Don’t Panic, It’s Only Bulgaria and Wales…

by on September 1, 2011
in Euro 2012, Previews, Rash Predictions

Over the next five days England have two very important games that will go a long way to resolving what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be doing it next Summer. The answer we’re all hoping for is ‘watching England playing in Euro 2012’ regardless of whether that’s in the Ukraine and Poland, in an Irish pub somewhere in the Med or (in my case) the biennial ritual hiding behind the sofa with the curtains drawn whilst swearing your head off and trying not to scare the neighbours.

We’re not in a bad position in the Euro 2012 qualifiers – equal top with Montenegro but with a superior goal difference – but Bulgaria will have to beat us tomorrow night to stand any chance of even qualifying for the play offs and that could be where the fun starts.

There are no real outfield surprises in the squad which was announced at the beginning of the week: ten players from the Manchester clubs, seven players from London teams (including Scott Parker, now of Spurs) and two each from Everton and Liverpool. The big issue is the reserve goalkeepers – Frank Fielding of Derby and David Stockdale of Ipswich are both playing in the Championship – but before anyone starts moaning about that, it’s only fair to point out that Birmingham City have reached the group stages of the Europa League. We should be proud of the standard of football in the Championship rather than moaning about the lack of decent goalkeepers in the Premier League, as some ‘journalists’ have been doing.

The good news is that England have never lost in Bulgaria and we’ve won two of the three games we’ve played there – the last victory was a 3-0 win in a qualifier for the 1980 European Championships, goals coming from Kevin Keegan of SV Hamburg and Peter Barnes and Dave Watson of Manchester City. Those of us with long memories will remember that despite Barnes being voted Young Player of The Year in 1979/80, not long after the game he was sold by Malcolm Allison to WBA; it’s hard to imagine Roberto Mancini doing that with either Adam Johnson or James Milner.

Wales can do us a massive favour before our meeting next Tuesday by beating Montenegro but I’ll be surprised if they do – the Red Dragons have only won four of their last ten home games – but it’s important to point out that the Montenegrins have only won once in their last ten away games (the win in Bulgaria last September) and lost in Albania last month. If the bookies are right, there won’t be any changes at the top of the group as England are currently best price 4/7 for the win in Sofia, while Montenegro are 6/4 to win at the Millennium Stadium.

Both our game and Wales v Montenegro are live on Sky Sports, but because of the difference in time zones and kick off times, instead of watching adverts and listening to expert analysis from Bulgaria at half time, you’ll be able to turn over and experience that sinking feeling familiar to football fans on the other side of the Bridge when you see that Wales have conceded an early goal…

Wales Preview

I’ve got to be honest, I’m completely underwhelmed by today’s game. If England don’t win by more than two goals I think Capello should resign immediately. This game looks like a mythical third round FA Cup tie – something like Histon v Liverpool.

To begin, let’s start with some facts. We’ve only lost three times in Wales since World War II, the last time was a 0-1 defeat at The Racecourse Ground in Wrexham in May 1982, a game in the last Home International Tournament.

We’ve won eight of the last ten meetings in Wales, there’s not been a draw since April 1970 and we’ve only failed to score twice in the last 20 games over the bridge.

Wales have won 9 of their last 20 internationals at home but only four of their last ten – and those were against those well known powerhouses Liechtenstein, Estonia, Scotland (stiffles giggle) and Luxembourg. They haven’t won a Euro qualifier at home since beating San Marino four years ago.

Fifteen of the 24 players in the Welsh squad for the game – that’s 62% of them – play outside the Premier League. If Wales could play like Swansea then this game would be a lot closer, but there are only three Swansea players in the squad. 

(BTW if Swansea get promoted from the Championship, they’re worth watching: a budget Barcelona until they get to the opposition penalty box where they turn into a poor man’s Arsenal and try to pass the ball into the net)

As for all the nonsense about giving John Terry back the captaincy, all I’m going to say is that I really hope that Spurs either beat Real Madrid in the quarter finals of the Champions League or put up such a fantastic performance that appointing Harry Redknapp as next England manager is obvious even to the dunderheads at the FA.

Capello’s ‘decision’ to reappoint John Terry as captain just shows what a busted flush he is as a manager and even though I expect us to qualify for next year’s tournament, I think it’ll be the same old story when we get to Poland/Ukraine I’m afraid.

Verdict: Wales will be fired up for about ten minutes after the crowd at the Millennium Stadium have finished singing ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’, Craig Bellamy will attempt to decapitate Wayne Rooney if he can get anywhere near him…and then England will score and the game will be over.

Postscript: I think we might have a tougher game against Ghana next week.

Ferdinand Out, Dawson In…

I’d originally meant to publish this article on Wednesday: although I began it I was unable to get it finished due to a family emergency. Interesting looking back on what I’d written though, so here it is:

‘Nothing more need be said about the Japan game at the weekend. So here’s some very quick thoughts about the final squad that I scribbled at my desk this afternoon:

David James

Got relegated with Pompey, still a bit mistake prone. Last World Cup as a player, next one will be as a pundit.

