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FIFA World Cup 2014: Preview and Predictions - Quarter-finals

Now we are down to the last 8 in the 2014 FIFA World Cup - the business end where the best teams are looking to create history. And as it's been a marvellous World Cup so far, I would presume that we will see some classic quarter-final drama, exciting and memorable matches and moments as we watch the World Cup history being made. The last 8 has a nice variety. We have 3 from South America and 1 team from Central America and 4 european sides. We have the usual suspects in Brazil and Germany and not to mention the Netherlands, Argentina and France. We have quarter final debutants in Costa Rica and Colombia. In terms of competing for the title, it is very open. In the Americas we have the hosts Brazil looking for a 6th title, Argentina are aiming to win a third title. Colombia have been the most entertaining team and despite having little history at this stage in a World Cup, they will want to make history to become the 4th South American nation to win the World Cup. Costa Rica are the least likely side to win, but they are one of those less fancied teams who have punched above their weight and deservedly earned their place at this stage in the World Cup. In Europe, Germany are searching for a 4th and first title since 1990, France after having 8 years in the international football wilderness are looking to win a second title. The Dutch, 3 time finalists are hoping to win the World Cup for the first time and Belgium's first tournament with their golden generation have reached a stage in the World Cup which justifies the quality and potential their side possesses and they will be looking to add their name to the list of World Cup winners.

The first quarter-final is an eagerly anticipated tie between european sides France and Germany. Two former champions, this fixture has provided classic World Cup matches in the past.

Germany have reached the last 8 for a 16th consecutive time and the side ranked second in the world are aiming for a 12th and 4th consecutive semi final. In the group stage they defeated Portugal 4-0, drew against Ghana 2-2 and won 1-0 over the USA before defeating Algeria 2-1 in extra time in the last 16 - scoring 9 goals (4 from Thomas muller, 1 from mario gotze, mats hummels, mesut ozil, Andre schurrle and miroslav klose), conceding 3. Germany were impressive in their 4-0 victory against Portugal but since then their intensity and level has dropped and some weaknesses have been exposed which had made Germany's performance so far, to be one of their poorest in a major tournament for a while. Defence has been a weakness, with Lahm playing in midfield which had meant that they have a back four made up of centre backs. It's not the quickest or most skilful defence and their organisation has been pretty poor at times which has resulted in some really shaky defending. And against Algeria, with hummels missing, Germany's defending was almost disastrous. They played a very high line which wasn't organised, slow and was very vulnerable to counter attacks and manuel neur had to get Germany out of trouble on numerous occasions. Germany's shape and balance was far better when Lahm played ad right back. They were far more organised, less shaky defensively and having a world class rb meant that Germany were a little more potent going forward on the right wing. Lahm could be a decent midfielder but Germany have never really set up like that before and it was easy to tell that team wasn't really used to it. Going forward, sometimes the attacks breakdown, some players are not in form and a few injuries to crucial players haven't helped but Thomas muller is a goalscorer. Despite the problems Germany have had, they've survived the tough moments have shown resilience, and combined with their experience this could see Germany through against France. But if they play like they did against Algeria then they would lose the quarter final.

France have been a surprise at this World Cup. Following a humiliating elimination in South Africa four years ago, the 1998 Champions and 2006 finalists have reached the last 8 for an 8th time. The team ranked 17th in the World, reached the last 8 by defeating Honduras 3-0, Switzerland 5-2 and drew 0-0 with Ecuador before beating Nigeria 2-0 in the last 16, scoring 10 goals (3 from Karim Benzema, 1 from Olivier Giroud, Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, Moussa Sissoko, Mathieu Valbuena), conceding just 2 goals. Going into the tournament, Franc were seen as dark horses and were generally expected to reach the quarter-finals, but the way they've played (especially in the first two group matches) has been impressive. They've scored many goals and look like a very well balanced, settled and organised side -solid defensively, creative in midfield and dangerous going forward. They have important players in goalkeeper Lloris, centre back Varane, playmaker Cabaye, holding midfielder Pogba, winger Valbuena and striker Benzema. Their form dipped slightly in the final group game and in their last 16 tie with Nigeria. Nevertheless, they've reached the quarter-finals for the first time in 8 years which is a positive milestone after a bleak period in recent times. A lack of experience could be their short coming, but certainly France do have the quality to contain and attack the Germans.

This will be the 26th meeting between the two sides with France having won 11 and Germany 8 with 6 draws. This will be th 4th meeting in a World Cup, a 6-3 victory for France in a 3rd place play-off in 1958, 3-3 semi-final in 1982 with Germany winning the first ever World Cup penalty shootout, and 4 years later at the same stage a 2-0 victory for the Germans. Germany are looking to reach a 4th consecutive World Cup semi-final and they are unbeaten in their last 15 internationals.

My initial prediction was 2-1 Germany and I'm sticking with it. As good as France have been and as shacky and at times unconvincing Germany have been, I think Germany's experience in terms of players and history will prevail. And I presume that they will be set up a lot better than they have been of late. If Lahm plays as RB, with Hummels as CB and Schwienstiger and Khederia in midfield, then Germany should have the shape to contain the French and score a few goals themselves. However, despite Germany's efficiency, if they play like they did against Algeria, then France have the weaponary to expose Germany's high-line and France could find themselves in a semif-final. Germany should win and play Brazil in the semi-final and to reach a fourth consecutive semi final would be some achievement.

The next quarter-final is an intriguing tie between South American sides Colombia and Brazil.

Brazil, ranked 3rd in the world, have reached the last 8 for the 16th time in their history and are looking for their first semi-final since 2002 - which would be the 10th in their history. They finished top of Group A by defeating Croatia 3-1, drew 0-0 with Mexico and won 4-1 against Cameroon before beating Chile in a penalty shoot-out in the last 16. Brazil have scored 8 goals (4 from Neymar, 1 from David Luiz, Oscar, Fred and Fernandinho) and conceded 3 goals. Obviously, Brazil have done some things right to reach the quarter-finals, but they remain unconvincing and not particulary likeable. Certainly, Neymar is crucial going forward with 4 goals, they have some solid central midfielders and of course captain Thiago Silva holds the defence together. However, despite some flashes of Brazilian brilliance, Brazil have evolved into a far more physical side. They are erratic, which makes them unconvincing and not too pleasing on the eye, however, they are physical and powerful enough to stifle and disrupt their opponents and they are a dangerous side from set-pieces and on the counter-attack. But it does seem that this team isn't the best in the world, and are a shadow of their brilliant teams and players from the past. But playing at home is a huge advantage and this should ultimately see them progress to the semi finals and I expect them to win the World Cup. However, they could be regarded as one of the poorest sides to ever win the World Cup.

Colombia have reached the quarter-finals for the first time in their history, which is a magnificent achievement - considering how this is their first World Cup appearance since 1998 - and they've deserved it. The side ranked 8th in the World have won all of their matches, beating Greece 3-0, Ivory Coast 2-1, Japan 4-1 and Uruguay 2-0. Certainly, given how they've won all of their games and scored 11 goals (5 from James Rodriguez, 2 from Jackson Martinez, 1 from Pablo Armero, Juan Cuadrado, Teofilo Gutierrez), conceding twice, they have been the most entertaining team so far. I still think they lack a liitle bit of strength and depth, physicality, experience and other factors to go from being the best team after 4 matches to become World Champions, but they have enough flair and qualities individually and collectively to have a say in the World Cup - if they can get past Brazil. They haven't played a really top team yet and given their inferior record to Brazil, then I think it is a really tall order for Colombia to get past the quarter-finals - but a suprise isn't completely impossible. Colombia have adapted very well to the injury of star striker Falcao. James Rodriguez has been absolutely tremendous and in my opinion, he has been the best player of the World Cup. He's the top goalscorer with 5 goals, having scored in every game, and probably scored the best goal of the World Cup against Uruguay. H has shown a lot of quality with his technique, vision and positioning. If he has a very good match against Brazil, then he could be the difference. Colombia have other quality players, but I do think their effectiveness going forward as a team can be a little inconsistent. Defensively, they haven't really been tested and they've seemed okay so far, but it is well-known that despite their experience, defence might be an issue with a lack of pace. Brazil will have too much for Colombia, but a quarter-final exit for Colombia is still an excellent achievement for a very decent and entertaining international side who have lit up the World Cup.

In 25 encounters, Colombia have only won twice. The last time Colombia won was a 2-0 victory in the Copa America in 1991. The last 4 meetings have all been draws and i's been 11 years since Brazil last beat Colombia. Brazil have only lost once in their last 25 games (a defeat to Switzerland last August) and they are unbeaten in 41 successive home matches, last losing to Paraguay in 2002. A 3-1 defeat to Peru in th 1975 Copa America was the last competitive home defeat.

I'm going for a 2-0 victory to Brazil. Colombia have a greatly inferior record against Brazil, and despite their flair and the performances of Rodriguez, they haven't come up against a side like Brazil. I think Brazil will be able to stifle Colombia's attack with their physicality, and Brazil should get a couple of goals out of Colombia's not particularly strong defence. The atmosphere should also be a factor. This should be a competitive match and Colombia should play their part in the tie and it isn't entirely impossible that they can win - but a lot of factors are stacked in Brazils favour and this should be the end of the road for a Colombia side who've had a fantastic World Cup and have displayed their qualities and justified themselves as one of the best international sides despite having not quite enough to go all the way.

The third quarter final is a fascinating match up between Argentina and Belgium.

Argentina, ranked 5th in the world, have reached the last 8 for the 8th time and are aiming to reach the semi finals for the first time since 1990. Argentina have reached the last 8 by winning all their group games by defeating Bosnia 2-1, Iran 1-0, Nigeria 3-2 edged past Switzerland 1-0 after extra time in the last 16. They've scored 7 goals (4 by Lionel Messi, 1 from Angel di Maria and Marco Rojo) and conceded 3. Like Belgium, despite the players on show Argentina have been unconvincing and lack cohesion. They've been one of the poorer South American sides on show as their attacking players have failed to gel into a collective unit and they look more like a bunch of individuals who've never played together. So a lack cohesion in the team and some off-form players has been a problem for Argentina as they look to win their first World Cup since 1986. However, generally, the Argentinian squad is pretty average with the exception of their best players and they have their weaknesses defensively. Lionel Messi, despite being in and out of the games, has carried Argentina by scoring 4 goals and setting up the decisive goal against Switzerland. Without him, Argentina won't win the World Cup, but with a player like him and playing in South America, Argentina have some advantages over Belgium which should see them progress but if Argentina play like they've done so far, then there is a real chanc that they could be going out at the quarter-final stage for the third time in a row.

Belgium, ranked 11th in the World, have reached the last 8 for the second time in their history and are looking to match the performance of their previous golden generation in 1986 who reached the semi-finals. Belgium won all of their group matches by defeating Algeria 2-1, Russia 1-0 and South Korea 1-0 before defeating the USA 2-1 in the last 16 - scoring 6 goals (1 from Kevin de Bruyne, Marouane Fellani, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens, Divock Origi and Jan Vertonghen), conceding twice. In their first major tournament since 2002, a young, inexperienced and emerging Belgian side (who haven't played to expectations) reaching the quarter-finals is a fantastic achievement and being in the last 8 as one of the 4 remaining European sides, justifies why Belgium are one of the best teams in the World and how far they hav emerged from reforming the national game over 8 years ago. But despite justifying the hype in terms of the golden generation reaching the quarter-finals, Belgium's performances haven't been great - but perhaps this is part of being a team that's still emerging and evolving. And the lack of experience could be what ultimately curtails this group of Belgian footballers. In the group stage, they were efficient as they won all their games without playing well - scoring late goals. And they are a very difficult team to beat with a strong, physical and generally well-balanced side. They are strong in defence, pretty well organised and they can hurt teams on the counter-attack with pacey wingers. The problem Belgium have is goal scoring - as they missed a lot of chances against the USA - and perhaps creativity behind the striker. But despite their qualities, the biggest problem for Belgium is a lack of cohesion and consistency, which is perhaps down to a lack of experience. This could be Belgium's downfall against Argentina, but both teams are struggling to find cohesion, and Belgium will be difficult to beat and man for man, Belgium probably is a stronger side. It's an intruiging tie, but I suspect Argentina will go through, but the quarter-finals is a decent achievement for a team who's announced themselves on the international stage.

In the 4 prvious occasions the two teams have met, Argentina have won three and lost one. The most recent meeting was in Mexico 86 semi-final with a virtuoso performance from Maradonna.

I'm going for 2-1 Argentina. It's a fascinating match between two teams who have got something to prove as they've both been inconsistent and incohesive. Argentina are a bigger name, on South American soil with the best player in the World up against a physical, slightly better team man for man but an emerging side in Belgium. And despite the unconvincing elements of both teams, whoever wins will be a very dangerous team in the competition. Both teams are pretty equal, bt despite Belgium being a strongr side, I fancy the experience of Argentina, South American advantage and Lionel Messi to be the deciding factors, but Belgium are capable of beating Argentina.

The final quarter-final is a meeting between the Netherlands and Costa Rica.

The Netherlands, ranked 15th in the World rankings, have reached the last 8 for the 6th time and the 2010 finalists are aiming to reach a 4th semi final. In the group stage they thrashed Spain 5-1, defeating Australia 3-2 then Chile 2-0 before edging past Mexico with a 2-1 victory in the last 16, scoring 12 goals (3 from Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, 2 from Memphis Depay, 1 from Leroy Fer, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Wesley Sneijder and Stefan de Vrij), conceding 4. The Netherlands have been surprising as they brought a squad which was incredibly inexperiencied and probably a poor one by their standards. However, they finished top of their group and have won every match to reach the quarter-finals and presumably reach the semi-finals. They have an excellent manager and terrific and inform footballers in Robben and Van Persie and for me, it seems that their philosophy at youth level in the Netherlands creates a cohesion that brings the National side above the sum of their parts. On paper, they aren't a great side, but as unit and under Van Gaal, they have been very efficient and have played to their strengths and combined to protect and reduce their weaknesses. At times, inexperience or vulnerability has been evident in the Australia and Mexico games, but they've still managed to get a victory. I think the Netherlands will win against Costa Rica, van Gaal will set them up properly and their star players should make the difference, but if the shortcomings of the Dutch team are exposed, then Costa Rica could sneak a way into the last 4.

Costa Rica, who are ranked 28th in the World, have reached the quarter-finals for the first time in their history, having avoided defeat against opponents who are all ranked in the top 15 in the World. They finished top of their group by defeating Uruguay 3-1, Italy 1-0 and drew with England 0-0 before beating Greece on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the group stage - scoring 5 goals (2 from Bryan Ruiz, 1 from Joel Campbell, Oscar Duarte, Marco Urena), conceding just twice. Although Costa Rica are not considered to be one of the favourites to go on to win the tournament, reaching the quarter-finals has been well deserved for a side who have been excellent as a unit, incredibly organised and have played to their strengths and above the sum of their parts, and they have deservedly earned a place in the quarter-finals. They have only conceded twice in the World Cup and a lot of credit should go to the manager. They are a very well organised side who are hard to beat and they are capable of snatching a goal themselves, so they could be a real tricky obstacle for the Netherlands. They have an excellent goal keeper and a defence that works very well as a unit and they have a few individuals who can come up with something going forward. In just about every World Cup, there is a team who goes quite far despite not being major contendors, and Costa Rica's journey is one of the most remarakble in the history of any World Cup and their resiliance has quite rightly taken them further than they have ever been in a World Cup. And if they go out as I expect them too, then they can be incredibly proud of what they've achieved and they have exhibited that you don't need to be a illustrious, highly populated nation with big name players playing in big leagues to be a success. However, I do think that their effectiveness and energy could run out of steam after what they've done and the Dutch should find a way past them, though it won't be easy.

I'm going for 2-0 Netherlands. The two sides who have never played each other and I think that this could be a fairly close match, but once tiredness becomes a factor, then I think the Netherlands fitness and quality will prevail with a goal or two. Arjen Robben and Van Persie should have enough to be a deciding factor. However, Costa Rica are very well organised and have an excellent goalkeeper and I don't think the Netherlands would enjoy playing against a team they are expected to beat. The Netherlands seem to be most effective when counter-attacking but against Costa Rica, they should have plenty of possesion. The Netherlands themselves aren't the greatest defensively and if they struggle to get through the Costa Rican defence then there is a chance that they could be eliminated.

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


FIFA World Cup 2014: Preview and Predictions - round of 16

After 136 goals in 48 matches, the group stage was arguably the greatest ever. Some big european teams have fallen, whilst 8 sides from the Americas and 2 from Africa have progressed. Other than Greece, the european teams have generally benefited from developing young footballers. The last includes a nice mix of teams from South America, Europe, Central and North America and Africa. Algeria and Greece have reached the last 16 for the first time, and there are sine other decent but other un fancied teams left in the competition. There are some South American sides such as chile, Colombia and Uruguay who can go all the way. Then there are the big teams who are all varied and all have their deficiencies. The favourites Brazil are hosts but despite not that great a side, they are looking to add to their glorious footballing history. Germany, who are a well balanced and organised team, once more should make into the latter stages, but they are looking to add to their successful history by winning their first major international trophy in nearly twenty years. Argentina, on South American soil, have some big stars in their team, and one of the great players Lionel messi will be looking to add a third world title for Argentina in Brazil. The Netherlands, the greatest nation never to win the World Cup for the first time with an unspectacular, but very efficient and well organised side. France, who have somewhat fallen since the 2006 World Cup final, it looks like they mean business and they will want to win a second World Cup. The golden generation of Belgian football, had brought the team into the last 16 of their first major tournament since 2002, they've been unspectacular but despite inexperience at this level, they can write themselves into the history books. The group stages provided a wonderful festival and celebration of football, but now we are into the defining business end of the World Cup where history is made. Half of the teams in the last 16 were at the same stage 4 years ago, and hopefully the knock-out stage delivers more goals, great goals and plenty of drama, excitement and defining moments.

Today sees a South American showdown with Brazil v Chile and Colombia v Uruguay, all looking for a place in the quarter finals. The first game is a highly-anticipated encounter between the hosts Brazil, against South American dark horses Chile.

Brazil have qualified into the second round of the World Cup for every finals except for 1966 and they are looking for a 6th consecutive appearance in the quarter-finals. Brazil, ranked 3rd in the world, qualified for the last 16 after beating Croatia 3-1, drawing with Mexico 0-0 and a 4-1 victory over Cameroon, scoring 7 goals (4 from Neymar, 1 from Fernandinho, Fred and Oscar) and conceded just 2. However, despite being such a difficult team to beat on home soil, this Brazilian team isn't the greatest in their history or in the 2014 World Cup and it shows. They know how to create big moments that win matches, but they aren't the greatest going forward, heavily relying on Neymar, and whilst they are stronger defensively than they are upfront there is always a mistake or two at the back. Their squad is made up with: [color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4]6 from England (4 from Chelsea, 1 from Manchester City and Tottenham); 4 from Brazil (2 from Athletico Mineiro, 1 from Fluminense and Botafogo); 3 from Spain (2 from Barcelona and 1 from Real Madrid); 3 from Italy (1 from Napoli, Inter and Roma); 2 from Germany (1 from Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg); 2 from France (2 from PSG); and 1 from Russia (Zenit), Ukraine (Donetsk) and Canada (Toronto).[/size][/font][/color][size=4] The 5 times champions, will need to improve if they are to win on home soil, but perhaps the home advantage will seem through and that's why I expect them to win the tournament.[/size]

[size=4]Their opponents, Chile, has a squad made up of: [/size][size=4]5 from Chile (3 from Universidad de Chile, 2 from Colo-Colo) and Spain (Barcelona, Valencia, Sociedad, Osasuna, Celta Vigo); 4 from Italy (2 from Juventus, 1 from Atalanta, Calgiari); 3 from Brazil (Internacional, Palmeiras, Santos); 2 from England (Wigan, Nottingham Forest); 1 from Sweden (Malmo), Wales (Cardiff), Netherlands (Twente), Switzerland (Basel). They've qualified from the group stage for the 4th time in their history and are looking to at least go as far as they did in 1962 when they finished 3rd after losing to Brazil in the semi-finals. Ranked 14th in the World (their highest was 6th in 1998), they [/size]finished[size=4] second in group B after beating Australia 3-1 and the World Champions Spain 2-0 but lost 2-0 to the Netherlands on the final game. They scored 5 goals (from Alexis Sanchez, Charles Aranguiz, Jean Beausejour, Jorge Valdivia and Eduardo Vargas) and conceding 3. Chile have improved since the previous World Cup and they very much lived up to the hype of being dark horses - particularly in the manner of how they defeated Spain 2-0. They are an excellent side without the star names of Brazil. Sanchez and Vidal are crucial players, but as we've seen from them so far, it's the energy and intensity of the team that makes them such a great side. Despite having a small and at times vulnerable back three, their midfield rotates, presses and moves at a high rate and they are a team who are always looking to attack, and are a real threat to any team when they go forward. I suspect Chile will lose to Brazil once again, but this time Chile does have a better chance of an upset. If they do the unthinkable and beat Brazil, then they can go very far but if they lose as expected, then it certainly won't detract from the quality and entertainment this team has provided at the World Cup.[/size]

[size=4]The head-to-head record: In their last 12 games against Chile, Brazil are unbeaten with 10 wins and 2 draws since Chile last defeated them in a qualifier for the World Cup in 2000. The two sides have met 3 times at a World Cup with Brazil winning all three (4-2 in 1962, 4-1 in 1988 and 3-0 in 2010). In 68 meetings, Chile have only won seven times and lost on 48 occasions. Brazil and Chile last met on the 20th November 2013 as Brazil won 2-1 in a friendly. [/size]

[size=4]Brazil's only defeat in 24 matches was in last August against Switzerland, and Brazil are now unbeaten in 40 successive home matches, with their last defeat in August 2002 against Paraguay and the Cope America semi-final in 1975 was Brazil's last [/size]competitive defeat, losing 3-1 to Peru. In their last 4 World Cup matches against South American sides, Chile have been defeated and 1962 was the last time they won a knock-out game at the World Cup.

[size=4]I'm going for Brazil 3-1 Chile. It could be a very close and tight match but I expect goals to come for Brazil, probably in quick [/size]succession[size=4] in the second half, against a small and not the most solid defence in the World. Brazil will be a threat at set-pieces with their height advantage. And given the history of Brazil playing at home, and their superior record against Chile, then it's hard to see how Brazil can lose this despite their [/size]deficiencies and Chile's qualities. The atmosphere should be a big factor and Brazil should be organised enough to prevent Chile from doing much damage, and the pace of players like Neymar and Oscar should threaten Chile's defence. Brazil's defence isn't the greatest either, and Chile's brand of football should give the hosts a few problems, but not enough to go through.

