson – West Ham
King – Spurs
Warnock – Villa
Baines – Everton

(Adam) Johnson – Man City
Milner – Villa
Gerrard – Liverpool
Carrick – Man Utd
Huddlestone – Spurs
(Joe) Cole – Chelsea
Lennon – Spurs
Parker – West Ham
Barry – Villa
Lampard – Chelsea
Wright-Phillips – Man City

Defoe – Spurs
Rooney- Man Utd
Heskey – Villa
Crouch – Spurs
Bent – Sunderland

The 3 goalkeepers are certain.

Out of the 10 defenders Capello is likely to select 8. In my mind this means Warnock misses out (he is in straight competition with Baines for the second choice left-back slot). The other to miss out will surely be a centre-back as there are six who can play there. The unlucky man is between King, Dawson, Upson and Carragher.

King has had chronic knee problems but is experienced and of high quality. Upson was always considered one of the best young defenders in England but has not been on form in recent years and was involved in West Ham Utd’s relegation scrap. Dawson has come into the reckoning of recent times and was part of a strong Spurs back line that finished 4th in the Premier League. Carragher has been encouraged out of retirement. Purely on central defence he is the weakest but he offers back-up to the first choice right-back Johnson and is a versatile player. Upson misses out for me but I would not be too concerned if it was Dawson that missed out instead.

Out of the 12 midfielders 8 are likely to go to South Africa. Milner, Gerrard, Lampard, Barry (fitness permitting) and Lennon are surely all obvious choices. Walcott is not far behind for me; he is inconsistent but can quickly change a game. I am also of the opinion that Johnson and Cole should both be part of the squad thus leaving Huddlestone, Carrick, Parker and Wright-Phillips behind.

I am convinced at least one of Johnson/Cole will miss out though because the problem with picking both is that it leaves England light on central midfielders. To compound this Capello may decide to use Gerrard as a striker playing just behind Rooney and Barry may not be fully fit. This would leave Lampard and Milner (who has been converted very successfully into a central midfield player this season, although the holding type role he may be asked to play doesn’t come naturally to him). We must also remember that Ledley King is capable of playing the holding midfield role and that Joe Cole can play both on the wing and in an attacking midfield type role.

Why do I want Cole and Johnson? Cole is a very gifted player technically. He might only be a squad member rather than a first team regular at Chelsea, but his skill level is high, one only has to look at the perfect technique he employed for that perfect volley he scored against Sweden at the last world cup. He is not a traditional winger but can play effectively in that type of role and is quite versatile.

Johnson has only just come onto people’s radar recently. I have known of him for about four years now. Initially he was one of those players I had only vaguely heard of after seeing him come on as a substitute for Middlesbrough in the Premiership on the odd occasion. Only a few months after I had heard of him he joined my beloved Leeds United on a one month loan in October 2006 (he did OK for Leeds in his four games for us, nothing flash). Thus at this point I researched him more fully and have followed his career fairly closely since then.

Johnson had another loan spell at Watford in 2007 and from all accounts put in some excellent performances prompting Middlesbrough to recall him. In 2008-09 he played 32 games, half as a substitute as he was behind Downing in the pecking order. In 2009-10, following relegation, he played the first half of the season for Middlesbrough in the Championship before Man City bought him in the January transfer window for 10 million pounds following yet more stellar performances. He has played a decent amount of times for Man City since then, putting in a number of man of the match performances. He is a really exciting prospect and it would mean a lot to his development to go to the World Cup. And were he to play a role from the substitutes bench I would back him to produce something special

Wright-Phillips’ star has fallen, he is no longer seen as one of England’s great hopes. One has to imagine that being bought by Chelsea a few years back, as Man City’s star player (a couple of years before they became rich), and becoming merely a bit part in their squad has stunted his growth as a player. Also, Chelsea do not have the reputation for nurturing their players so it is little surprise. (Have Chelsea done Wright-Phillips out of two World Cup squads then?). Still a good player but not quite good enough for the squad methinks.

The other 3 midfielders I have suggested to miss out are the central trio of Carrick, Parker and Huddlestone. All very decent players but not quite the standard of the players I have picked.

I think however that Capello will choose one of Cole and Johnson and give the other spot to Carrick, my preferred choice out of the three players in the previous paragraph. Johnson may indeed be the unlucky one. If this is what Capello decides then so be it. Another option would be to take one less defender (Dawson) to accommodate the extra midfielder. Could be a good idea but may leave England light on central defenders.

Out of the 5 strikers my choice to miss out is Bent. Second only to Rooney in the Premiership charts he may be but he has never replicated this for England and I don’t see why this will change. I have far more confidence in Defoe to do the business. Heskey I do not rate as a goalscorer but if he plays alongside Rooney there’s no doubt he can help the balance of the team by holding up play, laying balls off and generally making a good partnership. Crouch has very skilfull feet for such a tall man and has a great scoring record for England.

