Friday, December 08, 2006

Ashes latest

Well finally another Ashes blog session. The first test proved to be a decisive Aussie victory, England never fought back from dismal bowling performances from Harmison and Anderson. The strangest thing in the first test was the Aussie decision not to enforce the follow on. England had been crushed in the first innings, only lasted a couple of sessions and were miles behind, yet Australia decided to bat again. It was a decision they could have rued. Conceivably the end of the test could have seen England holding on with 9 wickets down and the Aussies praying for extra time. It never eventuated, and the inevitable victory came but the decision was an immensely weird one.

Maybe the Australian Cricket Board wanted them to bat again so that the test would last longer and therefore provide more revenue. Maybe the Aussies didn't want to tire the bowlers, although how bowling a team out in about 2 sessions constitutes getting tired out, goodness only knows.

The second England innings, the afternoon session at least, did provide England with a glimmer of hope for the rest of the summer as both Collingwood and Pieterson made 90's. The only other thing to note was how important Aussie winning the toss seemed to be to the general outcome of the game. All in all though, a very one sided affair in Brisbane --- on to Adelaide.

The second test came and again, much to the chagrin of most cricket nuts, no Monty Panesar! Definitely an example of negativity from an England side lacking in confidence. England did though, after a shaky start, give their fans something to cheer, making 551-6 dec, albeit at a rather slow run rate. Still - it was positive to see England getting the upperhand. Collingwood and Pieterson starring in a magnificent partnership, Collingwood making a double century (206) and Pieterson dismissed for 158, for the third time in his test career! The declaration was made late on day 2, England hadn't really pushed the scoring along but the declaration was a positive mood, in an attempt to look at levelling the series.

But Aussie hit back, easily passing the follow on figure, and finishing up only 38 runs behind after the first innings. It could have been so different had Giles not made a hash of a catch off Ponting, with Ponting continuing on to score another 100+ runs. Hoggard was the hero with 7 wickets. Hoggard is a magnificent bowler who rarely gets the plaudits he deserves. I however rate him very highly, and it's lovely to see a Yorkshireman do well! At the end of the second day the Poms were smiling, especially after picking up an early wicket before stumps but of course (as explained above - this didn't last long!).

Going into the final day the most likely result was a draw, England had a lead of 80 or so runs with 9 wickets in hand. However on the last day, a combination of negative cricket which involved looking to survive rather than score runs, and a rejuvenated Shane Warne (as well as an early dodgy decision by the umpire against Strauss) - conspired to make England have a dismal collapse, and fold to give Aussie a straightforward run chase, and a six wicket win. The about-face which occurred was nothing short of incredible leading many to call the match as one of the biggest turnarounds in cricket, with the likes of Warne and Ponting calling it "the best ever test match".

So with a 2-0 lead to Aussie, England require 2 wins and a draw from the last 3 tests to level the series and retain the ashes. About as likely as the Pope renouncing his Catholicism.

But never say never!

Let's see what Monty can do (or have we billed him up too much?)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ashes: Test 1 Day 1:

Aussies majorly on top. Great toss for them to win especially as they will have Warne bowling in the last innings. 300 + losing only 3 wickets...they could be on for 600...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Ashes

Don't worry: part 2 of Leeds current state is coming soon but I must quickly mention the Ashes before it starts in earnest tomorrow.

The Ashes has been built up and built up. The tension is mounting...but will it be an anti-climax? Surely there will be entertainment, intriguing battles, intensity, classic commentary calls and high quality cricket, but in Australia, with them smarting from last time out, and with a quick look at their squad - it's hard to see past Australia (fresh from a virgin ICC Champions Trophy win in an anti-climactical final) obtaining the coveted urn.

One thing's for sure - I'll be glued to that TV as much as I can!

The key men are Ponting, Hussey, Lee, Warne, Flintoff and Pieterson in my view.

Anyway - forgive the bad grammar in this post and join me in saying: "bring it on"!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Leeds Current State Part 1

Well I rarely post these days despite there being many things to say about many things. I am making this post at the request of Michael Nemman who asked me to make a post on what is happening at Leeds. Maybe he just wants to send me further into the abyss! Anyway- this is just for you Michael: my sole blog reader lol.

It'll be quite short too. I can't be bothered writing as much as the topic deserves!

Leeds United: Play off finalists to relegation dwellers. How the tides have changed. Why has it happened, and what about the future?

Part 1

The first point that must be noted is that Leeds had a very average end of last season, meaning that any realistic chance we had of catching Sheff Utd up for the automatic promotion place was scuppered pretty quick. We were in too strong a position from earlier in the season to miss out on the playoffs though. Kevin Blackwell had proved the previous season that he was not very good when it came to the home straight. We did manage to get the 'job done' in the Semis against Preston but the NZ televised final was abysmal. Despite having high calibre strikers Hulse, Healy, Blake, Cresswell (suspended) we played one man up front (Hulse) and packed the midfield with 5 men, mainly defensive minded. Blackwell decided that with Butler back from injury, and Crainey (leftback) suspended - to put Butts in central defence with Gregan and put Killa on the left. So to accommodate Butler who is average we had to put our best defender at leftback, and play the two old men in central defence together. Madness. We were shellshocked. Our tactics were far too defensive, and were well beaten by a fresh, hungry Watford we had out-performed earlier in the season, and managed by Aidy Boothroyd, who had been Blackwell's right hand man until he left for down south. Hulse had no service. He had been scoring infrequently during the second half of the season, some said he was carrying an injury but it certainly wasn't helped by a lack of service from midfield.

So post playoff final blues carried on into next season. We have had our worst ever start to a season. What happened.

Had our squad been severely weakened? No.

We had lost the quality Hulse to Sheff Utd for a profit, but we still had the quality Healy, Blake, the relatively new Beckford snatched from the Rymans League and Mooro who few Leeds fans rated. In Midfield we let Douglas and Miller back to the teams who loaned them out (Blackburn Rovers and Man Utd respectively) but neither had set the world alight. We also got in Westlake from Ipswich who had a good reputation and the quality Nicholls from Luton. Stone was back from a season long injury too. Although he was to pick up early injuries.

And in defence we had pretty much a back four we'd played a lot with: Kelly, Butler, Killa, Crainey (Gregan to step in as back up regularly). We had lost Harding, Pugh and Walton but they'd rarely played anyway despite the fact some of them maybe should. Harding we made a loss on after paying over the odds for him in the first place due to tribunal, and Pugh wasn't given enough of a chance and went for a pittance. Walton - local lad - was off for half a mill to Charlton (who promptly loaned him to Ipswich), he'd been played a few times in midfield even though he was really a central defender. But this defence we'd played with a lot became shaky. Crainey has always been castigated by the Elland Road faithful and some blamed him.

We had some close losses and after a poor start Ken Bates acted: sacking Blackwell.

Let's analyse this a little further.

Last season we had had some lucky wins, we had picked up points which suggested we had overachieved. We didn't play as well as our points total suggested. It seemed that this season the luck was being turned on its head. Close wins had become close losses. It seems Blackwell hadn't become useless overnight.

It's all about momentum. We started badly. We got into a malaise. Our confidence was down, our rhythm was affected. Butler was also, it became apparent, a poison. Supposedly our captain he was the main man who created internal ructions in the team. The big incident surrounding a golfing trip but I'm not going to post hearsay here. Let's just say reliable sources point to Butler as a poison. And yet Blackwell loved Butler, always picking him, getting help from him for selections. The Blackwell Butler love-in really affected the team. Blake was heard muttering in public about how we needed a new manager.

I thank Blackwell for what he did. He took a poisoned chalice of a job, worked hard, stabilised us in the first season of relegation, and took us to the playoff final in our second season. He's a good man and I'm grateful for his work. I like the fella. But perhaps he's not right for the manager of Leeds.

His mistakes? The Butler love-in to start with. Also - his love of playing seasoned journeymen. He was always reticent to play the youth and when he did he was too quick to criticise them. He didn't seem to apply the adage: 'if you're old enough you're good enough'. He also lacked some man management skills. And there were certain players he didn't play who we were crying out to play. Matthew Spring hardly had a look in and he went on to play a major role in Watford's successful season and is now succeeding in the Premier League. The same could be said of Marlon King who we loaned from Notts Forest. Also Danny Pugh. And he shot Harding's confidence.

So yes, Blackwell certainly had his flaws but he also had his plusses, namely he'd made a good few signings like Derry. Indications he was more of a coach than a manager.

He also played 4-5-1 a lot. Many fans castigated him for this. They were gagging for 4-4-2. However under John Carver as caretaker manager 4-4-2 didn't work. We may have started with a great 3-2 over Birmingham but then received a few poundings. Perhaps Blackwell was right to play his 4-5-1. We would be tight and we would win more than we lost. Last season we were lucky on a few occasions, this season under Blacky we were unlucky instead. So Carver the new Caretaker Manager failed. He presided over some shocking displays and Bates hand was forced again.

Part two to follow...I need a break from writing this...

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Euro 2008

Qualifying starts in earnest tonight.

Can't wait!

There are 7 groups, 6 of them comprising 7 teams, the other group comprising 8. The top two teams in each group will join co-hosts Austria and Switzerland to make up the 16 tournament hopefuls. I just hope for the 'home' nations to do well for once. Wales and Northern Ireland never seem to qualify for a big tournament and it has been a long time between drinks for Scotland. Even the Republic of Ireland haven't had any major tournaments to look forward to since World Cup 2002. Trouble is they're in some very tough groups. Republic of Ireland and Wales share the same group with Germany and the Czech Republic, Scotland have France, Italy and the Ukraine to contend with, and Northern Ireland have Denmark, Spain, Sweden and Latvia. Even England are not a shoo-in with difficult games against Croatia, Israel and Russia in prospect.

The Euro 2008 Official site is a magical site. Check out all the groups there, all the info you could ever need to know, it's as addictive as the World Cup official site!

And most of all, cheer on the Republic of Ireland against the Germans at 6:30am Sunday morning, (3/9), ESPN. Be there or be square!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Tevez to West Ham?