The final match is an interesting encounter between Colombia and Uruguay. Two similar South American teams who are very decent international sides with some very good players, some weak points aswell. The two nations don't have as big a name as Brazil or Argentina, and Chile's style of football may have won more plaudits, but nevertheless, these two teams are dark-horses and can have a say on the outcome of the World Cup, and one of these relatively evenly matched sides will face another South American opponent in the quarter-finals.

Colombia, ranked 8th in the World (their highest came last year when they were ranked 3rd), at their first World Cup since 1998 have qualified for the last 16 for the second time in their history and they've never reached the quarter-finals. They emphatically finished top of Group C by beating Greece 3-0, Ivory Coast 2-1 and Japan 4-1, scoring 9 goals (3 from James Rodriguez, 2 from Jackson Martinez, 1 from Pablo Armero, Juan Cuadrado and Teofilo Gutierrez) and conceded just twice. Their squad is made up of: [color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']6 from Italy (Milan, Inter, Napoli, Atalanta, Florientina, Calgiari); 4 from Argentina (3 from River Plate, 1 from San Lorenzo); 3 from France (Monaco, Toulouse, Nice), Colombia (Santa Fe, Athletico Nacional, Deportivo Cali); 2 from Portugal (Porto), Spain (Elche, Sevilla); from England (West Ham), Netherlands (PSV) and Germany (Hertha Berlin). Colombia have been impressive so far in the World Cup and you can see how they are considered dark horses. Despite an slow, but experienced, defence and the injury to star striker Falcao, Colombia have looked excellent going forward with some excellent footballers. James Rodriguez in particular has been impressive, and in my opinion he was the best player in the group stage with his goals, technique and positioning. This is a match Colombia should win to reach the last 8 for the first time in their history, but I think it's unlikely that they'll go any further.[/font][/color]

Uruguay (ranked 7th, their best ranking was 2nd in 2012), being the smallest nation competing at the World Cup, have had some sort of a golden generation in the past 4 years, reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2010 and winning the Copa America - well earned triumphs for their group of players. Their squad includes: [color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4]5 from Italy (Juventus, Lazio, Parma, Bologna, Palermo); 4 from Spain (3 from Athletico Madrid, 1 from Espanyol); 3 from England (Liverpool, Southampton, West Brom), Brazil (Corinthians, Sao Paulo, Vasco du Gama); 2 from Portugal (Porto and Benfica); 1 from Uruguay (Nacional), Turkey (Galatasaray), Paraguay (Libertad), Japan (Cerezo Osaka), Mexico (Morelia), France (PSG).[/size][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4] The former two times World Champions, Uruguay have qualified into the second round for the 9th time in their history. It was a mixed group stage, finishing second in Group D after losing 3-1 to Costa Rica and beating England 2-1 and Italy 1-0. Reaching the last 16 is a decent enough achievement for a team how have excelled in the past four years, but are past their peak with ageing key players such as Diego Forlan. The big miss for Uruguay is Luis Suarez after his biting incident against Italy. His absence will probably mean that Uruguay won't go through, and if they do, then they won't go any further. Uruguay's performances in the group stage wasn't all that great, and they haven't been at their best in the past two years. Cavani up front doesn't seem to live up to expectations and Uruguay lack width and creativity - meaning they are less pleasurable to watch than some of the other South American sides. Defensively, on paper they aren't the best, but as a team they are clever enough to prevent teams from attacking and this trait could provide a tricky obstacle for Colombia.[/size][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4]In 1962, Colombia's first World Cup match was 2-1 defeat by Uruguay. During the past 10 years, Uruguay have won 6 out of 8 games against Colombia and Colombia's last victory was a 4-0 win in a World Cup qualifier in 2012. Since losing 2-0 Uruguay last September, Colombia are unbeaten in their last 10 games. [/size][/font][/color]
I'm going for a 2-1 victory to Colombia. Uruguay will be much weaker up front without Luis Suarez and Cavani won't be able to fill his boots. Uruguay will be difficult enough to break down, but ultimately I expect Colombia to be fairly dominant in possesion and more of a threat going forward with players like Cuadrado and Rodriguez making all the difference. Colombia, then should go on to play in their first ever World Cup quarter-final (most likely against Brazil and that's where their journey should end).

Netherlands, finalists in 2010, are ranked 15th in the World (previous best was 1st in 2011) and they have qualified for second round for the 8th time in their history (previous best was runners-up 1974, 1978 and 2010. Their squad includes: [size=4]10 from the Netherlands (5 from Feyenoord, 3 from Ajax, 2 from PSV); 4 from England (Manchester United, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Norwich); 3 from Germany (Bayern Munich, Schalke, Augsburg); 2 from Wales (Swansea), 2 from Turkey (Fenerbanche, Galatasaray); 1 from Italy (Milan) and Ukraine (Dynamo Kiev). They qualified as group winners by beating Spain 5-1, Australia 3-2 and Chile 2-0, scoring 10 goals (3 from Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, 2 from Memphis Depay, 1 from Leroy Fer and Stefan de Vrij) and conceding 3. Going into the World Cup, I expected the Netherlands to crash out the group stage but they've proved me wrong. Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie have been excellent and the team (perhaps aided by their approach to football at youth level) has performed above the sum of the parts. There are deficiencies which have been evident at times but the Netherlands look in good condition to play Mexico. If they win, as they are [/size]expected[size=4] to then they should at least reach the semi-finals. [/size]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4]Mexico, ranked 20th in the world (their previous best was 4th in 1998 and 2006), have qualified for the second round for the 8th and this will be their 6th consecutive round of 16 appearance - their best was quarter-finalists in 1970 and 1986.Their squad includes: 15 from Mexico [/size][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4](4 from America, 3 from Leon and Toulca, 2 from UANL and Cruz Azul and 1 from Santos Languna); 3 from Spain (2 from Sevilla and 1 from Espanyol); 2 from Portugal (Porto); 1 from England (Manchester United), 1 from Germany (Bayer Leverkusen) and 1 from France (Ajaccio). They finished second and unbeaten in group A, winning 1-0 against Cameroon, drew 0-0 against Brazil and beat Croatia 3-1, scoring 4 goals (Javier Herandez, Andres Guardado, Rafael Marquez and Oribe Peralta) and conceded just 1. Mexico have also been a surprise. They are incredibly difficult to beat with a 5-3-2 formation and a goalkeeper who's performing well. They are organised and play with lots of energy and pace which makes them appealing to watch and dangerous going forward. They might be slight underdogs against the Netherlands, but it wouldn't be much of a surprise if Mexico reach the quarter-finals.[/size][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4]In the last 4 meetings between the two sides, Mexico have lost three and drawn one. The only time the two teams met in the World Cup was in 1998 with a 2-2 draw in the group stage. [/size][/font][/color]

[size=4]I'm going for Netherlands 2-1 Mexico. This game will be played in very hot and humid conditions which will very much be in the [/size]favour[size=4] of the Mexicans. And without the hot conditions, Mexico will be a very difficult team for the Netherlands as they are very well organised, very difficult to breakdown and are dangerous going forward. There is a fair chance that Mexico could go through. But I think Louis van Gaal should get his tactics right, the star players and the team as a whole should do enough to negotiate a way into the quarter-finals.[/size]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4]Costa Rica ranked 28th in the World (highest was 17th in 2003) have qualified for the second round for the second time in their history. Their squad includes [/size][/font][/color][size=4]9 from Costa Rica (4 from Herediano, 2 from Saprissa, Alajuelense, 1 from Cartagines); 3 from USA (2 from Colombus Crew, 1 from New York Red Bulls); 3 from Norway (Rosenborg, Aalesund, Valerenga); 1 from Belgium (Club Brugge), Spain (Levante), Sweden (AIK), Denmark (Copenhagen), Greece (Olympiakos), Netherlands (PSV), Germany (Mainz), Russia (Kuban Krasnodar). They finished top of Group D beating Uruguay 3-1 and Italy 1-0 and drew 0-0 with England, scoring 4 goals (Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz, Marco Urena, Oscar Duarte) and conceded just 1 goal. Costa Rica have been the surprise of the World Cup so far by [/size]finishing[size=4] top of a group containing three former Champions and all ranked in the top 10 in the World. Costa Rica have been mentioned by some to be a good international team and they are proving it. They are very difficult to beat with the only goal they've conceded being a penalty and they can be a threat going forward. They stand a good chance of beating Greece to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. [/size]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4]Greece are ranked 12th ( with their highest being 8th in 2008 2011). They have qualified for the second round for the first time in their history. Their squad includes: [/size][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4]9 from Greece (4 from Olympiakos and PAOK, 1 from Panathinaikos); 6 from Italy (2 from Bologna, 1 from Roma, Genoa, Torino and Verona); 2 from Spain (Levante and Granada), England (Fulham); 1 from Scotland (Celtic), Germany (Borussia Dortmund), Turkey (Kayserispor). They finished second in Group C, losing 3-0 to Colombia, drew 0-0 with Japan and beat Ivory Coast 2-1 scoring 2 (Georgios Samaras, Andreas Samaris), and conceded 4. A lot has been said about the Greeks and their defensive style, but I do admire how they are consistently a team ranked around the top 15 in the World and how difficult they are to beat. They are limited, but they try to make themselves a very difficult unit to breakdown with the chance of nicking a goal from somewhere. Reaching the last 16 for the first time is a great achievement but this should be as a far as they should go, but they do have a chance against Costa Rica. [/size][/font][/color]

[size=4]This is the first ever meeting for these two teams and I think Costa Rica will win 1-0. Greece will be very tough to breakdown and could score a goal or two, but they are [/size]fortunate enough to be here and finishing in the last 16 is roughly the level where Greece is at. Costa Rica could see their intensity levels drop after their performances in the group stage but they should stop Greece from scoring and they have enough quality upfront to score a goal or two and reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.

France, ranked 17th (they were top the rankings in 2001 and 2002), have qualified for knock-out round for 6th time - their best performance was winners in 1998. Their squad includes: 10 from England (3 from Arsenal and Newcastle United and 1 from Southampton, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool); 8 from France (3 from PSG, 1 from Saint Etienne, Bastia, Lille, Montpellier and Marseille); 3 from Spain (2 from Real Madrid, 1 from Real Sociedad); 1 from Portugal (Porto) and Italy (Juventus). They finished top of Group E, beating Honduras 3-0 and Switzerland 5-2 and drew 0-0 with Ecuador, scoring 8 goals (3 from Karim Benzema, 1 from Olivier Giroud, Blaise Matuidi, Moussa Sissoko, Mathieu Valbuena), conceding 2. France was one of the best performing teams in the group stage and have surprised many. They were considered dark horses before the World Cup, but now they have a realistic chance of going far. They are a very well balanced team, very organised with an excellent shape. They can defend well, pass well and attack well which makes them a well-rounded team. Benzema is scoring goals and there are other players performing well such as Cabaye and Valbuena. They should be good enough to get past Nigeria, and they have quality to go all the way.

Nigeria are one of two African sides in the last (the first time this has ever happened) and they are ranked 45th in the world (their highest was 4th in 1994). They've qualified for second round for the 3rd time and will be looking to reach the last 8 for the first time in their history. Their squad includes: [color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']6 from England (Newcastle United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Middlesbrough, Stoke, Norwich); 4 from Nigeria (Enugu Rangers, Warri Wolves, Sunshine Stars, Gombe United); 2 from Belgium (Waasland-Beveren, Cercle Brugge), Turkey (Caykur Risespor, Fenerbanche), Israel (Ashdod, Hapoel Be'er Sheva) ; 1 from France (Lille), Scotland (Celtic), Russia (CSKA Moscow), Spain (Almeria), Italy (Lazio), Ukraine (Volyn Lutsk), Netherlands (Heerenveen). Nigeria finished second in Group F, drawing 0-0 with Iran, beating Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-0 and lost 3-2 to Argentina, scoring 3 goals (2 from Ahmed Musa and 1 from Peter Odemwingie), conced[/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4]ing twice. Nigeria won the African Cup of Nations a couple of years ago and their young, generally well-balanced and organised side has been hailed as one of the best in African football history and reaching the last 16 has justified that. And despite playing against the French, Nigeria should be a tough test as they are solid defensively and quite dangerous going forward, and some believe that they can reach the quarter-finals.[/size][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4]The only time the two sides met was in 2009 with Nigeria winning 1-0. France have lost to African nations at the World Cup in two of their last three matches. But I'm going for France 2-0 Nigeria. Nigeria will be a very tough challenge, but France should be strong enough to stop Nigeria from causing much damage. The French should have enough creativity going forward to provide their attacking players with enough chances to convert at least a couple of goals. [/size][/font][/color]

[size=4]Germany are ranked second in the World (their highest is number one) and they have [/size]remarkably[size=4] progressed into the second round the 16th occasion, but 15 consecutive appearances since 1954 - three times winners in 1954, 1974 and 1990. Their squad is made up of: [/size][size=4]16 from Germany (7 from Bayern Munich, 4 from Borussia Dortmund, 2 from Schalke, 1 from Freiburg, Honnover, Borussia Monchegladbach), 4 from England (3 from Arsenal, 1 from Chelsea); 2 from Italy (Lazio and Sampdoria), 1 from Spain (Real Madrid). Germany [/size]finished[size=4] top of Group G by beating Portugal 4-0, drawing 2-2 with Ghana and won 1-0 against the USA, scoring 7 goals (4 from Thomas Muller, 1 from Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels and Miroslav Klose), conceding 2. Germany have reached at least the last 4 of the past 3 World Cups and for every World Cup since 1954, their final position has always been in the top 8. Against Algeria, Germany should efficient enough to reach the quarter-finals. It certainly isn't a perfect international team, with some key players being injured, but they are still very efficient, organised, clever and very German, with Thomas Muller scoring goals and their attacking players are creative and very dangerous on the counter-attack. Germany's defence has looked a little open at times, but it shouldn't be too much of an issue yet.[/size]

[size=4]Algeria, ranked 22nd (their highest was 19th in 2012), have [/size]qualified[size=4] for the second round for the first time in their history - although, ironically, Germany played out a draw in the group stage of the 1982 World Cup to see Algeria knocked-out. Their squad includes: [/size][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4]4 from Italy (Inter, Napoli, Udinese, Livorno), Spain (Valencia, Getafe, Granada and Mallorca); 3 from England (Tottenham, Watford, Leicester), France (Reims, Ajaccia and Valenciennes), Portugal (Porto, Sporting and Academica); 2 from Algeria 2 from Algeria (CS Constantine, USM Alger); 1 from Croatia (Dinamo Zagreb), Qatar (Lekhwiya), Tunisia (Club Africain) and Bulgaria (CSKA Sofia). Algeria finished second in Group H, losing 2-1 to Belgium, beat South Korea 4-2 and drew with Russia 1-1, scoring 6 goals (2 from Islam Slimani, 1 from Yacine Brahami, Abdelmoumene Djabou, Sofiane Feghouli, Rafik Halliche), conceding 5. Algeria were expected to be a tough team, but they have been a surprise at this World Cup as they've been very organised and difficult to beat and they have more of a threat going forward than in 2010. They could be a tricky opponent to Germany in the last 16. [/size][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][size=4]The two previous meetings were won by Algeria (2-0 v Germany in a friendly in 1964 and 2-1 in the group stage of the 1982 World Cup). But I don't see history repeating itself and I expect Germany to win 2-0. Germany should have more than enough about them to score at least a couple of goals and they should be able to press and prevent Algeria from going forward. But if the German forwards struggle to create or score chances and their defence is as open as it was at times in the group stage, then Algeria could have a chance. [/size][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans'][/font][/color]

Argentina have progressed to the second round for the 12th and are looking to reach a third consecutive quarter-final appearance. The side ranked 5th in the world (1st in 2007) are looking to claim a third world title. Their squad includes: 7 from Italy (3 from Inter, 2 from Napoli, 1 from Catania and Lazio); 4 from Spain (2 from Barcelona, 1 from Celta Vigo and Real Madrid); 3 from England (Manchester City), Argentina (2 from Boca Juniors and 1 from Newell's Old Boys) and Portugal (2 from Benfica, 1 from Sporting); 2 from France (PSG and Monaco) and 1 from Mexico (Monterrey). Argentina qualified as group winners and won all of their games, beating Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1, Iran 1-0 and Nigeria 3-2 scoring 6 goals (4 from Lionel Messi and 1 from Marcos Rojo), conceding 3. Despite being one of four teams to have won all of their group games, Argentina weren't all that impressive and were heavily reliant on moments of magic from Lionel Messi. If he performs well then Argentina have more than a chance of doing well, but I feel that other attacking players need to join in and cause problems to opponents, the team needs to be more creative and coherent in midfield and defence is a real issue. Nevertheless, I think Argentina should have enough to beat most of their opponents - even when they are not playing well.

Switzerland are ranked 6th in the world (previous best was 3rd in 1993) and they have reached the second round for the 6th time with their best performance being quarter finals in 1934 and 1938. Their squad includes: 9 from Germany (2 from Wolfsburg, Freiburg, 1 from Bayern Munich, Hamburg, Nurnberg, Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Monchengladbach); 7 from Switzerland (3 from Basel, 2 from Grasshopper, 1 from Zurich and Young Boys); 5 from Italy (3 from Napoli, 1 from Juventus and Sassuolo); 2 from Spain (Valencia and Real Sociedad). They finished second in Group E, beating Ecuador 2-1, losing 5-2 to France and defeated Honduras 3-0, scoring 7 goals (3 from xhedran Shaqiri, 1 from granit xhaka, Harris seferovic, blerim dzemaili and admir mehmedi), conceding 6. Switzerland are a very difficult team to beat and have lost only twice in twenty matches. They are far from spectacular, but they are solid and efficient and generally well balanced. The performances and results in the group stage were mixed, but Switzerland should give Argentina a good game and a shock cannot be ruled out.

In the 6 previous times the two teams have met, Argentina have won 4 and drawn 2. They last met in 2012 when Argentina won 3-1 and their only World Cup meeting was a 2-0 Argentinian victory in the group stage in 1966.

I'm going for a 2-1 victory for Argentina. Switzerland will be a tough opponent for Argentina and the South Americans need to play better than they did in the group stage. I suspect that Lionel Messi will once again make a difference and score or create some goals.

Belgium, ranked 11th in the world (their highest was 5th last year), have reached the second round for the 6th time in their history. In the first World Cup for 12 years, Belgium are hoping to reach the semi finals as they did in 1986. Their squad is made up of: 11 from England (3 from Tottenham, 2 from Manchester United, Everton, 1 from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City); 3 from Belgium (Standard Liege, Anderlecht and Zulte Waregem); 2 from Spain (Athletico Madrid), Germany (Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg), Russia (Zenit); 1 from Portugal (Porto), Italy (Napoli) and France (Lille). They won all of their group matches to finish top of group h, beating Algeria 2-1, Russia 1-0 and South Korea 1-0, scoring 4 goals (1 from Marouane Fellani, dries mertens, divock origi and jan vertonghen), conceding just 1 goal. Belgium haven't been spectacular and at times lack cohesion but this inexperienced golden generation have been efficient enough to win all their games, conceding just one goal which was a penalty, and they know how to win games late. On paper they should go through, but it should a close but interesting match against the USA. They may not have impressed, but Belgium are a dangerous side in this World Cup.

The USA are ranked 13th in the world (their highest ranking was 4th in 2006) and they have qualified for the second round for the 5th time - their best was semi finalists in 1930. Their squad is made up of: 9 from USA (2 from Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City, 1 from LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo); 4 from Germany (Nurnberg, Hoffenheim, Bayern Munich, Hertha Berlin) and England (Everton, Stoke, Aston Villa and Sunderland); 1 from Canada (Tornoto), Mexico (Puebla), Netherlands (AZ), Norway (Rosenborg), France (Nantes), Turkey (Beskitas). They finished second in group g, beating Ghana 2-1, drawing 2-2 with Portugal and losing 1-0 with Germany, scoring 4 goals (2 from clint Dempsey, 1 from john brooks and jermaine jones), conceding 4. The USA have been impressive with their work rate, energy and organisation which makes them a very decent international side that's greater than the sum of the parts. This makes for a very interesting encounter with Belgium and the USA have a chance of reaching the quarter finals.

The two sides have only met once in the World Cup in 1930 when the USA won 3-0. Since then, the two sides have met four times with Belgium winning on every occasion, the most recent being a 4-2 victory in 2012.

I'm predicting a 1-0 victory for Belgium. It will be a very tough game for them but I suspect they'll have enough to stop the USA from scoring and Belgium should be able to score enough to beat the USA and Belgium could be dangerous on the counter attack. However, the USA have every chance of progressing.

Quarter finals:
Brazil 2-0 Colombia
France 1-2 Germany
Netherlands 2-0 Costa Rica
Argentina 2-1 Belgium

Semi finals

Brazil 2-1 Germany
Netherlands 1-2 Argentina

3rd place play off
Germany 3-1 Netherlands


Brazil 3-2 Argentina

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


FIFA World Cup 2014 Blog Part 2

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']23rd June:[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']The first day of the final round of group matches. The first set of matches was the completion of Group B. Spain and Australia were already out and Chile and Netherlands were already through to the last 16. The two games were deciders for who finished top and who finished bottom.[/font][/color]

Netherlands vs Chile was an interesting game. Chile were good going forward and were causing some of the Dutch defenders a few problems but they never tested the goalkeeper. The Netherlands once again were very organised and this payed dividends as two second half substitutes scored the goals to give the Dutch a 2-0 victory. Impressive stuff from the Netherlands who finish top of the group and have done better than I've expected whilst Chile go through in second place.

The other game was an encounter between already eliminated Australia and Spain. Spain made a lot of changed with a blend of youth and experience and they had more width and natural forwards. As a result, the inclusion of players who weren't involved in the previous games and playing without too much pressure saw Spain finish a disappointing defence of their title with a much better performance and result which was a little more like the Spain of old. And, it was a bit like a testimonial match as some players were probably playing their last ever game in a World Cup finals. David Villa scored the first goal and what would be his last on his final appearance of an illustrious international career. Fernando Torres, who had not scored at a World Cup since 2006, scored a goal on what should be his last World Cup match. And Mata, who wasn't involved in the previous games scored the third goal in a 3-0 victory. Certainly an end of an era match, but to some extent a fitting end. However, given how a number of players involved today brought a positive impact to the team, you can assume that a different line up in the previous games could have made a difference. Nevertheless, the end of an era was nigh and it occurred suddenly at this World Cup but certainly Spain shouldn't be completely written off for future tournaments. Australia despite coming bottom had a decent campaign.


