The World Cup is almost here, I’m so excited! I’ve become increasingly bored over the last few days with all the various footballing ‘non stories’ I just want it to start now.
For the next month, my blog is going to be heavily World Cup orientated. I’m going to try and blog everyday.
There’s so much to write and to discuss, but as a start I’m going to begin by giving my thoughts on the main contenders, and how I think things may pan out.
The Favourites: Spain, Brazil, and Argentina
In terms of players available, I can’t think of any other teams that can match these three. One of them will win the World Cup.
As we all know Spain our favourites, but this is an unusual position for them to be in.
As an England fan I always used to comfort myself with the thought that even though we’re major underachievers, there was always Spain who could match us in failing to live up to their potential.
The problem is, this isn’t the case anymore not after they won Euro 2008. They have few obvious weaknesses and they can adapt their style of play from the pretty pretty Barcelona style to a more pragmatic and direct game.
I’m sure they’ll make the Semis, but it will be interesting to see how they cope with the title of favourites and the pressure that brings.
Winning Euro 2008 was a major psychological hurdle for them to overcome, but the World Cup is a different matter, so there’s no guarantee that they’ll win, plus after the group stage they have quite a challenging route to the final.
As for Brazil, the football romantics always want Brazil to play like they did in 1970 and 1982, but that’s not what Brazil are all about these days. Yes they have hugely talented players, and can afford to leave out the likes of Ronaldinho, but they’re very functional and pragmatic.
I read an interesting piece on Brazil on the BBC website the other week, which said that their Manager Dunga is suspicious of the romantic view that Brazil should always play in the ‘beautiful game’ type of way.
He sees this as some sort of European conspiracy to stop Brazil winning! I thought this was a really interesting point. I expect Brazil to make the final. There may be flashes of brilliance, but they’ll be more efficient and pragmatic which will obviously leave the romantics disappointed.
Finally we have Argentina. Are they are car crash waiting to happen under Maradona’s leadership?
The progress of Argentina is one of the things I’m looking forward to the most. Player for player there as good as anyone, although the midfield may be a problem.
They’ve still got Veron in midfield at the age of 35. Has he still got the legs? But up front they’re pretty impressive and of course they have Lionel Messi.
Despite Maradona, I think Argentina could do really well and actually win the World Cup. They should comfortably make it to the Quarter finals, the problem they might have is if they come up against a team with a seriously experienced manager, like a Fabio Capello. Will Maradona have the tactical nous to outwit a real top notch manager?
I’m not sure, but I love Maradona, and I know that he and Argentina are going to provide some great entertainment, even if they don’t get to the final and win.
The dark horses: England and Holland
Yes I’m going to include England here, as I’m going to try and be a little optimistic.
I don’t expect either these two to win, but if I was going to go for surprise finalists then it would be these two.
The Time has arrived for England
After 24 years of watching failure, disappointment and underachievement from England. I’m approaching things a little differently this time.
I healthy dose of scepticism, a touch of cynicism and little bit optimism is what’s going to get me through this World Cup with England.
After the 2006 World Cup where the England barely got out of 2nd and lost on penalties to Portugal I decided to adopt what I call my ‘French approach’ to following England. I’ll explain.
In France, the French like their football, and I emphasize the word ‘like’ here.
They're not fanatical or obsessive about the game in the way that we are or other countries like Spain and Italy.
The French only start to get behind their team when they get to a semi final or final of a major tournament.
Before this stage they have a general indifference towards their team's prospects. After 2006 I decided this would be my approach to England. I’ve waited four years to put it into practice.
England do have a chance of winning the World Cup, but there'll be no more blind optimism from me. I won’t realistically believe we can win unless we make the Semi Finals.
Beating the likes of Algeria and Slovenia in the group stages is nothing to celebrate;
So how do I think England will do?
Well I’ve thought about this, and I’ve decided to detach myself from an emotional English point of view and imagine I was a foreigner looking at England's chances.
For this purpose I’ve decided to be an American (one that knows something about football obviously).
Firstly, England have one of the most successful and respected managers in World football. Fabio Cappello’s record speaks for itself. I’d expect England to be well organised and competitive.
They've got Wayne Rooney, who is one of the top strikers in World football. He’s currently free from injury and this could be the tournament where he makes a real impact.
England have a wealth of experience. Despite the loss of Rio Ferdinand many of the players have already played in one or two World Cups as well as European Championships. On top of that many have the experience of Champions League football behind them. Taking all this into consideration, there should be nothing in the tournament that should intimidate or frighten anyone.
