Premiership Preview

Has to be a quick one this weekend due to the imminent arrival of most of wife’s family for lunch, then I’m straight off to a game in the Championship. Last weekend I managed to watch no football whatsoever due to a family gathering and a wedding (‘Likely Lads’ moment: I was the guest with the mobile phone looking at score updates from Liverpool/Man U during the speeches), so I’m looking forward to this weekend, especially Ajax v Feyenoord tomorrow lunchtime (ESPN)

It’s about an hour or so to go before the lunchtime game: Arsenal v Spurs (12:45pm, Sky Sports 1) looks a tasty one, Arsenal have won all four of their home league games this season and Spurs have a decent away record; the rest of today’s slate is notable for the players that are missing. Johnson and Gerrard won’t feature in Liverpool’s game at Fulham and Rio Ferdinand is doubtful for the Manchester United v Blackburn game (5:15pm ESPN).

Couple of random thoughts to finish with: Fabio Cappello called Michael Owen his ‘tormentor’ during the week and he’s right as Owen presents a particular problem. He can still score important goals but occasionally his overall contribution is negligible; scoring a goal against Barnsley in the Carling Cup is not the same as delivering the goods in the World Cup finals but I wouldn’t bet against Owen getting a place if one of the strikers higher up the England pecking order gets an injury that rules them out of the tournament.

Ashley Cole won’t be in the Chelsea team at the Reebok; this means he could stay at home and watch his omnipresent wife on that talent show she’s on…but how terrible/hilarious would it be if John & Edward  – and it may not matter that they are Irish – ended up doing the official World Cup song? Perhaps Peter Crouch could be persuaded to adapt their ‘hairstyle’ and maybe do a John Barnes style rap. Let’s get that rumour started on Twitter and Facebook immediately.

So there we go: a truly horrifying thought on Hallowe’en weekend.

Premiership Preview: The Clocks Go BACK

After a hectic weekend in European competition which didn’t go particularly well for some of the Premiership teams, we’re back to the bread and butter (or should that be the champagne and caviar) stuff. No doubt about this weekend’s biggest game: Liverpool v Manchester United on Sunday. Anyone tuning in to Sky Sports on Sunday afternoon wanting to watch some sort of epoch defining clash of the titans between Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney might be disappointed though: Gerrard limped off during Liverpool’s home defeat in the Champions League against Lyonand Rooney didn’t feature at all in United’s win in Moscow over CSKA.

There are five other games featuring multiple England stars: no surprise that all of them apart from Manchester City v Fulham are being televised. Coverage kicks off on Saturday lunchtime when Aston Villa travel to Wolves (12.45pm GMT Sky Sports 1), then ESPN has Chelsea v Blackburn at 5.30pm. On Sunday Liverpool/Man U is followed by West Ham v Arsenal but make sure you check the kick off times on Sunday as the clocks go back one hour in Britain.

That’s about it for this week, apart from a couple of updates: it’s probably fair to say that what Diego Maradona said to the press after the victory in Montevideo was pretty rude for live TV and probably sounded worse in vernacular Spanish than it did in translation. It’s also looking extremely likely that David Beckham will rejoin Milan after the MLS season finishes: Brian Glanville  (the elder statesman of British football writers) has some interesting things to say about Beckham’s position in the England team in November’s issue of World Soccer.

Thanks for reading, enjoy your weekend…and remember to re-set anything that tells you what time it is!

England Call Up For Beachball?

Probably not…which is a shame. It’s got a really good goalscoring record against one of the top teams in the Premiership.

Anyway, here’s the line up for the UEFA playoffs: all of them kick off at 7pm GMT on Saturday November 14th 2009.

Greece v Ukraine

Ireland v France

Portugal v Bosnia & Herzegovina

Russia v Slovenia

It’s also worth noting that on the Saturday the second leg of the New Zealand/Bahrain  (0-0) playoff kicks off at 7am GMT that Saturday and the first leg of Costa Rica v Uruguay kicks off an hour later than the European games.

Returns legs for the UEFA region are the following Wednesday, winners qualify for the finals. Premiership preview should be up on Thursday.

Premiership Preview

OK, so the definition of ‘tomorrow’ was a bit flexible to say the least, but Saturday is here so let’s have a quick look at the games that feature England internationals. Not surprisingly, the first game of the day is the one with the most England squad members on show: Aston Villa v Chelsea (Sky Sports 1 now) could feature seven players including Emile Heskey, who seems to want to leave Villa in order to improve his chances of making the squad next year; an odd time to start making these comments seeing as though the transfer window doesn’t re-open for a while yet. Still, at least he’s been honest enough to admit it and you have to admire that.

The rest of the weekend games don’t actually feature any fixtures where England players face each other: Steven Gerrard has withdrawn from the Liverpool team that is playing at Sunderland this afternoon and Wayne Rooney won’t be playing for Manchester United against Bolton. No doubt that both of them will be fine for their Champions League games next week.