[size=4]My predictions for Group B were mixed. I got three correct results and one correct score. I correctly predicted Chile would go through in second place and Australia would finish bottom but I got the Netherlands and Spain the wrong way round. The Netherlands were much better than I expected, as yes their team on paper is young and not greatest and at times that was in evidence, but Van Gaal's tactics seemed to have worked but perhaps the philosophy of playing football and coaching young players has carried the team beyond the sum of the parts. The Netherlands should now go onto a semi-final from here. I expected Chile to be decent and for the most part of the group stage, they lived up to the hype and have been one of the most impressive teams in the tournament. Spain were poorer than I expected and despite having a pretty strong squad, time has caught up with the Spanish. It's the end of a golden era, but also the beginning of a new era in the history of their national team. Australia were unlucky to finish bottom with no points as they played better than I expected, they've got a young team and perhaps we can expect more from them in the future.[/size]

[size=4]The first of 9pm fixtures, Brazil vs Cameroon and Croatia v Mexico to conclude Group A. The hosts Brazil hadn't quite qualified for the last 16 but a win would pretty much secure them a last 16 match against Chile. Cameroon were already out and have been one of the poorest teams of the World Cup. Brazil in the end won 4-1 with Neymar scoring his 3rd and 4th goals at this World Cup. It was probably Brazil's best performance but at times they are unconvincing and they do seem reliant on Neymar. Cameroon at one stage were level with their only goal of the World Cup.[/size]

[size=4]Croatia needed a win to overtake Mexico into second place. Both teams had been decent and I was hoping for Croatia to go through. Croatia were [/size]disappointing and didn't create enough chances whilst once more, Mexico's organisation and energy levels were impressive. And they deservedly booked a place in the last 16 and at one stage were close to overtaking Brazil on goal difference to finish top of the group. In the last twenty minutes, Marquez (at his 4th World Cup), Guardado and Herandez scored the goals that secured a 6th consecutive qualification to the World Cup knock-out stage before Perisic scored a consolation goal for Croatia to make it 3-1.


I correctly predicted 5 results and 1 score. I also correctly predicted the group table. Brazil were probably slightly poorer than I would have hoped but I wasn't surprised by that. I still predict them to win the World Cup. Mexico were much better than I expected as they are difficult to score and defend against and play with a great intensity, flair and organisation. They could go a step or two beyond the last 16. Croatia, overall better than I expected but yet again they've fallen short at the group stage. I expected Cameroon to be poor, but they've been really poor at times.

The confirmed last 16 ties.

Brazil v Chile
Netherlands v Mexico

Two very interesting match-ups.

24th June: The second day of the final round of group matches. Group D's conclusion wasn't that great with England drawing 0-0 with Costa Rica and Uruguay winning 1-0 against Italy. Costa Rica needed a point to finish top against an experimental, young but still pretty decent England team who were already out. Costa Rica probably played a lower intensity than in previous games but they still earned a fantastic result in what has been the most magnificent World Cup for them. Even though England were already out and it wasn't quite their strongest team on paper, to finish the campaign with a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica and to have finished bottom of the group with one point and only two goals is disappointing. The crucial game in this group was Italy v Uruguay. It wasn't a great game as both teams seemed tired. Italy needed a point to finish second and looked likely to do that. They then went down to 10 men and at the end, Diego Godin scored a crucial header to win the game for Uruguay and qualify for the last 16 for a second consecutive time. A sad end for the likes of Pirlo and Buffon who end their fantastic international careers. However, the talking point was Luis Suarez. He's just come back from injury and scored two goals against England in the previous match. After having a great season with Liverpool, it seemed he had moved in from his previous biting incidents but sadly, when it was 0-0 he got away with biting Chielini on the shoulder. He should get a long ban for that, and it's sad because I was hoping to see how well Uruguay would do with Suarez in the last 16.


A pretty disastrous group for my predictions. I only got one correct result! I correctly predicted Uruguay would go through in second place above Italy. But my predictions for England finishing top and Costa Rica finishing bottom couldn't have been more wrong. I expected Costa Rica to be a tricky side, but I would never have imagined that they would go through, and as group winners after being undefeated. It's a magnificent story. Uruguay qualified as I predicted and I suspected that they wouldn't be brilliant but at times they've been just a little below what I would have expected. Nevertheless, they are through but Suarez's likely absence will hurt them. Italy went out as I expected, they're a team in transition with some ageing key players. It looked good for them in the first game, but they struggled to win when they were expected to against Costa Rica and their team came up short against Uruguay. It's been quite frankly a disastrous campaign for England with only a point against Costa Rica. With the squad they brought to Brazil (which was the best available) then with the blend of young inexperienced and experienced veterans would result in a boom or bust campaign. And with the players available, solid in defence and with pace going forward, I thought they would be strong enough to go through. However, a countless number of factors has contributed to a terrible World Cup for them. As a footballing nation, England does seem to insular and not broad or progressive enough in it's approach to football. All teams and nations have their deficiencies, and whilst England does have to an extent an abundance of talent and potential, there seems to be many self inflicted traps and flaws within English or British footballing culture that holds England back. It isn't too surprising to see an England team fall short - and this group of players haven't been together for long enough to judge how far they can go - and England's results and performances haven't been great recently in friendlies or qualifiers. England should qualify for the Euros and there is some talent to choose from - although, perhaps the talent is slightly over-hyped - which might result in England having a new generation of players competing at major finals, but if the young players fail to live up to their potential, then perhaps a bleak period could be ahead of the National team.

The final round of Group C fixtures proved to be very interesting. The crucial encounter was Ivory Coast v Greece. In the past two World Cups, Ivory Coast's golden generation in tough groups finished third each time. And this generation never won the African Cup of Nations. So, they essentially only needed a point to qualify, but the underachievers were up against Greece, who had only once before won a World Cup match. In Euro 2012, after a poor showing in the first two games, Greece won their last game against Russia to reach a quarter-final. Greece are generally very good defensively and despite a lack of goals and potency going forward, they still carry a threat or two to conjure up an important goal or result and that's how they've qualified for the World Cup. In major tournaments, the results from their style of play varies, but it can be enough to progress. Greece, hadn't scored in the World Cup so far, until a goal just before half-time. Greece had two injured players in the first half and from previous games had suspensions and injuries to key players. In a poor first half, they were solid defensively and looked better going forward than the Ivorian's who had a very poor showing in the first half for a team looking to secure qualification to the last 16. And Greece on numerous occasions came close to getting a second before Bony scored for the Ivory Coast near the end. However, in the very last minute, Greece were awarded a penalty and Samaras, who had scored and missed crucial penalties previously for Celtic, did very well to keep his nerve and score one of the most important goals in Greek football history. Greece are remarkably through to face Costa Rica in the last 16 - who would have put a bet on that fixture appearing in the round of 16? As for the Ivory Coast, again they've come up short and they only have themselves to blame - for that reason, I'm quite happy that they are out.

The other game was already qualified Colombia against an attacking, but not particularly potent Japan side who also had a chance of going through. Cuadrado put Colombia ahead from penalty spot before Okazaki leveled the score just before half-time. Colombia improved in the second half and once more looked very good going forward. Jackson Martinez scored two goals and James Rodriguez who's been one of the players of the World Cup scored a lovely goal to make it 4-1. At the end, there was a nice moment when Fayrd Mondragon, the substitute goalkeeper came on to become the oldest player to have played in the World Cup at the age of 43 - he played in 1998 and was part of 1994 World Cup. Colombia looking pretty impressive and finish top of the group to play Uruguay in a fascinating round of 16 South American encounter.


I got 4 results and 2 scores correct. I also correctly predicted Colombia topping the group. Colombia, more or less lived up to expectations and they look a decent side. It is evident that they are a dangerous side in this World Cup and are excellent going forward. At times, they can be unconvincing without the ball but I think they should reach the quarter-finals. Greece, did surprise me (but not entirely) by reaching the last 16 but I was aware that they could defend and earn enough points to finish above likewise opposition who are fairly decent, but not the greatest. Ivory Coast were roughly what I expected - I thought this time they might have had enough to go through but they never convince me - and they've come up short again. They've got some good players, but they were lacking in certain areas and I don't think they play well enough as a team. Japan were probably slightly poorer than I expected. Clearly they still have some attacking quality whilst being vulnerable at the back, but they were lacking the effectiveness of the side that reached the last 16 in 2010.

Two more last 16 ties:

Colombia v Uruguay
Costa Rica v Greece

25th June: Today saw the conclusion of Groups E and F.

Group F was first with an interesting match between Argentina and Nigeria. Argentina had already qualified but had relied on Lionel Messi goals to earn two wins after two performances which flattered to deceive. Nigeria were rubbish in their first game but better in their second match. They only needed a point to go through and a victory would have seen them finish top. They have their deficiencies, but they are solid enough at the back and fairly threatening going forward to make it a tough match for Argentina. The match got off to blistering start, with that man Lionel Messi scoring with a fantastic, thunderous finish. Then seconds later Musa curled in a lovely equalizer. It was a fairly even game in the first half with Nigeria being difficult to break down and Argentina once more weren't creative enough. Messi went close with a free-kick from range which was saved, but moments later he wouldn't be denied as he scored a lovely free-kick just before half-time to make it 2-1. He's level with Neymar for the golden boot and it's good to see Messi delivering at a World Cup. Just after half-time, Musa scored again after some fairly dodgy defending from Argentina. Argentinian defender Rojo scored the decisive goal, but after Messi's substitution, Argentina looked pretty ordinary. They've won 3 games but they need to improve if they are to go far. Despite defeat for Nigeria, they've qualified as group runners up.

The other game was Bosnia and Herzegovina vs Iran. Bosnia, who were unlucky in their previous games to already be out of the World Cup, were looking to earn a first ever victory at a major tournament. Iran, also needed victory to have a chance of going through. Iran were not quite as solid as they have been and Bosnia won the game 3-1 but Iran scored their only goal of the World Cup - which meant every team had scored a goal at the World Cup - and it was nice to see Bosnia get a victory.


I got 4 correct results and I predicted that Argentina would finish top and Iran finishing bottom. Argentina have won the group by winning every game but other than Lionel Messi's goals, they have been poor. They don't look much of a team up front, instead it's more like a bunch of individuals and they are very much suspect defensively. They need to raise their game if they are to go far. Nigeria have more or less been what I've expected. Mixed, with a dire showing against Iran but had decent performances against Bosnia and Argentina. They are solid enough at the back and can be dangerous going forward. Bosnia, in flashes have shown what they are capable of. They were technically good in midfield but they didn't create enough chances, lacked width and at times were weak defensively. They've probably fallen short of what was expected of them, but it was a decent showing at their first ever major tournament. Iran weren't the whipping boys that everyone expected them to be and they were far more solid and organised than I would have expected. They were unlucky to lose against Argentina, but despite finishing bottom, overall they did a decent job.

Group E finished with France set to finish top whilst Switzerland and Ecuador were looking to finish second. Switzerland needed to beat Honduras and hope that France didn't lose to Ecuador. A fantastic performance by Xhedran Shaqiri who provided a hat-trick saw Switzerland win 3-0 against Honduras. France put out a slightly weaker team against Ecuador. It was a poorer performance by France but they missed a number of chances to go ahead. Ecuador were solid and physical defensively but lacked quality going forward. The match finished 0-0 and Group E finished with France finishing top, Switzerland going through in second position.


I got 4 results and 1 score correct and I correctly predicted France and Switzerland would go though. France, despite a flatter performance against Ecuador, were excellent and exceeded everyone's expectations. They seem to have a very good shape, they can defend, pass the ball and attack well and if they keep on playing like this then it certainly isn't beyond them to win the World Cup. Switzerland have gone through as expected. The performance in their opening game was a little underwhelming and the 5-2 defeat to France was a bit surprising but all in all, they've shown that they are a solid team, and one that is difficult to beat. Ecuador were roughly what I expected from them as they are the poorest South American team in the competition. They didn't finish bottom as I thought they would, given how poor their away record was in qualifying, but their shortcomings and deficiencies prevented them from going through. Honduras, weren't great but proved to be very physical as everyone predicted. They aren't a great team but they are also not an easy team to beat.

Two more last 16 fixtures:
France v Nigeria
Argentina v Switzerland.

26th June: The final day of the group stage in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The first group to be finalized today was Group G. The 'group of death' on the final day had all four teams having a chance of going through. A draw between the USA and Germany would see both teams go through whilst the other game saw slim chances for Ghana and Portugal. In a deluge, Germany had most of the possession against the USA but generally created very little and there were holes in the midfield and defence at times. The USA were very solid but didn't really create anything going forward. Thomas Muller joined Messi and Neymar with 4 goals at the World Cup with a wonderful strike from outside the box. The game finished 1-0 but both teams went through as Portugal beat Ghana 2-1 with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring his first and only goal at the World Cup.


I got 4 results and 1 score correct. Germany finished top as I expected but I also had a feeling that the opposition in this group could have given them problems. Germany were generally efficient and did some very good things at times but there were some aspects were they seemed a little vulnerable or lacking - in the defence or scoring or creating goals. If one of the big teams slipped up, I knew that Jurgen Klinnsman's USA would take advantage. On paper their team is great, but their team spirit, work rate and organisation and energy is excellent and they are a very difficult team to beat and they deservedly go through to a second consecutive knock-out stage. Portugal were pretty disappointing overall and were incredibly poor in their first game. They've got some decent players, and Cristiano Ronaldo of course, but they have a squad of decent/average international players and that showed and that's why they've fallen short which was always a possibility in a group like this. Ghana finishing bottom doesn't entirely surprise me given the group they were in and they played fairly well in most of their games. They were unlucky to lose against the USA, and should have beaten the USA. Their quality as an international side was there to see but their end product and some of their defending has let them down.

The final games of the group stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup saw the conclusion of group H. Belgium had already qualified whilst Algeria, Russia and South Korea all had a chance of going through. Despite playing a weakened team and playing with 10 men for more than half of the match, Belgium once again scored late to win 1-0 against South Korea and to join Colombia, Netherlands and Argentina as the only teams who have won all their group games. South Korea do play at a decent intensity but lacked good creativity or decision making up front. Belgium once again weren't great to watch but they are incredibly difficult to beat and it will be very interesting to see how they do in the knock-out stage. The other game in the group was the decider for second place between Russia and Algeria. Russia needed a win and Algeria needed a draw to go through. Russia took the lead in the first half but once again they weren't great and didn't see out the match as Algeria scored from a set-piece in the second half. Russia failed to take advantage of their possession at the end of the match and Algeria deservedly go through to the last 16 for the first time. And it's the first time that two African nations have made it through the group stage.


For Group H, I correctly predicted 3 results. Belgium have been as efficient as I expected but they've been a little disappointing to watch given the talent in their squad. However, they've qualified into the last 16 which justifies the talent and potential they have and given the lack of experience this particular generation of Belgian footballers have, they could have struggled to adapt to and win games at tournament football. It will be interesting to see how far they will go, they should reach the last 16. I expected Algeria to be a very tricky and difficult team to beat but they've surprised many by being so well organised and they've deservedly qualified for the last 16. I didn't expect much from Russia other than organisation, experience and technical ability and they've fallen short and it does seem that they are the sort of team which can't quite cut it when it comes to tournament football. They've been disappointing. South Korea have also been fairly disappointing. Despite the energy they have going forward, they've failed to be dynamic, creative, imaginative and cohesive.

Well, a marvelously entertaining group stage has come to a close. Quite possibly the best ever, certainly in terms of excitement and the number of goals with 136 scored. It's been an excellent display of what the World Cup is all about and we've seen the American teams progress whilst some big European teams have fallen short, including the champions Spain, Italy, England and Portugal. Half of the teams participating in the last 16 weren't at the same stage four years ago and there are a number of unfancied and lesser nations aswell as some dark horses, emerging forces and a few of the best players, managers and teams in the World also participating in the last 16 in what is a very open World Cup.

Looking back at the group stage, a selection of:
The best and most memorable matches:

Spain 1-5 Netherlands
Australia 2-3 Netherlands
Spain 0-2 Chile
Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica
Switzerland 2-5 France
Nigeria 2-3 Argentina
Germany 4-0 Portugal
Ghana 1-2 USA
Germany 2-2 Ghana
USA 2-2 Portugal

The best goals:
Van Persie (1) v Spain
Robben (2) v Spain
Robben (1) v Australia
Cahill v Netherlands
Rodriguez v Japan
Shaqiri (1) v Honduras
Messi v Bosnia
Messi v Iran
Musa (1) v Argentina
Jones v Portugal
Muller v USA
Silmani v South Korea

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


FIFA World Cup 2014: Preview and Predictions - Group H

The final group is also an interesting one where again nothing is guaranteed but there are high expectations for Belgium who have a highly talented young squad with some top players but they haven't been at a World Cup since 2002 so it will be interesting to see whether the hype comes to fruition. At the moment, I suspect they should finish top and they'll be one of the teams no one will want to meet in knock-out stage. It's difficult to separate the other teams - all of whom could cause Belgium problems - and they should all stand a chance of taking points of each other. You'd expect Russia to go through but their performances at major tournaments seem to see-saw. I think they could miss out but if they do go through, then perhaps they could be dark horses. South Korea can be an impressive and difficult team to beat but again I can't say I know enough about them and how they compare to recent years but I think they could perform well and find a way into the last 16. Some people expect Algeria to be the whipping boys, but I suspect that they will be one of the most difficult of the African teams to play against as they do seem to have enough about them in terms of defence and physicality. They could be a surprise but I expect them to finish bottom.

Belgium are at their first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup and since then, Belgium have developed a fantastic approach to developing young footballers and the results have paid off. It probably is too much to ask of a young and inexperienced side to go really far in this World Cup - despite all of the big names and quality of the Belgian grassroots football - it will be a real challenge to play to their expectations in a major international tournament and both the individuals and the team lack experience and know-how in this sense. But no matter if this Belgium teams fails to gel and underachieves or impresses and end up in the business end of the World Cup, this group will learn a lot about how to play football at this level and certainly Belgium will be a greater force to reckon with in future competitions. They should finish top of this group but it's difficult to tell how well they'll deal with their tough opponents with a very defensive and hard-to-beat Algeria side, a technically adept Russia side and South Korea could be a handful aswell. If the pressure is on and they fail to cope with it, they could disappoint but if they pass that test, then Belgium could be a real force in the knock-out stage and could justify the reason why they are the dark horse of the World Cup. Their squad of high profile players include: 11 from England (3 from Tottenham, 2 from Manchester United, Everton, 1 from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City); 3 from Belgium (Standard Liege, Anderlecht and Zulte Waregem); 2 from Spain (Athletico Madrid), Germany (Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg), Russia (Zenit); 1 from Portugal (Porto), Italy (Napoli) and France (Lille). Belgium should be a side that's comfortable with possession but they are most dangerous when they hit teams on the counter-attack. I was at Hampden Park to Belgium win 2-0 against Scotland in September and they looked incredibly potent when on the break. Their talisman is Eden hazard but their other top players such as captain Vincent kompany and goalkeeper thibaut courtouis. Axel witsel in midfield will add protection to the defence. Belgium are strongest in the attacking wide areas with options such as kevin de bruyne, dries mertens, Kevin mirallas and adnan Januzaj. There are not many weak points but perhaps Lukaku upfront could struggle to score a lot of goals - he carries a lot of responsibility after benteke's injury - and perhaps there are no natural full-backs.

12 years after reaching the semi-finals, South Korea haven't got close to reaching the same heights and I would think in Brazil it will be last 16 at best. In a very competitive group, korea do have a chance of getting the better of their opponents with their attacking approach. Defence will be an issue whilst their strongest area is the three players playing behind the striker with the right-sided winger Lee Chung-young probably being their most skilful player. Their squad is made up of: 6 from South Korea (3 from Ulsan Hyundai, 1 from busan Ipark, suwon bluewings and sangu sangmu); 5 from Germany (2 from Augsburg and Mainz and 1 from bayer Leverkusen); 4 from England (Bolton, Sunderland, Watford and qpr); 3 from china (Beijing Guoan, Guangzhou R&F and Guangzhou evergrande), Japan (2 from kashiwa reysol, sanfrecce Hiroshima) and 1 from Saudi Arabia (al-hilal).

Russia are the only side in the World Cup to have all their players based in their country: 6 from dynamo Moscow, 5 from cska Moscow, 4 from zenit, 3 from Rubin Kazan, 2 from spartak Moscow, 1 from terek Grozny, lokomotiv Moscow and anzhi mackhachkala. On paper Russia should finish second and they are tough team for any opponent to play against. But they are an ageing side playing at their first World Cup in 12 years. I think Belgium will be too strong, South Korea I think will just edge them and they could struggle against Algeria. Russia's experienced defence will be hard to break down but their weakness is a lack of firepower up front. This will be their Achilles heel and will result in Russia struggling to reach the last 16.

Algeria are the highest ranked African side at the World Cup and are an incredibly difficult team to beat. In the last World Cup they only conceded twice and held England to a goalless draw. They shouldn't be the whipping boys and could surprise and reach the last 16. All if the other teams will struggle to beat them. Their fairly young squad is made up of: 4 from Italy (Inter, Napoli, Udinese, Livorno), Spain (Valencia, Getafe, Granada and Mallorca); 3 from England (Tottenham, Watford, Leicester), France (Reims, Ajaccia and Valenciennes), Portugal (Porto, Sporting and Academica); 2 from Algeria 2 from Algeria (CS Constantine, USM Alger); 1 from Croatia (Dinamo Zagreb), Qatar (Lekhwiya), Tunisia (Club Africain) and Bulgaria (CSKA Sofia). Aswell as being solid defensively, Algeria might have more about them going forward with Sofiane Feghouli of Valencia being an important player. Probably all the teams in Group H will struggle to beat Algeria, and the last 16 isn't improbable, but perhaps a lack of creativity and goals might prevent them from getting many points.

Key games:

Russia v South Korea, 17th June - 11pm: A key game in determining the fortunes of two teams vying for a place in the last 16.

Belgium v Russia, 22nd June - 5pm: Potential battle for first place in Group H.