There are of course weaknesses with England. The first 11 is quite strong and experienced, but there’s a lack of depth in the squad. After Rooney, I’m not sure who’s going to score the goals against really top opposition, and in defence, with Ferdinand out, there are questions marks over the back ups.
As for the goalkeepers, this is another area of concern. David James has the experience and will probably start but you never know if the inevitable clanger will occur. Robert Green is solid if unspectacular, and although Joe Hart has had the best season and is the most talented, he’s untried at this level.
England will probably need a bit of luck somewhere along the way, and to be fair we rarely get humiliated in World Cups. You never know what to expect from England. My optimism says we can reach the Semi Finals, but if we go out in the second round to someone like Serbia it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.
England will meet a team from Group D in the second round which includes Germany Serbia, Ghana, and Australia.
If we assume England and Germany both top their groups, we're probably looking at Ghana or Serbia.Australia are the weakest team on paper, but I’d hate to see an England/Australia game. It would be like a ‘derby’ and the Aussies would raise their game and probably win.
What England do have is Fabio Capello and I have a great deal of confidence in him as a manager. I think his organisation and preparation could be a real advantage for England.
Holland on the other hand have slipped under the radar a little bit. They had an impressive qualifying campaign and are in a reasonable group. You know with the Dutch that technically they’ll be excellent and I expect to see some great football from them.
I’m wondering though whether they can sustain their form over six or seven games? Will they be able to grind a result out when not playing particularly well in a tight game? There are question marks, but they should make the Quarter finals
Europe’s Big Guns – Germany, France, and Italy
It’s funny how the three most successful European nations are hardly attracting any interest at the moment. The whole aura surrounding these teams is so low key at the moment.
Starting with Germany, I look at their squad and barely recognise anyone. They don’t seem to have the superstars that they used to have back in the late 1980’s and throughout the 90s.
But Germany are still Germany and it doesn’t matter who plays for them, they have the tradition and culture and progressing through knock out tournaments.
They won’t set the world alight, but should they get to the Quarter finals I can imagine them making life difficult for one of the favourites and may be pulling off a shock result!
I look at Italy and I think ‘where has all the glamour gone?’ Again some of their players I don’t really know, and others I think
‘I can’t believe these lot are still playing...Cannavaro, Gattuso, Camaronesi etc’
I’m not expecting anything great from Italy to be honest. They might struggle to score goals and I just don’t see anything exciting about them.
Italy are always the same in any World Cup. I always feel they’re just as likely to go out in the group stage as win the thing.
They’re like the Germans. They have the tradition and culture and progressing through tournaments, so they may well get to the Quarters and give one of the favourites a tough time.
France – Are they disarray? Having watched their fortunate play off victory against Ireland, I decided I wasn’t going to support France in any game in the World Cup.
They’ve been unconvincing for months, and I just can’t see them doing anything. If it all goes to form they could meet England in the Quarter finals, but I think England would beat them, but we’re assuming France will get there.
You think of France and immediately think they’re going to be strong, but I feel they’re prime candidates for an early plane home.
Other thoughts on the rest
Looking outside of the favourites, I’m really hoping Ivory Coast do well. I’m going to adopt them as my second team. This is obviously such a big World Cup for Africa and it would be great if an African country could make a real impact. If anyone can it has to by Ivory Coast.
Other teams that could surprise people include Uruguay and Cameroon. From a traditionalist point of view you want to see Uruguay in the World Cup. After all, this is a country that has won the World Cup twice in it’s history.
Their problem is that the victories in 1930 and 1950 were before the television age so their achievements are largely unknown to many people.
Cameroon may get out of their group which also includes Holland and Denmark. Their game against Denmark is the crucial one and if they win that they could go through.
I’ve been hearing that Chile are meant to be a bit useful so keep your eyes out for them, but one country that I think may struggle is Portugal.
They’re in the ‘group of death’ with Brazil, Ivory Coast, and North Korea. They had a poor qualifying campaign, but generally people think Portugal are this major footballing nation. They’re not!
This is only their 5th World Cup and take away 1966 and 2006 they’ve never done anything. Of course they have Ronaldo, but I can see them failing to get out of the group.
Right, I’m going to leave it there for now. There’s going to be so much to talk about, but if anyone wants to tell me their thoughts and predictions then leave a comment!