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Posts Tagged ‘ Andrea Pirlo ’

Long Awaited World Cup Set For Big Kick Off

worldcup (easports)

The first kick-off of the 2014 World Cup will take place later this evening. If your reaction to that is a sigh of relief, then you are likely not the only one. There has been an awful lot of build-up to these finals, with the analysis and predictions and hopes and fears gradually growing louder and louder. With no major European club football to speak of for nearly a month, the only thing to do was to look forward to the major tournament ahead. Surely it is a glorious summer when possible transfer deals are not the big talking point for football heads. But the time for action has come, finally.

It is no surprise that people are excited, of course. There is no World Cup that would not be celebrated, or treated as anything but the ultimate competition the game has to offer. But this time around, it is even more special. This is a World Cup in Brazil, the home of beautiful football. It is a rare treat for the players involved, knowing that they some of them will get to claim the game’s grandest accolade in the country which has always always managed to breath creativity and flair into the game at the highest level. To win a World Cup in Brazil is about as big as it gets. Continue reading

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World Cup 2014: Predictions For Every Team

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With the kick-off of World Cup 2014 now less than a week away, the excitement is starting to build. Coverage of the event is starting to really pick up, as the footballing world gets ready for the beginning of it’s biggest event of any calendar year. With that in mind, I would like to put forward my predictions for every team and how they will fare, including all the teams who will fall at the group stage hurdle, all the way on to who I predict will be the eventual winners.

Group stage eliminations

Cameroon

The most likely victim of what is a very tough draw, Cameroon seem like long shots to emerge from Group A. Hosts Brazil, potential dark horses Croatia and Mexico make up the rest of the group, and it may well prove too much for Cameroon to claim enough points to sneak in to the knockout stages. An experienced squad led by captain Samuel Eto’o as well as veterans Alex Song and Jean Makoun, Cameroon also boast young defensive talent in Nicolas N’Koulou and Joel Matip. Unfortunately for them, it seems unlikely that they will prove good enough to edge out two of the other teams, and so it looks like three games and out for Cameroon.

Mexico

It looks quite likely that Brazil and Croatia will emerge from this group, especially if the Croatians can get a point in the tournament’s inaugural match. Mexico had a very ugly qualifying campaign to even reach Brazil, finishing fourth in their group, behind the United States, Costa Rica and Honduras. They eventually beat New Zealand comfortably in a play-off, but it does not augur well for them in such a tough group. Still, Mexico boast a very experienced squad, with the likes of Rafael Marquez still around to organise them. If the likes of Javier Hernandez (who has a scoring rate of better than one every two games for his country) catches fire, then maybe they have a shot. But all signs point to an early exit for Mexico.

Continue reading

Spain vs Italy – A Battle of the Titans

So it happened, perhaps not quite like many would have predicted but the almost inevitable happened – Spain beat Portugal and now must face off against Italy in Sunday’s eagerly anticipated Euro 2012 final. Undoubtedly it will be a tough match. Italy have already proven they can match Spain blow for blow with their 1-1 draw against the current holders in the group stage. Spain, like Barcelona are the golden boys of football today. Their passing game, footballing brain and build-up play is touted as how the beautiful game should be played. Unsurprising, really, when you consider how many of the players on the national side have come through Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, who have had the tiki taka style of football imprinted on their brains from a young age. They’ve already won the European Championship back in 2008 courtesy of a 33rd minute goal from Fernando Torres, ensuring a 1-0 victory over Germany. But can they retain the trophy they already have one hand on?

Spain are an excellent side, like Barcelona, there’s no doubt about it. In Iniesta and Xavi they possess the greatest two midfielders of the present day, supplemented by the forces of Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and the solid form of Madrid stopper, Iker Casillas. Ever since their elimination from the World Cup of 2006, they began to employ the tiki-taka style, an upgrade of the Dutch total football system, characterised by short passing and plenty of movement around the pitch, complemented with extended possession of the ball. And it has clearly worked. The first tournament following the disappointing World Cup was Euro 2008. Spain won each match of the group stage, went on to claim the trophy and were the highest scoring team, while David Villa took the gong for top scorer.