[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Group H:[/size][/background][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Belgium[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-0 Algeria, 17[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Russia[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-2 South Korea, 17[sup]th[/sup] June @ 11pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Belgium[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-0 Russia, 22[sup]nd[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]South Korea[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-1 Algeria, 22[sup]nd[/sup] June @ 8pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Algeria[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0-1 Russia, 26[sup]th[/sup] June @ 9pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]South Korea[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-1 Belgium, 26[sup]th[/sup] June @ 9pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Belgium[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 7pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]South Korea[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 5pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Russia[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 4pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Algeria[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


FIFA World Cup 2014: Preview and Predictions - Group G

This is another of the eye catching groups where all four teams reached the last 16 in 2010. They are all decent teams with one of the strongest European teams Germany, presumably competing with a solid Portugal who have the current best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo. However, the USA and Ghana are two good international sides and in any other group, they would stand a decent chance of going through. I predict Germany to win the group, but a bad result in the first game would put them under pressure. Portugal are also a side who could equally do very well and finish top, of fail to turn up they could face a surprise early exit - they should qualify in second place. It is impossible to call between the USA and Ghana, but I'm going for the US given how organised and difficult to beat they can be and if they have a good group stage then I wouldn't be surprised if they end up in the last 16. The same goes for Ghana although I'm unsure as to how they have progressed since the last world cup.

Since putting greater emphasis on youth football, Germany in the last 8 years have consistently been in the deep end of all the major tournaments but have just fallen at the final hurdle. They've got a variety of players, some decent depth in their squad aswell as physical strength and technical ability. And of course they are incredibly organised and are ruthless on the counter attack. Sadly for them they are a little curtailed by injuries and they aren't the strongest in quality up front and in defence. But other than Spain's ticka-tacka, Germany are probably the complete and more balanced international side in European or even World football. They have probably grown since 2010 but they are still a fairly young side and I expect them to at least reach the last 8 and if they can keep their players fit, have a good game plan for every match and punish their opponents on the counter-attack, then Germany stand a good chance of going all the way. Their squad is made of: 16 from Germany (7 from Bayern Munich, 4 from Borussia Dortmund, 2 from Schalke, 1 from Freiburg, Honnover, Borussia Monchegladbach), 4 from England (3 from Arsenal, 1 from Chelsea); 2 from Italy (Lazio and Sampdoria), 1 from Spain (Real Madrid). They have many important players such as the goalkeeper Neuer, Mats Hummels is a good defender. Of course there is excellent and consistent Philipp Lahm who might play in midfield at times, and Bastian Schweinstieger is also a midfield maestro. They are strongest in attacking midfield with Mario Gotze or Mesut Ozil and with other options on the bench. They are weak in attack with the only striker being the very experienced Klose but Thomas Muller can play up front aswell. Defence isn't the greatest either, so Germany despite their strength can potentially be fragile but they should be the most likely to team to top the group.

Portugal are kind of like the sort of European side that England are, one who can cause any team problems with a selection of good players to choose from, but they have got the strength and depth and consistency to be top quality. They should reach the last 16, and they would be a pretty dangerous team in knock-out stage - only a penalty shoot-out denied them a place in the Euro 2012 final - but qualification is far from guaranteed. They are reliant heavily on the amazing Cristiano Ronaldo and also Joao Moutinho. They will be a difficult team to beat, with a defence that isn't top quality but hard enough to break down with the Real Madrid duo of Pepe and Coentrao. A weak point is the central attacking position where there is no real top quality goalscorer and this will hold Portugal back. All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo, and if he can have as good a World Cup as his season was with Real Madrid, then he can carry Portugal into the last 8 but a bad start to Germany would put Portugal under great pressure to qualify. Their squad is: 8 from Portugal (3 from Braga, 2 from Benfica, Sporting and 1 from Porto); 6 from Spain (3 from Real Madrid, 2 from Valencia, 1 from Sevilla); 3 from Turkey (2 from Fenerbanche, 1 from Besiktas); 1 from England (Manchester United), Italy (Lazio), Russia (Zenit), Ukraine (Dynamo Kiev), France (Monaco), Germany (Wolfsburg).

Jurgen Klinsmann's United States alongside Ghana are two admirable, hard-working, well-organised and very decent international sides without having the star players and the reputation of the biggest international sides. They will be underdogs but they will give the top teams in this group a real challenge. They aren't blessed with a lot of pace and their players don't play for the best of club sides, but when they come together as a unit for international duties, they are one very hard-working and difficult bunch to beat and without having any one real star player, the USA have made a team that's greater than the sum of its parts. They haven't got a lot of quality up-front but Klinsmann is trying to provide a formula that makes the USA a more potent side when on the attack.
9 from USA (2 from Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City, 1 from LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo); 4 from Germany (Nurnberg, Hoffenheim, Bayern Munich, Hertha Berlin) and England (Everton, Stoke, Aston Villa and Sunderland); 1 from Canada (Tornoto), Mexico (Puebla), Netherlands (AZ), Norway (Rosenborg), France (Nantes), Turkey (Beskitas).

Ghana have qualified for the knock-out stages in 2006 and 2010, but it will be a very big ask for them to progress this time with the quality of opposition in Group D. Nevertheless, without the star names of the Ivory Coast and backbone of Algeria, Ghana are probably the more complete African side and the most capable of giving any team a challenge. They are a fairly flexible side with a blend of physicality, pace and power. Asamoah Gyan is the talisman and unlike some of the other African teams where the best are isolated, Ghana should link-up and provide their best players with decent amount of support. They also have an experienced midfield with the likes of Essien and Muntari and goals can come from elsewhere other than Gyan. Perhaps the goalkeeper and some of the defensive positions could be a weak point. They squad is made up of: 5 from France (Marseille, Rennes, Valenciennes, Evian, Sochaux), Italy (2 from Milan, 1 from Juventus, Udinese, Parma); 2 from Russia (Rubin Kazan, Kuban Krasnodar), South Africa (Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns); 1 from England (Middlesbrough), Belgium (Standard Liege), Tunisia (Esperance), Norway (Stromsgodset), Germany (Schalke), Netherlands (Vitesse), UAE (Al-Ain), Ghana (Aduana Stars), Greece (Plantanias). If Ghana have a successful group stage, then they could stand a chance of finishing second and they are capable of beating the USA and even Portugal. But defeat against the USA - which I think is more likely - then they've got an ominous task ahead of them with the remaining games against Germany and Portugal, which could see them finish bottom.

Key games:

All of the games are important but by far, the stand out and most important Germany v Portugal, 16th June at 5pm: This should determine who's in a great position to qualify as group winners, and who has got the most work to do.


[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][size=2][background=rgb(248,241,243)]Group G:[/background][/size][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Germany[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-0 Portugal, 16[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Ghana[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-2 USA, 16[sup]th[/sup] June @ 11pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Germany[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-0 Ghana, 21[sup]st[/sup] June @ 8pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]USA[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-2 Portugal, 21[sup]st[/sup] June @ 11pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Portugal[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-0 Ghana, 26[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]USA[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-2 Germany, 26[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Germany[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 9pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Portugal[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 6pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]USA[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 3pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Ghana[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


FIFA World Cup 2014: Preview and Predictions - Group F

On paper this group should be a walk for one of the favourites Argentina who possess a lot of attacking threat with one of the greatest players to have played the game - Lionel Messi, who hasn't scored at a world cup since 2006! They are up against Bosnia and Herzegovina who have qualified for their first major finals. Not a lot of people know too much about them, but they are a very difficult team to beat and are dangerous up front and scored a lot of goals in qualifying, so I fancy them to be a surprise and reach the last 16. Then there is the young Nigeria team who won the African Cup of Nations 2 years ago, they are considered to be one of the best African sides ever and have a chance of going through, but perhaps they won't have enough about them to gain enough points to finish above Bosnia. Iran are at their first finals since 2006 and again not too many people know a lot about them. I suspect they'll be the whipping boys but as ever with these teams, they could spin a surprise or shock win.

A team I'd quite like to see win the World Cup is Lionel Messi's Argentina. They have got probably the best attack in the entire competition with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria and co but they are far less potent in midfield and defensive areas - although Pablo Zabaleta is an excellent full-back. It would really be quite something if Argentina won the World Cup in Brazil, and they probably stand a better chance than the European teams simply because of geographical advantage. In previous World Cups, Argentina have impressed (at least in an attacking sense) only to stumble at the first tough challenge. Argentina should win the group and they should easily beat Iran and Nigeria and probably Bosnia aswell. They are a team who can win the World Cup, especially if Lionel Messi has a defining month ahead of him, but I suspect their defence will let them down in the end. Their squad is made up of: 7 from Italy (3 from Inter, 2 from Napoli, 1 from Catania and Lazio); 4 from Spain (2 from Barcelona, 1 from Celta Vigo and Real Madrid); 3 from England (Manchester City), Argentina (2 from Boca Juniors and 1 from Newell's Old Boys) and Portugal (2 from Benfica, 1 from Sporting); 2 from France (PSG and Monaco) and 1 from Mexico (Monterrey). With Argentina being so vulnerable at the back, then it seems Argentina need to go out and attack and out score their opponents if they are to win the World Cup. A Maradona-esque World Cup for Lionel Messi would help!

The squad for Bosnia and Herzegovina's first ever appearance has a squad spread out over many countries: 7 from Germany (Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke, Stuggart, Freiburg, Aalen, Hoffenheim, Eintracht Braunschweig); 5 from Turkey (Galatasaray, Gaziantepspor, Kayseri Erciyesspor, Istanbul Basaksehir, Elazigspor); 2 from England (Manchester City and Stoke), Italy (Roma and Lazio), Croatia (Hajduk Split); 1 from Austria (Sturm Graz), Bosnia (Borac Banja Luka), Ukraine (Zorya Luhansk), Hungary (Ferencvaros), China (Guizhou Renhe). Their key players include Manchester City's Edin Dzeko and Roma's energetic playmaker Miralem Pjanic. Bosnia scored 30 goals in 10 qualifying matches and with a 4-2-3-1 formation that will try to field and get the best out of as many attacking players as possible, will make Bosnia and Herzegovina a real threat going forward and they should out score Nigeria and Iran to reach the last 16, and perhaps give Argentina a hard time. Perhaps defence is the weakest area and if the goal dry up then it could be a struggle, but I expect Bosnia and Herzegovina to impress at their first ever major international finals.

After having a poor World Cup in South Africa, since then expectations have increased with Nigeria winning the African Cup of Nations in 2012. They are a fairly solid all-round team with perhaps defence not being the strongest area and I expect this to be a stumbling block for Nigeria's chances. There is a lot expectation on this fairly youthful Nigeria side, so it will be interesting to see how will they'll do at this World Cup. Their star man is Mikel of Chelsea who tends to play better for country. Their directness and quality going forward is an asset they will need to rely on if they are to get out of the group stages and the squad going to Brazil aiming to do just that includes: 6 from England (Newcastle United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Middlesbrough, Stoke, Norwich); 4 from Nigeria (Enugu Rangers, Warri Wolves, Sunshine Stars, Gombe United); 2 from Belgium (Waasland-Beveren, Cercle Brugge), Turkey (Caykur Risespor, Fenerbanche), Israel (Ashdod, Hapoel Be'er Sheva) ; 1 from France (Lille), Scotland (Celtic), Russia (CSKA Moscow), Spain (Almeria), Italy (Lazio), Ukraine (Volyn Lutsk), Netherlands (Heerenveen).
In a group with the supreme attacking talent of Argentina and also Bosnia, Iran at their first World Cup finals since 2006 are expected to be the whipping boys of the group. They have a squad made up of: 14 from Iran (4 from Esteghlal and Perspolis, 2 from Sepahan, 1 from Naft Tehran, Tractor Sazi, Zob Ahan, Foolad); 2 from England (Charlton and Fulham); 1 from Switzerland (Grasshopper), Canada (Vancouver Whitecaps), Portugal (Sporting Covilha), Spain (Las Palmas), Netherlands (NEC), Qatar (Umm Salal), Kuwait (Al-Kuwait). Under Carlos Queiroz, Iran are somewhat of an unknown quantity and they could be a surprise and their manager will make them organised. But I expect them to be on the end of one or two convincing defeats.

Key games:

Argentina v Bosnia and Herzegovina, 15th June - 11pm: At the home of Brazilian football, Argentina take on Bosnia who will be playing their debut match at a major finals and it could potentially be a game that shapes the outcome of the group.

Nigeria v Bosnia and Herzegovina, 21st June - 11pm: A potential decider for second place.


[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][size=2][background=rgb(248,241,243)]Group F:[/background][/size][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Argentina[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 3-1 Bosnia and Herzegovina, 15[sup]th[/sup] June @ 11pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Iran[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0-1 Nigeria, 16[sup]th[/sup] June @ 8pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Argentina[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 3-0 Iran, 21[sup]st[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Nigeria[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-2 Bosnia and Herzegovina, 21[sup]st[/sup] Jun @ 11pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Bosnia and Herzegovina[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 3-0 Iran, 25[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Nigeria[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-3 Argentina, 25[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm [/size][/background][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Argentina[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 9pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Bosnia and Herzegovina[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 6pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Nigeria[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 3pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Iran[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


FIFA World Cup 2014: Preview and Predictions - Group E

Group E will be interesting but is expected to be fairly straightforward for an improving and young French side who could be a dark horses for the World Cup and will want to make up for the shambolic campaign four years ago. But another good European team with young talent who could surprise people are Switzerland who are expected to finish second and could even finish top if France are complacent. To an extent there is a geographical advantage for Ecuador but this is a team who were very poor away from their high-altitude home. Honduras are very physical and will make life difficult for anyone but a lack of firepower will prevent them from hurting opponents in front of goal. Another intriguing group where I expect France and Switzerland to go through and the group winners would have a good chance of reaching the last 8.

After the embarrassing campaign of 2010, France under Didier Deschamps are an emerging team with good young players. Certainly in a couple of years time France could have a team capable of winning the European Championship. Certainly they have got quality in every department although the injury top Frank Ribery was a huge blow. But it does seem that the French camp is far more united than four years ago and I think France could be a real dark horse in this World Cup, they should reach the quarter-finals. Their squad is made up with: 10 from England (3 from Arsenal and Newcastle United and 1 from Southampton, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool); 8 from France (3 from PSG, 1 from Saint Etienne, Bastia, Lille, Montpellier and Marseille); 3 from Spain (2 from Real Madrid, 1 from Real Sociedad); 1 from Portugal (Porto) and Italy (Juventus). The star man is probably the Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema who had a successful season. Other important players include the PSG playmaker Yohan Cabaye, alongside holding midfilder Paul Pogba. France could be potent down the flanks, with Mathieu Valbuena, in a 4-3-3 formation. Real Sociedad's Antoine Greizmann offers versatility and in defence there is Raphael Varane and of course Hugo Loris in goal. The material is there for success, especially for the future with such a young squad.

Switzerland were drawn as the top seeds for Group E and they are a team who've been tipped by some to be a difficult side for anyone to beat. Switzerland have benefited from a decent approach to youth football and they have some good young players in their ranks. Their team is solid pretty much everywhere. A lack of firepower upfront - as was the case in South Africa - could see Switzerland fall short but they are a strong enough side to get past Honduras and Ecuador and they could potentially match France and finishing top of the group would greatly help their chances for reaching a quarter-final. They have a squad of: 9 from Germany (2 from Wolfsburg, Freiburg, 1 from Bayern Munich, Hamburg, Nurnberg, Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Monchengladbach); 7 from Switzerland (3 from Basel, 2 from Grasshopper, 1 from Zurich and Young Boys); 5 from Italy (3 from Napoli, 1 from Juventus and Sassuolo); 2 from Spain (Valencia and Real Sociedad). Generally a 4-2-3-1 formation, perhaps their weak point is central defence whilst they are fairly strong in wing-back positions. The Napoli pair of Inler and Berhami is a strength and out wide there is Bayern Munich's Xherdan Shaqiri. They don't have bad strikers, but certainly there are no real, reliable goal scorers which could hold them back, but I'm sure the last 16 beckons for Switzerland.

It's anyone's guess as to who'll not come last but I'll take a risk and go for the physical Hondurans. As Ecuador have a poor away record, Honduras could get a result against them but a lack of goals could be their problem. However, Honduras are very difficult team to beat with a solid backline and they'll be fairly explosive down the flanks making them dangerous at counter attacks and they are also a threat from set-pieces with their height and power. Their compact defence will be difficult for their opponents to penetrate through. But ultimately they won't have enough about them to qualify. Key men include Wilson palacios of stork and celtic's emilio izaguirre. Their squad is made up of: 11 from Honduras (4 from Olimpia and real espana, 2 from montagua and 1 from real sociedad); 4 from the USA (San Jose earthquakes, chivas USA, New England revolution, Houston dynamo) and England (2 from Wigan, 1 from Stoke and hull); 1 from Scotland (Celtic), Belgium (anderlecht), China (qingdao janoon) and Costa Rica (alajuelense).

Ecuador are at their first World Cup finals since 2006 when they reached the last 16. They are a side with a fair amount of pace in the attacking areas, with wingers Valencia and Montero so they shouldn't be real pushovers and could hurt teams on the counter attack. Again, like most teams, their are weakest in defence and this could be exploited by the other teams in the group, and away from their home where games were played at high-altitude, away in qualifying was abysmal. The squad going to Brazil contains: 8 from Ecuador (3 from Barcelona and Emelec, 1 from El Nacional and LDU Quinto); 7 from Mexico (2 from Tijuana and Pachuca, 1 from Atlante, Cruz Azul, Morelia); 1 from Brazil (Flamengo), Colombia (Santa Fe), Germany (Stuggart), England (Manchester United), USA (Chivas USA), UAE (Al-Jazira), Russia (Dynamo Moscow) and the Netherlands (Vitesse). France and Switzerland should see off Ecuador, and I am going to gamble on Honduras taking advantage of their poor away form and as a result, Ecuador could finish bottom.

Switzerland v France, 20th June - 8pm: This could be a defining game for who goes through as group winners.


[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][size=2][background=rgb(248,241,243)]Group E:[/background][/size][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Switzerland[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-1 Ecuador, 15[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]France[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-0 Honduras, 15[sup]th[/sup] June @ 8pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Switzerland[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0-1 France, 20[sup]th[/sup] June @ 8pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Honduras[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-1 Ecuador, 20[sup]th[/sup] June @ 11pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Ecuador[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0-3 France, 25[sup]th[/sup] June @ 9pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Honduras[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0-1 Switzerland, 25[sup]th[/sup] June @ 9pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


FIFA World Cup 2014: Preview and Predictions - Group D

Group D is another of the very close and competitive groups in the world cup. Uruguay, Italy and England are more then decent international sides but not absolutely top quality. They all have their key players and styles which can cause problems to and hurt other teams but they also have their inconsistencies and weak points that the very best teams can exploit. Whoever goes through will give any team cause for concern. Fine margins could separate joyous success from total failure - but is anyone's guess as to will be the team to fall short. I actually fancy England who have improved from recent years and their young, attacking players to overcome their opponents and go through as group winners. It is impossible to decide between Italy and Uruguay. You can never rule out Italy and Luis Suarez of Uruguay is recovering from injury and his team at the back are weak. I expect geographical advantage to prevail and for Uruguay to go through. But this is such a close group where one incident, goal, decision or game could make all the difference and define the outcome. Central American's Costa Rica, who are an unknown quantity, I suspect they could be a difficult team to overcome and they might have their say on who goes through, but ultimately they should finish bottom.

England go into this World Cup with lower expectations, but with greater progress and a stronger, more exciting squad than Euro 2012 and the the World Cup four years ago. There seems to be greater potential and material for creativity, pace, skill and exciting directness - particularly in midfield and attack - which could make England more adept to playing and approaching football in a slightly more modern and progressive style. There is hope for England's future but they have been there before - around 15 years ago - and there are hurdles standing in their way: young players aren't the finish article and England hasn't got a great history of laying out and playing to a cohesive, identified philosophy. Nevertheless, the material is there for the future and at this World Cup England does have the weaponry to hurt their opponents - if unleashed and given support and integration. All of England's players are based in Britain: 22 from England (5 from Liverpool, 4 from Manchester United, 3 from Everton and Southampton, 2 from Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City and 1 from West Brom) and 1 from Scotland (Celtic). Perhaps England's star man in the captain Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney is their best player but he has failed to deliver in his previous two World Cups and has been drifting in and out of games recently. Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool might be an even more important and effective player with his goalscoring abilities and pace. England have got good material in attacking and young players such as Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkely, and if given enough freedom and time, could make a huge difference, but at the same time, perhaps other international teams might be smart enough to cut off the supply of balls to these players and the space for them to move into. England's defence is pretty solid, with Gary Cahill being the leader in central defence alongside Jagielka. England are decent going forward in wide areas but Baines can be suspect at his defensive duties whilst Johnson could be even more of a weak point defensively and going forward he isn't the greatest of crossers or passers. Joe Hart should be a fairly reliable goalkeeper. The determination of England's fate will come down to how the team gels and copes, rather than the individuals (although a couple of outstanding performances could change a game). A young, experimental team could either be boom or boost (perhaps both could be a theme in the World Cup, or even in a single game) and after another long Premier League season, playing in a South American World Cup against tricky opposition could be a little too much for England to deal with. I think England could be just about to embark on a surprisingly good World Cup. I think they'll be too good for their opponents and will negotiate a way to the quarter finals, but there certain flaws or factors which could stand in their way if Uruguay and Italy perform to their best.

Uruguay are a team with the capabilities to go far. In South Africa they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup and shortly afterwards won the Copa America. However, in the Olympics and Confederations Cup they came up short and generally failed to impress. And they only just qualified via a play-off. They aren't renowned as a great team defensively but they have got good quality upfront but Suarez isn't fit, Cavani is hit and miss and Forlan is probably past it. I do have my doubts about whether they can match their achievements of recent times, but when it all comes together for Uruguay, they are a formidable team and in a South American World Cup, I think they should go through. Uruguay's squad is made up with: 5 from Italy (Juventus, Lazio, Parma, Bologna, Palermo); 4 from Spain (3 from Athletico Madrid, 1 from Espanyol); 3 from England (Liverpool, Southampton, West Brom), Brazil (Corinthians, Sao Paulo, Vasco du Gama); 2 from Portugal (Porto and Benfica); 1 from Uruguay (Nacional), Turkey (Galatasaray), Paraguay (Libertad), Japan (Cerezo Osaka), Mexico (Morelia), France (PSG). If fit, Luis Suarez will be their most important player but if not then their star man will be Edinson Cavani who is strong physically, quick and can be a lethal finisher but not always consistent. Uruguay can add to their attack with the full backs and some of the midfielders but sometimes they lack creativity in midfield. Despite having the excellent Diego Godin, Uruguay are quite weak defensively, especially with Diego Lugano and other teams could hurt Uruguay in this position. But all in all, I think they will go through and they could grow stronger as the World Cup goes on - quarter-finals could be possible.