Don't tell me this is true. What would that footballing genius want to do at the (S)Hammers? Only a second season back up in the prem and maybe getting Tevez and Mascherano. Unbelievable if true!

Well a busy transfer window about to come to an abrupt halt. Jonathan Douglas coming back to Leeds this time on a permanent deal. Doesn't fill me with huge excitement but not a bad squad player. Will have to be a first time regular for a while I imagine, what with the state of our midfield. Hopefully Killa will be staying put. And where's the loan goalie we need, sending back Warner is bad news but apparently his wages were too high for us...

Well I'm editing this now a couple of days later to say YES it has happened. I think there's something fishy going on. MSI owned Corinthians their former club (the reason this broke club could have great players in the first place). It is rumoured that Abramovich is the money man behind MSI and so he set off the chain of events to prevent Tevez and Mascerano making their way to Man Utd or Arsenal, bring them to London to acclimatise and see if they're worth taking off West Ham's hands at the start of next season (Mascherano would make a perfect replacement for Makelele). How else could West Ham afford their so called "undisclosed fee" as they are worth much upwards of 30 million pounds in combination. The other thing to note is that MSI are attempting a takeover at West Ham, so perhaps this is something to do with that. Whatever the reasons - there is something fishy going on!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The depressing reality.

Leeds United: 4 points 4 games.

3 games in a row we concede in the last 7 minutes (2 of those in injury time) to salvage QPR a draw and hand victories to Palace and Cardiff.

Our major signing of the summer Kevin Nicholls hasn't yet played a game because he suffered an injury in pre-season and will be out for roughly 3 months.

Steve Stone starts our first four games and is the one to demonstrate the creativity that we need. Result? He's now crocked and will be out for about 3 months.

Horsfield, the target man we bring in on loan because Cresswell is out for the first couple of months got himself sent off against Palace after only 15 minutes and is now serving a 4 match ban.

Our ins and outs over the summer have been modest. Westlake has come in from Ipswich with Harding and cash going in the opposite direction. He seems like a decent player. Carole from Brighton also looks lively. We sell Hulse for a profit, and he goes and scores in Sheff Utd's opening game of the Prem season against FA Cup holders Liverpool. Warner has been in goal, on loan because Sully has a dead leg and has made some important saves. And yes we got rid of some deadweights.

After making the play-off final last season. After being 90 minutes away from the premiership latte sipping showponies...we are back in the Championship mire.

Supposedly we have played quite well in most of our games. Last season some of our fans considered us lucky to have made the playoffs after playing badly. Well I'd sure prefer that scenario.

We have too many key men injured. We are lacking a cutting edge in front of goal. We are making basic mistakes in defence in the dying minutes after defending admirably up to that point. These often from our so-called star Matthew Kilgallon we are all so desperate to hold onto.

Oh well, at least we beat Chester in the league cup.

Roll on Sheffield Wednesday and no doubt another depressing afternoon.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Length of My World Cup Blog

Was approximately 36 000, yes that's right, THIRTY SIX THOUSAND words!

That's quite a marathon methinks! Something to look back on in years to come though. Who needs to buy a book on World Cup 06 when you've got the William Fussdogg blog lol!

Italians Delight!

Well it is just over a week since the World Cup ended, and so I will write my belated summary of the final. I am just about getting over the fact that I will have to wait another 4 years till the next one. Instead I must concentrate on the upcoming football season and trust that my beloved Leeds United can regain their place back in football's elite where they belong (although I do so in great faith rather than expectation!) , hopefully we don't suffer too much of a hangover from our devastating loss to Elton John's lovers in May! It is sad as always that the World Cup is over.

Italy 1-1 France, 1-1 a.e.t, 5-3 PSO

The match began in an enthralling, exciting fashion, with the potential to make farcical some critics comments that we were in for a dour affair. The first point to note was worries that Henry would have to be replaced as he looked in some pain after only a minute or so, however he managed to shake the injury off. After only 7 minutes referee Elizondo, who didn't endear himself to some English fans by sending off Rooney in that fateful game, adjudged that Materazzi had fouled Malouda in the box, and pointed to the penalty spot. The decision was a bit controversial with replays still proving a little inconclusive as some angles appeared to suggest he may have tripped himself up, others indicating Materazzi clipped his heals ever so slightly. It was a tough call to make in the circumstances but it certainly wasn't a dive. Regardless, Zinedine Zidane in his final professional match stepped up to take. And with great gallic flair, composure, and an element of cockiness he chipped the ball sending Buffon the wrong way, the ball clipped the underside of the crossbar, bounced over the line, and bounced out. The goal was awarded, replays showed the ball had certainly crossed the line, but it was quite an extraordinary penalty to witness! Zidane became the fourth man to score in two different World Cup final matches (after Vava, Pele and Breitner), and the fourth man to score 3 goals in World Cup final matches (after Hurst, Vava and Pele).

After the opening goal it soon became a frenzy of Italian attacks. Pirlo and Gattuso were complementing each other nicely in the midfield, and corners, free kicks and crosses were being whipped in with dangerous regularity. On 19 minutes a pinpoint Pirlo corner gave Materazzi to redeem himself in emphatic style, powering a header past Barthez to bring the Italians level. Thuram was defending well as he headed one dangerous cross behind for a corner as well as making a couple of vital sliding challenges to thwart dangerous moves. Toni almost gave the Italians the lead with what would have been a perfect replica of the Materazzi goal - this time it slammed into the crossbar however. The half ended 1-1. The early opening goal had given the game life, but with the equaliser an early second half goal also seemed needed from a neutral's perspective.

This never came however, and whilst it was the Italians who had been dominant in the first half the tables were turned somewhat in the second. Henry who had been quiet in the first half burst to life first sending the ball flashing past the upright, and then doing well to keep control as he dribbled it past 3 Italians only for his low cross unable to pick out a teammate. Italy still looked dangerous from set pieces.

Roughly on the hour mark De Rossi and Iaquinta came on for the Azzurri to replace the disappointing pair of Totti and Perrotta. De Rossi had been banned for 4 games after a despicable elbow to the face in the game against the US, but now he was in the World Cup final. Diarra, who had barely played at this World Cup or for France internationally in general, was called upon to replace Vieira who had sustained a hamstring injury.

On 62 mins Toni thought he had scored as he expertly executed a long distance header from another pinpoint Pirlo cross, however the offside call was made. Was it offside? One man was clearly offside as the ball was played, yet it was not he who headed it, nor was he interfering with play. Toni, the man who headed it, could possibly have been offside, but if so it would have been by the virtue of a few meagre millimetres, it was equally plausible that he was perfectly level. Henry also forced Buffon to parry but the game was degenerating into a scrappy match in the final 20 minutes or so of the 90, France had just about had the better of the second half.

The 30 minutes of extra time saw few chances. Ribery poked the ball agonisingly wide on one occasion, Zidane had a wonderful chance to sow the game up as Sagnol's cross found his head, only for Buffon to pull off an excellent save, made all the more fantastic by it's vital nature. A World Cup final, so much at stake, and there he was looking as good as always!

On 111 minutes something crazy happened. Suddenly Italians were running up to protest to the ref and the first reaction was, what the hell?, is this the Italians getting all uppity over nothing, are they trying to cheat, what the hell is going on? But then there were the television replays and the world could see what one could only describe as a moment of unmitigated madness, craziness, ridiculousness as Zidane simply lost the plot. There was an altercation between the two goalscorers Materazzi and Zidane, to start with physically the altercation was minor but it resulted in Zidane giving Materazzi a vicious headbutt to the chest, sending him sprawling. Referee Elizonda consulted his fourth official who advised the red card. A well deserved red card it was too. Clearly Materazzi had said something, it must have been something pretty damn bad to cause that reaction. But whatever he said, whatever, there are no excuses. This man is a professional footballer, in a World Cup final, playing his last ever match, he should be able to stop himself doing such a thing. It was a crazy moment, and one simply has to castigate Zidane. To me it is pretty much irrelevant what Materazzi said, players try to taunt others all the time. From before a match even starts till at least when it ends. Surely Zidane could have waited till the end of the game and then chinned him one!??

Speculation was rife as to the nature of the insult. One source seemed to suggest Materazzi was using Zidane's Algerian roots to call him a terrorist. Others said it was something to do with his mother and sister being whores. Others that he had wished death on his family. Zidane himself a few days later alleged that Materazzi had repeated the insult 3 times. This to a man whose mother had only just gone to hospital. Lip reading experts found different things but the fact remains that Zidane had reacted in a completely unacceptable way and later apologised to the children of the world but said he did not regret his actions. To me not regretting it is crazy, if he hadn't done it he would have remained on the field for the last 9 minutes, and would undoubtedly have been one of the penalty takers in the shoot out.

Anyway, so the match went to penalties. Italy have a worse history on penalties but on this occasion they converted all 5 with delightfully struck penalties. France converted 3 of their 4, the crucial miss coming from Euro 2000 golden goal hero, Trezeguet, who hit his into the crossbar. Like Zidane the ball came down, but unlike Zidane's it never crossed the line.

The whole of Italy were sent into delirium. It had been one of the best World Cup final matches for a long time, open and exciting.

Did Italy deserve to win the World Cup? Probably not, but no-one did! No country deserved it, there was not one team who simply blew all and sundry away.

In a way Italy did deserve it. They finished top of a very tough group but they were given the luck of a controversial penalty winner against Australia, and had an easy run to the semis with only the Ukraine to beat (though of course that's not their fault!) In the final they just about deserved it for the marginal offside call.

Would France have deserved it? They had turned on the style late on against Spain, and then against Brazil, and a bit against Portugal through the knockout matches, but they'd also been poor in the group stages.

No-one really quite deserved it, however someone had to win. And it was Italy. Just like in 82 with their leagues facing a huge scandal, they won the World Cup.

The history books will simply note.

World Cup 2006. Winners. Italy.

But I will remember it all!

Sunday, July 09, 2006


France Vs Italy

So after a month of action we are down to one game. After some spectacular goals, lots of yellow cards, a tournament that started out so promisingly and lost a little bit of its bite is down to one game and one game alone. It is naturally a little sad that the World Cup is at its end, unfortunately I will have to focus my mind more on the tribulations of Leeds now. For whom incidentally I predict a tough old season finishing mid table - we really needed to win that play off final!

