Archive for the ‘FIFA World Cup’ Category

Menage a Trois

Friday, December 28th, 2018

Thanks to the overwhelming response to my previous post “Partnerships,” (I received one comment which was from my son) I am continuing a similar theme. Only this time I’m concentrating on trios that were linked in some macabre way. Let’s begin with a comedy act from America, “The Three Stooges,” Moe, Curly and Larry. They didn’t appeal to British audiences, but were very successful in America.

Shell Petrol sponsored “World of Golf” featuring Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and they became to be known as “The Big Three.” I mentioned in my previous post that Best, Law and Charlton dominated the stage at Manchester United in the 1960s. There’s a  statue of the three of them forever linked in bronze to commemorate their achievements. I also can’t leave out the midfield trio from Tottenham Hotspur: Blanchflower, Mackay and White, who were instrumental in Spurs being the first club to achieve the Double (Championship and FA Cup) in the 20th Century. John White was tragically killed by lightning sheltering under a tree on a golf course in 1965, and was never really replaced.

Turning to politics, Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party died suddenly in 1963, and there were three contenders to replace him: Harold Wilson, George Brown, and James Callaghan. Wilson eventually won the leadership contest and became Prime Minister in 1964. Brown served as Foreign Secretary while Callaghan lived next door to 10 Downing Street as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Brown gained notoriety by appearing on television several times in an intoxicated state, and arguably made more sense when he was drunk.

Show business inevitably is littered with trios: The Bachelors, The Beverly Sisters, The Andrew Sisters, The Supremes, The Crystals, The Springfields. Dusty Springfield achieved  greater fame as a solo artist. Eric Clapton comprised for a short time one third of the rock band Cream, but he too achieved greater success as a solo artist. Emerson, Lake and Palmer deserve a mention as one of the first super groups. I could have included Crosby, Stills and Nash but Neil Young made them into a quartet.

Rugby has natural trios in the form of front rows, none more famous than Faulkner, Windsor and Price, They were Wales’s first ever one-club front row, and immortalized in a song by Max Boyce as the Viet Gwent. Comments on a postcard please if you believe I have misconstrued that phrase. Wales had a tremendous back row in the seventies in the shape of Merv the Swerve, Basil Brush Taylor, and Dai Morris, The Shadow.

Finally it would be remiss of me not to mention the “Three Tenors,” Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carreras. The 1990 World Cup brought them into prominence with the general public when the BBC used “Nessa Dorme,” beautifully sung by Pavarotti, as their theme song for televising the month long tournament. The Three Tenors gave a memorable concert towards the end of the tournament which propelled their careers to greater heights.

I could write a sequel on quartets where rock bands like the Beatles, Stones and The Who would be rich pickings. But I’m becoming rather bored with this theme, so goodness knows what it’s doing to my reader. So there you are. It only remains for me to wish y’all a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Heroes or Legends?

Monday, July 9th, 2018

The 2018 FIFA World Cup was made memorable partly due to some of the giants of the game exiting the tournament so early. The holders, Germany didn’t make it out of the group stage while former winners Spain and Argentina lost in the round of 16. Spain vs Portugal set the tempo  on the second day of the tournament with a thrilling 3-3 draw. That was swiftly followed by Mexico beating defending champions Germany and Argentina crashing to a heavy defeat against Croatia. All this excitement and drama occurred in the group stage!!!

England did not arrive in Russia with high expectations, and they confirmed that assessment by struggling to dispatch Tunisia in their opening match. Harry Kane scored the match winner in injury time. This was followed by an emphatic 6-1 over a dirty, cynical Panama who wasted so much energy

continually berating the referee. England qualified with those two victories, and played to lose against Belgium to avoid the stronger left side of the draw which they duly accomplished. One couldn’t help wondering though if they had sacrificed some momentum entering the knockout stage of the competition.

Germany were given a lifeline when Tony Kirus scored a late winner against Sweden only to surprisingly lose 0-2 to South Korea, and were duly eliminated. After the dust had settled, the line up for the last sixteen had taken shape:

Uruguay 2 vs Portugal 1                        Spain 1 vs Russia 1

(Russia won on penalties.)