A game to keep an eye on: Stoke v West Ham. It’s early enough in the season for the Hammers to turn it around but it’s a surprise seeing them in the bottom three: they snapped a three game losing streak with a draw in their last game v Fulham a couple of weeks ago, but Stoke aren’t exactly pushovers at the Britannia.

Couple of items to finish with. The draw for the UEFA playoffs will be made on Monday lunchtime, so we’ll have a reaction to that; and if we can find a transcript of what Sr. Maradona had to say on live TV that’s caused Sepp Blatter to investigate an outbreak of Potty Mouth after the game in Montevideo then that’ll be posted too.

Enjoy your weekend and thanks for reading.

Updated List Of Qualifiers

Confirmed qualifiers in alphabetical order: Australia, Argentina (yes, they did it – and it wouldn’t have been the same without them), Brazil, Chile, Denmark, England, Germany, Ghana, Honduras, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, North Korea, Paraguay, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and USA.

In the UEFA playoffs: Bosnia, France, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine.

Central/South America playoff: Costa Rica v Uruguay. You have to feel for Costa Rica: two goals up in the USA only to end up drawing courtesy of an equaliser in the 96th minute.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Premiership preview.

Quick Look Forward To Wednesday

Hello again, it’s a brief one this evening but we’ll have another couple of posts before the weekend with more news from the final round of qualifiers and a Premiership preview.

Our unbeaten run went out of the window at the weekend, but we’re not reading too much into it: if Rio Ferdinand is having a ‘blip’ we’d rather he had it now than next June and imagine how disappointing it would have been if we’d been unbeaten until the first game of the tournament proper.

Saturday was an exciting day, we watched bits of several games and saw both Italy and Argentina snatch last minute goals. It was heartbreak for Ireland who blew their chances of automatic qualification about a minute after the same chances looked so good against the World Champions; Argentina almost made a complete mess of things by letting a terrible Peru side back into their game (played in the middle of rainstorm in a windlashed Buenos Aires) in injury time and then won it the death. Mr. Maradona’s celebration of Martin Palermo’s winner is worth watching if you can find it on Youtube. Next time Manchester United score a ‘late’ winner in a rainstorm I’d love to see Fergie do what Diego did.

Anyway, we now have several more confirmed qualifiers but tomorrow night we’ll have an even more complete picture. Things to look out for in the UEFA region:

* After all the hysteria about Portugal not qualifying, they will probably make the playoffs. Their last game is against Malta. At home. Sweden play Albania, which is no longer a guaranteed three points.

* In Group 2, everything is still wide open and Greece may end up qualifying automatically. Switzerland have fellow contenders Israel at home and the Greeks have to beat Luxembourg.

* Northern Ireland have a very tough task in the Czech Republic, especially as the Czechs also have to win to stand a chance of qualification. It doesn’t help either of them that Slovenia and Slovakia have home games, against Poland and San Marino respectively; look out for the commentators on Northern Ireland’s game using the

* Croatia should probably reach the playoffs with a win over Kazakhstan, but Ukraine face Andorra in arguably the easier game.

Argentina’s win over Peru has made life a lot easier for them, but with Chile qualifying on Saturday night with a win in Colombia, the game between Uruguay and Argentina tomorrow is still absolutely crucial.

So there’s still a lot to look forward to and a lot to play for as the qualifiers sort themselves out: we’ll be issuing updates to the site via our Twitter account until about 11:00pm GMT on Wednesday.

Thanks for reading!

A Big Day Around The World

By the end of the weekend, we’ll probably have a much better idea of who will joining the countries who have already qualified for South Africa, who will be in the play offs and which (if any) of the major footballing powers will be watching England on TV. Here’s a quick guide to the various scenarios that will be played out around the world today:

EUROPE

Group 1: wide open. Denmark have a three point lead at the time of writing this, but they play second place Sweden this evening; Portugal
play Hungary so this situation is very fluid could all change by tomorrow morning.

Group 2: See Group 1. Leaders Switzerland have an easy looking game in Luxembourg, but the key game today is probably Greece v Latvia. If that finishes in a draw and Israel beat bottom place Moldova then there’s a three way tie for second place going into Wednesday’s games.

Group 3: Slovakia have a five point lead, if they draw today they go through but their game is against second place Slovenia, who will be desperate to hang on for a point. Northern Ireland don’t have
a game today but will be keeping a close eye on the Czech Republic v Poland game.

Group 4: either Germany or Russia, they play each other today in Moscow. In an ideal world this one would be the one I’d be watching.

Group 5: Spain are already through, so this is a race for second between Bosnia & Turkey. Bosnia – away in Estonia –  have a four point advantage going into the last two games; Turkey have a tricky looking game in Belgium.

Group 6: Croatia look likely to go to the Play offs as Ukraine must beat England to stand any chance of coming second

Group 7: Serbia are guaranteed a play off place and will win the group if they beat Romania; France could still theoretically win the group,
they’ve got the Faroe Islands this evening in one of those games that France will probably win 1-0 with a goal in the tenth minute of injury time!