The World Cup Final is a replay of the Euro 2000 Final which France won by a golden goal from Trezeguet. Also a replay of World Cup 98 quarter final which France won on penalties. Previous matches at the tournament which have been repeats of earlier matches have all seemed to go the way that history suggested, is this to be the same?

France: Looking to finish off in style for Zizou. They have an average squad of 30 years and 10 days which is a helluva lot, one of the oldest semi-final squads for years. But with the likes of Thuram, Gallas, Makelele, Zidane, Vieira, and Henry down the spine no-one will write them off. Can Henry reproduce his club form? One reason he finds it difficult is everything goes through Zidane. The danger of this ploy is that they flop when Zidane is not on form. This is the World Cup Final though – expect him on form! Playing the lone striker can be frustrating too. And how will Domenech manage his troups. Only Saha is suspended but this may be a blessing in disguise. They are bound to use Trezeguet in the super sub role because of this, and given his prodigious abilities who knows if he can repeat the trick of Euro 2000!

Italy: Their whole squad exudes excellence. Buffon in goal and Cannavaro at the back, stupendous in defence thus far. Not to mention bulldog Gattusso in defensive midfield, and Pirlo who has been great. Totti on form would be scary too. Pity Nesta who is currently injured. Question marks over the attack in Luca Toni who has not quite been on song at this world cup. But they do have able players on the bench to score goals like Gilardino, Del Pierro, Inzhagi and Joaquinta. Italy have tended to play with one up front but they play with a lot of width and someone from the midfield invariably comes up into the front line.

It’s a huge game of course. I have a feeling Italy will win. I don’t mind who does, it would be nice to see Zidane finish a winner but they won it a lot more recently than the Italian success of 82, ironically when their league was again embroiled in scandal. Hopefully it will be a cracking game.

Hosts finish off in style

Germany 3-1 Portugal

An open and enterprising game that whilst goalless at half time burst into life in the second period.

Both teams looked to attack throughout the game. As per usual Portugal saw a lot of the ball, constantly making those neat passes in and around the midfield and on the edge of the box, but never seeming to have the desire to attack at real pace and with any directness. Pauleta, again employed in the lone striker role, did something we haven't seen much from him in this tournament, going off on his own little dribble to set himself up for a shot - but still he was unable to add to the 1 goal he scored after only 4 minutes against Angola.

The first half was not as good as the second but it still afforded some entertainment - Sebastian Kehl having a good shot in the penalty area that was deflected wide for a corner. Schweinsteiger then played in Klose but his shot was blocked. Pauleta had a great chance after a fine ball from Sabrosa saw him attempt to curl it round the imposing figure of Kahn, a good save resulting. Kehl also tried an audacious lob over Ricardo but he was acrobatically up to the task. In fact Kehl who had barely seen any minutes during the World Cup was having an excellent game while Ballack's injury kept him warming the bench. Podolski hit a stinging free kick that Ricardo did well to deal with and Deco was afforded too much space in the penalty area and blazed over.

The second half though saw 4 goals. After 10 minutes or so Schweinsteiger smashed a dipping swerving shot which moved around in the air so viciously, and was hit with such venom that Ricardo was left with little chance. Schweinsteiger had been left out of the semi, and despite most viewing him as a key man in the German team had had less game time than expected. Here he was letting everyone know that he was still around! Thereupon ensued chance after chance. Lahm volleyed over before a Schweinsteiger free kick induced Petit to slice the ball into his own goal. Portugal would really have to fire now. Deco had a good shot but Kahn was equal to it. In fact Kahn was in fantastic form throughout the match, trying to make the point that he and not Lehmann should be first choice.

Scolari brought on Gomes for Valente, followed by Figo for Pauleta. Figo had been left on the bench but here was the chance for him to bow out in style. Figo almost immediately set up Ronaldo but his shot wasn't quite up to the task. Then seconds later and Schweinsteiger was celebrating another wonder goal, curling in a long range effort which left Ricardo with no chance. There were still a couple more chances for the Portugese including a decent free kick from Ronaldo but finally on 88 minutes Portugal got their consolation. Figo floated in a lovely ball for Gomes to head home as the two subs combined.

Kahn was denied a clean sheet but he had an amazing game. Schweinsteiger was inspired. Ronaldo showed the most positive intent for Portugal, Deco made some wonderful long distance passes inch perfect.

Kahn, Figo and Pauleta announced their retirement from international football and the Germans took 3rd place.

Team of the Tournament

As is customary among football critics/ pundits/ journalists/ commentators (yes I consider myself among this crowd!) I shall here and now make up my team of the tournament thus far. This could possibly change after the final game, if someone puts on an amazing performance in the final who hasn't been included among my team they may yet force their way in. The World Cup Final is the biggest stage of all so brilliant performances count for more there.


Buffon (Italy): Pulled off a series of amazing saves and has only been beaten once, this by a fluke Gilardino own goal for which he had no chance. He has been consistently brilliant throughout - a little like Kahn 4 years ago, although lets hope he doesn't do a Kahn in the World Cup Final and undo much of his good work by being at fault for the oppositions opening goal!

Note: A very important part of a goalkeepers game, often overlooked, but to which I subscribe to - having been alerted to this fact a few years ago when I heard Schmeichal talk about it - is to organise the defence. As Schmeichal said, if the keeper has no saves to make he's done his job even better because he's got the defenders working well in front of him. Buffon has also been exemplary in this regard although he does have an excellent defence in front of him who could probably perform that job anyway!

Second Choice: Jens Lehmann (Germany) who has had a sterling tournament.

Honourable mentions: Kawaguchi (Japan) who pulled off some fabulous saves in the group stages, Petr Cech (Czech Republic) who had a magical game against Ghana and could have been in line for the keeper of the tournament award had his side progressed a few stages further, and Ricardo (Portugal) who was mammoth in the penalty shoot-out against England as well as pulling off crucial saves in normal time, particularly against Holland and Germany.

Right back:

Zambrotta (Italy): Yet again demonstrated his class especially bombing forward but also in the bread and butter jobs of the defence.

Second Choice: Willy Sagnol (France): Performed consistently well throughout the tournament with only one or two small mistakes noticeable.

Honourable mention: Cafu (Brazil) - an elder statesman of the game who never fails to impress.

Centre backs (pick 2):

Cannavaro (Italy): An absolutely immense tournament - hasn't put a foot wrong so far, my player of the tournament without question thus far.

Thuram (France): Has played well all World Cup but gets in to the team by virtue of his semi-final performance against Portugal.

Second Choices: Ayala (Argentina): I nearly put him in the team ahead of Thuram but with so little between them the defining factor came down to the facts that Argentina were eliminated in the quarters, and also that he was one of the unfortunate ones to miss a penalty in the shoot-out against Germany.

Lucas Neill (Australia): Also not a popular choice I imagine but this man rarely put a foot wrong. Just like his fellow centre-back Craig Moore (Aus)

Honourable mention: Marquez (Mexico) - Always led from the front and played exceptionally against Argentina in the second round including scoring a goal. The only blot on his copybook was conceding the penalty against Portugal.

Left back:

Phillip Lahm (Germany): A vintage tournament from Lahm who scored the first goal of the tournament with a cracker and who looked great overlapping on the flanks in each game. His defending was great bar a couple of mistakes against Ecuador, and showed his versatility in the 3rd/4th play off playing right back.

Second choice: Miguel (Portugal): A physical player who impressed going forward and in defence although he did unluckily concede a penalty against Portugal for handball.

Midfield: I'm going to play 5 across the midfield, not because I believe in that system but because it's so hard to only pick 4 and some of the supposedly best strikers in the world have not stood up to be counted. Allow me to pick more centrally minded players on the wings, remember that the fullbacks I have picked can create the width. Remember that I am trying to accommodate the best players of the tournament as well as have a formation that can very roughly work!

Right wing:

Deco (Portugal): Not a traditional winger but his vision has been superb throughout the tournament with pinpoint passing, and lovely interplay. Scored a great goal against Iran and has been the main player for Portugal.

Central Midfield (3 of them):

Zidane (France): Gains his place courtesy of his quarter-final appearance alone. In the knock-out stages he has been inspirational, his vision is still there, and he can create chances for his team-mates.

Pirlo (Italy): Has been consistently excellent scoring and creating throughout the tournament.

Gattuso (Italy): Simply outstanding in the defensive midfield role, cannot fault him, he turns up everywhere and beats off some very strong competition for that defensively minded role.

Left Wing:

Maxi Rodriguez (Argentina): Shone, scoring 3 goals in 5 matches including a wonder goal against Mexico, and always looked dangerous. Not a typical winger type but I'll have him here and he can go up to help the attack to make a bit more of a 4-4-2 if necessary.

The unlucky midfielders to miss out:

Ronaldo (Portugal) - OK I don't really like the guy but on pure footy talent his lightning pace and exciting dribbles make him a worthy contender.

Makelele and Vieira (France) are both brilliant at breaking the play up and setting the team on their way but this is what I have the even more impressive Gattusso for. Vieira also showed an eye for goal that was a little surprising.

Luis Figo (Portugal): A couple of unsavoury incidents notwithstanding Figo still let his class shine through as he bowed out on the world stage

Nakamura (Japan): Tremendously good effort from this man, lovely passing, very impressive.

Kaka (Brazil): In a team of individuals Kaka always impressed.

Joe Cole (England): At times looked quite exceptional, but only at times!


The world cup has been disappointing for the efforts of the strikers - with one game to go the top scorer has 5 followed by 7 men on 3.

Klose (Germany): You can't argue with 5 goals plus he has created for his strike partner Podolski proving he is not just a finisher. He was a trifle lucky to have 5 world cup goals to his name in 2002 but he's really proved himself this time around.


Torres (Spain) scored 3 goals in exactly half the number of minutes Klose was on the pitch but he scored them in only the first two games and one of them was a penalty, his goal against Ukraine absolutely brilliant. He played an exciting brand of football but was unusually subdued against France in the second round.

Crespo (Argentina) - also socred 3 and regularly made an impact.