France 4 vs Argentina 3                        Croatia 1 vs Denmark 1

(Croatia won on penalties.)

Brazil 2 vs Mexico 0                               Sweden 1 vs Switzerland 0

Belgium 3 vs Japan 2                            Colombia 1 vs England 1

(England won on penalties.)

The shocks, drama and excitement continued during the round of 16. Uruguay knocked out European Champions Portugal, but unfortunately lost their star striker, Cavanni, to injury. France’s 4-3 win over Argentina was the match of the tournament for me. France are very good when they bring their Gallic flair and suppress their Latin temperament. Of course, having three world class attackers, Pogba, Mbappe and Greizmann, can tilt the scales in their favor.

The most impressive comeback of the tournament was Belgium gifting Japan a two goal lead, but then replying with three late goals after manager Martinez changed the course of the game with some critical substitutions. The hosts Russia were the lowest ranked team left in the tournament, but had just enough fuel in the tank to knock out much fancied Spain. England overcame a very feisty Columbia, and made history by winning their first penalty shoot out in World Cup competition.

Significantly, the sport’s two super stars, Ronaldo and Messi, were on their way home having failed to lift their teams to greater heights. The tournament had arrived at the elite eight and more shocks and awe were in store:

Uruguay 0 vs France 2                     Russia 2 vs Croatia 2 (Croatia won on penalties.)


Brazil 1 vs Belgium 2                         Sweden 0 vs England 2

Uruguay didn’t have the fire power without Cavanni, and France won comfortably. Belgium provided further heroics by defeating Neymar’s Brazil, and England earned a credible  victory over Sweden. Meanwhile Croatia continued to grind out results with another win via the format of a penalty shoot out.

English fans stoked up by their fickle media were daring to dream that the Cup could be returning home for the first time since 1966. The mood of the nation had dismissed their semi-final opponents, Croatia, and speculation was rife on who they would prefer England to play in the final: Belgium or France?


France   1                          vs                           Belgium 0

Croatia  2                          vs                            England 1 (aet)

Belgium’s stunning victory over Brazil had taken its toll, and they were unable to reproduce their “A” game in such a relatively short time to match France’s savoir faire. There was only one goal separating the teams, but France controlled the match from start to finish with stout defending and counter attacking.

England couldn’t have enjoyed a better start to their semi-final  scoring after five minutes through a spectacular free kick by Kevin Trippier. Some talking heads claimed they scored too early, but that’s a silly notion. It’s never too early to score, but the secret is to score one or two more so you have your boot firmly on the opponent’s jugular. Harry Kane had a great chance to make it 2-0 midway through the first half but failed to take it. Normally it was a chance he would make with his eyes shut.

England came out for the second half seemingly with the mindset that they would defend their lead for the ensuing 45 minutes. Big mistake!!!! Croatia, orchestrated by Luco Modric ,dominated the midfield and placed relentless pressure on England’s defence which eventually crumbled. Why oh why did England revert to the long ball? They  finished the tournament in fourth place losing again to Belgium for the bronze medal. Harry kane won the golden boot with 6 goals, but didn’t score in the quarters or semis. Remarkably, Croatia’s last three games went into extra time and each time they prevailed which spoke volumes for their character.

The final between France and Croatia proved to be an entertaining but somewhat controversial affair. France’s opening goal derived from a Griezmann dive which led to a free kick and subsequent own goal by Croatia’s striker whose name I can’t spell. Croatia equalized through a sublime goal by Petrovic who then blotted his copybook by handling the ball at the other end giving away a penalty from which France regained the lead. The referee reverted to AVR (assisted video referee) to make a decision on the handball which was unjust in my opinion.

France came out for the second half with all guns blazing and quickly scored two additional goals via Pogba and Mbappe to take an unassailable 4-2 lead. France’s captain and goalkeeper Lloris made a horrendous error to gift Croatia a goal and a glimmer of hope. Needless to say, sanity was restored and cruised to the finishing line as worthy winners of the World Cup.