Italy seemed to have improved from the ageing team and subsequent disastrous attempt of retaining their World title in 2010. Since then, there are still older players, but most should still be effective and there are some fresher and younger players. Italy reaching the final of Euro 2012 showed that despite they were not a fancied team on paper, on the football field they absolutely knew how to get a job done and there were key individuals who can change a game. It's difficult to tell whether Italy have improved much since then, but more or less there are at the same level but they will have greater confidence within their squad. They will always have a good game plan which can contain and stop the best qualities about other teams, and Italy always has the threat of snatching a goal or a win out of nothing. I expect them to have a solid campaign and be difficult to play against but I suspect the attacking qualities of England Uruguay aswell as the conditions will overcome them. Buy you can never rule Italy out and if they do go through, they will be a tricky team who could negotiate a way deep into the World Cup. Their squad: 20 from Italy (6 from Juventus, 3 from Milan, Torino, Parma, 1 from Napoli, Lazio, Roma, Florientina, Genoa), 3 from France (PSG). Andrea Pirlo at 35 is still their star man with his magnificent and classy way of conducting and play-making in midfield and picking out fine passes. But as always with Italy, they are greater than sum of their parts. If Balotelli plays like he did at Euro 2012, then that will give Italy another dimension but Italy's downfall could come down to a lack of goals and perhaps a more vulnerable defence.

Costa Rica are at their first World Cup since 2006 and will come into Group D with low expectations as the underdogs but will also have a relaxed mindset. It will be interesting to see how the central Americans will do in a South American World Cup. Costa Rica, are relatively unknown but I suspect like Honduras, they will be pretty defensive but they should be a difficult team to break down - only conceded 7 goals in 10 qualifiers - and they might have some punch on the counter attack, especially with star man Bryan Ruiz and also the pacey Olympiakos player Joel Campbell - which gives them greater attacking material than the likes of Honduras The Levante goalkeeper is also a fantastic shot stopper and has a magnificent season in La Liga. Their squad: 9 from Costa Rica (4 from Herediano, 2 from Saprissa, Alajuelense, 1 from Cartagines); 3 from USA (2 from Colombus Crew, 1 from New York Red Bulls); 3 from Norway (Rosenborg, Aalesund, Valerenga); 1 from Belgium (Club Brugge), Spain (Levante), Sweden (AIK), Denmark (Copenhagen), Greece (Olympiakos), Netherlands (PSV), Germany (Mainz), Russia (Kuban Krasnodar). Certainly a team who could spin a surprise or two and perhaps shape the outcome of the group.

[color=rgb(51,51,51)][font=arial]Key games:[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(51,51,51)][font=arial]England v Italy, 14th June - 11pm: A battle between two teams who might cancel each other out.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(51,51,51)][font=arial]Uruguay v England, 19th June - 8pm: A crucial game where whoever wins should go through.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(51,51,51)][font=arial]Italy v Uruguay, 24th June - 5pm: It could be a group decider but at the same time, it might be that a draw puts either side through.[/font][/color]


[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][size=2][background=rgb(248,241,243)]Group D:[/background][/size][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Uruguay[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-1 Costa Rica, 14[sup]th[/sup] June @ 8pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]England[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-0 Italy, 14[sup]th[/sup] June @ 11pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Uruguay[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-2 England, 19[sup]th[/sup] June @ 8pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Italy[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-0 Costa Rica, 20[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Costa Rica[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0-2 England, 24[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Italy[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-2 Uruguay, 24[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


FIFA World Cup 2014: Preview and Predictions - Group C

Group C is an incredibly open group and the toughest one to call as they all four teams are at least a decent international outfit yet there is not one outstanding team. Every team has their strengths and weaknesses and their own style and approach so it will be intriguing to see how the pragmatic Greeks, athletic Japanese, physical Ivorians and potential dark horses Colombia fare when they all meet each other. Whoever progresses probably won't be one of the favorites to go all the way but all the teams will put up a stern test any opponent. As I haven't seen much of any of these teams, they all remain unknown quantities which makes even more interesting to see how this group unfolds. I'm going for Colombia to top the group, given their high world-ranking and reputation aswell as having the advantage of it being a South American world cup. After that I will opt for the Ivory Coast, who are perhaps not quite as strong as in recent times, who have been unlucky in their previous two World Cup appearances, perhaps they are due a better run this time although again you can never be too sure about how some African sides will perform against teams from other Confederations. The remaining, sides Japan and Greece all have a chance of having a say in the group and have a decent shout of progressing.

Colombia have been tipped by some to be a team to impress this summer and potentially go far. They have their admirers for their flexibility, power and technical skill aswell though the injury of star striker Falcao will be a huge blow. This is certainly a seed I will be fascinated to see in this World Cup. Their squad is quite diverse: 6 from Italy (Milan, Inter, Napoli, Atalanta, Florientina, Calgiari); 4 from Argentina (3 from River Plate, 1 from San Lorenzo); 3 from France (Monaco, Toulouse, Nice), Colombia (Santa Fe, Athletico Nacional, Deportivo Cali); 2 from Portugal (Porto), Spain (Elche, Sevilla); from England (West Ham), Netherlands (PSV) and Germany (Hertha Berlin). Colombia have a squad of generally young players although they have the oldest play in the World Cup with goalkeeper Mondragon, age 42. They should offer good attacking quality, especially in the wide areas with star player James Rodriguez and there will be extra attacking options with the full-backs. The holding midfielders should provide cover for the full-backs whilst defense will be an area of concern for Colombia but overall, I expect Colombia to perform well and reach the knock-out stage but being a competitive group, it may not be all that easy. If they go through, then the last 8 isn't beyond their capabilities.

My pick to progress as group runners-up are the Ivory Coast. In the past World Cups, their golden generation have perhaps failed to live up to expectations and this ageing squad is probably past its best, with Didier Drogba now 36. They've been placed in tough groups in 2006 and 2010 and perhaps a lack of cohesiveness, defensive quality and adaptation to play against different types of teams have cost them. These flaws still remain but they are again in a competitive group but there is no Brazil, Portugal or Argentina and Netherlands standing in their way. I expect the Ivory Coast to go through because of this but perhaps their weaknesses will be part of their downfall again. Their squad is made up of: 5 from France (2 from Saint-Etienne and Toulouse, 1 from Lille); 4 from Germany (Stuggart, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Honnover, Eintracht Frankfurt), Turkey (2 from Trabzonspor, 1 from Galatasaray and Caykur Rizespor); 3 from England (Liverpool, Newcastle United, Manchester City); 2 from Switzerland (Basel); 1 from Belgium (Lokeren), Italy (Roma), Wales (Swansea), Norway (Stabaek), Ivory Coast (Sewe Sport). Yaya Toure if fit will be a crucial player for their intentions to reach the last 16. They have other options in midfield and wide areas aswell as a choice between Drogba and Bony whilst their defense remains very suspect. If they do go through then I don't see them going beyond the last 16.

Japan can be a surprising and excellent team to watch. They impressed in South Africa and were unlucky to miss out on a quarter-final against Spain follow a penalty shoot-out defeat by Paraguay. There's not many young players in their squad and after not seeing very much of them, it could be easy to assume that Japan perhaps might not have as good a World Cup in Brazil. They were quite decent in the Confederations Cup and were very unlucky against Italy in a thrilling match. Japan has a squad with many players based in Japan and abroad in Europe: 11 from Japan (2 from FC Tokyo, Gamba Osaka, Cerenzo Osaka, 1 from Urawa Red Diamonds, Kawasaki Frontale, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Jubilo Iwata, Yokohama Marinos); 7 from Germany (2 from Nuremberg, 1 from Schalke, Stuggart, Mainz, Hannover, 1860 Munchen); 2 from Italy (Milan and Inter) and England (Manchester United and Southampton) and 1 from Belgium (Standard Liege). Japan should be pretty good in an attacking sense with their star players being Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa and perhaps Shinji Okazaki could be an important goal-scorer. Perhaps, Japan's biggest weakness is defense and if they struggle to attack effectively then they could be going out at the group stage.

Greece are not a favourite of many football fans - mostly down to the defensive route to winning Euro 2004 - but no one can deny that they have an effective team. In qualifying they didn't score many goals but nor did they concede many. They didn't do well at the 2010 World Cup, but they did achieve a first ever win at a World Cup Finals. At Euro 2012, they found a way out of the group and ended up in a quarter-final against Germany. Certainly Greece should be a difficult team to break-down and they could reach the last 16. Their squad is made up of: 9 from Greece (4 from Olympiakos and PAOK, 1 from Panathinaikos); 6 from Italy (2 from Bologna, 1 from Roma, Genoa, Torino and Verona); 2 from Spain (Levante and Granada), England (Fulham); 1 from Scotland (Celtic), Germany (Borussia Dortmund), Turkey (Kayserispor). Greece will probably be the most difficult team to breakdown in this group but their lack of goals could be their downfall although Mitroglou and Samaras should be sources for goals. I expect Greece to be competitive but not scoring enough goals will cost them.

There are not many standout games in this group and it's difficult to predict which game will be a decider but perhaps Colombia v Ivory Coast on the 19th June at 5pm could be a vital game.


[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Colombia[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-0 Greece, 14[sup]th[/sup] June @5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Ivory Coast[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-1 Japan, 15[sup]th[/sup] June @ 2am[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Colombia[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-1 Ivory Coast, 19[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Japan 2-1 Greece, 19[sup]th[/sup] June @ 11pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Greece[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0-0 Ivory Coast, 24[sup]th[/sup] June @ 9pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Japan[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0-2 Colombia, 24[sup]th[/sup] June @ 9pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


FIFA World Cup 2014 Blog

13th June: The first full day of the 20th FIFA World Cup finals is complete and what a day it has been as the tournament came alive. Starting with last night, Brazil came through controversially and unconvincingly against a well-organised, technically skillful but ultimately unlucky Croatia. Unlike the past two World Cup opening games which saw wonder goals, the first goal was an own goal by Brazil's Marcello. A lot has been said about the expectations on poster-boy Neymar who scored two goals. Brazil's second was a diabolical refereeing decision and shortly afterwards Croatia were unlucky to have a goal disallowed for a foul on the goalkeeper. Croatia had chances going into the final part of the game before Brazil's best play of the match, Oscar, scored a decent third goal. A good result to start with for Brazil and they did overcome a test but they were underwhelming in terms of creativity and the way they defended at times although they pressed well. Brazil should progress as group winners, whilst Croatia who played better than expected need to raise themselves for Cameroon.

Today's first game was Mexico v Cameroon and the controversy continued as the refereeing continued to be unimpressive with two shocking off-side decisions denying Mexico's dos Santos two perfectly good first half goals. Mexico were better than I expected and played some nice attacking football although their defending at set-pieces was generally poor. Mexico got a deserved 1-0 win over a poor, underwhelming Cameroon side who as expected failed to play cohesively as a team. Sammuel Eto'o was so isolated up front and Cameroon sat back throughout much of the game. 4 World Cup defeats in a row, and probably soon to be 6.

Then, the much anticipated encounter between the World Cup finalists of 2010, Champions Spain vs the Netherlands - a game expected to be a dull, tight affair as so often high-profile games fail to live up to expectations. Going into the game, I expected the Netherlands to have a poor campaign like Euro 2012 despite qualifying with ease under Louis van Gaal. Spain at times can lack energy, effectiveness and perhaps desire after being the best team in the world for 6 years. They are still the best country in international football with the selection of players to choose from but sometimes to they fail to score goals or gel well enough in midfield to create moves and passes with intent rather than just keeping the ball, and despite not conceding many goals, their defense can be suspect. Being in such a tough group and with a team that is slightly passed its peak there was always a slight chance that they might slip up. The likelihood of that has increased greatly. Spain after nearly losing an early goal, had a comfortable first half against a dutch team who were more solid than I expected but kept on playing the high ball. Spain weren't at their best but they had a good shape and almost went 2-0 up if it weren't for David Silva's saved shot. Then Robin van Persie scored an excellent header just before half-time which changed the shape of the game. The Spain team to me seemed a little more tired/lethargic than usual - and I seem to recall a similar look to the team in the Confederations Cup last year. In the second half, Spain lost their, lost confidence and were shattered physically and mentally - perhaps after a long season with many clubs competing for trophies. They were soon to be shell-shocked as the whole World was as we witnessed one of the most extraordinary second halves in the history of the World Cup. The dismantling of a great, domineering Spain side of 6 years into a pile of debris was astounding - give how they had the game under control in the first half against an unfancied dutch side. Never has the first game at the World Cup for the reigning champions - against their opponents in the final - have been humiliated and stunned in such a manner that will be talked about for decades. The Netherlands won 5-1! Which is incredible given how Spain conceded only two goals in South Africa and this was the most goals they've lost in a game since Scotland won 6-2 in Madrid in 1963. Spain's midfield lost control and the seemingly tired defense and the goalkeeper were mauled as Arjen Robben scored two great goals, Van Persie got another goal from a Casillas howler, and Stefan de Vrijj scored a cheap goal from a set-piece in which Casillas was at fault again - although perhaps a foul was inflicted on the keeper. It could have been worse, in reality it should have been 8 and given how Spain was really their for the taking and the sublime counter-attacking form of the Netherlands and Arjen Robben in particular, it could even have been 10. This result has well and truly triggered the tournament alive, displaying how anything can happen to anyone. Spain are in serious danger of going out with talk of an end of an era whilst the expectations and opinions of the Netherlands have escalated. You have to hand it the Van Gaal, the coaching staff and players, the Netherlands shape was really superb and they were far fitter than Spain in the second half. As for Spain, given the options Del Bosque has on his bench (or the players such as Navas, Isco and Negredo who were left out) he has a real head-ache on line-ups and tactics. There were midfield options such as Mata, Fabregas and Koke on the bench. David Silva didn't look his best nor did Iniesta or Alonso. Spain's midfield lacked intensity when they had and didn't have the ball. Xavi in particular struggled and looks like a player who is sadly passed his best - perhaps a young player like Koke should have been selected instead. Chelsea's attacking RB didn't have the greatest of games and Spain struggled to support him on the right-hand side where there was a lot of space. Perhaps Atheltico's Juanfran should have played instead and remarkably Casillas could be dropped. There are big problems for Spain and their biggest problem is they don't have the best options for goal-scorers to be integrated into the side. I've got a feeling that the unthinkable will happen and Spain will be knocked-out. The end of an era? Yes, but not entirely so. Of course some of the veterans who have been at the heart of Spain's success won't be around for the Euros in 2016, but Spain are still the best in the world in terms of the array and variety of players to select from and there are some younger players - a few in this squad - who will replace some of the old guard. History tells us that barely any team retains their World title, and most certainly European teams never win in South America so this isn't all that surprising. Think of France in 2002, they failed to score a single goal and lost all their group games, Italy in 2010 only picked up 2 points. There are examples of epic failures of retaining a title but there are also examples of teams returning to compete in following tournaments - France reached the final of the 2006 World Cup and Italy were runners up at Euro 2012. I don't think Spain's era of competing at the top is done yet.

The final game saw the dark horses to go far in the World Cup, Chile, go up against the lowest ranked side at the finals, Australia. The first 15 minutes were very, very impressive from Chile with their crazy, high-intensity, exciting, fast, attacking and entertaining football go 2-0 up against a worryingly shaky Australia. However, Chile's quality waned somewhat and Australia grew more into the game and exposed Chile's rather unorthodox defending with a fine header from Tim Cahill. The second half was an exciting end to end game before Chile scored a 3rd goal just before the end. Entertaining and overall, pretty impressive stuff from Chile and it will be intriguing to see where they go in the competition.

There are four more games to look forward to tomorrow:
Colombia v Greece, Uruguay v Costa Rica, England v Italy & Ivory Coast v Japan.

After a very good, enthralling start to the World Cup with 15 goals and a classic World Cup game, the finals have got off to a much better start than South Africa in 2010. Hopefully the goals and excitement will continue tomorrow.

14th June:

Not quite as dramatic as yesterday but not too far off with more World Cup excitement. The first game was South American dark horses Colombia against the stubborn and defensive minded Greece. Colombia got off to a good start to their first World Cup since 1998 with an early goal - but a poor goal to concede by Greece. After that, although Colombia always were a threat in an attacking sense and Greece didn't really cause them too many problems, it was clear to see that Colombia were not great at the back and Greece failed to exploit this - Gekas who had a poor game horribly missed an open goal at 2-1 which was their chance to get back into the game. Greece just weren't flexible enough in an attacking sense and their forward players didn't link up well or move into great positions to unsettle the Colombian defence. Samaras was probably their best play going forward. I thought Greece were fairly in control of the game but couldn't get their grip on it in the second half. It was easy to see why Greece are successful and difficult to break down in qualifying but it was also easy to see why they have lost so many of their World Cup games. As for Colombia, they were slightly disappointing but went on to win 3-0 and put themselves in a good position to progress. Falcao will be a huge miss and I don't see Colombia going too far.

The second game was Uruguay v Costa Rica. Going into the tournament, Uruguay have been regarded as a side with the potential to go far. I could see this given the array of attacking talent and their performances at the last World Cup and Copa America. However, despite the hype, I was aware of their flaws which could cost the team. Despite the excellent Diego Godin, Uruguay are very suspect at the back and at times their attacking players don't play well - with Luis Suarez recovering from injury, Edison Cavani being hit and miss and Diego Forlan being past his best, I could foresee some difficulty. Uruguay also didn't really impress at the Olympics nor the Confederations Cup and only qualified via a play off with New Zealand. With Uruguay there was the potential for greatness but at the same time the danger of disaster. Costa Rica, at their first finals since 2006, are somewhat of an unknown quantity and were regarded as the whipping boys. As much as I didn't expect Costa Rica to do much, I was aware that such central American teams will be difficult to beat and may have a say in the outcome of the group. What happened was another pretty big shock after the Netherlands rout yesterday. The first half was poor with Costa Rica being okay but Uruguay looking really flat, poor and tired in very warm and humid conditions - they lead at half-time after converting a penalty. What I've been aware of so far in this World Cup is teams have been tactically aware to be economical about exerting energy in such conditions - Croatia in the first game were reserving energy at 1-1 - and how certain teams were fitter than others in the second halves were certain moments completely unlocked opponents nerves and defences. Yesterday's 8pm kick-off saw Spain lead 1-0 at half-time, then were destroyed by the Netherlands with a dramatic twist in momentum and they looked very much exhausted. Today, same kick-off time was very similar. Uruguay were even worse in the second half and Costa Rica - going into the World Cup without pressure - were fitter, grew in confidence and played well with some outstanding performances, especially Joel Campbell. Uruguay lost the game 3-1 with 3 good goals from a Costa Rica perspective, but defensively terrible from Uruguay who looked woeful at defending set-pieces. A red card to their right-back won't help matters and it's unclear whether Luis Suarez will be fit for the England game. They are in a very similar position to Spain, teams with so much expected of them, having a catastrophic start - especially in confidence- who go into their second games needing a win. Perhaps such a defeat will provoke a response, if not there will be a shock early exit. Certainly Group D got a lot more interesting with Costa Rica potentially being a win away from the last 16.

The stand-out game was England v Italy in Manaus. A lot had been said about the Italian job, the young lions, the conditions and the pitch at Manaus. It was expected to be a tight game, in some sense it was in a similar way to chess, but it was far more intriguing than expected with Italy winning 2-1. Of course there were some positives and a few decent performances and improvements from the last competitive encounter between these two sides for England, but I felt that the Italian's executed their game plan beautifully. For all the attacking talent and pace England had, and some of the inexperience at the back for Italy, the Italian's were generally untested - in what was again a game with its momentum defined and shaped by very small margins. Italy didn't have to run about a lot, they passed the ball well and exploited the space down England's left flank - Baines looked tired and England needed Milner to do the tracking back instead of Rooney, who failed to effectively get involved other than the assist for their goal - aswell as England poorly defending their set-pieces. As a result Italy got the two goals they needed and that was enough. Both teams in general were drained by the conditions, but Italy's tactics and shape and execution of their game plan greatly dealt with the conditions and their opponents. Wayne Rooney, desperate to score his first World Cup goal, missed a vital chance at 2-1 which could have changed the momentum of the game. Towards the end, England had a fair bit of the ball as Italy soaked the pressure - England brought on Barkley and Lallana and Wilshere, who didn't make a huge impact but perhaps didn't have enough time - but what England does with the ball and the quality at their disposal just doesn't come naturally to them and as a result when Italy won the ball they cleverly tapped the ball away from England and set themselves up well to go up the field. A confidence boosting win from Italy who should go on to win the group and they look pragmatic as ever. They were a team who I thought should go through, but though England's young players and Uruguay's strikers would get the better of them - but Italy have the look of a team who could quietly go far. As for England, of course, there were some positives but they will need to recover physically and mentally and prepare for a defining match for both Uruguay and themselves. After the Uruguay result, perhaps England may feel relieved that they aren't behind both Italy and Uruguay, but at the same time must feel disappointed that they didn't take advantage of Uruguay's slip up. England need to prove themselves physically, mentally, tactically, individually and collectively as they have the ability to beat Uruguay, but they are under huge pressure and if things go wrong then they could even finish bottom of the group - but England should take out of this World Cup, no matter what happens, the fact that they've got some decent young talent in their ranks.

Plenty more goals today in what has been an excellent start to this World Cup. Ivory Coast v Japan in the early hours before: Switzerland v Ecuador, France v Honduras, Argentina v Bosnia.

15th June:

Another exciting day with more and more goals. In the early hours, the Ivory Coast from behind to beat a japan side who ran out of steam in the second half with two headed goals in what was another open, end to end game.

The first game of the afternoon was the team ranked 6th in the world, Switzerland vs South Americans Ecuador. Ecuador are a time who don't have a good record away from their high-altitude home. Against a Switzerland team with a strong squad that included some good young players, Ecuador lead at half time against a poor Switzerland. In the second half, Switzerland improved and had complete control of the game. They equalised shortly after half-time and it looked like they had missed their chance to win the game. At the very last action if the game, an Ecuador counter-attack was followed by a Swiss counter attack which resulted in a dramatic last minute winner from Switzerland.