Henry (France) - scorer of 3 crucial goals but never looked as good as he does when he plays for Arsenal.

Players who might have had a chance had they played more:

Tevez (Argentina) for me appeared an outstanding talent but he came off the bench in all matches bar the quarter-final in which he started.

Lennon (England): don't laugh but I really believe more game time and he could really have stamped his mark on World Cup 2006. Of course he would - he's a Leeds boy at heart!

Fabregas (Spain): Played with great maturity but apart from the fact he only ever played relative bit parts in matches his team didn't progress past the second round.

Robben and Van Persie (Holland): Looked magical on occasions.

Ivory Coast players like Zakora, Kone, Toure who were unlucky to be in such a hard group all could have come mighty close had they played an extra game or so. The same could have been said for Michael Essien.

So the final reckoning for me was:

Zambrotta Cannavaro Thuram Lahm
Deco Pirlo Zidane Gattuso Rodriguez

Whaddya reckon? I possibly got it slightly wrong but I think I've made a good fist of it!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Who will take 3rd?

And more importantly who cares? Often deemed the most pointless match of the tournament it is still a match to savour, especially for someone like me, mourning the fact that the end of the tournament is nigh!

This is the kind of match where men who are 50-50 chances of playing will be given the opportunity to rest. Would Ballack have missed the final with the inflamed knee that is keeping him out of this match? I think not! No doubt there will be a few changes. Miguel has also been ruled out through injury.

A nice gesture is that Lehmann has agreed to stand aside and allow Oliver Kahn one last World Cup game as he wins his 86th cap. Klose will have the opportunity to extend his goals tally, Podolski may try to catch him up.

Surely the game promises to be an open affair? Surely the shackles will be released? I certainly hope so, last tournament's 3-2 win from Turkey over Korea at the same stage was a highly entertaining affair.

As to who will win: who can say, as to who I want, who can say that either? I would like to see lots of goals. I think overall Germany may edge it.

Portugal have only been in this territory once before (1966), Germany have appeared in the 3rd/4th play off 4 times.

Frogs Final bound!

France 1-0 Portugal.

Not as good a game as the previous semi but still a fascinating affair. And for me personally, after seeing some disappointing results at earlier stages in the knock-out round at least the semi's delivered the finalists I hoped for. Ronaldo in tears, and Zizou through to the final...excellent!

Portugal enjoyed a feast of possession, a whopping 57% or so, and they continually moved forward looking for goals. These attacks, whilst frequent, rarely looked like being rewarded with a goal. They were thwarted by an immense Lilian Thuram, and their particular formation which never quite worked as it should - the usual genius of Scolari for once made decisions during the match which at the time were questionable, and ultimately proved wrong!

The first chance came almost immediately, Malouda reacted to Gallas' ball over the top screwing his shot wide. Suddenly Portugal were looking for the opening goal. Ronaldo, as he did throughout the match, played exciting football, continually looking like the person most likely to bring about a Portugal breakthrough. After mazy dribbles he set up Deco and Maniche in turn who fired in long distance shots, saved and whistling over consecutively. Abidal then provided a low cross which Henry was agonisingly close to getting his feet to but it was Portugal who seemed the brighter in the early stages as they showed lovely interplay in and around the box while never quite having the shots to match despite Figo having one decent effort saved.

The only goal of the game came on 33 minutes. Twisting and turning inside the penalty area Carvalho's trailing leg caught Henry causing him to fall over, the ref having no hesitation in pointing to the spot. It was a slightly controversial penalty although I believe it was merited. If you catch someone in the box, preventing him having a shot at goal, a penalty should surely ensue. Zidane showed England how to get past Ricardo. As usual he dived the right way, fully outstretched, but Zidane had fired it in with such power and precision despite only using a two step lead in to the shot, that the ball nestled beautifully in the goal. The rest of the half saw only one chance of note as a central Ronaldo run ended in a shot deflected wide by Thuram.

The second half was all about France keeping the Portugese at bay, however it was they who had an excellent chance only a few minutes in as Henry from just inside the penalty area on the left hand side, fired in a shot which Ricardo stopped with his wrist, the ball somehow spinning wide and out to safety. Ribery very soon after forcing him into another save with a good shot from distance.

The second half was generally scrappy and Portugal never looked like they were going to equalise. Scolari withdrew Pauleta for Simao. It was a strange decision to take off a player who had scored 47 times for his country, right up there with the great Eusebio. But Scolari was adamant to keep with 1 man up front with the creative geniuses behind him. He shoved Ronaldo into the centre-forward position. Why he did this when Ronaldo is unaccustomed to this position and was looking so good on the wing I don't know. Pauleta had had a frustrating evening, his service had been poor as balls had flown over his head, and no-one had really been feeding him into great positions. He'd had one half chance hit the side netting after forging past Thuram in the box. Portugal don't play Pauleta in the typical lone striker role, no-one would hit the ball long to him for him to provide head downs and flicks like they would with a Crouch - that's not his kind of game. Ultimately I believe Pauleta was let down by the system. Scolari obviously believed the system was more important than the personnel. A refreshing attitude perhaps, but the man whose never afraid to make the big calls couldn't engineer his substitutions to his advantage. Even Postiga, with the reputation as Portugese supersub couldn't conjure much.

There was one final nervy moment, and this was provided by Barthez who ballooned a volleyball slap into the air when catching the ball seemed simple. Figo with the goal at his mercy headed over, and the French were not left to rue the idiosyncracies of Barthez. Instead Zidane was left celebrating the fact that he would finish his professional career in the most important match anyone can ever play in, and that only comes round every 4 years. Cafu has featured in 3, this will be Zidane's second. Portugal will have to raise their spirits for the 3rd 4th playoff!

Thuram was my man of the match. Zidane did quite well but nowhere near the sublime standards he set in the quarter final, and Ronaldo was Portugal's best.

And one final note I reserve to Ronaldo. He had a fantastic game, perhaps inspired by the boos of the crowd every time he touched the ball. But again he provided a very controversial moment. Under a vague challenge from Sagnol in the area, he theatrically dived to try and win a penalty, one of the most blatant dives you'll ever see, no wonder he isn't endearing himself to anyone!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

France - Portugal preview.

So who will the other finalist be?

France: Will Zizou finish his career in style? Can this aging squad find more fire in their belly's? Will Henry add to his goal tally? Domenech has a good record with the French side. It was not that long ago France almost did not qualify for the second round, can they make a mockery of this? They will be very confident after overcoming Brazil that is for sure.

Portugal: Will Scolari weave his magic again? Can Figo bow out after featuring at the World Cup Final? Will Deco make a big difference? Portugal have never been in a World Cup Final. Will this be their time?

Auf Wiedersehn

Italy 0-0 Germany, 2-0 aet

A fantastic game of football that was open and exciting, as well as exhibiting magnificent defence. It was a game that managed to show a lot that is wonderful about the beautiful game. And thankfully it was Italy who were the victors, the hosts eliminated.

Italy had the best of the first half. Perrotta was played clean through by Totti, but Lehmann smothered the ball as his first touch was disappointing. Totti had a free kick deflected into Lehmann's grateful arms. The Italians, with a reputation mostly based on miserly defence, were signalling their attacking intent early, perhaps hopeful to avoid penalties for which they have a poor record, and the Germans have a fantastic one (they have scored 18/19 penalties in world cups winning each of their world cup shoot outs). The first half ended with a few Italian half chances, the best of which saw Camoranesi head over from a Pirlo free kick. The Germans also had a few opportunities as Ballack had a shot swerve just wide, Podolski had a shot blocked, and tellingly Schneider had a gilt edged opportunity - bearing down on the right hand edge of the box, in plenty of space, his shot went fizzing over the bar much to the Italians collective relief.

The second half saw the Germans step up their tempo. Klose barged strongly into the box only for the brave Buffon to provide the rescue relief, diving in at his feet, spreading wide and making himself impenetrable. 10 minutes later some nice build up play saw Podolski in the box, the ball at his feet and the goal as well as the tight marking of Materazzi behind him. An incisive turn gave him the opportunity to shoot but Buffon's reflexes soon quelled the danger. The ball rebounded to Friedrich who had a terrible shot go well over. Then there was a period of no goalmouth activity until first Pirlo had a long range effort easily dealt with, Ballack sent a free kick in a great position inches over the bar, and then finally Perrotta thought he'd made the perfectly timed run only for Lehamann to foil, fisting the dangerous through ball away to safety.

And then it was extra time. The 90 minutes had seen a tense exciting encounter, what were the next 30 to bring?

Lots of action! Italy from being the better team in the first half, to worst in the second, again saw themselves in the ascendancy as Italy hit the woodwork twice within 60 seconds of each other. Gilardino expertly jinked back onto his left foot and promptly delivered a shot which beat Lehmann but came back off the inside of the post. It was desperately unlucky. Then Germany only half cleared a corner, only for Zambrotta to sweetly strike a 20 yard effort, agonisingly shaking the crossbar on the way over the goal. To have such bad luck it seemed like it would be destiny for Germany to go on and win the game, most likely on penalties. The last seconds of the first half of extra time saw Odonkor find the unmarked head of Podolski in a great position, only for him to miss the target by some distance! On 111 minutes Germany broke once more, this time Podolski forced Buffon into a stupendous one-handed tip over, a real let off for the Italians. Del Piero then hit a shot wide of the right hand post from 20 yards after some exciting Italian build up play, and then Lehmann saved well from Pirlo as he lashed in a ferocious 25 yard drive.

Extra time had been the most entertaining stage of the match, and then it just got a whole lot more exciting.

A penalty shoot out was impending, it seemed almost inevitable that after almost 120 minutes of good attacking play, but even better defence which negated each other, that the outcome would have to require penalties.

However on 119 minutes the Germans headed away a corner only for it to land at the feet of Pirlo who made a spectacularly incisive pass into the path of fullback Grosso who belted it instantaneously, without a second thought. The ball curled in, nestling perfectly in the corner of the goal leaving Lehmann with no chance. The man who had won a controversial penalty against Australia scored the first goal in a world cup semi-final with virtually one minute left on the clock.