Three Games from Oblivion

Friday, May 4th, 2018

I may be repeating some of my thoughts from my previous post, but I have no editor to wrap my knuckles for flogging a dead horse to death. Last December, Swansea City were at the bottom of the Premiership table, five points adrift from safety. Following the dismissal of Paul Clement, Carvahal, who had recently been sacked by Sheffield Wednesday, was given the poison chalice of trying to preserve Premiership status. Against all the odds, he achieved a minor miracle and turned fortunes around. So much so, that a couple of weeks ago, the Swans were  five points clear of the relegation zone.

Unfortunately, they have not won a game since March 3rd, and have only picked up three points from their last six games scoring only two goals in the process. At the time of writing, they lie one precarious point above the relegation zone with three games remaining. They play Bournemouth away tomorrow, Southampton at home on Tuesday and Stoke at home on Sunday week in the final game of the season.

If I was to ignore the results from the month of April, I would be very optimistic of picking up four points from the remaining three games to secure another season in the Premiership. Regrettably, the last two losses against Manchester City and Chelsea fill me with foreboding. We failed to score a goal in those two games, didn’t appear likely to score, and conceded six.

Should they succumb to the inevitable or go down in a blaze of glory? Playing five at the back, as they have been doing recently, reduces your chances of scoring goals. A 0-0 draw gives you a point, but to win you have to score at least one goal which they appear incapable of achieving right now.

There are certain players who have been selected recently for the starting eleven  have no business pulling on a Swansea shirt.  Kyle Naughton, Nathan Dyer, Tom Carroll, and Sanchez should be given plane tickets and told to begin their summer holiday sooner rather than later. Ki is out of contract at the end of the season and a couple of suitors have shown interest in him. His play of later resembles a man whose his mind is elsewhere, possibly in Russia, where he will playing for South Korea in the World Cup.

I would select a team for Saturday in a 4-3-3 that at least as the possibility of scoring a goal or two. Assuming these players are fit, my starting eleven for tomorrow’s game would be: Fabianski, Roberts, Mawson, Fernandez, Olsson, King, Britton, Clucas, Andre Ayew, Abraham and Jordan Ayew. Ki would replace Britton if he’s not fit enough to play.

May the force be with them. I will be biting my nails down to the quick.



That Was The Week That Was

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015


The first week of June has proved to be quite eventful. Earlier in the week it was reported that Charles Kennedy the former leader of the Liberal Democrats had died suddenly at the age of 55. Mr. Kennedy was an MP for 32 years until he recently lost his seat to the SNP avalanche at the General Election. Mr. Kennedy was quite unique in politics; he was honest, personable, articulate and very intelligent.

He had the courage to oppose the Iraq War and was vilified by all around him who collectively stepped on the Bush/Blair bandwagon. He never lauded over lesser souls when he was proved right to oppose the war, and his leadership of the Liberal Democrats was a decisive factor in the party winning 62 seats at the General Election in 2005. Sadly he was a victim of the demon drink and was forced to resign as leader as the cracks began to show.

Later in the afternoon, breaking news revealed that the corrupt  weasel, Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA had announced his resignation. Four days earlier he had been re-elected for another term despite five of his cohorts being arrested on corruption charges. It would appear, but not confirmed, that the wolves were circling the 79 year old demi-god and he decided to jump before being pushed thus ending a despicable 17 year reign. However, he will remain in office until a new President is elected in December which is quite inexplicable.

In the newspapers on Wednesday, the 40th Anniversary of Leeds United’s appearance in the European Cup Final was recognized when they lost 0-2 to Bayern Munich. Critics will argue that they were the victim of poor referee decisions, but I have no sympathy for that club. They were cynical, unscrupulous, dirty, and deservedly received their comeuppance.

Cracks are beginning to show in Brendan Rodgers’ control over Liverpool FC. They failed to qualify for the Champions League having spent millions on mediocre players in the summer and Steven Gerrard has retired to earn mega bucks in a cosey environment at LA Galaxy. The American owners of Liverpool assured Rodgers his job was safe for now, but unceremoniously fired assistant manager Colin Pascoe and first team coach Mike Marsh.

I can’t imagine Liverpool’s former legendary manager, the late Bill Shankly, allowing his erstwhile assistants Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan to be fired by the Board in a similar manner. Rodgers who is never short of a word or two has some explaining to do.