The second game from group e was the young, talented dark horses of France - trying to make amends for their dismal 2010 campaign - against the physical and tricky Central Americans Honduras. I thought France were impressive, with strong individual performances and every player looking comfortable with the ball. They made some good moves and looked strong and sharp. In the first half they lacked the final ball or finish to justify their control of the game. But Honduras, parking the bus, were very difficult to break down as they were very physical and aggressive. France led at half time with a benzema penalty after a second yellow for Honduras' palacios. In the second half, remarkably there was the first ever goal awarded by technology. In all of the premier league season, the goal line technology was never tested like this and this was pretty much as close as it gets. From the TV cameras, it seemed impossible to tell that the ball crossed the line and even the referee was unsure about whether the technology was correct - it showed the ball only just over the line. Honduras should have had more red cards for what was at times dirty football. Benzema got a second goal and France won 3-0. The French were impressive and could go quite far.

The final game was one of the tournament favourites, Argentina against Bosnia and Herzegovina in their debut appearance at a major finals. Both teams went into the game with a reputation for their attacking prowess. Argentina took the lead very early down to an unfortunate own goal. But Argentina were very dissapointing against a very organised and impressive Bosnia side who were the better team. Argentina looked unbalanced, lost the battles in midfield and their key attacking players went missing down to excellent pressing from Bosnia. In the second half, the great Lionel messi, who hasn't scored a World Cup goal since 2006, scored a magnificent goal which lifted him and his team mates as Argentina improved and Bosnia lost their rhythm - but there was a memorable moment when Bosnia scored their first ever World Cup goal just before the end in a 2-1 defeat to Argentina.

Again, another good day at the World Cup and for the first time ever, there have been no draws in the first 11 games. Tomorrow's big game is Germany vs Portugal as well as Nigeria v Iran and USA v Ghana.

16th June:

A mixed day with two memorable games and a forgettable one. The first game was a high profile encounter between of the World Cup favourites, Germany against a solid Portugal side including Cristiano Ronaldo.

After Lione Messi scoring a sublime goal yesterday, all eyes were on Cristiano Ronaldo to see whether the World player of the year will come up with the goods. But it was a bad afternoon for him and his team mates as a German side on formidable form won 4-0 with ease. Thomas Muller scored the first hat-trick of the World Cup and has now scored 8 goals in 7 World Cup appearances. Germany were impressive without being tested, especially in the first half when they always had the game under control and they were incredibly organised and always looked a threat up front - especially on the counter-attack. Germany were 3-0 up at half-time after Mats Hummels scored a header for the second and Portugal's Pepe was needlessly sent off for a headbutt. It got worse for Portugal as the lost a couple of players to injury and the entire second half was a training session for Germany. Germany look the part but there are greater challenges awaiting them, and they should now top the group. Portugal's World Cup couldn't have got off to a worse start and they must win their next game or they are out.

The second game was the first draw and goalless game of the World Cup between a very disappointing Nigeria and an organised but unspectacular Iran.

The next game was a lot more memorable. The repeat of a last 16 tie in the 2010 World Cup, USA vs Ghana - two good and organised international sides. The USA couldn't have got off to a better start as Clint Dempsey scored a nice goal within 30 seconds. Perhaps they scored too early as Ghana were on the attack for the rest of the game. The second half was much better with a tremendous atmosphere from both sets of fans. Ghana, looking to get back into the game were dominant against an organised and hard-working USA. Ghana towards the final stages got an equalizer and looked more likely to get the winner but 5 minutes from time, the USA got a dramatic winner with a header from a corner. Ghana, looked like the better footballing side and were unlucky to lose - their chances of reaching the last 16 look bleak. Th USA will b a difficult challenge for Portugal and a victory for the USA would seal a place in the last 16.

17th June:

Probably the poorest day of the World Cup yet but there were further goals on the last day of the first round of fixtures. The first game was a young, talented 'Golden Generation' of Belgian footballers playing their first game in a major international tournament since 2002, against the highest ranked African side and an incredibly difficult team to beat in Algeria. Belgium lack experience on this stage and the the dark horses to win the World Cup almost proved that to be the case. Against a defensive but highly-organised Algerian side, Belgium had plenty of the ball but didn't move it around quickly enough and they lacked penetration. As a result, Algeria led 1-0 at half-time with a penalty. Belgium improved in the second half and two subsitutes in Fellani and Mertens scored two late goals to win the game. It could have been a bad start, but Belgium will relieved and a little confident from passing a tough test.

The next game was Brazil's second group match, against Mexico. Both teams won their opening fixtures and were held to a fairly entertaining 0-0 draw with some top saves from the Mexican goalkeeper. However, Brazil were pretty disappointing whilst Mexico were fairly impressive and played with a decent amount of technical ability and high-energy. The result means the losers of Cameroon v Croatia will be knocked-out of the World Cup.

The final game of the first round of fixtures was Russia v South Korea. After a very disappointing first half, the second half was better from both teams. South Korea led after a shocking howler from the Russian goalkeeper but Russia earned themselves an equalizer. Neither side impressed, Russia will be the more relieved side but they were pretty poor. Belgium should probably win the group.

After an excellent opening round of fixtures, there has been a lot of goals, good exciting football on display but a lack of top quality goals as of yet. There have been some shocks, some great games and teams such as Germany, the Netherlands and France have impressed and a lot of the big name players have performed. It is very much an open World Cup.

18th June: Well, seven days into the World Cup and we have three eliminations in an another absolutely fantastic day of World Cup football. The first game, after a slow start, was one of the best if not the best of the World Cup so far. Australia, who were expected to be the whipping boys, but performed well against Chile were up against a Netherlands side on the back of a 5-1 thrashing over the World Champions. It was a different challenge for the Netherlands against a team they were expected to beat, but given how I thought they came into the World Cup with a fairly poor side by their standards, there was always a chance that the Netherlands would prove that they haven't got a great amount of quality. And that almost proved to be the case (and in terms of performance for large parts, it did prove to be the case). Despite taking the lead with another fantastic solo goal from Ajern Robben, just seconds later Tim Cahill scored what is probably the best goal of the World Cup with a tremendous Van Basten-esque volley. After that, Australia were the better team for the rest of the first half and showed great determination to cause the Netherlands problems - they played above everyone's expectations whilst the Netherlands played to underwhelming levels. And for a time, they took a shock lead from a second-half penalty but the Dutch responded well with two-goals to win 3-2. The dutch did improve but they more or less played in a manner that flatters to deceive as I suspected. However, they have qualified and will battle with Chile to avoid a last 16 tie with Brazil. Australia are out of the World Cup, but they performed well over their two games and have left some sort of a legacy with a good showing at the finals.

After winning Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and the Euros again in 2012, a hurting Spain side needed to beat an excellent Chile side in order to stay in the World Cup - fail and perhaps it's safe to call it an end of an era. Remarkably, after seven days, Spain are out of the World Cup as their imperial dominance of World football dramatically crumbled so suddenly. In a 2-0 defeat by an excellent, hard-working and technically gifted Chile, Spain were second best and couldn't create anything. In my opinion, on paper they still have the best team/squad in international football, but their style and effectiveness has waned. Some say ticka-tacka has died, but I disagree as I think Spain had lost their grip and efficiency with the concept. Ticka-tacka as a philosophy involves quick movement and releasing of a football. Spain are too slow, one dimensional and take too many touches before passing to really call it ticka-tacka and it has been quite clear over the last 6 years that the excitement, the effectiveness and the manner of that philosophy has evolved, but waned, and there has been far too much emphasis on retaining possession. The Spain side of 2008 was probably the best in terms of how their football was played. Since then, under Vincent del Bosque, Spain kept the ball more but struggled to score goals (8 when they won the World Cup), Fernando Torres in 2010 wasn't the same player prior to injury and they were reliant on David Villa to cut inside and get the goals. Since 2010, some of the best players have aged, some of the old guard are now past it or have retired (Xavi, Puyol, Alonso, Villa, Torres), they lack a good reliable goalscorer, and most importantly they had no width (no Jesus Navas in the squad, and David Villa is past his best days) and the lack of natural wingers and width absolutely killed Spain as it meant that all that their play-makers could do was pass the ball side-wards in the middle of the park. Del Bosque's squad and team selection was debatable with many players who weren't fit, playing regularly or not on their best form and there were options in and out of the squad who could have made a difference. Perhaps Spain should have opted for their youth in order to prepare for future tournaments. Certainly, in a case where no team from Europe has ever won the World Cup in South America, no team has retained it since 1962 there were a lot of things going against Spain, and the performances of France in 2002 and Italy in 2010 and Brazil in 1966 are examples of similar shortcomings. But when you consider the mistakes, the deterioration of their style, how key players are no longer part of the squad or as effective, and how almost all of the players had long, intense and competitive club football this season, then it isn't no real surprise that Spain failed. It is the end of the golden era, but in future years, Spain can't be ruled out from having a few more triumphs.

The final game was Cameroon v Croatia in Manaus, where the loser would be eliminated. And there was only one winner as Cameroon were eliminated in an embarrassing manner. They were very poor in all departments and didn't look a team and they lost their discipline as Alex Song got a stupid first half red card and a few players fell out with each other. Croatia were by far the better team and won 4-0 with a brace from Mario Mandzukic and goals from Perisic and Olic. Croatia were very good and should have scored more goals. They need a win against Mexico to reach the last 16.

19th July:

The first game today was Colombia vs Ivory Coast in group c in an encounter between two sides who won their opening matches. After a fairly dull first half with the Ivory Coast not looking all that inspiring, after the break Colombia led 2-0. The Ivory Coast got a good goal back with a fine solo goal by gervinho but it wasn't enough as Colombia booked a place in the last 16.

England v Uruguay

The final game was a forgettable 0-0 draw between japan and Greece. Greece defended when they went down to 10 men in the first half and japan lacked quality in the final third.

20th June:

Another fascinating day at the World Cup. The first game was an encounter between two teams who won their opening games, underdogs Costa Rica against the experienced Italians. I knew that this would not be a walk in the park for Italy, and they needed to win to help England have a chance of progressing. What happened was another spirited and organised Costa Rican performance, and Italy were very poor - especially in the second half as they were constantly offside, they couldn't create anything and lacked quality and ideas. As a result, a bryan Ruiz header earned Costa Rica another historic win. And remarkably, in such a group, Costa Rica are through. This is one of the stories of the World Cup and is such a fantastic achievement. As for England, for the first time since 1958, England are knocked out at the group stage.

The next game was another encounter between teams with opening wins. France, who impressed against Honduras, were up against a solid and decent Switzerland side. France were 3-0 up at half-time and with twenty minutes to go were 5-0 up but Switzerland got a couple of goals back to make it 5-2, the highest scoring game yet. France, looked really excellent, organised, powerful, potent and dangerous and so far they've been the most impressive team at this World Cup. They could go far. As for Switzerland, for a team in the midst of a hiding, they actually created quite a few chances and were fairly creative up front and deserved to get two goals back. The attacking full-backs however cost them a few goals on the counter attack. France have practically won the group but Switzerland still need a result to go though and they are in danger of missing out on the last 16 again.

The final game was Ecuador v Honduras. It was expected to be a physical encounter and it lived up to its billing with plenty of tackles from both sides. However, despite the physicality it was a very watchable game. Honduras took the lead as Costly scored their first goal at a World Cup finals since 1982. Two Edder Valencia goals earned Ecuador a vital win.

21st June:

Another fascinating day at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The first game was Iran, who held Nigeria to a boring 0-0 draw in the first game, versus an Argentina team who unconvincingly defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1. It was an intriguing, at times exciting, but frustrating game. We saw that Iran could stop Argentina from playing just as they did against Nigeria. Iran were very, very organised, hard working and determined and played well above the sum of their parts. In the first half, Argentina created nothing. And in the second half, it was Iran who had the best chances and should have won the game. The Argentina goalkeeper had to make 3 excellent saves and Iran should have had a penalty. Argentina did nothing in the second half. They lacked cohesion and creativity in midfield, looked weak at the back and despite their talented players, the looked like a group of individuals rather than a team. However, in the very last minute Lionel Messi scored a wonderful, curling left-foot shot from outside the box to send Argentina into the last 16. Messi is very much up and running, but they need to play better if they are going to win this World Cup.

The next game was a great encounter between Germany against a Ghanian side in the need of a victory. The first half was close at 0-0, Germany were patient and slow in their build-up play but were capable of cutting defences in an instant. But Germany's shape and flexibility of their structure was impressive. In terms of excitement, the second half was the best I've seen in quite a while. Germany took the lead with a goal from Mario Gotze. Then, Ghana scored a wonderful header to equalize and soon took the lead thanks to a great finish from Gyan. On the counter-attack, Ghana had their moments to win the game as Germany looked fairly tired and stretched in the heat and against the excellent and energetic Ghanians. But within moments of entering the frame, substitute Miroslav Klose with his first touch made it 2-2. And that goal was his 15th (and 4th World Cup finals) goal at the World Cup which equaled Ronaldo's record for Brazil. Germany also had their chances to win the game in a dramatic second half. Ghana looked very good and could beat Portugal, whilst Germany should finish top of the group but they do need to win games more convincingly.

The final game was a crucial encounter between Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nigeria were very poor in a 0-0 draw with Iran whilst Bosnia impressed in a defeat to Argentina. Nigeria needed a win and Bosnia needed to avoid defeat to keep their World Cup hopes alive. Bosnia should have taken the lead after Dzeko was wrongly ruled offside. After that, Peter Odemwingie scored the decisive goal. Nigeria were much better than they were against Iran and looked fairly solid in defence and were a threat going forward, especially with pacey wingers. In the center of midfield, and in the first half, Bosnia were impressive technically. However, defensively they were poor, they lacked quality in the wide areas and Dzeko was poor too and his sho was saved onto the post in the dying seconds. Bosnia looked tired and lost belief when they went behind. They are now out of the tournament, which is a shame, but it's been a great achievement for them to reach their first major finals.

22nd June:

Another superb day of World Cup action with last games of the second round of group matches. The first game was Belgium who after winning their opening match were up against a difficult side to beat in Russia, who drew their first match. It was a very dull match. Russia were fairly organised but lacked creativity going forward despite missing a few chances. Belgium were generally solid but for large parts they looked more like a group of individuals rather than a team. They weren't creative and potent going forward as Lukaku had a poor game and so did Hazard for the majority of the match. Dries Mertens was their brightest spark in the first half. In the second half, with 10 minutes to go, it seemed that Belgium's patient and slow approach payed dividends as they suddenly clicked into a better gear. Their shape looked better, they had more intent and suddenly looked more threatening with Hazard looking more lively. They looked likely to score a goal and in the last minutes, a 19 year old substitute scored the winning goal which sends Belgium into the last 16. Again, Russia were disappointing and have it all to do now if they are to reach the last 16. As for Belgium, again they weren't great for large parts of their two games, but they've won two games, finished matches strongly with substitutes making impacts and they are through. Perhaps they might grow into the tournament, and certainly when there were counter attacking opportunities, Belgium looked lethal. If they play better in the knock-out stages then they can go quite far.

The second game was an unexpected classic between Algeria and South Korea. Algeria were unlucky to lose to Belgium after taking the lead with their first World Cup goal since the 1980s. South Korea drew against Russia in a flat opening match. Algeria, again were organised and confident and immediately looked the more dangerous side. And they deservedly took the lead and by half-time they were unbelievably 3-0 up. In the second half, South Korea improved and got two goals back but Algeria scored a magnificent team goal to score a fourth goal and they are the first ever African side to score 4 goals in a World Cup match. They are in a strong position to reach the last 16, they just need to get a result against Russia.

The final game was another dramatic match at the World Cup. The USA dug in and won 2-1 against Ghana in their opening match whilst Portugal had a disastrous start with a 4-0 defeat to Germany and were missing players to suspension and injuries. Nani got Portugal off to a good start and lead 1-0 at half time. The second half was really memorable. The USA were fighting for an equalizer and looked the most likely to find it. And they did with a superb strike from Jones from outside of the penalty area. Then, Portugal in need of a victory looked more likely but the USA took the lead again with a goal from Clint Dempsey. The USA looked set for a place in the last 16 and Portugal were on the verge of elimination. Then in the very last seconds, Cristiano Ronaldo delivered a fantastic cross and it was headed in to make in 2-2. A deflating result for both sides, Portugal needed a victory but the USA are now just a point away from going through.

Well that's the second round of group fixtures completed and final round starts tomorrow.

Here's a little summary of the World Cup so far.

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Brazil - not impressive so far and they aren't a great side. I love the history of Brazilian football but I hope they don't win it.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Mexico - they have surprised me with their high energy, I think they'll reach the last 16 but they lack the goals to go much further.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Croatia - I've liked what I've seen so far from Croatia. I hope they go through and they could be outsiders to reach the semi finals.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Cameroon - arguably the poorest team of the tournament[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Chile - really impressive, especially in the final third with their high intensity and technical ability. The semi finals isn't beyond them.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Netherlands - better than I expected, fair play to them, but despite their qualities and the good organisation from the management, I don't think they are a great side. If they finish top then they could get to the semi finals.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Spain - incredibly disappointing. The inevitable end of an era, but a little premature given the quality of players. But despite all the factors that went against them, I think Spain's style has gradually waned since they won 2008 - far too much emphasis on possession and they need to play natural wingers. It would have been interesting to see them reach the last 16, but their elimination has made for a very open World Cup.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Australia - much better than I expected. There's the potential for a decent team in the future. They play with great determination and with some decent quality as well. [/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Colombia - I quite like then, especially a couple of players and their fans but I don't think they are as good as chile or Uruguay. Defensively they'll be punished at some stage but they can reach the quarter finals.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Ivory Coast - not my favourite team, they are fairly difficult to beat and have got quality in attacking areas. I wouldn't want to see them in the last 8 and their defence is weak.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Japan - poorer than 4 years ago, they've got some technically gifted players but lack creativity.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Greece - defensive and lacking upfront as expected. I admire some things about them, but they don't thrill me.[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Costa Rica - the story of the World Cup so far. They are ranked 28th, one place below us, and the team expected to be the whipping Boyd is the first to qualify, beating two teams in the top 10. They've knocked two more illustrious footballing nations from competing in the knock out rounds, which is a shame, but at the same time it's great to see a smaller team get their chance. They could surprise us even more and reach the last 8.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Uruguay - very poor in the opening game, but clever and acute in the second. They're a pretty difficult team for anyone to beat and I hope they and luis Suarez go through.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Italy - very good game plan for the England game which worked and outdone their opponents. But against supposedly lesser opposition, they lacked creativity and deserved to lose. Like England, it would be interesting to have a big team like them in the last 16, but it wouldn't be all that enthralling. They are a fairly decent team, but they are lacking in certain areas.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']England - there's some promise from a team who are similar to Portugal, a decent international outfit which has quality but lacks class and top quality to be in the same bracket as the top international teams. They did some things well, but fell short in other areas. As their group of players haven't been together for that long, it would be of benefit for the team and the competition for England to not be in the last 16, and to instead build a more cohesive, footballing identity and team. The premier league is a problem for the national team, and I think they could do with having more players playing abroad.[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']France - very, very impressive so far - the best team I've seen yet. They're solid in all departments, young, organised, great team ethic and they play good football in terms of how they press and defend, pass the ball and attack. They could go very far but perhaps they are performing too well too early.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Switzerland - not a world class team, but solid and pretty difficult to beat. A decent bunch of individuals, most have come through the youth system, but perhaps lack the cohesion in the team, and the goals to go far.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Ecuador - physical and quite decent in the wide areas. I admire some things about them, but they are my least favourite South American team and I hope they don't go through.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Honduras - very physical, they have some qualities, mostly in the wide areas. Not my favourite team.[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Argentina - disappointing. Lionel messi has come up with two pieces of brilliance but they will need a maradona like World Cup from him if they are to win it. I would quite like to see messi win it though. Argentina are poor defensively, they lack creativity in midfield and they just look like a bunch of individuals rather than a team. They can go all the way as the draw in the knock out stage is favourable.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Nigeria - very disappointing first game, but better in their second. They are fairly solid and are decent in the wide areas.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Iran - much better than I expected. They play well above the sum of their parts with great organisation, team and work ethic. Incredibly unlucky against Argentina.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Bosnia - very unlucky to already be out. The bette team against Argentina and poor officiating cost them against Nigeria. Clearly very skilful in midfield but lacking in defence and wings.[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Germany - not too spectacular. Very strong, solid performance in the first game. Ocerall, a decent shape against Ghana but they had some slackness in them in terms of mistakes at the back and they weren't creative as they could be. But it seemed they were playing patient football to conserve energy. They should go through and I hope they win it. Despite the injuries, which could cost them, they are the most complete international side. But as had been the case in international tournaments in the last 10 or so years, they always fall at the final hurdle.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']USA - I like quality and character if most or all of the teams in this group. I admire the USA and their coach. Organised, hard working and are a dangerous, difficult team to beat despite the players they have. If they go through, it might as well be in second place as that side of the draw is favourable. A quarter-final is not beyond them.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Ghana - my favourite African team in a group where I'd like to see all teams in the last 16. They are best African team with a decent amount of technical ability as well as physicality, organisation and determination. They do lack end product at times.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Portugal - not a top quality international team but a very decent one. I like them in terms if prestige but I prefer the other teams in the group in terms of character. Other than Ronaldo, and a couple of other players, they are a great side and probably don't deserve to go through because of that. [/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Belgium - I like Belgium and i hope they do well and I'd quite like to see them win it. However, their performances have been underwhelming. At times they do seem like a team of good individuals, developed by the emphasis on youth football in the last 8 years, but they have looked like a team that lacks collective quality and cohesion at times - and there's an element of individual and collective inexperience. Having said that, they have won two games despite not playing well. They are fairly solid when they don't play well and haven't used too much energy. As a result, they've played better towards the end of games and collectively and individually they suddenly clicked into gear during the last 10 minutes of the Russia game. They've haven't used a lot of energy, they are growing into the tournament, and they are lethal on the counter-attack and with one of the best defences the tournament, and given the side of draw for the knock-out rounds, they could go quite far.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Algeria - they impressed me interms of organisation against Belgium and they showed that they have enough about them going forward against South Korea. They aren't a great side but I quite like them and hope they go through[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Russia - they are generally solid and hard to beat, but overall they are rigid, boring and lack cutting edge.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']South Korea - poorer than of teams in the recent past. They have their qualities but they just don't have enough about them.[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']A really interesting final round of group games to come before the knock-out stage. The World Cup really is a great festival of football and this could go down as one of the greatest. The best since 2006 at the very least.[/font][/color]

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


FIFA World Cup 2014: Preview and Predictions - Group B

Group B is one of the standout groups in this year's World Cup. It has the reigning world and european champions - and the strongest side in international football - Spain who will be looking to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their title. They are against the Netherlands, Spain's opponents in the 2010 World Cup final, who have a poor team by their standards and could disappoint in the group stage. Then we have Chile, one of the dark horses, who are a talented team and could go far in competition. Australia are of the poorest teams in the competition - a weaker side than of previous years - could have a really heard time at the foot of group b.