The hosts desperately pressed for an equaliser but instead a speedy Italian breakaway saw them put the icing on the cake. Gilardino executed the perfect reverse pass for Del Pierro to execute the perfect postage stamp lob to send the whole of Italy into delirium.

Both teams contributed to an excellent match but overall the Italians just deserved it. Cannavaro was absolutely immense at the back, and Buffon also deserves many plaudits for a top class game. Gattusso was everywhere in the midfield. A great defence and some exciting forward players giving Italy a combination that sends them flying to the world cup final.

For Germans despair, but they can be very proud of their campaign. Lehmann had a top match and Klose may end up with the consolation of the golden shoe as he sits atop the standings still with 5. It was a great advertisement for the game (despite the inevitable few dives, notably from Podolski and Totti). Lahm has done exceptionally well at left back and Klinsmann has proved himself as a manager although it was an interesting call to start with Borowski ahead of Schweinsteiger. Odonkor showed his worth coming off the bench too to cause Italy problems.

A great game and Italy worthy victors, with 2 fantastic goals to seal their place in the World Cup Final 2006.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Germany - Italy

Will the hosts reach the final or the Italians? Both teams have played well at the world cup, the Germans come off a much tougher game.

The portents:

In Italy's favour they seem to make the final every 12 years, they are due the appearance, they made the final (and won) the last time Italian football were embroiled in a scandal - 1982, and Italy have the upper hand over Germany in world cups. Italy with their renowned defence and dangerous attack will be a handful.

In Germany's favour the host nation often goes to the final, Italy have been stopped in their tracks by the host nation in the last two world cups, Germany won the tournament when it was last held on German soil. They are missing Torsten Frings but overall their team has played an exciting brand of football and may go into the match as favourites! And expect them to win if it reaches penalties.

Down to the last four, only one of the nations can win - pity I don't really like any of them. France are the best of a bad job I think.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Christiano Ronaldo

Now lots of English fans don't like him: the perception - he tried to get Rooney sent off, he riled him up with a head rub at the start of the game, and he winks happily at the Portugese bench when Rooney is sent off.

This video shows these actions to demonsrate exactly why he has suddenly become a hate figure.

Other websites have been spawned. Take a look at this to see the bitter vitriol.

Of course once in a while they did get on - rather too well!

England - the aftermath.

Personally I was pretty gutted at the England loss, although their exit did not surprise me. I did feel they didn't really deserve to go out, but nor did I feel they really deserved to go through. Overall they came out of the Portugal match with more credit, except for the hopeless display of lack of nerves in the penalties.

After that game I sat quietly, flat, after going out like that. During the penalties I did shout quite a bit, and I had a couple of tears glistening in the corner of my eye. It was England's first game in the tournament I'd felt really passionate about.

I have since been listening to this CD of England songs Mum burnt me, that my family had sent as a gift over from the UK. "Football's coming home" is naturally the most emotional song as I remember it well from England's Euro 96 campaign.

But the feeling was no way near as intense as my distress about Leeds has been (on a number of occasions).

So let us summarise some aspects of England's campaign


Picked a squad with only 4 strikers, 2 of whom were under a big fitness cloud. Didn't bring along a Defoe, Bent or Ashton instead of a midfielder like Jenas who is a) not up to it and b) as likely to start a game as the Pope is to renounce catholicism. And include a 17 yr old gamble in Theo Walcott, and then refuse to play him (although admittedly I imagine the experience of just going was good for him).

At Germany itself, started off with a reasonable line-up. 4-4-2 was the way to go. This was with Owen and Crouch up front. When Owen came off injured against Sweden after he and Rooney started, Crouch was the replacement. And as a pair they looked good, Rooney doing his usual great job of linking midfield and attack, and looking dangerouse in his first competitive action since breaking a metatarsal. They played a good game plan of playing to feet and looked good (first half at least). So why did Sven fiddle with his formation, make a 4-5-1 (4-1-4-1)? He left Rooney isolated up front, not the role he relishes, and possibly part of the reason he became frustrated against Portugal and behaved rashly (not to excuse the little blighter one jot!)

He persisted with Beckham, with no appetite to change him at all, regardless of performance. In fact against Ecuador he was so obviously physically sick - it took Sven an extra 17 minutes (approx) to see what the rest of the world already knew. yes Beckham did a couple of useful things in the dead ball situation, setting up a couple of goals, and scoring one himself. So perhaps he deserved a start? Perhaps, but there was no need to keep him on so long. Lennon was gagging for a start. I was gagging for Lennon. Most of England was gagging for the protege born and bred in Leeds and taught his footballing trade there - Aaron Lennon. When he made the forced sub against Portugal Lennon looked exciting, fresh and good in the last 15 mins of normal time plus extra time.

And Lampard had a bit of a shocker at the world cup. Nigh on 30 shots and nothing to show for it. Never seeming to be able to replicate his Chelsea form, perhaps frozen on the biggest stage. Did Sven even contemplate dropping one of his big names, thus allowing a 4-4-2 that included a defensive midfielder in Hargreaves? Did he hell as like. Boy would I have liked to see the following team and formation at some stage:

Neville Rio Terry Cole
Lennon Gerrard Hargreaves Cole
Rooney Crouch

(with the midfield as a bit of a diamond, Hargreaves breaking up the attacks and distributing, Gerrard supporting the strikers - even if this only happened for half an hour at the opportune time!)

Instead Gerrard was often wasted going forward too much and neglecting the midfield where he excels. Crouch was not given enough a run. Sven needed to have confidence in his abilities that saw him score 6 goals in 10 (I believe) in the run up to the world cup.

And what kind of a coach constantly changes formation. The teams who have done best tend to have had a formation and a first choice team sheet and stuck with it barring injury or suspension in which case different players would fit in the formation. Sven seemed to like his formation because it could accommodate all his star men - not the basis on which to build a football team.

On 4 Million pounds a year surely he could have done better. And how much influence did McClaren have? Do we think things will improve under him - I'm sceptical.

After the world cup Sven's press conference included 9 separate instances of him saying sorry.


Rooney - so much emphasis by the media on one man. He recovered from his injury quicker than expected, didn't score (at times this was due to the formation), and acted rather hotheadedly. Was passionate to do well and worked his bollocks off, one indiscretion we may forgive him a few years time!

Hargreaves - Awesome! My England player of the tournament. Under so much criticism for even being in the squad he proved his doubters wrong. Most of us have only ever seen Hargreaves given a token last 15 minutes, maybe in a random position like left wing. In his favoured midfield role (and also at right back) he really showed his stuff. Good stuff my man.

Others did good stuff now and again. Joe Cole looked sensational in the first half against Sweden scoring the wonder goal, Gerrard hit a blinder against T & T. Beckham was at times on the money, at others his passing was just woeful. Terry gave a mixed bag. Rio did well. Robbo did OK but he's not the man for penalties. Neville did OK. Lennon was exciting. Crouch did OK when asked.

But overall the players were a let down.

The Argentinian Ref in the Portugal game.

I think made a couple of boo boos. And also with regard to the Rooney sending off I have found out he was absolutely adamant it was for the stamp. If that was the case I think the stamp warranted no more than the yellow card. Combined with the push though it was maybe worth a red, but the ref seemed to think the push didn't require punishment.

France stun Brazil.

France 1-0 Brazil.

Who actually expected this result? Admittedly France have suddenly come into some form in the last game against Spain, and Brazil never looked like the awesome team they could be, however the consensus was that they have the flair and the personnel to take them past France. The consensus was wrong.

The game itself was actually a little disappointing. Up until France scored in the early part of the second half there was little action of note. France were the better team in the first period but didn't have the clear opportunities to show for it. In fact both sides created few efforts. Malouda had a header that went over from a Zidane free kick, there were a few free kicks and moments from both sides, but whilst it was a fascinating encounter goalscoring opportunities were indeed a rare commodity. France also had an appeal for a penalty for handball turned down, it instead resulting in a free kick - replays show a penalty may have been more appropriate.

France's goal: A free kick floated in from deep on the left, from Zidane, eluded everyone only to find an unmarked Henry ghosting in at the back post and volleying forcefully home, leaving Dida with no chance. After this point Brazil attacked a lot more. With the talent they have it is such a shame that their attacking verve was not present from the offset. But even then the chances were either not great, or were not attempted with the precision one would expect. Ze Roberto whipped in a dangerous cross-cum-shot that Barthez had to be alert to, Robinho had a great chance but sliced miles wide. In the dying minutes and seconds Brazil became more desperate and Ronaldinho fired a free kick narrowly over after a tricky Ronaldo run was brought to a premature halt. Ronaldo also had a long range effort forcing the Barthez save. Space opened up at the other end for france to finish off, Zidane setting up Saha who's finish was disappointing.

France thoroughly deserved their win. They were excellent. After a faltering group stages in which they found goalscoring difficult, they lacked sharpness, and almost were eliminated, France have looked sublime at times in the knockout stages. Zidane was immense throughout the match. So many amazing touches, always the one to set up the shots, the one with the vision, and the great free kicks. In the second half Henry and Ribery also troubled with their pace, Ribery almost finishing off a lovely move, only for Dida to clutch the ball on the edge of the area. Yes Zidane was spectacular. The oldies had combined well in the game. Can they do so another two times and bring Jules Rimet home, and cap off a marvellous Zidane career?

More Years of hurt.

Portugal 0-0 England, 0-0 a.e.t, 3-1 PSO

First - the lineups.

Portugal welcomed back Christiano Ronaldo from injury, and what a telling fact this would be (more on that later). This was welcome news for the Portugese fans who love to see him marauding down the wing, playing exciting football. Petit was in for suspended Deco which would give the side less of an attacking edge, and Tiago coming in for Costinha.

England decided on retaining the 4-5-1 much to my chagrin, as I still maintain Rooney is wasted in that formation. Neville had recovered to take his place and Hargreaves moved into the holding role in place of Carragher. A good looking side but I'd have dropped Lampard for Crouch. Lennon was also pushing Beckham hard for a starting spot. However Sven seemed to be unable to pull out the big decisions, adopting his usual cautious approach. (Also more on Sven later methinks)

The first twenty minutes was played at a frenetic pace. Chances aplenty at both ends of the pitch, - reminding us of the exciting game back at Euro 2004. It died down quite a bit for the rest of the first half though. John Terry's booking which would have ruled him out of the semi-final had England won, was a bizarre call as it appeared that both he was simply involved in a clash of heads with both players going for the ball.