We are a few days away from celebrating the bi-centennial anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo; a battle which changed the course of world history.The other day, I came across a giant statue of the Duke of Wellington astride his horse, Copenhagen, located in a nondescript park on the outskirts of Aldershot. I believe he deserves a more prominent spot in the confines of a London square or outside the Houses of Parliament to receive similar recognition as the Nation’s other great statesmen Winston Churchill and Horatio Nelson. 

I was driving passed Stonehenge and was caught in a traffic jam. Nevertheless it gave me the opportunity to take a closer look at the giant pig farm which abuts the A30, and is located less than  half mile from the World Heritage Site. I’m not a pig hater by any means but I thought it incongruent to allow a piggery so near to Stonehenge. They can’t really argue that the pigs were there first, can they?

The week ended with a flourish with Barcelona deservedly defeating Juventus 3-1 in the Champions League Final, and American Pharaoh becoming the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown of American horse racing: The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and the Belmont. Congratulations to the winners, commiserations to the losers.

Footnote: Wellington’s monument was originally placed on Constitution Arch in the City of London, but regarded as a bit of an eyesore by Queen Victoria. It was later moved to Hyde Park and eventually found its way to Aldershot, home of the British Army.




Professional Sports and Media Whores.

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

Memo (that dates me) from editor: if you can’t find a story then make one up. That would appear to be the case when there is a two week gap between the NFL Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. This is dead time in the American sporting calendar. Save for mundane basketball  and hockey games there is not much going on.

The two teams to contest the Super Bowl ( Seattle and New England ) have been determined, and the week leading up to the big event is hyped up to turbo charge with endless, meaningless players and coaches interviews, analysis by retired players turned talking heads, and previews of the commercials specifically designed for the event. Don’t knock the Super Bowl commercials because more times than not they make better viewing than the actual game.

To prove my point regarding the dead zone, a story involving New England deflating match balls for their Championship game against Indianapolis has been running for nearly two weeks. They even managed to give it a name: “Deflategate.” The Patriots have a habit for courting controversy. A few years back they were involved in “Spygate” when they were caught illegally spying on their opponents training regimes. Apparently (I know, it’s a word I’ve come to rely on) the match balls were deflated prior to the game to give quarter back Tom Brady the edge. It didn’t appear he needed much assistance in routing the Colts 45-7.

Both quarter back and Head Coach pleaded their innocence, and the fall guy will be some lowly schmuck in the locker room. The punishment for this transgression will be the loss of a draft pick. The Patriots will take that in a heart beat because they usually trade away their picks and sign players cut by other teams turning them into super heroes in the process. Now that’s a story guys!

But here’s the kicker. If New England violated the rules as this long winded story implies then why not reverse the result and place Indianapolis in the Super Bowl? Answer: it’s a storm in the proverbial tea cup ( substitute super bowl) generated by the media whores who can’t think of anything better to write about.

Turning closer to home, the Atlanta Falcons decided to fire their Head Coach, Mike  Smith, following two desultory losing seasons. His time management left a lot to be desired and I’m pretty sure he will be late for his own funeral. Nice man, but he’d taken the franchise as far it could go.

So the Falcons jumped onto the merry go round  of potential candidates for the Head Coaching vacancy. The local media whores, not much different from their national brothers, were canvassing for the appointment of Rex Ryan recently fired from the New York Jets. He had just finished  a 4-12 losing season which was worse than previous incumbent Mike Smith. Ryan has not enjoyed  a winning season since 2009, so why all the fuss to hire him by the local media? He makes good copy. He is controversial with his off the wall interviews, he’s a blow hard, and he sucks his wife’s toes. I kid you not! He’s always good for a headline or two, but can he take his team to the promised land? I don’t believe so.

This unfortunate episode sums up the character of the man. The Falcons had interviewed him once and were planning to invite him back for a second interview when Falcons owner Arthur Blank’s mother died. The interview was put on hold while Mr. Blank attended to the funeral arrangements. True to form Mr. Ryan came back with an unforgettable statement: ” I had the impression the Falcons were dragging their feet, so I accepted the job with the Buffalo Bills. They gave me the impression that they really wanted me to be their Head Coach.” Good luck to the Bills handling the prima donna’s baggage.