The Spain team of the last 6 years will undoubtably go down as one of the greatest in the history of international football. Two european championships and a first World Cup triumph, plus being at the top of the world rankings for much of the last 6 years, has made Spain one of the most successful teams ever and their high technical, ball retaining skills will be a brand talked about for decades to come - although they have had their critics for over emphasis on passing and keeping the ball. Spain have the best squad in the competition and are still the team to beat, but the 2013 confederations cup final 3-0 defeat by Brazil would have inflicted on some doubts on Spain's chances on retaining their world title. Spain's place in football history is secure, but they need to win the World Cup to be considered on the same platform or even better than the golden era of Brazil football 1958-70. And if Spain want to remain being considered as a team challenging and capable of continuing to win tournaments, they need to reach at least the semi finals. The squad attempting to make history is comprised of: 14 from Spain (7 from Barcelona, 4 from Athletico Madrid, 3 from Real Madrid); 6 from England (2 from Manchester United and Chelsea, 1 from arsenal and manchester City); 2 from Italy (Napoli) and 1 from Germany (bayern Munich). Spain in the build up to euro 2012 in Poland/Ukraine were seen as a team slightly passed their best and they played the competition without an obvious striker (which could feature this year) but went on to beat Italy 4-0 in the final. Looking at the squad and the names left out of it there is a huge array of talent and bit of variety as well. They've got good goalkeepers, a decent defence, an abundance of top quality midfielders - giving Vincent del bosque a real head- ache - and they do have goal scorers. A midfield with players such as mata, silva, iniesta and co offers plenty of technical ability. But there is a feeling the Spanish philosophy is no longer as effective. This could be compounded by players who are past their best such as xavi and villa. Not selecting Jesus navas reduces pace and natural width and they could struggle to score a lot of goals. If Spain's flaws are exposed and taken advantage of then chile could win the group or if things go badly wrong then the netherlands.

My pick to finish 2nd from group B is Chile, the south American dark horses. In South Africa, didn't score many goals but this year Chile takes a stronger and more fancied team to Brazil and if they progress to the last 16 as I expect them too, then they could go very far indeed. The Chile squad is made up of players spread out all over the world: 5 from Chile (3 from Universidad de Chile, 2 from Colo-Colo) and Spain (Barcelona, Valencia, Sociedad, Osasuna, Celta Vigo); 4 from Italy (2 from Juventus, 1 from Atalanta, Calgiari); 3 from Brazil (Internacional, Palmeiras, Santos); 2 from England (Wigan, Nottingham Forest); 1 from Sweden (Malmo), Wales (Cardiff), Netherlands (Twente), Switzerland (Basel). Chile will be a team worth watching as they should play with pace and high-intensity and with real attacking intent. Alexis Sanchez of Barcelona will be the star man in a front three, aided by attacking wing backs. Defense however could be a real weak point for Chile, especially given their lack of height. Nevertheless I expect Chile to impress and reach the knock-out stages.

The next Manchester United boss, Louis van Gaal, will lead a weak dutch team by their standards. Th squad has a lot of young players with limit experience and the most experienced are their star men. This squad is made up of: 10 from the Netherlands (5 from Feyenoord, 3 from Ajax, 2 from PSV); 4 from England (Manchester United, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Norwich); 3 from Germany (Bayern Munich, Schalke, Augsburg); 2 from Wales (Swansea), 2 from Turkey (Fenerbanche, Galatasaray); 1 from Italy (Milan) and Ukraine (Dynamo Kiev). Following a shocking Euro 2012 in which the dutch lost every game, the Netherlands had an excellent qualifying campaign - scoring 34 goals. The 2010 finalists will go into the World Cup with a 5-3-2 formation. The star men of course are Van Persie and Robben whilst Wesley Sneijder who was a key man in South Africa, is now perhaps past his best. A squad lacking experience, quality and strength and depth, their problem area is defense where there is the least experience and quality and I expect this to be exposed, resulting in another disappointing campaign with failure to reach the last 16.

Australia are in a period of transition and go into the tournament as the lowest ranked side and with a poorer squad than of recent times. The star man is the 34 year old forward Tim Cahill in a squad full of young players: 7 from Australia (2 from Melbourne Victory, Brisbane Roars, 1 from Adelaide United, Western Sydney Wanderers, Newcastle Jets); 3 from England (Crystal Palace, Preston, Swindon Town), Germany (Borrussia Dortmund, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Frankfurt); 2 from Switzerland (Luzern, Sion); Netherlands (Utrecht, Herals Almelo); 1 from Belgium (Club Brugge), USA (New York Red Bull), Austria (Wien); China (Sandong Luneng Taishan), South Korea (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Qatar (Al-Gharata). Australia remain somewhat of an unknown quantity so they could be a surprise, but I suspect against the likes of Spain, Chile and the Netherlands, they will be the whipping boys.

Spain - Netherlands, 13th June - 8pm: Repeat of 2010 Final
Spain - Chile, 18th June - 8pm: Two quality sides go head to head to battle for a place in the last 16.
Netherlands - Chile, 23rd June - 5pm: Potential decided for who goes through to the last 16.


[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Spain[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-0 Netherlands, 13[sup]th[/sup] June @ 8pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Chile[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 3-0 Australia, 13[sup]th[/sup] June @ 11pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Australia[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0-2 Netherlands, 18[sup]th [/sup]June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Spain[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-0 Chile, 18[sup]th[/sup] June @ 8pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Australia[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0-3 Spain, 23[sup]rd[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Netherlands[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0-1 Chile, 23[sup]rd[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Spain[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 9pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Chile[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 6pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Netherlands[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 3pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Australia[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0pts [/size][/background][/font][/color]

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


FIFA World Cup 2014: Preview and Predictions - Group A

This evening, the 20[sup]th[/sup] FIFA World Cup will get underway in Sao Paulo with host nation and the tournament favourites Brazil taking on Croatia. Four years on from a well deserved victory for the great Spanish side who defeated the Netherlands 1-0 in a stop/start final at Soccer City in South Africa, hopefully Brazil – a nation who has embraced this sport like no other – during the next month will display and dazzling festival of football on the football field and hopefully off the field aswell despite the protests. The last world cup to have taken place in South America was back in 1978 in Argentina and on each of the five occasions the championships have been held in this part of the world the eventual champions have all been South American. And it is hard to look beyond Brazil winning it for a record sixth time, however, this current team is not on the scale as past Brazilian sides. Of course, since 1978 the game has developed and evolved a fair bit and perhaps one can assume that subsequently the preparations for a World Cup by current European sides is far more ideal and suitable to that of many decades ago. A European can’t be ruled out and Spain still remain as the best side in international football – and have been so for around the past 6 years. So now that it is here, the FIFA World Cup, we can all whet our appetite for lots of goals, classic games and stunning shocks, defining performances by the elite players and enthralling emergences of new starts, and, of course the making of football history.

Group A includes the much fancied hosts, Brazil, who will be against presumably unspectacular but decent international outfits in Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon.

Brazil squad is made up of players based in 9 countries: 6 from England (4 from Chelsea, 1 from Manchester City and Tottenham); 4 from Brazil (2 from Athletico Mineiro, 1 from Fluminense and Botafogo); 3 from Spain (2 from Barcelona and 1 from Real Madrid); 3 from Italy (1 from Napoli, Inter and Roma); 2 from Germany (1 from Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg); 2 from France (2 from PSG); and 1 from Russia (Zenit), Ukraine (Donetsk) and Canada (Toronto). This generally young squad is probably better than four years ago (with more attacking prowess behind the strikers) but like many of their teams of the past 20 years (since Brazil adapted to a more defence aware style) this team (even if they go on to win) won’t be regarded interms of personnel and style in the same regard as the sides of 1982 and the golden era of 1958-1970. Brazil haven’t reached a semi-final since 2002 (when they won their 5[sup]th[/sup] title under current manager Scolari). All that matters for people and media of Brazil is victory and anything other than that would be a disaster, losing it as host nation would make the agony even worse. And both Brazil and Scolari have had experiences of such pain with the infamous Brazil defeat inflicted by Uruguay in 1950 and Scolari’s Portugal beaten by Greece in 2004. Brazil should comfortably progress to the knock-out rounds with their opponents not being the toughest in the competition but certainly not the very weakest aswell. Given the way Brazil played in last summer’s confederations cup I would expect Brazil to take all 9 points. Brazil rely very heavily on the much hyped forward Neymar who has just finished his first season in Europe with FC Barcelona – overall, an underwhelming debut season away from South America. However, despite a poor season with his club, it has been clear in the past that Neymar tends to live up to his responsibilities when wearing his nation’s colours. Given the lack of potent, reliable forwards (the expected no.9, Fred, who played fairly well in last year's confederations cup has had misfortune with injuries ever since) it is vital that Neymar comes up with the goods he's expected to deliver. Brazil do have other players who conjure up chances and goals with attacking midfielders such as oscar - who will be a vital player for Brazils chances - and the hit or miss, specimen that is zenit's hulk. Away from the architects of Neymar and oscar, and Brazil have attacking full-backs - however, with dani alves in particular his end product is unreliable. In midfield, Paulinho - who could surprise at this World Cup - will also add to the attack whilst Wolfsburg and former Bayern player Luis Gustavo should sit back and act as a sweeper. In defence, the psg centre-half thiago silva is a world class player in his field whilst david luiz who despite his qualities, always has a mistake or two in him. When not in possession, as a team, Brazil will commit to smothering the opposition. A team that will play high intensity football with good technical ability should progress easily and in the process, I expect Brazil to score quite a few goals as well as conceding not many or any goals before proceeding into a trickier round of 16 tie.

It will be a scrap for 2nd place between the remaining teams in group a. Croatia on paper should do it but I have little faith in them and Cameroon are a team I'm not expecting too much from but they could be a surprise and perhaps book a place in the last 16 if they play to the best of their abilities. The team I'm expecting to grab second place is the less than inspiring Mexico. This Mexico team certainly isn't the greatest side in their history - more like a team in transition - following on from a disastrous qualifying campaign in central america in which Panama blew their opportunity to knock Mexico out - subsequently Mexico went on to defeat New Zealand in a play-off. In the space of 6 weeks Mexico had at least 4 different managers! However, despite how Mexico aren't a much fancied and nor are they expected to play entertaining football, they have reached the knock-out rounds for 5 world cups in a row - and I expect them to negotiate a way into the last 16 for a 6th time in a row. The squad is mainly comprised of Mexican based players, 15 out of the 23 man squad: (4 from America, 3 from Leon and Toulca, 2 from UANL and Cruz Azul and 1 from Santos Languna); 3 from Spain (2 from Sevilla and 1 from Espanyol); 2 from Portugal (Porto); 1 from England (Manchester United), 1 from Germany (Bayer Leverkusen) and 1 from France (Ajaccio). Mexico should play a 5-3-2 formation (defensive but the wing-backs would be extra attacking options). Rafael Marquez, at 35, the former Barcelona player will attending his 4th world cup finals but despite his experience, his inconsistency or unreliability could become a liability. Javier Herandez of Manchester United may not feature much as he has scored barely any goals for Mexico in the last 12 months. Nevertheless, in a South American world cup I expect Mexico to pragmatically find a way through.

If Croatia play to the levels they are capable of then they should progress ahead of Mexico. However, the last year hasn't been great for Croatia with a change in manager following poor performances and results. I watched Scotland to be only the second team ever to win home and away against Croatia in qualifying. The away game in Zagreb, Croatia had plenty of the ball but no pace, width or penetration and their strikers poorly finished the few chances they had. Igor Stimac's final game in charge saw a stronger Croatia team play in Glasgow but Scotland convincingly won 2-0 and could have scored a goal or two more. Stimac was sacked and was soon replaced by Niko Kovac. It seemed clear that Croatia had technically ability but there was a lack of pace, a lack of quality in the wide areas, their star strikers failing to convert chances and some defensive errors too. Croatia do have the quality to progress but I'm that the next 3 times I watch them play is better than the 2 previous. Their squad is made up of: 4 from Ukraine (2 from Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk, Germany (2 from Wolfsburg, 1 from Bayern Munich and Hamburg); 3 from Italy (Inter, Genoa, Florientina), Spain (Sevilla, Real Madrid, Getafe); 2 from Greece (Panathonikos), England (Southampton and Hull), Croatia (Dinamo Zagreb, Lokomotiva), Russia (Rostov, Lokomotiv Moscow) and 1 from France (Monaco). Under their coach, perhaps Croatia will be attack minded rather than basing their game on possession. Their star striker, Mario Mandzukic of Bayern Munich, will be suspended for the opening game. Without doubt the play makers Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will be their two main players at this summer's finals. Perhaps the 20 year old Mateo Kovacic from Inter could emerge as a star. With Croatia, it is unclear just what sort of performance we are going to see from them but if they plays as well as they can do then they should reach the last 16.

The team who on paper should finish bottom and are least likely to progress are Cameroon. Certainly with some or most of the African teams we are aware of their qualities and star players but it is easy to be skeptical of how cohesive and well-organised and coached their teams are and they would get on against teams from other parts of the world. For sure, over the past 25 years we've seen African nations deliver at World Cups and some have gone as far as the quarter-finals. But I don't think it will be Cameroon this year, but you never know, they are a somewhat unknown quantity after all. But it does seem that this Cameroon side is poorer than teams from years gone by. They've had a fairly lack-luster couple of years and some of their star players such as Sammuel Eto'o are past their best. But they are a highly motivated group with some talent at their disposal and if Croatia and Mexico fail to impress then the last 16 isn't beyond Cameroon. The Cameroon squad includes: 7 from France (1 from Marseille, Rennes, Lens, Bordeaux, Nancy, Lyon, Lorient); 6 from Turkey (1 from Besiktas, Galatasaray, Fenerbanche, Konyaspor, Antaylaspor, Fethieyespor); 3 from Spain (1 from Barcelona, Granada, Sevilla); 2 from Cameroon (Cotton Sport), England (Chelsea, QPR), Germany (Mainz, Schalke) and 1 from Belgium (Zulte Waregem). Sevilla and on-loan midfielder Stephane Mbia could be a key man with his athletic prowess and ability to win balls. If their attacking assets perform well at this World Cup then Cameroon could sneak a route into the last 16 but I expect a similar and disappointing campaign like 2010.

Key and standout games:

Brazil v Croatia, 12th June - 9pm: The opening game which will hopefully deliver an exciting start to the World Cup or plenty of goals (and great ones) as we saw back in 2006 with Germany v Costa Rica.

Croatia v Mexico, 23rd June - 9pm: Potential decided for 2nd place.


[font=calibri][size=2]Brazil[/size][/font][font=calibri][size=2] 2-0 Croatia, 12[sup]th[/sup] June @ 9pm[/size][/font]
[font=calibri][size=2]Mexico[/size][/font][font=calibri][size=2] 1-0 Cameroon, 13[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/font]
[font=calibri][size=2]Brazil[/size][/font][font=calibri][size=2] 3-1 Mexico, 17[sup]th[/sup] June @ 8pm[/size][/font]
[font=calibri][size=2]Cameroon[/size][/font][font=calibri][size=2] 1-2 Croatia, 18[sup]th[/sup] June @ 11pm[/size][/font]
[font=calibri][size=2]Cameroon[/size][/font][font=calibri][size=2] 0-3 Brazil, 23[sup]rd[/sup] June @ 9pm[/size][/font]
[font=calibri][size=2]Croatia[/size][/font][font=calibri][size=2] 0-1 Mexico, 23[sup]rd[/sup] June @ 9pm[/size][/font]

[font=calibri][size=2]Brazil[/size][/font][font=calibri][size=2] 9pts[/size][/font]
[font=calibri][size=2]Mexico[/size][/font][font=calibri][size=2] 6pts[/size][/font]
[font=calibri][size=2]Croatia[/size][/font][font=calibri][size=2] 3pts[/size][/font]
[font=calibri][size=2]Cameroon[/size][/font][font=calibri][size=2] 0pts[/size][/font]

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale



Steven Naismith: (8) [vs Denmark 11, vs Czech Republic 11, vs Lithuania 11, vs Serbia 12, Macedonia 12, vs Northern Ireland 15, Gibraltar 15*, vs Poland 15]
James Morrison: (8) [vs NI 08, vs Denmark 11, vs Czech Republic 11, vs Lithuania 11, vs Serbia 12, vs Macedonia 12, vs Northern Ireland 15, vs Gibraltar 15] Scott Brown: (8) [vs Croatia 08, vs NI 08, vs Denmark 11, vs Czech Republic 11, vs Belgium 13, Gibraltar 15, Poland 15, Denmark 16]

Alan Hutton (7): [vs Croatia 08, vs Czech Republic 11, vs Servia 12, vs Macedonia 12, Belgium 13, vs Gibraltar 15, Poland 15]
Alan McGregor: (7) [vs NI 11, vs Denmark 11, vs Czech Republic 11, vs Lithuania 11, vs Serbia 12, vs Macedonia 12, vs NI 15] Shaun Maloney: (7) [vs Croatia 08, vs Macedonia 12, vs Belgium 13, vs NI 15, Gibraltar 15*, Poland 15, Denmark 16]

Darren Fletcher: (6) [vs Croatia 08, vs NI 08, vs Czech Republic 11*, vs Lithuania 11, vs NI 15, Poland 15]
Gary Caldwell: (6) [vs Croatia 08, vs Denmark 11, Czech Republic 11, vs Lithuania 11, vs Serbia 12, vs Macedonia 12]
Kenny Miller: (6) [vs Croatia 08*, vs NI 08, vs Denmark 11, vs Czech Republic 11*, vs Serbia 12, vs Macedonia 12*]

Jordan Rhodes: (6) [vs Serbia 12, vs Macedonia 12, vs Belgium 13, vs NI 15, vs Gibraltar 15
Christophe Berra: (6) [vs NI 08, vs Czech Republic 11, vs Lithuania 11, vs Servia 12, vs Macedonia 12, vs NI 15*]

James Forrest: (5) [vs Denmark 11, vs Serbia 12, vs Macedonia 12, vs Belgium 13, vs Poland 15]
Steven Fletcher: (5) [vs Croatia 08, vs NI 15, vs Gibraltar 15 ***, vs Poland 15*, Denmark 16] Steven Whittaker: (5) [vs Lithuania 11, vs Belgium 13, vs NI 15, vs Poland 15, Denmark 16]
Robert Snodgrass: (4) [vs Denmark 11*, vs Lithuania 11, vs Serbia 12, vs Belgium 13]
Charley Adam: (4) [vs Denmark 11, vs Czech Republic 11, vs Serbia 12, vs Macedonia 12]
Russell Martin: (4) [vs Belgium 13, vs NI 15, vs Gibraltar 15, vs Poland 15]

Matt Ritchie: (4) [vs NI 15, vs Gibraltar 15, vs Poland 15 *, Denmark 16]
Ikechi Anya: (4) [vs Belgium 13, vs NI 15, Gibraltar 15, Denmark 16]
Craig Gordon: (4) [vs Croatia 08, vs NI 08, vs NI 15, Denmark 16]
Grant Hanley: (4) [vs Denmark 11, vs Belgium 13, vs Poland 15, Denmark 16]
Barry Bannan: (3) [vs Denmark 11, vs Lithuania 11, vs Gibraltar 15]
David Marshall: (3) [vs Begium 13, vs Gibraltar 15, vs Poland 15] Don Cowie: (3) [vs Denmark 11, vs Czech Republic 11, vs Lithuania 11]
Phil Bardsley (3): [vs Denmark 11, Czech Republic 11, vs Lithuania 11] Gordon Greer: (3) [vs NI 15, vs Gibraltar 15, Denmark 16]
James McArthur: (2) [ vs NI 15, Poland 15]
Jamie Mackie: (2) [vs Servia 12, vs Macedonia 12]
Paul Dixon: (2) [vs Servia 12, vs Macedonia 12]
Graham Dorrans: (2) [vs Denmark 11, vs Lithuania 11]
Stephen Crainey: (2) [vs Denmark 11, vs Lithuania 11]
Danny Wilson: (2) [vs Denmark 11, vs Czech Republic 11]
Barry Robson: (2) [vs NI 08, vs Czech Republic 11]
Graham Alexander: (2) [vs Croatia 08, vs NI 08]
Stephen McManus: (2) [vs Croatia 08, vs NI 08]
Gary Naysmith: (2) [vs Croatia 08, vs NI 08]
Andy Webster: (2) [vs Servia 12, vs Macedonia 12] Charlie Mulgrew: (2) [Belgium 13, Denmark 16] Leigh Griffiths: (2) [Belgium 13, Denmark 16]   Liam Bridcutt: [vs Denmark 16]
Chris Martin: [vs Denmark 16] Oliver Burke: [vs Denmark 16] John McGinn: [vs Denmark 16] Kieran Tierney: [vs Denmark 16]
Craig Forsyth: [vs NI 15]
Johnny Russell: [vs NI 15]
Ross McCormack: [vs Belgium 13]
David Goodwille: [vs Lithuania 11]
Craig Mackail-Smith: [vs Denmark 11]
Kris Commons: [vs NI 08]
Michael Stewart: [vs NI 08]
Darren Barr: [vs NI 08]
David Weir; [vs NI 08]
Kevin Thompson: [vs NI 08]
James McFadden: [vs NI 08]
Gavin Rae: [vs Croatia 08]
James McEveley: [vs Croatia 08]
Gary Teale: [vs Croatia 08]
Russell Anderson: [vs Croatia
Paul Hartley: [vs Croatia 08]
Kris Boyd: [vs Croatia 08]

Allan McGregor (6)
Alan Hutton (5)
Gary Caldwell (5)
Cristophe Berra (5)
Phil Bardsley 93)
Scott Brown (5)
James Morrison (5)
James Forrest (4)
Steven Naismith (5)
Robert Snodgrass (4)
Kenny Miller (6)

Croatia 2007
Stipe pletikosa:
Hajduk split 1996-2003
Shakhtar Donetsk 2003-2007
Hajduk split (loan) 2005-2006
Spartak Moscow 2007-2011
Tottenham Hotspur (loan) 2010-2011
Fc Rostov 2011-

Hajduk split - Croatian premier league (1): 2000-2001; Croatian cup (2): 1999-2000, 2002-2003
Shakhtar Donetsk - Ukrainian premier league (1): 2004-2005; Ukrainian cup (1): 2003-2004; Ukrainian super cup (1): 2005
Fc Rostov - Russian cup (1): 2013-2014

Croatia 1999-
109 apps

Robert kovac:
Hertha zehlendorf 1991-1995
Fc nurnberg 1995-1996
Bayer Leverkusen 1996-2001
Bayern Munich 2001-2005
Juventus 2005-2007
Borussia Dortmund 2007-2008
Dinamo Zagreb 2009-2010

Bayern Munich - bundesliga (2): 2002-2003, 2004-2005; German cup (2): 2002-2003, 2004-2005; German league cup (1): 2004; intercontinental cup (1): 2001
Juventus - serie b (1): 2006-2007
Dinamo Zagreb - Croatian league (1): 2008-2009; Croatian cup (1): 2008-2009

Croatia 1999-2009
84 apps

Vedran corluka:
Dinamo zagreb 2003-2007
Inter zapresic (loan) 2004-2005
Manchester City 2007-2008
Tottenham Hotspur 2008-2012
Bayer Leverkusen (loan) 2012
Lokomotiv Moscow 2012-

Dinamo Zagreb - Croatian league (2): 2005-2006, 2006-2007; Croatian cup (1): 2006-2007; Croatian super cup (1): 2006

Croatia 2006-
70 apps, 4 goals

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


Scottish Independence

In the closing year of the 20th Century, finally, Scotland had its own devolved parliament in the wake of a referendum in 1997. In just thirteen years, Holyrood had performed tremendously to boost life for Scottish citizens including: the introduction of the smoking ban, abolition of tuition fees and the provision for free prescriptions. These stupendous decisions made by MSP’s have exhibited how taking responsibility for the decisions of your own land, economy and people is essential in enabling a country to prosper. Now, we have been blessed with a once in a lifetime opportunity - to build on the benefits that devolution has brought to Scotland with an independence referendum due in 2014.