The second half's first moment of note was Beckham striking Valente's hand in the penalty area. The referee adjudged ball to hand and it was probably a fair call as I've seen the same kind of incident waved on in earlier games. This was Beckham's last contribution to the game as: forced off with an injury, Lennon was introduced, and finally a real chance to see what he could do.

Lampard was then presented with a wonderful chance, the ball coming to him in heaps of space from a corner. If this had been Lampard playing for Chelsea the net would probably have bulged - instead: a diabolical effort straight into the ground and bouncing over. Then a bit of confusion between the english attackers that could so easily have seen a goal. Lennon burst past two players and into the box, the ball sat up for Rooney, except that he and Lennon seemed to be in each others way a little too much. Had Lennon laid off the pass to him a couple of seconds earlier Rooney had would have had more time and space to manoeuvre his shot. Given Lennon's run Rooney should have kept out of his way, in which case Lennon would have had an excellent opportunity to score. Instead Rooney had a hurried shot, which was practically a slice through thin air. The ball broke for Joe Cole, yet he blazed over.

Then the red card.

Rooney got in a tangle with Carvalho. He stayed on his feet as he tussled for the ball (when he could have gone down to win himself a free kick), and ended up inadvertently stamping on Carvalho's crown jewels. Ronaldo remonstrated with the ref, Rooney pushed him out of the way, and the ref pulled out the red card. There was a little confusion as to what the red card was for. The official explanation was the stamp, however I think that is what the referee decided later would be the most palatable explanation. To me it seemed as though (and my view on this intensifies on every viewing), the ref responded to the shove by pointing Rooney out, getting him to come to him, and brandish the red. To me, it looked as if the red card was for the push. Another possible explanation (also proffered to me by a few people) was that he was going to give yellow for the stamp, and after seeing the push decided to give a straight red. However now the ref says it was only for the stamp.

Regardless, Rooney is an idiot. He should have walked away from the situation instead of getting hot headed and pushing Ronaldo. It was Beckham's 1998 retaliatory kick against Argentina all over again. If it was just for the stamp though I would have some sympathy for him, it seemed like an honest tussle, it is only at super slow mo where any intent can be interpreted. But still I consider Rooney to be a silly boy.

Ironically after the sending off, England played better. And Crouch came on to replace Joe Cole to give England an attacking option, showing some nice touches up front. Portugal also continued to threaten with Maniche, Figo and Ronaldo. Lennon should have scored after Lampard's free kick was parried. There were less opportunities in extra time but still either side could have won it. Lennon had a penalty appeal turned down although it appeared Valente won the ball honestly, even if he did take a little of the player with him. There were nervy moments for both sides as quite a few corner kicks were given, and Robinson had one fingertip save to make.

England did very well to hold on with 10 men for 60 minutes, as well as create the better of the scoring chances. Lennon looked bright and artful when he came on, Hargreaves gave an excellent display in midfield in his tackling and distribution and was my man of the match. He also showed his attacking threat with one good run down the left wing, slotting the ball inside the penalty area only for no-one to quite be on hand to slot it home. Rooney was disappointing although he was frustrated with his opportunities, and Lampard again disappointed. Terry gave a mixed bag, Ferdinand did some excellent defending. Neville did qell coming back into the side, and Gerrard had his moments.

I think from the 120 minutes that on balance England deserved to win.

But deserved, shemerved. In football deserved is practically irrelevant. It was 0-0 and that was that. Penalties would decide the victor. Could England finally break their terrible record in shoot outs?

Simao scored, and Lampard, as I knew he would (at this point I was shouting at the screen with a couple of tears glistening in my eye, knowing that he would miss but telling the bastool to score) missed - Ricardo effecting the save. An early advantage. England's night over?

But then Simao sent Robinson the wrong way, and yet hit the post. Hargreaves had his hard, low penalty partially saved, but into the goal it went.

And so the two sides were level.

And then Petit missed, shaving the outside of the post (although some reckon Robbo got his fingertips to it and actually made the save). Regardless a chance opened up for England, could they take the lead?

It was Gerrard.

Surely he would be the one man you would want to take this crucial penalty. Possibly England's most crucial player, who adeptly scored in the FA cup final. He was ashen faced and nervous. And Ricardo saved.

Then Postiga scored. And Carragher who'd come onto replace Lennon (the substitute substituted!) with about 2 minutes of extra time to go, a designated penalty taker. A strange choice perhaps. Well, first he put it in the goal. But silly old Carragher hadn't waited for the whistle, and having practised shooting it in that corner changed his tack, shot to the left, and again a save, ricocheting off Ricardo's hands and onto the crossbar. Perhaps it was part of his routine, perhaps he was being a smart arse, but I tend to think Jamie made an unprofessional mistake.

And then it was left for Ronaldo to get the win.

And he did.

Ricardo got the record for most penalties saved in a shoot out at the world cup (the English players putting the ball at too nice a height for him, and Ricardo guessing the direction expertly).

It was Euro 2004 all over again. A lot of similarities.

And yet again a heroic loss for England. How they must be sick of them. And Portugal make the last four for the second time (the first time being in 66!)

Final Quarter-final previews.

This is a little bit weird writing this post. The last two quarterfinals are the first time I have not got round to writing a preview for any of the knock-out games. For completeness I would like to do so, even though these games have been well and truly gone (obviously this requires me to remember how my mind was working before these matches, and imagine they do not exist yet - believe you me I am happy to return to this stage in my life than be where I am now! lol). Bear with me, or ignore the post, do as you please!

England - Portugal

A repeat of Euro 2004. Could it be the third time in three consecutive tournaments that the volcano (Scolari) defeats the iceman (Sven) at the quarter-final stage? Or will that voodoo be broken? Can Portugal cope without their (arguably) most influential player in Deco? Can England end 40 years of hurt? Or will it be Sven's last game in charge? One has to hope for England's sake it doesn't get to penalties - otherwise no doubt they will do their usual choking trick.

No doubt England will raise their game against Portugal. Thus far they have been playing poorly and getting results but England always tend to play better against higher quality opposition. This should mean for an entertaining match. Whether it will be enough to secure England a last four berth will remain to be seen.

France - Brazil

Will France continue to be Brazil's bogey team or will Brazil finally gel as a team for a whole 90 minutes rather than rely on moments of individual brilliance? Will Ronaldinho silence his critics? Will Zidane bow out with a whimper? Can Brazil defend their crown? What sort of confidence will France's victory over Spain give them?

Italians ease into last four.

Italy 3-0 Ukraine.

This was one of those quarter finals you sat there thinking this game was more appropriate for the second round or even the group stages. Right from kick off Ukraine always appeared as though they would be eliminated here, and that the Italians would progress. I also sat there thinking that Switzerland (whom Ukraine defeated on penalties in the previous round) would probably have made a better fist of it. My reason for this thought was that the Swiss are an excellent defensive side. They did not concede any goals at the world cup in five games, and would have had more of a chance at containing the Italians. They had been knocked out though because they lacked attacking prowess even though Frei and Barnetta had been impressive at times, and then given the knock-out punch by lacking the bottle when it came down to penalties. They had been consistent all tournament and could have made quite a game of it. The Ukraine on the other hand had been inconsistent. An at times abject 4-0 loss to an on song Spain, a 4-0 demolition of a sorry Saudi Arabia, and a turgid 0-0 draw with the Tunisians reflected their group stages. They had to hope that the version of the Ukraine team was a Shevchenko on top form, backed up by an inspired Voronin and Kalinichenko, and a resolute defence. In short they had to play the game of their lives.

All thus far has been conjecture. Some would call it pointless conjecture. The fact of the matter is that Switzerland did not defeat the Ukraine, therefore let us not worry our little heads about these hypothetical scenarios and focus on the real deal. My head is and always will be full of hypothetical scenarios though I suppose, so forgive me when I occasionally drift into Fantasia Land!

So on to the match:

Italy attacked from the offset, Camoranesi with a dangerous run and shot on 4 minutes, followed by the opening goal on 6 as Zambrotta smashed in at the near post, Shovkovskiy managing to get a hand on it, but the power produced the goal. In truth Ukraine looked nervous from the offset and gave the Italians too much room. The last 30 minutes of the first half was very unmemorable with both sides managing only a couple of wayward efforts on goal. Shevchenko was being tightly marshalled by the Italian defence and only on rare occasions throughout the match did it seem he would trouble Italy.

Early second half showed some new life breathed into the game. Toni scuffed a shot before the Ukraine had their best spell of the match. Gusin's excellent header, and Gusev's shot from point-blank range, were both tremendously saved from Buffon. Buffon, as usual, was on fire. It could so easily have been the equaliser and a whole different ball game. Yet sport is a cruel beast and within minutes who would become victors became even more clear, as Toni broke his World Cup 2006 duck as he stooped low to head the Italians into a 2 goal lead. Totti the provider. Ukraine had another chance to pull one back, this time Gusin thwarted by the crossbar, indicating that this was just not going to be Ukraine's night. And then again, Toni added a third to put the icing on the cake, giving Italy an unassailable lead, tapping into an empty net after good work from Zambrotta.

Cannavaro was my man of the match with a sensational display at the heart of defence.

Italy, with a useful attack, a solid defence, and an amazing goalkeeper could go all the way. But Ukraine did have approximately 3 chances which could so easily have gone in, and this will give the Germans hope for their encounter. Ukraine go home, Shevchenko never quite delivering on the world stage, although lacking in service. They did do very well for a team at their first world cup, however they were aided by an easy group, followed by a not incredibly daunting second round tie.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Hosts Progress.

Germany 1-1 Argentina, 1-1 aet, 4-2 PSO

The first half saw the two sides negate each other, leaving both sides with few decent goalscoring opportunities. Possession changed hands frequently. Some people might have expected fireworks but more often than not when two big teams with big players are playing each other in one of the biggest games of their careers, you find what some people deem a boring match. My phrase of choice however, is, 'a fascinating / intriguing tussle'. The 'cat and mouse' chess game is still very interesting and enjoyable, especially watching the tension from both sides.