Robert Green

Hammers got away with being poor last season, like David James he got a lot of practice last season.

Joe Hart

The future. Also takes penalties.

Glen Johnson

Sort of our version of Roberto Carlos.

Stephen ‘not Neil’ Warnock

Wouldn’t expect him to feature much but provides strength in depth.

Rio Ferdinand

You know that Nike advert everyone loves that’s got a Simpson’s version of Ronaldo in it? Should have been Rio. Needs to remember he’s in a tournament, not just a few friendlies.

John Terry

Shouty man. About time we had a defender sent off in the knock out round.

Jamie Carragher

Unexpected selection but should do well.

Matt Upson

Might make an appearance in the 3rd/4th place game. See Tony Dorigo in 1990.

Ledley King

Doesn’t seem that long ago that everyone was saying wouldn’t it be great if he was fit, he’d be a shoo in etc. Will be useful if Rio Ferdinand switches off at any point.

Ashley Cole

Defines ‘unsettled’; hope he doesn’t carry any baggage into the finals. Most likely to be the first to get picked on if everything starts going wrong.’

The midfielders and strikers will be posted soon, but yesterday’s news that Rio Ferdinand has been ruled out of the tournament after being injured during training may not be as worrying as it first appears. Steven Gerrard will take over as captain and Michael Dawson has replaced Ferdinand in the final 23.

On Wednesday I wrote that  ‘we shouldn’t really doubt the fire in his (Gerrard’s) belly, but recently he seems to have mistaken effort for quality – and he can’t do that in the World Cup’. This refers primarily to a reasonable season for a mediocre Liverpool team and I’m sure that he’ll do a fine job replacing Rio. My thoughts on Michael Dawson are that I’m sure he’s got a really promising international career ahead of him, but that on reflection Capello was right to leave him out of the initial selection because Dawson needs another good season with Spurs (especially in the Champions League) before he can be considered a regular. I would expect Dawson to benefit enormously from the experience but would be surprised to see him play.

Before anyone starts panicking about Rio, it’s worth remembering that he played the second fewest league games of his career last season due to a groin injury: I’ve got to be honest and say that I’d rather he was ruled out sooner rather than later as I wasn’t entirely convinced that his fitness was all that it should be. Not only that, we’re not in the same position as Germany are with Michael Ballack, Nigeria are with Jon Obi Mikel and Michael Essien and Ivory Coast may be with Didier Drogba (and yes, they are all Chelsea players); Rio is an important member of the squad, but his replacements are just as good and - unlike the other nations I’ve just mentioned - our chances will not be diminished due to his injury.

A Win’s A Win…

…even if it wasn’t particularly convincing. A well taken goal from Ledley King, a rubbish handball offside one from Peter Crouch (which we should try again during the knockout latter stages of the tournament) and an absolute beauty from Glen Johnson gave England an ultimately flattering 3-1 win over a Mexican team who had a number of first class chances (23 shots on goal, nine on target to our eight attempts, five on target) throughout the game. If last night’s opponents play that well in the finals, France, New Zealand and Uruguay will have to watch out.

To be brutally honest, there were times when we were outplayed: King’s goal came against the run of play and the Mexican goal just before half time was a result of defending at a set piece that would have embarrassed a team of under elevens.

Having said all that…this is exactly what friendlies are for and not playing particularly well and winning is far, far better than being the best team in the world and losing. I have no doubt that the performance against Japan will better: to put yesterday’s result in perspective, Portugal drew 0-0 with the Cape Verde Islands, which is about the same as England drawing with Gibraltar.

Oh and Argentina beat Canada 5-0. I can’t remember if I’ve written it before, but there’s always one team that scrapes in after a rubbish qualification campaign and then suddenly becomes a major threat. Our evil twins may be that team: they’re fourth favourites to win the whole thing at about 7/1.

BTW, techology hates me. I was happily twittering away last night and my laptop fan decided it didn’t want to play. Twice.

Mexico Preview

England play their last game at Wembley before leaving for the World Cup Finals against a Mexican side that most of us will next see playing the hosts in the opening game of the tournament.

This will be the first time we’ve played ‘El Tri’ since 2001 (a 4-0 win at Pride Park in Derby if my memory isn’t playing tricks on me) and the Mexicans don’t have a good record in England: we’ve won all four games played here and they have yet to score. Despite that, we actually have quite a lot in common with them: until about half way through the qualifying campaign they were managed by Sven-Goran Eriksson and in the last four tournaments they have qualified from their group only to be unable to get past the second round. So…umm… actually quite a lot in common then.