Scotland has a unique and diverse culture famed for innovation, creativity and artistry, inspired from a dynamic and awe-inspiring landscape which is rich in beauty and potential: renewable energy; oil and gas resources; thriving cities; landscapes that boasts renowned habitats, scenery and industry; its intelligent and famous people from Burns to Bell to Fleming and Ferguson. Scotland has the fertile soil to sow the seeds for a healthy economy with unparalleled industry that could deliver an egalitarian society and present our own innovations to the world. It is outrageous that this dynamic country is ultimately restrained by a UK government that imposes bedroom tax, austerity cuts but backs bonuses for the rich. In the 2010 UK general election, the Conservatives won one seat in Scotland, yet we end up with a Tory Prime minister because of the right-wing consensus south of the border. With 83.9% of the UK population living in England, Westminster politicians are elected from an English consensus and focus primarily on English matters. Scottish consensus (staying in the EU and opposition to trident) are not well represented in the UK. The Westminster system only benefits London (ONS revealed that Scotland had 6% growth in output between 2007-2011 but London had 12.4%). It is time to accept that Westminster is not serving Scotland. An independent Scotland would make decisions for Scotland by introducing policies and make good use of our assets and revenues to enhance Scotland. It is time to say yes.

However, saying yes to independence is not based on our wish to present romantic stereotypes but to recognise that we are a vibrant and modern nation that no longer needs to rely on the union to survive. Scottish independence is about the centralisation of our resources, power and decisions to take responsibility for ourselves. By saying yes, we would break free from the external factors, ideologies and circumstances influencing government decisions. Scotland would no longer fight wars that we disagree with, obey politicians we did not vote for and tolerate tough decisions from Westminster. By voting yes, we can cultivate our aspirations, set our own targets and make policies that are in the best interests of the people of Scotland.

In Europe, there are examples of the benefits of independence. [color=#000000]The population of the Baltic Nations in total is 6 million people and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are not well-known nations. However, independent, the Baltic nations had the highest growth rates in Europe between 2000 and 2006 as unemployment fell below the EU average. Furthermore, Estonia was among the top ten most liberal economies in the world. The success in the Baltic States derives from taking responsibility for the unique set of demographic, economic and geographic circumstances of a country which results in the right decisions being made. The concept of responsibility, in essence, is paramount to how self-sufficient a country is. The resources behind the decisions are important in mapping out the potential an independent country has. Scotland is bursting with a rich and wide-array of primary resources that would make Scotland a very self-sufficient country. [/color]
[color=#000000] [/color]

[color=#000000]Scotland[/color][color=#000000] is also the oil capital of Europe. Since the discovery of North Sea oil, Aberdeen became the centre of Europe’s petroleum industry which created half a million jobs in the Aberdeen energy industry. Scotland produces more oil than Kuwait according to the BBC and the Scottish government says that North Sea oil and gas is an asset worth £1 trillion and North Sea oil revenues of £54 billion are due in the next 5 years. The Scottish government is confident that North Sea oil should provide a safety net for at least another 40 years. The OECD suggested that oil prices could be $150-a-barrel by 2020. This suggests a bright future for the oil and gas industry in Scotland. However, the Scottish parliament obtains no revenue from oil and gas; an independent Scotland would receive all the revenue from oil and gas within Scottish waters. In 36 years the UK government has raised around £180 billion from oil and gas production. The Norwegian government revealed that in just under twenty years, it had used its oil revenue to build a pension fund of £450 billion: this shows how a relatively small nation had used its own oil wealth very wisely. It has been suggested that Scottish oil and gas could produce more revenues, and it is imperative to have an independent parliament receiving all the revenue. In an independent Scotland, we would be able use our oil wealth to improve life across the nation and to ensure that oil wealth will be passed onto future generations. As much as Scotland’s oil supply is a massive factor for our industry and economy, an independent Scotland would also need to invest in other industrial sectors as our oil supply cannot last forever. [/color]
[color=#000000] [/color]

[color=#000000]Oil is not the only substantial asset Scotland has. We have unsurpassed offshore wind and tidal energy potential. According to the Met Office, Scotland is the windiest place in Europe. The combination of strong winds and the exposure to the elements makes for an ideal place for offshore wind and tidal energy. As Scotland has over 790 islands, most of which uninhabited, it is vital we locate wind turbines in the most exposed and inhospitable of locations without spoiling natural beauty. Scotland’s offshore wind and tidal energy combined would produce 25% of the EU’s potential – an asset worth billions each year. The renewable industries would generate further jobs and supply Scotland with more capital for the economy. An economically and industrially stronger Scotland would be able to build stronger trading links with the rest of the British Isles and other nations. A wealthier Scotland should make it a better place to work and live in, but an independent Scotland would also take responsibility for its own landscapes and environments which have made our nation a very special place for Scots and people from all around to globe to live in and visit. [/color]

[color=#000000]Scotland[/color][color=#000000] has earned its right to control its own destiny, to break free from the inequality of the Union and to develop qualities to enhance our communities and our environment. We have got the character, the inspiration and the industry to be a country with a strong and stable economy. By having our own parliament for thirteen years, we have gone a long way from the days of Margaret Thatcher, but to progress even further, Scotland needs to be independent from a government that has made the wrong decisions for our country. Cabinet after cabinet, budget after budget, Westminster continues to serve London above the rest of the UK. [/color]Do we need a family in another household to determine how we run our own house? I think not. [color=#000000]It is time to look at the reality that Scotland is self-sufficient with oil and renewable energies and by going it alone, we can cultivate our supplies sensibly and take responsibility for ourselves to be in control of our own destiny. Let’s say yes to a brighter future. Let’s say yes to independence. [/color]

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


The Return of International Football's Original Rivalry

This Wednesday the mome of football, Wembley Stadium, will host the first meeting between the English and Scottish national football teams since a Euro 2000 paly-off between the two countries at the Old Wembley on the 17th November 1999 when Scotland won 1-0 but went out 2-1 in the tie thanks to two Paul Scholes goals in Glasgow. England and Scotland represent the two oldest national sides in World football with Hamilton Crescent in Glasgow being the home of the first international football match on the 30th November 1872. The game finished 0-0, the next game in March 1873 saw England win on home soil at the Oval but the Scots would dominate the next 11 fixtures with 9 victories including a 7-2 win at Hampdem Park in 1878.

Despite considerable differences in size and population between the two countries, both Scotland and England have contributed to World football. With England inventing the rules of the game, Scotland invented the passing game, free-kicks and set up the English league aswell as bringing football to South America. At club level, England have 5 clubs who have won the European Cup, whilst Scotland had the first club in Britain to win the European Cup and the first club in Europe to win the treble. There is a very big difference between the two leagues with England's Premier League claiming to be the best in the world, whilst Scotland's top flight has been dominated by the Old Firm but uniquely Dundee joins Glasgow for being one of three British cities to have produced two European Cup semi-finalists. The Celtic side of 1967, Manchester United in 1968, 1999 and Liverpool in the late 70s and 80s are considered to be some of the best club sides the game has seen whilst Scotland has produced some of the top managers including Sir Alex Ferguson. England have always had top players and Charlton and Bobby Moore are just two of many English players who are considered greats in the game. During Scotland's heyday in the 1960s-1980s Dennis Law, Jim Baxter, Kenny Dalglish and Jimmy Johnstone also make up some of the finest players to have graced the sport. Hampden Park and Wembley Stadium made for great sporting arenas, the former holds the record for the highest international, club and European attendances. England also have a FIFA World Cup victory their name with a 4-2 victory against West Germany in 1966. Scotland have qualified for 8 World Cups but the side in 1974 and 1978 was the only British representative and we were 8/1 to win it.

Since the 1870s, the two nations have meet 110 times. England have been victorious 45 times, Scotland 41 times and there have been 24 draws. During the long history of this great footballing rivalry, there have been some iconic matches and moments. For England, Paul Gascoigne's goal at the 1996 European Championships in a 2-0 victory was fine moment as he flicked the ball over the head of Colin Hendry. [url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8OlfG1dF3w"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8OlfG1dF3w[/url]

A great day for England was the 15th April 1961 with a 9-3 victory. Jimmy Greaves scoring a hat-trick. [url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFqrBatm8No"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFqrBatm8No[/url]

Scotland have also had their moments with the 'Wembley Wizards' of 1928 in a 5-1 away victory. But one of Scotland's greatest footballing moments came in 1967. Despite Scotland having a team made up of 4 of the Lisbon Lions and the likes of Jim Baxter and Dennis Law (who was the first British player to win the Ballon d'or) they were underdogs against the World Champions who were undefeated in 19 games. Scotland won in spectacular fashion in a 3-2 victory, but most memorably was how Scotland toyed with the World Champions including keepie-uppy. [url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqhNqNtCinM"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqhNqNtCinM[/url]

Another memorable moment was the Tartan Army pitch invasion at Wembley after a 2-1 win for the Scots. [url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGLrfSn4dvc"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGLrfSn4dvc[/url]

The heyday for this great rivalry was during the annual British home championships and it was undoubtably one of the great fixtures in world football. Nowadays, one would imagine that the rivalry may not stand out as well as it used to but there is still an element of footballing history and tradition to this fixture.

The last time the two sides met England had the likes of Alan Shearer, Paul Scholes, Michael Owen, David Beckham and David Seamen. Scotland had been at the World Cup in France the previous year and had only missed one World Cup since the 1970s. So how have things changed since then? During the 2000s, England have progressed no further than the last 16 in major international tournament. England achieved the highest ranking last year at #3 in the World. Some great players such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have played for the country but have failed to go far in a major Championship. The English Premier League has grown with more foreign players and fewer British players in the top teams. In the latter half of the 2000s, the English sides dominated the UEFA Champions League. There have been some negatives, last season Arsenal and Manchester United performed the best out of the English teams in the Champions League, finishing in the Last 16 along with Celtic. The national team have had some low points most notably failing to qualify for Euro 2008. It's been up and down for Scottish football but generally a downward trend. Scotland has failed to qualify for any tournament despite coming so close in a group wit the two 2006 World Cup Finalists aswell as quarter-finalists Ukraine. The best moment was reching #13 in the World rankings in 2007 and there have been some great results againt the Netherlands, France, Italy and Croatia. Some of the worst moments have been fall-outs in the squad during the 2010 World Cup qualification, a low ranking at #88 in 2005. The quality of team and players has degraded in comparison to the past and the league has also gone downwards in quality. Some of the club highlights have been Rangers and Celtic reaching the UEFA Cup Final and last 16 of Champions League.

Uniquely, none of the players in the England and Scotland squad have played in an England-Scotland match and that includes the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Miller. It will also be the first time this fixture has been played at the New Wembley. The differences in quality has increased between the two sides and this match will be played almost exactly a year ahead of the Scottish referendum on independence. So this will certainly be an England v Scotland game of a different kind. The youngest player in the England squad is Manchester United's Wilfired Zaha who would have been 7 years old and Scotland's James Forrest would have been 8 years old during the last encounter in 1999.

Both squads are not full strength with Scotland missing captain and Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher. Under Roy Hodgson, England have drawn their last three matches against Brazil, Ireland and Montenegro. Gordon Strachan was appointed after the sacking of Craig Levein in November. He won his first game 1-0 against Estonia, lost back to back qualifiers against Wales and Serbia. But perhaps the turning point came in June when Scotland was without their first, second, third and fourth captain and travelled to face the 4th best team inthe World Croatia in a World Cup qualifier in Zagreb. Scotland played well, and won 1-0 to join England and become only the second team ever to beat Croatia on their own turf. A victory against England would be the perfect way to buld on the confidence, but a heavy defeat would be very damaging.

It's unclear how England will approch the game. Roy Hodgson will take this very seriously ahead of very important WC qualifiers. There is a mixture of experience (Lampard), top class talent (Rooney), bright young talent aswell as the inclusion of Lambert. With the Premier League season starting later this month, some of the top players may not take part for the full 90 minutes.

Gordon Strachan has insisted that Scotland will attack. We have a decent goalkeeper in Alan McGregor but our defence is our weakest area and the players are probably not good enough for International football despite experience in the Premier League, Championship, La Liga and Champions League. Our strongest area is midfield - particulary in the attacking areas - and this is the biggest selection dilema for Strachan. Celtic's Scott Brown will probably sit in midfield. He is a tough character and has experience in Champions League and has had some first team action already this season. I think we'll have 5 players in midfield with two holding midfielders - WBA's James Morrison and Graham Dorrans, AV's Bannan, Wigan's McArthur and Stoke's Adam could join Brown in the centre. James Morrison probably should play in the centre but Strachan will have McArthur in mind as he played very well in Zagreb and won the FA Cup with Wigan on that pitch. There are options for the attacking midfielders: Shaun Maloney (Wigan) and Robert Snodgrass (Norwich) were the best players for their clubs in the Premier League last season. Steven Naismith was a striker when he was at Rangers, but now plays behind the main striker for Scotland. But I wouldn't play him because of a lack of first team action - despite his experience in the CL and PL. The other two main options are Scottish Premiership wingers Gary Mackay-Steven (Dundee United) and James Forrest (Celtic). Both are exciting, talented young prospects. Mackay-Steven has very tidy footwork but has never played for Scotland or in Europe so I wouldn't start him. I would certainly start James Forrest who is a very fast winger. He has started all of Celtic's league and European games this season and he could give Ashley Cole a problem with his pace. He's also has experience in the Champions League and in 2012 was listed by FIFA as one of the 12 up and coming footballers.

A victory for Scotland would be unexpected and it would really build on the confidence from beating Croatia. I suspect that it'll be a game that could go either way but if England really turn it on then it could be a comfortable victory for the home-side. The Tartan Army should be down south in their numbers and that could make a difference, although I'd be very surprised if we see another pitch-invasion this time. It'll be interesting to see how the day turns out. Should there be a return to more regular fixtures between the two-sides or does England have more important fixtures to play? Have the two nation's missed out on the rivalry in the past 14 years? Does the rivalry still have the same meaning for the fans?

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale


Classic Albums: Love Over Gold - Dire Straits - 1982

Prior to the release of 'Love Over Gold', the British rock band Dire Straits had acclaimed recognition and mainstream success with their self-titled debut in 1978 (an album which included the classic Sultans of Swing) followed by Communique in 1979. Their first two albums had unqiue country/jazz/pub-rock/folk/rock and roll sound with Mark Knopfler delivering excellent melodic lead guitaring aswell as his unmistakable husky voice and his poetic, story-telling lyrics. The rest of the band included Pick Withers as drummer, David Knopfler on rhythm guitar and John Illsley on bass. Their third release 'Making Movies', released in 1980, was a turning point. As ever, Mark Knopfler was the dominant member (his brother David left the group during the recording of the album) but the inclusion of some keyboards/piano (notably on the classic track 'Tunnel of Love') saw the group expand on their style/sound from their first two releases to their later work - in my opinion, Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler and his songwriting had achieved a greater range.

'Love Over Gold' was recorded between March and June in 1982. Hal Lindes (guitar) and Alan Clak (keyboards) joined the group. The album was a success, reaching no.1 in UK and the single 'Private Investigations' reached no.2 aswell.

The album begins with the amazing 14: 18 long 'Telegraph Road'. This track is possibly Dire Straits' greatest recording and I'd say this is one of the greatest pieces of music of the 20th Century. The song tells a story one person's struggle with unemployment in a city. It starts with a faint note on the keyboard which gradually builds for around 55 seconds - a very atmospheric start which sets the scene for the start of a long, emotional story about a man who is lost in the struggles of his life. 55 seconds in and the texture of the atmosphere and story builds further with the introduction of acoustic guitar and piano which leads to the introduction of the drums and the musical tension around 1:30. Knopfler's trademark electric guitar enters at 1:50. The tension halts between 2;10 and 2:15 with nice piano work being the precursor to Mark Knopfler's wounderful story-telling lyrics and singing - "A long time ago came a man on a track, walking thirty miles with a sack on his back - And he put down his load where he thought it was the best...made a home in the wilderness" - this is accompanied with gentle piano work.

At 2:35, his story continues further with the addition with an upbeat tempo - including drums, bass, acoustic and melodic electric guitar - "built a cabin in a winter storm...". Following this at 2:55 is the chorus "then came the churches, the came the school, then came the lawyers..." with an upbeat tempo aswell as piano and organ. The beat stops for Knopfler to say "the dirty old track...was the Telegraph road" and the tense music returns. 3:35, Knopfler returns to telling the story of the town/city ("then there was a hard times, then there was a war/Telegraph road sang a song about the world outside, telegraph road got so deep...and so wide"). This is followed by a sublime and emotional musical passage with Alan Clark on piano from 3.35 and a fantastic guitar solo from 4:10-4.45 - his solo escalates the emotion of the song. The music starts to slow down as Knopfler sings "my radio says tonight it's going to freeze - people coming home from the factories". At 5.15 the music dies down to organ followed by slow and sad piano at 5.25. The drums and guitar return at 5.50 to accompany the mood of the piano and the music continues to build up to 6.40. There is some fine atmospheric music from 6.40 to 7.15 with keyboards, light piano and guitar work punctuated by a bell or some similar percussive instrument. At 7.00, the guitar sounds very similar to the slide guitar at the end of the Queen song Radio Ga Ga. "I used to like to go to work but they shut it down" - the struggle becomes more apparent and dramatic. The music, lyrics and singing becomes even more emotive from 8.20 with some fantastic lines such as "You know I'd sooner forget but I remember those nights when life was just a bet on a race between the lights". The drama of the music escalates up to 9.05 with the line "and I don't want to see it again. . ." The sorrow of the tale is just about complete with line "from all of these signs saying sorry but we're closed/all the way down the telegraph road". 9.36 is the beginning of one of the greatest guitar solos and 5 minutes in the history of rock music. The tempo and the intensity of music builds into the most stunning ending to the track as the song fades into 'Private Investigations'.

Like the opening track, 'Private Investigations' builds the atmosphere and in doing so includes different passages of music. The track begins with a sinister mood from the synthesizer. This is a slow track and is driven accompanied Spannish-style classical guitar and piano. Knopfler's lyrics describes the emotions akin to a Private Investigater, but in this case it is the bitter feeling resulting from being betrayed by a lover. The song around 3.55 moves into a slow, bass driven sequence - accompanied by acoustic guitar and marimba. The tension builds, there is some fantastic electric guitar chords around 4.50. The musical drama continues with effective piano playing around 5.10. This returns at 5.45 after a sinister passage. The music slowly fades with deep notes from the synthesizer.

Industrial Disease is an up-beat rock and roll trick driven by drums, guitar and keyboards. The song focuses on the decline the manufacturing industry in Britain during the early 1980s but Knopfler does seem to approach the song with a tounge-in-cheek attitude in some ways.

Love over Gold is a fine, romantic Dire Straits song. The song is driven by gentle piano and acoustic guitar. Quite slow in tempo and quiet in nature but the music builds from 1.20 with the inclusion of the drums and the music finds a beat. From 4.00 the song enters a nice instrumental passage - with nice flourishes on the piano, acoustic guitar and marimba driven by the drum beat. The beat ends at 5.20 and the song fades with gentle touches on the marimba.

It Never Rains is a fantastic track to end the album. The song starts with soft, friendly keyboards followed by a steady rhythm, gentle use of the piano and guitar. The song builds and gets heavier. There is some excellent music from 4.45 with a solo from Knopfler, on top of the heavy rythm and keyboards. This intsrumental passage continues to build and twist before fading into its ending.

I would assume that a lot of people would say that the 1985 release Brothers in Arms is Dire Straits 'definitive' record but I personally think that Love Over Gold is Dire Straits finest in terms of musical structure, texture, sequences and atmosphere. The opening track is a stunning musical/dramatic/emotional epic and the ending is one of the finest in music. All of the other tracks are solid, well-crafted and consistent. Certainly, Dire Straits as a band, and Knopfler as individual song-writer, singer and guitarist made for a high standard of music but no album in Dire Straits' or Knopfler's catalouge displays music any better than their 1982 release 'Love Over Gold'.

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale

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