I’m sure the January transfer window in the world of soccer was a brain child of the media. There is a down time after Christmas and the next round of the Champions league doesn’t kick off until March. Absurd rumors were circling the air waves pronouncing that Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale were disenchanted with their clubs and they would be transferred to the Premiership during the transfer window. That is just as likely to happen as England winning the World Cup in 2018.

Unfortunately constant speculation in the press regarding Swansea City’s star striker, Wilfried Bony, became reality when Manchester City “made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.” I believe it is an unfair (not illegal) practice which allows the bigger, wealthier clubs to wave their cheque books at the mid table teams and prize away their  star players in the middle of the season.

The January transfer should be dropped, and teams assembled at the beginning of the season should determine their clubs’ destiny. Here “endeth” Daveswelshrarebits’ first lesson of 2015.


The Biggest Turkeys for Thanksgiving

Friday, November 28th, 2014

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and thanks to my Big Green Egg we enjoyed a succulent, juicy turkey for dinner. On the subject on turkeys listed below are some of the biggest ones for 2014:

  1. Barak Obama. I’m not going to validate this bozo by giving him his official title. How many other presidents would have sat back and allowed Americans to be beheaded by a terrorist organization? Answer; only one: HIM. This is the man who allowed Putin to bully him and Ukraine without any meaningful recourse.This is a man who should be impeached for overriding Congress and abusing his Executive Powers. This is the man who claimed that France are America’s greatest allies.
  2. Alex Salmond. The Scottish Independence vote had no chance with this used car salesman at the helm. He did not have an answer when UK Government informed him Scotland could not retain the Pound Sterling as a currency should they gain independence. The Bank of Scotland pulled the rug up from him when they announced they would move to London should Scotland win independence.
  3. Frank Wren. the general manager of the Atlanta Braves threw millions of dollars at mediocre players not fit enough to lace the cleats of former greats Chipper Jones, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux. Malcontent BJ Upton was given $75 million to behave like a clown in center field. Dan (Mr Magoo) Uggla was mercifully released but is still owed $19 million. Frank Wren was eventually shown the door, but not before he ensured  $65 million is tied up with the remaining years of Upton and Uggla’s contracts.
  4. Mayor of Atlanta and his Chief of Transportation. In January, heavy snow and frozen ice conditions were forecast well in advance of the anointed time. These two gentlemen chose to ignore the impending storm and the City of Atlanta was brought to its knees leaving thousands of motorists stranded.
  5. Head Coach Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons. Clearly Mr. Smith missed the seminar on time management. Two games were blown this season due to his  incompetence at controlling the clock when his team were minutes from victory. The game staged in London against the Detroit Lions was more embarrassing since it was played out on a global stage.
  6. Luis Suarez. The little man chose to audition for the new Dracula movie by biting a chunk out of an Italian defender in the middle of  a World Cup football match.
  7. Brendan Rodgers. Tasked with replacing Dracula wannabe, Luis Suarez, Liverpool spent $190 million on a bunch of “garden shed” players. After a winless November, Liverpool are languishing in 12th place in the Premiership and struggling to remain in the Champions League. Meanwhile Rodgers is adamant that he is the greatest manager in Europe.
  8. Tom Watson. Eight time major champion and former winning Ryder Cup captain was plucked from the knacker’s yard to right the floundering American ship. Unfortunately he was completely adrift from his players who could not relate to a “legend;” some young and immature enough to call him granddad.
  9. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return. Hollywood’s animated movie has not fared very well; Box Office: $19 million, Budget: $70 million, Return: 27%. The only thing that will be “Frozen” on this movie will be its assets.
  10. The Welsh rugby team. Wales have not beaten the All Blacks since 1953 when Bleddyn Williams was captain and the late Cliff Morgan was fly half. It’s not a mental thing dummy. They are quite simply better than us.
  11. Everyone who left Southampton FC in the summer.

Speaking of New Zealand, bring on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

How come they win Four World Cups but lose Two World Wars?