Overall the first half saw Argentina string together a better set of passes, probing gently for an opening, impressing in their general play, yet without spine when it came down to where it mattered. Germany didn't appear quite up to the races but they defended in numbers and emerged as the team who could have had been ahead at the half time whistle. Ballack had a header flash wide after a beautifully weighted shot from Schneider. The only other chances of note were Podolski's 25 yard free kick hit straight at the keeper - held at the second attempt, and Mertesacker's drive which steepled over the bar, denying him his second international goal. Tevez was the most impressive for Argentina, his nutmeg almost setting up a Sorin shot, only for Mertesacker's timely intervention.

The second half changed the game within minutes. Ayala scored with a bullet header from a Riquelme free kick. Neither Lehmann, nor Lahm standing on the line, were able to prevent the game's opening goal. The game livened up as the Germans needed to attack more to press for the equaliser, which inevitably in turn led to more openings at their own end. Ballack was unable to take advantage of Abbondanzieri failed to collect a cross, but still chances were at a premium. Maxi Rodriguez had the opportunity to improve his already excellent world cup but instead fired into the side netting.

A couple of key moments did occur in the last 20 minutes or so. Abbondanzieri was injured and had to be replaced by Franco. If there is one position the Argentinian squad lacks depth in it's in goal, Franco coming on for only his fourth cap. And how nervous he looked as he walked on the pitch. The other key was Pekerman's decision to replace Riquelme with Cambiasso and Crespo with Julio Cruz. The rationale was that Cambiasso as a holding midfielder would help Argentina hold onto the lead better than with Riquelme who would find it difficult to quell his attacking instincts. When Cambiasso came on, I said out loud (to myself of course as practically all games I have watched live with only myself for company!) "what the hell? this is a ridiculous decision. What happens if Germany do find an equaliser - how are Argentina going to find a winner in extra-time without Riquelme? And why is Julio Cruz coming on, surely it's time for the introduction of so-called wonder kid Messi. They are both strikers but surely Messi would be the better option?". I thought that there was the potential for Pekerman's negativity to bite him on the bum. And by God it did! It later emerged that Riquelme was tired. I still think a tired Riquelme should have remained on the pitch. I'm sure the Argentinian Press will have been mulling over these very same questions, with far more ferocity than I have. However I haven't been reading the Argentinian Press and so am unable to know the consensus of opinion. Still, the decisions seem a little strange, and their consequences were bad ones, leaving a slightly bitter taste in the mouth for their legion of fans.

Of course had Klose not notched up the all important equalising goal, his substitutions may have been classified as legendary, such is the tiniest dividing line between success and failure in the beautiful game.

With less than 10 minutes remaining Ballack floated in a cross, Borowski expertly flicked it on, and Klose headed in with aplomb. I had wondered only a few minutes earlier though why Borowski had come on for Schweinsteiger. Of course there is the fresh legs argument but that was a big call from Klinsmann. It obviously paid dividends though. Bringing on Odonkor for Schneider was a good sub to make. Odonkor is such a pacy player, with a great 100m sprint time, and he caused a number of problems for Argentina down the right flank.

And then it was extra time.

30 minutes of play that resembled the first 30. Both teams were eager not to make mistakes and were limited to long range efforts on goal.

And so penalties ensued.

Neither side had ever lost a world cup penalty shoot-out. But if any team inspires confidence in a penalty shoot out it is the Germans. They did not disappoint. 4 out of 4 for the Germans with clinical penalties. Even Ballack who had been nursing an injury towards the end of the game showed no signs of ever being likely to miss. Lehmann was the hero as he saved from both Ayala and Cambiasso. Ayala's was particularly weak, unable to score as he had done in 98 in the PSO against England.

The Germans were in delirium, the Argentinians despair. Argentina had probably played a bit better on the night, but how well you play is often irrelevant. Germany showed the better mental toughness in the PSO. Argentina go home after impressing at this world cup but ultimately having very little to show for it.

After the game Argentina were angry, and so some ugly scenes of the two sets of players being involved in some scrapping became obvious. Apparently sub Cufre was sent off in the melee afterwards.

The hosts dreams remain well and truly alive.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Quarter-finals are here!



A mammoth, massive, gigantic, huge, gargantuan, intriguing, exciting, fascinating, mouthwatering, orgasmic match-up. A repeat of both the 1986 and 1990 finals won by Argentina and Germany respectively. The hosts are in fine form, particularly on attack, and they come up against the magic of the Argentinians who entertain by the nature of the way they play the game. Argentinians extra squad depth with Tevez and Messi as likely substitutes could be seen to give them the edge, but then again Germany playing at home could be an even bigger advantage.

This is what the world cup is all about.

One of these teams will go home and the other will progress.

Shit, it's exciting isn't it?

Who do I want? I don't know - I have a lot of reasons to want neither to progress, and yet I enjoy watching both of them.

Who do I think? So hard to tell, hopefully the game will go to extra time though!

Italy - Ukraine.

Italy were rather lucky in their second round match, and they haven't exactly been inspiring at the world cup. But they defend well and like to sneak 1-0 wins. They have, on paper, the easiest quarter-final but Ukraine, appearing at their first tournament will have something to say about this. Maybe Shevchenko will properly fire for the first time at the tournament.

Should be interesting.

And who knows, maybe even more exciting than the other game, one can never be sure of these things. It is football after all!

Spain underachieve...AGAIN!

France 3-1 Spain.

Once more Spain enter the World Cup as one of the favourites, once more they fall at an early stage. Going into their second round match with France, Spain were on top form and looking good, France had been playing like they were on borrowed time. However when you have a quality team, even if it's getting on in years, a good performance is only ever one game away.

France: Looked better than they have done for a long time. Henry was constantly caught offside but they looked dangerous going forward, particularly the young and exuberant Ribery. Thuram made the mistake of conceding the penalty with a silly foul but Ribery equalised with aplomb as he rounded the keeper and stroked home after a nice through ball from Viera, the ball eluding the desperate dives of Puyol and Pernia. France came out fighting at the start of the second half, Malouda's lob drawing a great save from Casillas. Viera headed in the second goal with less than 10 minutes remaining, and extra time looming. Then as Spain pushed for the equaliser Zidane found himself with the opportunity to make it 3, his forceful shot completing a happy night for the French. This sets up a quarter-final clash which will be a repeat of the 98 final, Brazil await.

Spain: Passed patiently, searching for the opening and were presented with a great chance as Pablo was felled in the box. Villa made no mistake from the spot with a perfectly taken penalty - low and hard in the botton left hand corner. It was Puyol who was to become villain as it was he who conceded the free kick from which Viera was ultimately to score. Henry was in a non menacing position chasing down the ball, possession looking likely to go the spanish way until a rash elbow from Puyol. Spain never quite looked the fast, threatening team they had done, their renowned midfield and attack not quite up to speed, despite their frenetic opening 20 minutes or so. Aragones brought on Joaquin and Garcia midway through the second period to reinvigorate his side who were looking second best, but neither of their efforts was enough, even Joaquin's shot into the side netting.

A very disappointing finish to the Spanish campaign, and Aragones picked up his only defeat at the helm of the national side since taking over after Euro 2004. Spanish sides may hold the champions league and the uefa cup, but their national team continue to flatter to deceive.

I was disappointed in the result for purely footballing reasons. I thought Spain deserved to be in the quarter final ahead of the French after the way they had played thus far, and because they are an exciting team going forward I would have looked forward more to their match-up with Brazil. It's also a bit of a shambles that the Ukraine who were hammered 4-0 by Spain progress further than their tormentors. But that's the nature of world cup footy.

It also meant that now 6 of the 8 quarter finalists are past winners, it would have been nice from my perspective if this was 5 out of 8 and Spain were still there.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Brazil 3-0 Ghana

An expected result, even if the game itself suggested the scoreline could have been otherwise. Ghana could not even become the first African team to score a goal against Brazil at a world cup.

Brazil: Always looked dangerous on attack, and were handed an early present as Ronaldo became the most prolific goalscorer in world cup finals history, as he expertly shimmied past Kingston after a through ball by Kaka. For most of the half though Brazil had to be content with defence, an aspect of their game which made them look vulnerable at times. However, Dida had a great game in goal and made the game turning save from Mensah's header at a corner. Fortuitously Brazil managed a second goal before the break as Cafu crossed, and Adrian tapped home. He was in an offside position but the officials got it wrong and the goal stood. Brazil sat back again in the second half, defending OK, but still relying heavily on Dida. After Ghana were reduced to 10 men with 10 minutes remaining, Brazil then created numerous opportunities and could have ended with 5 or 6 goals. Only one more was taken however as Ze Roberto also skilfully rounded the keeper to put the icing on the cake. 3-0 was not an accurate reflection of the game but Brazil are renowned for taking their chances and roll on into the quarters.

Ghana: Their defending was naive at times, in fact it was poor. They seemed to always want to play the offside trap, however this requires their flat backline to be synchronised, however at times one of the defenders didn't move up thus playing the Brazilians onside. This is what Paintsil did for Ronaldo's goal after 5 minutes. Ghana took about 20 minutes to get into the match, perhaps overawed by the big occasion, and feeling lost without Essien. However on attack Ghana looked dangerous. The final shot was often poor though, long range drives went over or wide, shots in the penalty were hit straight (and feebly) at Dida. Amoah and Gyan had the best of the chances but were unable to convert.

After Mensah's strong header was well saved by Dida with his legs only minutes before the half-time interval the killer blow arrived. Adriano scored from an offside position making Ghana's task almost impossible. What made it worse was that he appeared offside. The players, incensed, surrounded the ref, and coach Dujkovic was sent to the stands.

Still Ghana ploughed on in the second spell. However on many an occasion, as they looked good with the ball in a central position 20 or 30 yards from goal, with good options to the left and right, they opted for the harmless piledriver. This approach also revealed their naivety, with all their possession and chances in the second half goals should have accrued. After Gyan was sent off for a second yellow the Ghana defence crumbled and only heroics from Kingston kept the scoreline respectable.