Group 8: Italy are already guaranteed a play off place, so Ireland need a
win to stand any chance of autoqualification. If Ireland lose in Dublin and Bulgaria beat Cyprusthen the battle for second place would go to Wednesday night. Breaking news yesterday was Fabio Cannavaro failing a drugs test having taken some kind of cortisone shot for a bee sting; he’s travelled to Dublin with the Italian squad but won’t be allowed to play tonight.

SOUTH AMERICA

Two automatic places and a play off place left. Chile and Ecuador are currently in the automatic places with Argentina in the play off spot. That’s the simple part: Chile should be able to tie up one of the automatic places although they may have to wait until next week (they play
in Colombia this evening), but there are only three points difference between Ecuador (currently fourth) and Colombia (currently eighth), which means that the Colombia/Chile and Ecuador/Uruguay games are likely to have a bigger impact on the remaining automatic places than Argentina v Peru, which is a game that Argentina must (and probably will) win.

Outside Europe and South America…

The Ivory Coast can qualify with a win in Malawi …the first leg of Bahrain/New Zealand qualifier takes place today…if El Salvador beat Mexico tonight and the United States win in Honduras tomorrow morning, the USA will qualify.

In case you’re having trouble keeping track of the important stuff, here’s the timeline we’ll be following so we can attempt (and ‘attempt’ is a very important concept!) to bring you updates on Twitter – all times GMT:

13:00 Malawi v Ivory Coast
15:45 Switzerland v Luxembourg
16:00 Russia v Germany
17:00 Estonia v Bosnia & Herzegovina
17:15 Ukraine v England
18:00 Bulgaria v Cyprus
19:00 Denmark v Sweden
19:30 Serbia v Romania
19:45 Belgium v Turkey
20:00 Israel v Moldova, France v Faroe Islands, Ireland v Italy
20:45 Portugal v Hungary
23:00 Colombia v Chile, Ecuador v Uruguay, Argentina v Brazil, El Salvador v Mexico

It’s a shame that not everyone will be able to watch our game today, but it’s a chance to appreciate our early qualification, to enjoy an exciting day of international football and to look forward to the prospect of South Africa 2010.

Evening All!

Firstly, apologies that we’ve missed a couple of weeks on the Premiership front due to obligations elsewhere but as England have their last qualifying games for the 2010 World Cup coming up and it would be missing the point of the entire blog for to ignore them, we’re back for a two part preview of the qualifiers that are taking place all over the world over the next week or so.

Our squad for the games v Ukraine and Belarus and was announced after the last round of Premiership games and – as widely expected – some of the so-called ‘fringe’ players were called up. Rather than just posting a list, we’ll go through the changes position by position.

Robert Green retains his place amongst the keepers, but is joined by David James of Portsmouth and Manchester City’s Joe Hart, who is currently on loan at Birmingham City. Paul Robinson withdrew from the squad with a hip injury, but for want of a better expression, Ben Foster of Manchester United has been dropped. His form has been pretty erratic this season to say the least.

Better news for another United player as Rio Ferdinand has returned to the squad after injury but Joleon Lescott was forced to withdraw with a hip injury and Bolton’s Gary Cahill has been called up once again. We’re not in the business of trying to second guess Fabio Capello here, but it would be a really good idea to give Cahill an opportunity in either or both of the forthcoming games.

In midfield Ashley Young and Theo Walcott have not been selected and up front Gabriel Agbonglahor of Aston Villa replaces Jermain Defoe, who is currently suffering from what sounds like a really painful hand injury. We’ll try to bring you the starting line up when it’s announced.

There are also a couple of bits of controversy to report on, one short term and rather annoying, the one long term and potentially more damaging.

Actually watching the game against Ukraine on Saturday might be problematic as it’s being offered on a subscription basis. From what we’ve read and heard this issue was caused by the collapse of Setanta earlier this year – as it’s an away game, the broadcasting rights belong to the host nation and so any decision regarding those rights is solely that of the Ukrainian FA. On the one hand, it’s a massive inconvenience for England fans and the FA ought to do everything in their power to prevent this situation from happening again, but on the other hand over the past couple of years it’s been possible to watch both baseball and American football on the internet. With the advent of Sky Player, Sky Sports is now available on the web; without wanting to sound like we’re encouraging anyone to give more cash to Rupert Murdoch, live sport online is definitely the way forward, although we think it’s better as an alternative – rather than the only – option. We’re currently unaware of any plans to stream games next year, but it’s something that we’ll investigate.

Lastly, CONCACAF president Austin ‘Jack’ Warner decided to make some less than positive comments about the 2018 bid to bring the World Cup Finals to England; to be honest…well, let’s leave it at that. It goes without saying that we support the bid and that if the real Jack Warner (the one who played PC George Dixon in the classic BBC police drama ‘Dixon Of Dock Green’) was still alive, we’re pretty sure he would support it as well.

Next post will either be tomorrow or early Saturday as we’ll outline some of the scenarios facing some of our traditional international rivals, in particular what may turn out to be the final days of one Diego Armando Maradona as manager of Argentina…

Thanks for reading!