It used to be quite rare for Mexicans to play abroad (Hugo Sanchez is the only name that springs to mind) but that’s changed. The provisional squad named by Javier Aguirre contained ten players who play their club football in Europe: captain Rafael Marquez and midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos play for Barcelona, defenders Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Salcido (five yellow cards and a sending off in qualifying) are team mates at PSV Eindhoven and strikers Guillermo Franco and Carlos Vela play in this country for West Ham and Arsenal respectively.  However, the most intriguing Mexican prospect for years will probably be playing at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool next season: Javier Hernandez (who will only be 22 on 1st June) joined Manchester United recently and is arguably the best striker to have emerged from the country since Sanchez. I’ve not seen him play, but if I was Dimitar Berbatov I’d be on the phone to my agent if Hernandez starts banging them in during the tournament.

Hernandez is more of a long term goalscoring prospect as Mexico don’t really have a dominant striker – the apparently ageless Cuauhtemoc Blanco is 37, neither Franco nor Vela have really done the business at international level and Nery Castillo wasn’t even named in the provisional squad. The short term solution appears to be Alberto Medina, who didn’t play at all in the qualifiers but has scored in two of Mexico’s last three friendlies including the 1-0 win over Chile last Sunday.

I’ll go for an England win, but if we stop the Mexicans from scoring then I think we can look forward to both the Japan friendly and the first game of the finals against the USA with a lot of confidence. Another point to remember is that the Mexicans are tight defensively and have a decent track record in the World Cup – it would not be a huge surprise if they beat South Africa in the opening game – and so we may have to be patient. And no booing Jamie Carragher either.

In other news, Gary Linekerdecided to leave The D**ly M**l as a football columnist this week…Diego Maradona ran a journalist over (as far as we know it wasn’t one from the Mail)…Michael Ballack and Lassana Diarra won’t be playing in the tournament, which is a shame as I really wanted to use ‘Ballack’s Out’, ‘Never Mind The Ballacks’ or ‘What A Load Of Old Ballacks’ as article titles. It’s also a shame that we won’t be treated to a French player running around with ‘Lass’ on the back of his shirt, but you can’t have everything can you 😉

‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us…’

Burns Night is a couple of weeks from now, but having been for a bit of a trawl round the internet this evening I came across this gem and was immediately reminded of these lines from Burns’ poem ‘To A Louse’:

‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!’

By the way, the Algerians may very well be ‘box fresh’ in June but they lost  3-0 to mighty Malawi in the African Cup of Nations earlier today. If Malawi can put three past them…

Le Main d’Henry

by on November 18, 2009
in Rash Predictions, World Cup 2010

The original headline for this piece was going to be ‘…And Then There Was One’ as in there’s only one place left in the finals: congratulations to Algeria, France, Greece, Portugal and Slovenia, all of whom have qualified before. The winner of Uruguay v Costa Rica (KO 11pm GMT) will claim the last place.

However, the evening’s events were overshadowed as Ireland were particularly unlucky after they lost to France, courtesy of a William Gallas goal featuring a blatant handball by Thierry Henry who ought to be absolutely ashamed of himself. France may have qualified but judged on their performance tonight they’ll be extremely lucky to get out of the group stages; I wonder if they’ll be drawn with Algeria. The referee was Martin Hansson of Sweden and it’ll be interesting to see if he makes it on to the officials list for the Finals.

An interesting bit of trivia to end with tonight: Algeria and Slovenia‘s winning goals were scored by Antar Yahia and Zlatko Dedic, both of whom play for VfL Bochum in the Bundesliga.

Weekend Preview

It’ll have to be a quick one I’m afraid: Spurs v Man United was a great game, with a goal after 47 seconds and a United comeback. Unfortunately Man City v Arsenal will be remembered for Emmanuel Adebayor’s pathetic behaviour; Togo still have a slim chance of qualifying for South Africa (they have to win in Cameroon on 9th October and hope Morocco win in Gabon) so if you’re a fan of running almost the whole length of the pitch to take the mick out of the fans of your former club and stamping on the head of one of your ex-team mates then you might still be in for a treat.

The Saturday evening game on EPSN is Liverpool v West Ham, which will be of interest to England fans as five of the current squad will be featured, but from an England perspective the one game in the Premiership stands out this weekend: Man United v Man City. Nine current England of the most recent squad should be on show in classic local derby plus quite a few players from other countries that could feature in South Africa, although at the time of writing it’s not clear if Carlos Tevez will be playing for City…just as it’s not clear if he will be playing for Argentina in the World Cup. Lunchtime kick off on Sunday on Sky Sports 1 for that one.

Following the Manchester derby it’s an all London clash with Chelsea v Spurs, that – happily for England fans – should feature both Ashley and Joe Cole(I was going to write both Coles there, but I believe Cheryl has other commitments), the latter of whom made his first appearance in eight months in the Champions League game v FC Porto during the week. Messers Crouch, Defoe, Lampard, Lennon and Terry should also be involved.

We try not to make too many rash predictions here, but with the kind of hype surrounding the Manchester derby that’s been going on this week we wouldn’t be too surprised if a certain Manchester United striker (who had a bit of a strop in Turkey this week when he got subbed)  gets into some kind of trouble tomorrow. We hope not, but if he does, we’ll have the details here.