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Congratulations to Germany for winning the World Cup for the fourth time and becoming the first European team to win the trophy in the Americas. The only way Argentina could defeat Germany was for Lionel Messi to produce a world class performance that his status as “best player in the world” demands.  Unfortunately he continued his indifferent form from the semi-final and at times looked disinterested.

To add insult to injury, he received the trophy for the player of the tournament which is a travesty. There are at least five players who were more deserving: Muller, Rodriguez, Shweinsteiger, Maschcerano, and Robben. Yes, he scored 4 goals in the group, but did very little to enhance his reputation in the knock out stages.

Both teams had their chances which you expect world class strikers to convert, but the match rumbled onto extra time, and a penalty shoot-out looked inevitable until (Super) Mario Gotze came on as a late substitute and scored the only goal to win the Cup for his country.

Many football writers have claimed that Brazil 2014 deserves the title of best World Cup of all time, but I have to disagree. The group stages provided entertainment and excitement with a record number of goals and some surprising results. However, several teams went into a defensive mode when they reached the knock out stage, and Columbia, Chile and Mexico missed wonderful opportunities to progress by affording their more illustrious opponents too much respect. Not the first time, the final was contested by previous winners which made the later rounds a little predictable.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable World Cup if not a great one, and there were memorable moments:

Quote of the tournament: Ian Darke, ABC commentator on the final: Chancellor Merkel is very familiar with the German players. She has visited them regularly in their dressing room.” Was that with or without their towels?

Best Performance: Without a doubt, Costa Rica who won their group by defeating Italy, Uruguay, and drawing with hapless England.

Biggest shocks: Holland coming back from a goal down and defeating holders Spain in the group stage 5-1, and Germany’s 7-1 annihiliation of Brazil in the semi-final.

Most heroic performance: Tim Howard versus Belgium; literally.

The Villians: Arian Robben for his Olympic diving and Vaudeville acting, Tim Krul for trash talking the plucky Cost Rica penalty takers, and inevitably Luis Suarez for his lame impression of Count Dracula.

The Heart-stopping moment: The instant Colombian defender drove his knee into Neymar’s back putting him out of the tournament destroyed the hopes and dreams of 200 million Brazilians.

The Night they drove Old Dixie Down Moment: The energy, excitement and momentum generated in America during the World Cup all but evaporated when USA were eliminated.

The Crass Moment of the World Cup: Pompous self indulgent FIFA officials making the Argentinian players stand forlornly for 25 minutes after losing the final, so the officials  could preen themselves for the award ceremony.

Players of the tournament: Definitely the camera crew who provided us with regular shots of beautiful women dotted around the stadiums.

The Most Enjoyable game: USA’s 2-2 draw with Portugal. We watched the game at a family reunion in Myrtle Beach, and the support for USA was amazing particularly when a number of family members knew nothing about football let alone soccer!

Most Boring game of the tournament: It has to be the semi-final between Argentina and Holland without a shadow of a doubt.




Feast or Famine

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

Hollywood could not have scripted  two more contrasting semi-finals than we witnessed earlier this week. Germany‘s 7-1 demolition and humiliation of hosts Brazil was breathtaking. The 18 minutes spell in the first half when the Germans scored 5 goals was staggering; silencing thousands of Brazilian shell shocked yellow shirted fans in the stadium and a whole nation in the process. In mitigation, Brazil’s two star players, captain Thiego Silva and talisman Neymar were absent, but their inclusion would have merely reduced the losing margin.

Remarkably, Brazil dominated the opening ten minutes, but once Germany scored their first goal in the 11th minute it was over as a contest. The body language of the Brazilians was so revealing, and any plans the coach had devised to compete against the Germans went out of the window. David Luiz, captain for the day, became the most expensive defender in the world a month ago when he was transferred to Paris St Germain from Chelsea for $85 million. He always plays a little “gung ho,” but he wouldn’t get a game on a Sunday morning local league team following his abject performance against Germany.

Nobody on the Brazilian team acquitted themselves with any semblance of a professional performance. The back four was ripped apart on the flanks, and the German midfield trio, Schweinsteiger, Kloos and Kedheira, poured through the middle at will. Brazil’s midfield was completely overrun by the impressive trio. The question remains: are the Germans that good, and are the Brazilian that bad?