But they have their flaws too. Tika-taka may sometimes be breath-taking to watch but unless it’s going somewhere then it is somewhat redundant. Ugly football that wins games is more useful than entertaining play that comes up short. We saw this on Wednesday night when the Spanish faced off against Portugal in the semi-finals. Head to head, Spain had the better players, while for Portugal only three players attempted to stand out – Ronaldo, Nani and Fabio Coentrao storming up the wing. But Spain were sloppy and certainly not their usual selves. Several passes went astray, the vision and touch seemed to be lacking and Portugal really should have taken their chance to knock their neighbours out. Spain slowed the pace of their game right down, passing, passing, passing, with the occasional strike on goal. A David Silva move highlights the problems their mentality sometimes brings, and something we have seen on more than one occasion. On the edge of the box in the first half, Silva had the ball on his foot, with the space to shoot at goal, a position he has been in and scored from many a time. Instead, he passed the ball off, and the move petered out. This shows the need for a strong striker up front for Spain, a real presence at the top, a Wayne Rooney, a Didier Drogba. Spain do have forwards, Fernando Torres (who hasn’t exactly been at his best of late), Alvaro Negredo (disappointed thus far) and the skilful Pedro Rodriguez who still has things to learn and who doesn’t always appear supremely confident on the ball. And anyway, Spain prefer to stock the centre and top of the pitch with midfielders anyway. At times in the match against Portugal there were swathes of spaces in front of the Portugal goal, devoid of any red shirts. Spain’s use of the ‘false number 9’, a supposed striker who in reality drops deeper into midfield, usually in the guise of Cesc Fabregas has indeed worked previously. Against France in the quarter finals last Saturday evening it was midfielder Xabi Alonso who grabbed a brace for his country, although it was Florent Malouda and his utter failure to track back which led to the opener, while a fairly soft penalty handed Alonso the chance to net a second, which he duly did. But even the masters of this passing game, Barcelona, utilise strikers up front, to get into the spaces, to draw back defenders or to grab goals in and around the box – David Villa has and will again, Alexis Sanchez who fills in for him while he recovers, the youngster Pedro and last but certainly not least, the unpredictable and supremely talented Lionel Messi.

It will be interesting to see how they come out and play on Sunday. Italy are going to come to win the game and the Championship and will surely be spurred on, both by their own win over Germany and the protracted affair that eventually saw Spain triumph over Portugal, by no means comfortably. Who will win? Italy seem to be riding high at present, almost matching the intricacy of Spain in some of their play. Pirlo works a similar brand of magic to that of Xavi and Iniesta while up front Mario Balotelli is proving himself worthy. And while many in the media will rave about Spain, their deft passing game, their vision, the pedigree of their players, my money is on the Italians.

Euro 2012 Group Preview

Euro 2012 kicks off on Friday when hosts Poland play Greece in Warsaw. The final will take place 22 days later on 1 July on the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.

Sixteen teams will take part in the tournament, and John Hislop takes a look at four groups and some of the players to watch out for.

Group A

This could be seen as the most open of the four groups, with Dick Advocaat’s Russia favourites to progress. They reached the semi-finals four year ago and most of that team remain, and star player Andrey Arshavin is back on top form after his loan spell with former club Zenit St Petersburg. Second place is anybody’s guess, with hosts Poland determined to reward their long suffering fans who are desperate to see a return to the glory days of the seventies. This squad includes a trio from the Bundesliga double winners, Borussia Dortmund, Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek. Much is expected of Lewandowski in particular who is attracting the attention of Manchester United amongst others. Euro 2004 champions Greece will have something to say about that though, having qualified without losing a game.Panathinaikos midfielder Sotiris Ninis who is also linked with United carries a goal threat, and no-one should underestimate the Czech Republic who saw off the Scots in the qualifying campaign. Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky hopes to continue his end of season form.

Group B

Although the Irish might disagree, this group has been assigned the ‘Group of Death’ tag. Germany start favourites despite a 16 year drought, and the experience gained in South Africa will have done their young stars no harm. Real Madrid star Mesut Ozil hopes to continue where he left off two years ago. The Dutch will be waiting for any slip up after ditching their total football philosophy, and scoring 37 goals in ten qualifying games cannot be ignored. Great things are expected from England’s Player of the Year Robin van Persie who couldn’t stop scoring last term. Portugal, who only qualified via a playoff victory, will need Real Madrid favourite Cristiano Ronaldo to be in top form to stand any chance while Denmark with Arsenal’s Nicklas Bendtner will be determined to show what he can do with his contract at the Emirates up this summer.