Which 7 would you leave behind? Which 7 will Capello leave behind? Your thoughts please.
In the near future I will discuss my England starting 11. I have some very clear views on that topic.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why I love the World Cup

The 2010 Football World Cup is rapidly approaching and I am amped. I spend hours a day poring over articles about every aspect of the tournament and I re-live previous tournaments through any means possible. I watch all of the TV that is even vaguely related to the tournament: “Official World Cup Preview”, “Destination South Africa”, “The Greatest of Our Time”, “World Football Rivalries” and anything else I can get my hands on. I own books that detail every single game played at every World Cup since it started. I plan to watch every minute of the World Cup. I did it in 2006 and 2002 and watched every second that my parents allowed me to in 1990, 1994 and 1998. And I have seen many hours of archived footage of all the other tournaments. Basically I am obsessed. This blog post will explore why the World Cup is so important to me and the rest of the football mad planet.

First and foremost, the Football World Cup is the biggest sporting event on the planet. Whilst I love the club team Leeds United more than any other sporting team there ever was or ever will be (by a long long way) the Football World Cup as a tournament dwarfs anything and everything. It is a month of a smorgasbord of football. 64 mouth-watering games with 32 teams (countries) battling it out for the right to call themselves world champions.

Qualification for the Football World Cup is arduous. The same countries do not appear in every tournament as qualification is so intense and difficult for many teams. Each World Cup there are big football nations that miss out on the competition such as Netherlands in 02. The 2010 version does not feature Croatia, Russia and Czech Republic for example.

The vast majority of the countries that get to appear at the Football World Cup are football mad. They are nations obsessed with success at the tournament. For some it is because of their proud histories: think England, Italy, France, Germany etc. For others it is in part because of the poverty of their populace: think African countries among others. In hard times football is something that can bind the whole country together. Wannabe footballers from the age of 4 upwards spend hours playing football on the streets emulating their heroes and dreaming of becoming a hero for the next generation. The country comes to a standstill when their nation plays and the whole nation breathe collective sighs of relief; celebrate with joyous ecstasy or bond in devastating despair. The countries footballers carry the hopes and dreams of their nation. And whilst to a non-football fan this seems silly, there is a perfect sense to it all.

One of the beautiful things about football is the intense rivalries. Matches between England and Germany, Spain and Portugal, England and Argentina, Germany and the Netherlands, to name but a few, are more than about football. They are moulded from the battlefields of war. They also develop from (perceived) injustices and bad luck suffered on the football pitch.

Would England v Germany have quite the same bite without (for example)

- the 2 world wars
- the controversial Hurst goal in the 66 World Cup Final (for which debate rages to this day as to whether the ball crossed the line),
- England’s semi-final penalty shoot-out losses in 1990 and 1996
No it would not.

Would England Argentina have quite the same bite without

- the Falklands War
- Ramsey’s description of the Argentinean players as ‘animals’ in the 1966 quarter-final after being so incensed by their dirty play
- the Maradona ‘Hand-of-God’ in 86,
- the Beckham sending off and penalty shoot-out loss in 1998,
- the Beckham penalty goal in 2002 (was it an Owen dive?)?
Again, no it would not.

Football history is littered with these kinds of rivalries. In the 2006 World Cup Angola found themselves in the same group as Portugal – the country from which they gained their independence in 1975. (They lost 1-0). In 2002 the opening game of the World Cup was Senegal France. Senegal gained its independence from France in 1960 and one of France’s best ever footballers, who happened to be playing in that match was Patrick Vieira – a man born in Senegal. Senegal stunned the football world with a beautiful 1-0 victory. That match epitomised in many ways the beauty of both football and the World Cup in general.

The 2010 Football World Cup will be a month long carnival no doubt featuring

- many of the world’s best footballers (who by virtue of this are also celebrities)
- brilliant games
- spectacular goals
- scrappy, lucky goals,
- sublime skill
- controversial decisions
- one or two minnows who surprise the world and make the quarter-finals
- massive games between footballing powerhouses
- unlucky, unjustified and justified suspensions from some of the bigger games
- the drama of at least one penalty shoot-out
- tears
- ecstasy
- despair
- laughter
- the odd bit of hooliganism
- injuries
- diving
- frustrations

What can you expect from this blog as we countdown to (and during) the tournament? I will be profiling each team, each group. I will be discussing team and squad selections, pointing out some of the interesting ironies, analysing the games, perhaps making the odd prediction or two and a lot more.

Join me on this journey. Comment, discuss, and argue over the beautiful game on the biggest stage of them all.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The return of William Fussey the blogger for 2010 World Cup!

Yes I'm back to provide fresh insights on the biggest sporting event in the world. During the last World Cup I would have written around 100,000 words lol, who knows what this tournament will bring :D

Stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter @sirdonrevie