On the day the Germans were ruthless in creating and accepting almost every chance that came their way while the Brazilians were diabolical and failed to perform the basics.

In the other semi-final Argentina and Holland played for 120 minutes (including extra time) and failed to score a single goal between them. Both coaching camps had apparently devised plans to nullify danger men Van Persie and Robben for Holland, and Lionel Messi for Argentina. The plans obviously worked because all three were on the periphery for most of the match. Van Persie did not have a shot on goal, but Robben did manage  some forays in extra time. Messi was reduced to walking pace for most of the match and at times looked disinterested.

He did manage to convert Argentina’s first penalty and set the tone for the shoot out in which they outscored the Dutch by 4-2. Holland’s central defender surprisingly was appointed to take their first penalty and duly missed. It emerged the following day that two of Holland’s designated penalty takers had refused to take the first penalty.

I’m not too sure what to believe about Holland’s coach Luis van Gaal. Many football observers hail him as a tactical genius. Manchester United obviously think so having appointed him as their new manager for the new season. However, they failed to score in the quarter  and semi final matches, relying on the penalty shoot out each  time. They luckily defeated Mexico  with two late goals, one a very dubious penalty via Muff Diver Robben, so I’m not joining the van Gaal bandwagon.

Who will win the final on Sunday? If the results in the semi finals are anything to go by Germany need only to turn up to claim the trophy. Football is a funny old game, Harry, and can be very unpredictable. In the World Cup in 1954 Hungary defeated West Germany 8-3 earlier in the tournament, led 2-0 in the final playing the same opponents, and eventually lost 2-3 to West Germany.

The Germans may have peaked against Brazil while Lionel Messi has one great performance left in him. As an added incentive, if they needed one, Argentina would dearly love to complete Brazil’s humiliation by winning the World Cup in their bitter rival’s backyard. I’m taking Argentina to defy the odds and win a close encounter over a very good German team.

South America versus Europe.

Monday, July 7th, 2014

We are now down to the nitty gritty, and once again it’s the usual suspects. There are four teams remaining in the 2014 World Cup and the semi-finals to be played in the next couple of days are:

Brazil (5 wins) v Germany (3)

Argentina (2) v Holland (finalists 3 times)

Brazil defeated Columbia 2-1 in a bruising encounter and with great cost. Neymar,their superstar in the eyes of the Brazilian adoring public, fractured a vertebrae in his lower back following an unceremonious knee jerk from a Colombian defender, and will miss the rest of the World Cup. They didn’t play like choir boys themselves and kicked lumps out of Colombian striker James Rodriguez.

The quarter finals on the whole were very disappointing,  and didn’t provide the level of entertainment and excitement that we enjoyed during the group stage of matches. Holland scraped through via a penalty shoot out, but didn’t win any friends by allowing their goal keeper to behave like a complete moron. The Dutch Coach sprung a surprise by substituting his goal keeper for the understudy Tim Krol two minutes from the end of extra time who he believed was better at saving penalty kicks. His record in the past three seasons in the Premier League didn’t support the Coach’s theory because he only managed to make 2 saves from 20 spot kicks. Nevertheless he made two saves in the penalty shoot out which gained the upper hand over gallant Costa Rica. Maybe Arsene Wenger will give Joel Campbell a game at Arsenal next season.

Germany showed their usual machine like efficiency against France. They scored early in the 13th minute and placed a strait jacket on their opponents for the remainder of the match. Similarly Argentina scored in the  8th minute to remove the sting early from their opponents. Belgium abjectly managed only one shot on goal compared to the 28 they showered on USA. Different day, different opponent, I guess.

Brazil v Germany could be a classic encounter between two giants of international football comprising 8 World Cup wins between them. Brazil has the advantage of being hosts with fervent fan support. However, a greater loss to the team than Neymar  could be their Captain and star defender Silva who is suspended after receiving two yellow cards. Does Germany have a weakness? They had glaring ones in their back four until the coach made some subtle personnel changes for their quarter final match. Germany’s goal keeper Nuer is arguably the best in the World Cup  and it will take something special to beat him. I’m picking the Sauerkrauts over the Brazil Nuts.