The officials had a bit of a shocker. Brazil should probably have been awarded in the first half rather than Adriano receiving yellow, a number of offsides were wrong i.e. Brazil's second goal was actually offside, and Ronaldo being given offside when he wasn't. Overall not a great day for them.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Final round 2 previews.

Not many goals in the second round games thus far, I have a feeling this might change tonight.

Brazil vs Ghana.

Not sure who I want to win this one. I always like to see an African team make the quarterfinals, however it would be a shame to see such a great team as Brazil get knocked out at this relatively early stage. Robinho will be missing through injury for Brazi. More crucially Ghanain lynchpin Essien is suspended for the clash which will be a huge blow. There could be a few goals in this one, both teams love to attack.

Spain - France.

Hopefully Spain will win this one, they have a great squad and an exciting team whilst France have looked rather abject thus far. It's a one off game though and anything can happen, especially as France welcome back Zidane for the game.

Ukraine joy, Swiss despair.

Ukraine 0-0 Switzerland, 0-0 a.e.t, 3-0 PSO

This was possibly the most boring game of the world cup with few decent chances, and only one offside in 120 minutes of action typifying both teams emphasis on defence. Both Shevchenko and Frei, star men of their respective teams, struck the crossbar - Shevchenko with a glancing header, Frei with a hard struck free kick.

Penalties seemed inevitable and it was Ukraine who showed the better nerves. Despite Shevchenko having Ukraine's first penalty saved they converted their next three while Switzerland converted none of theirs. Barnetta was unlucky as his struck the crossbar but Streller and Cabanas both hit poor efforts leaving Shovkovskiy with comfortable saves.

Very disappointing for the Swiss who become the first team to be eliminated at any world cup finals without conceding in open play. I was hoping they could progress if only for the coach Koebi Kuhn who appears such a genial character. Many of the Swiss team impressed at the world cup, none more so than Barnetta.

The referee took reffing to another extreme. Whilst other refs have been criticised for handing out too many yellow cards, this one was very reticent to show any when perhaps a few were in order. Can't anyone get the balance right?

Italy 1-0 Australia

An absorbing, enthralling contest decided by a last minute penalty.

Italy: Played with by far the least possession but did their usual trick of defending expertly, looking to counterattack and sneaking a 1-0 win. Luca Toni was presented with a few chances, none of which he was able to dispatch. Fabio Cannavaro had an immense, immaculate game in defence, and Gattuso gave his usual tigerish display. At times Italy looked rattled though, and could be said to be fortunate. Their last second penalty was debatable. The sending off of Materazzi was probably fair as he was perceived to be the last man. It was far less clearcut however than the incident which should have seen Heinze shown the red against Mexico.

Australia: Didn't take advantage of their one man advantage and their wealth of possession, demonstrating that against top class opposition they lack penetration. Most of the team generally played well, Scott Chipperfield was particularly good, and Viduka again led the line valiantly, but without Harry Kewell they missed one player who can win a game in a moment. Neill may be seen as the villain after it was he who conceded the penalty. Schwarzer had an excellent game, tipping over on a couple of occasions and making one fantastic save with his legs from Toni when it appeared destined to be a goal.

Aussie heartbreak: A RANT !!

First please permit me to shake off my objectivity and rant.

I am pretty gutted about the Aussies loss. I don't really know why but they have been one of the teams I have been supporting at World Cup 2006. Maybe because they are an underdog with great fighting spirit. Maybe it's neighbourly affection. It is also no doubt partly in the case of the second round match because I really do not like Italy who I have always considered to be diving, cheating scum. My dislike is not in the same league as my dislike of Argentina or Germany but there is a dislike there nevertheless. I don't like the Aussie rugby and cricket teams, but I do like the Socceroos, even if Harry Kewell who screwed Leeds over is a member of the squad. I even celebrated his goal against Croatia.

What is particularly gutting is that: Australia were not outclassed, Australia were not given a deserved beating, Australia were involved in an absorbing and close contest that was ultimately decided by a debatable penalty. There are those who argue both ways. Penalties are given for trips, but was it a trip? Grosso fell over Lucas Neill's prostrate figure, it was admittedly a hard one to interpret but whether the referee got it right or wrong (and I still think from my perspective it was wrong), how hard is it to lose with the very last kick of the game.

I so wanted extra time. The Italians with 10 men would have been wilting, Aussies would have increased the pressure. The Italians outstanding defence may well have stood firm but we will never know. The drama of penalties may have eventuated but we did not get the chance to see.

It was this ref who was in charge when Australia overcame Uruguay on penalties to get to the world cup, it was at this stage 4 years ago when an underdog coached by Guus Hiddink broke Italian hearts (ironically I was rooting for Italy on that day, how much luck did the Koreans have back in 02?). These were good portents for the Aussies. Although there are good portents for Italians overall. Last time their league was embroiled in Scandal was 82 when, yes you've guessed it, they last won the world cup.

I feel so sorry for the Aussie boys, the Aussie supporters, the ockers and the Aussie women.

This is the worst I have felt during the World Cup so far.

Those fans who support Australia and Leeds United (there are many of them), have had a pretty gutting year. But none of the events in Germany will come close to those at Millennium stadium on May 21st 2006.

Australia can hold their heads high after this world cup. High and proud.And then I can go back to snarling at the likes of George Gregan and Brett Lee!

Tonight's previews:

Aussie - Italy

Most would expect an Italian win given their personnel, their ranking and their history. They have won the world cup on more than one occasion and seem to be a constant figure in the round of 16. Aussie on the other hand are in their second world cup and in the round of 16 for the first time. They do have a good squad though and Guus Hiddink is a wily campaigner. However I expect it to be close and I really think there is a potential for an upset on the cards. I hope so anyway!

On the injury front, Kewell is struggling with an injury and may not start, Nesta is ruled out.

Also: can Viduka finally find his goalscoring form, he has been playing well as the lone striker but would no doubt love a goal.

Swiss - Ukraine:

Should be tight. It's the clash of Frei vs Shevchenko, both renowned goalscorers. Switzerland haven't conceded a goal yet at WC 06 but they are without Senderos. Ukraine have been criticised at times but this is the moment for Voronin and Kalinichenko to step up, they have looked dangerous at times, they need to do so again. They do have 2 defenders suspended however.

One of the four second round matches has gone to extra time. None of them have reached penalties. Is tonight the night where all this changes? Or will the trend continue? Tune in and find out!

A war of attrition.

Portugal 1-0 Holland.

A match that promised so much. 2 heavyweights battling it out to reach the last 8. 2 teams with so much promise going forward, with great coaches. We did get to see some of this much vaunted attack but instead the after match analysis has tended to focus on the 4 red cards, a world cup finals record.

Referee Ivanov

Sepp Blatter has criticised Ivanov for his performance, and in some ways I agree. He was a bit too quick to caution the players, not really adopting the common sense approach that passions will run high and we can afford to be a little lenient. However red cards did seem inevitable in this clash as players came to blows and players lunged in with the tackles. Figo is also lucky not to have received a red card for headbutting. The commentator expressed thoughts that FIFA would look at the incident and may consider imposing a suspension, however I was proved correct in my thoughts that FIFA would choose not to intervene because Ivanov had seen the situation, and had meted out a punishment. I was right, this was exactly their standpoint. I don't actually agree with this standpoint because referee's can get punishments wrong and the high powered technology can reveal for all to see exactly what occurred. So yes, a bad tempered affair with 16 flashing yellows including 8 for the sent off men who were all given their marching orders for second bookable offences rather than straight reds.

Portugal: Were under the cosh right from the start but got the only goal of the game against the run of play. And what a brilliant goal it was too! After some intricate build-up play Deco sent the ball inside the penalty area, Pauleta laid the ball off to Maniche who brilliantly shimmied to create space and cracked the ball home much to his delight. They started to take some control of the match only for Christiano Ronaldo to succumb to injury. He tried to run it off but ultimately he left the field in tears. He is expected to recover for the England clash though, a match he describes as "very special" because he plays in England with Manchester United. They received their first red card at the end of the first half: the only red card there should be absolutely no doubts about having received two yellow cards for a crude challenge and a deliberate handball, but who could have so easily already had a second booking and thus his marching orders. Scolari reacted to the red card by withdrawing striker Pauleta for more of a midfield enforcer in Petit. In the second half Portugal also had to defend a lot as Holland pressed for the equaliser, but for the most part they did their duties admirably as Ricardo did well in goal and the rest of the defence kept it reasonably tight. Deco's red card and subsequent suspension will be a huge loss for the Portugese in their match against England as he is such a crucial figure for the team.

Holland had the better of the goalscoring chances. Early on both Van Bommel and Van Persie had shots narrowly miss which they were made to rue as Maniche scored the only goal of the game. Van Persie again came incredibly close before half-time, and Van der Sar kept the margin at one with an excellent save from Pauleta at point-blank range. In the second half Holland looked to make their man advantage count, Phillip Cocu smashing into the crossbar from close range in the unluckiest moment of the game. Van Bommel hit a vicious long range effort that Ricardo did well to save, and in the 81st minute Kuyt had a great chance, one on one with Ricardo the chance was smothered, Kuyt should probably have flicked it to his left to go round the keeper which would have left him merely needing to stroke the ball home. His legs weren't in the best position though as they were a little too outstretched to make it comfortable. Still, he should have done better. Holland had more than double the shots of Portugal and played really well offensively. Regardless, and unfortunately for them, they are eliminated.

The Holland side are young, inexperienced and talented. Van Basten made the tough call to leave most of the experienced players behind and go with youth. It could have paid off. He is a young, talented manager, and should he remain at the helm will be a big force in Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010. I will question one thing though. At the eleventh hour with Holland desperately needing a goal, why did Van Basten refuse to even give Ruud Van Nistlerooy on the bench, cutting a forlorn figure? I know they had a bit of a spat/chat midweek which was leaked to the media but here they were in the round of 16, about to get eliminated, and the immense scoring prowess of Van Nistlerooy was never even called upon. Strange. But there we have it. No more Holland at World Cup 2006!