Holland has become more defensive minded since the group stage, and their 5-1 trouncing of holders Spain is a distant memory compared to  the dour encounters they have supplied in the knock out rounds. It is fairly evident that no team deserves to be described as great, but Argentina has the only great player remaining in the World Cup, Lionel Messi. Argentina could also be accused of being unimpressive on their way to the semi-finals, but they now appear to have found their shape and looked and performed like a team in their quarter final against Belgium. The loss of de Maria was a body blow, but I believe the Corn Beef will overcome the Dutch Cheese. Holland’s cynical gamesmanship in the shape of Robben’s incessant diving and Krul’s trash talking has lost them many friends, and it’s time for them to go home.


The Eight Survivors

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

It just seems like the other day Brazil and Croatia played the opening fixture of World Cup 2014, and here we are at the quarter final stage. The surviving teams provide a mix of cultures from two continents:

  • France v Germany
  • Brazil v Columbia
  • Cost Rica v Holland
  • Belgium v Argentina

Columbia looked the most convincing in defeating Uruguay to reach the quarterfinals. Germany, Argentina and Belgium were taken to overtime to overcome their opponents. Brazil and Costa Rica won on penalties, Holland required two late goals, one a dubious penalty provided by  Olympic diver, Robben,  and France struggled to defeat Nigeria.

There are some intriguing match ups; pitching together two European giants, France and Germany. Anyone with a little knowledge of World Cup history will remember or read about the infamous clash between the two countries in the World Cup 1982. Germany’s goal keeper, Schumacher almost decapitated the advancing Frenchman Patrick Battiston who had fastened onto a through ball provided by the exquisite Michel Platini, and wasn’t even penalized. Schumacher remained on the pitch and helped his team defeat France on penalties.

Two South American teams face each other with a mediocre Brazil  undeniable favorites; mainly because they are the hosts with an overwhelming fan support. Columbia have proved to be the better team in this World Cup, but will they freeze playing against the mystique of five time winners Brazil? Ironically this week is the 20th Anniversary of the murder of Andres Escobar, Columbia’s former captain, who was murdered after his own goal at the World Cup  USA 1994.

Costa Rica have exceeded all expectations. Nobody gave them a cat in hell’s chance of surviving the group stage let alone win it outright against so called football giants England, Italy and Uruguay; combined winners of  the World Cup 7 times . Holland were a little fortunate to defeat Mexico, but every winner needs lady luck and I believe they have too much experience to allow the game to slip from their grasp.

Belgium and Argentina is also tough to call. Lionel Messi’s presence turns the Argies from a good team into a very good one. Belgium has a 100% record in the competition, but haven’t reach their full potential. Belgium can win this one providing they keep Messi quiet. I don’t think they can.

Key players for the quarter finalists:

Brazil: Neymar (4 goals)

Columbia: James  Rodriguez (5)

France: Benzema (3)

Germany: Muller (3)

Costa Rica: Campbell possibly, but it really is a team effort.

Holland: Robben (3) and to a lesser extent Van Persie (3)

Belgium: de Bruyen because Hazard has disappointed so far

Argentina: Messi (4) supported by de Maria.

Special mention must be attributed to Tim Howard for his magnificent rearguard action against Belgium. He made 16 saves, which is a record for a World Cup match, defying the advances of a superior team until the levy was breached in extra time. Nevertheless, strikers win matches while goal keepers save matches, so it’s no coincidence that the key players highlighted above are mainly strikers.

I would love to see Costa Rica win it all, but fairy tales don’t come true in football very often. Columbia have been the most entertaining team to watch, and I wouldn’t begrudge them  a World Cup. Similarly the Beneloux countries Belgium and Holland deserve a  World Cup for all the entertainment they have provided in years gone by. I have yet to see a great  team emerging in this competition, but maybe one of the remaining teams will step out of the shadows over the weekend.

However, I am not allowing my heart to rule my head. Therefore the four teams I believe will reach the semi-finals are: Brazil, Germany, Holland and Argentina.