Group C

World Cup winners and Euro 2008 champions Spain are hot favourites to carry on where they left off two years ago, and manager Vincente Del Bosque is determined to become only the second manager in history to win both tournaments, whilst Barcelona superstar Andres Iniesta will be a handful for any opponents. Italy, who went out of the World Cup in the group stages two years ago, have dismantled their squad and  replaced many of the old hands with younger players although Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo’s experience could prove vital. Liam Brady believes that Croatia could be the dark horses for the actual championship and Spurs star Luka Modric who has hinted that he may leave White Hart Lane will be keen to put himself in the shop window. Never write off the Irish however who always enjoy the big occasion and normally punch well above their weight. Manager Giovanni Trapattoni has a wealth of experience with 10 league championships in four countries, whilst the main goal threat comes from Robbie Keane.

Group D

France are slight favourites in this group with manager Laurent Blanc having united the squad which left South Africa divided under previous boss Raymond Domench. Real Madrid star Karim Benzema is one to watch. For a change, the English media have not already claimed the championship, and the reaction to new manager Roy Hodgson has been underwhelming to say the least. Injuries to key players and star man Wayne Rooney’s suspension have not helped, and his failure to bring back Rio Ferdinand following the injury to Gary Cahill could come back to bite him if results do not go their way. Ukraine are a shadow of the side which did so well in the World Cup in 2006, and the expectancy of the home support could either inspire or otherwise. Andre Shevchenko remains the main goal threat. Not much is expected of Sweden although their 3-2 victory over Holland in the qualifiers demonstrates that they will be no pushovers. AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has proved himself at the highest level, and the Swede’s hopes rest with him.

Spotlight On Italy

Ireland’s third game is against our old friends Italy and takes place on the 18th June in Poznan. Italy have only won this tournament once which is a surprise seeing as they have won the World Cup four times, their most recent victory coming in 2006.  The critics have said that Italy will finish in close second to Spain in this group but as we know from past meetings, the Italians are beatable and with our secret weapon, Mr.Trapattoni, an upset could be on the cards. 

Italy came through qualifying unscathed, remaining unbeaten and only conceding two goals in ten games. The Italian squad, as always, contains some very talented players but their defence could be key to them going far in this tournament. Spain knocked Italy out in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 and they failed to make it out of a group they would have expected to win at the 2010 World Cup so they will be out to prove that they can still compete at the major tournaments. 

Before the World Cup in 2006, Italy was rocked by a match fixing scandal and it seems to have reared its ugly head again after police turned up at the Italian’s Euro 2012 training camp recently to inform left back Domenico Criscito that he was under investigation for match fixing. Criscito has since been dropped from the Italian squad, and is being investigated about betting on games along with nineteen other people including Lazio captain Stefano Mauri and Juventus’ title winning manager Antonio Conte. 

Many people will say the Italians went on to win the World Cup in 2006 despite the match fixing scandal but they had a much stronger squad six years ago. Italian manager Cesare Prandelli will hope that Antonio Cassano is fully recovered from a recent heart scare and can spearhead his attack alongside Manchester City bad-boy Mario Balotelli. Prandelli will hope Balotelli can hit the headlines for his footballing ability and not for his off the field antics. Prandelli has the hard task of succeeding World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi and with his young side, he hopes to outwit fellow Italian, Trappatoni. 

Previous Meetings: The two sides most recent meeting was last summer in a friendly that Ireland won two nil in Belgium. During qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, the two teams drew twice, the second of those draws meaning the Italians qualified despite Ireland leading in the late stages of the game. In twelve games against the Italians, Ireland have only won twice but one of those victories was one of Irelands greatest ever victories. At Giants Stadium in New York at the 1994 World Cup, a Ray Houghton goal was enough to see off an Italian side that went onto lose the final to Brazil. Ireland will be hoping to cause another upset against the Italians in Poznan. 

Strengths: The Italians have a history of solid defences and that trend continues with the side only conceding two goals in ten qualifying games. Despite their usual solid defence, they are no longer a negative counter attacking side and look to play an attractive style of football. 

Weaknesses: Giovanni Trapattoni & Marco Tardelli. The Ireland manager who coached the Italians at World Cup 2002 and Tardelli who won the World Cup with Italy will be out to beat their homeland and will have sussed out the Italian tactics. Mario Balotelli can be a liability and if he is not on his best behaviour, he could cause trouble in the camp. The camp has already been rocked by a match fixing scandal and will have that hanging over them during the tournament. A young & relatively inexperienced team may fail to flatter like they did in Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010.

 Key Player : Antonio Cassano  

Some people may argue that veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo is still the main man controlling the game but Cassano has flourished under Prandelli scoring six goals in qualifying. Cassano suffered what could be described as a mini stroke in October and after good recovery he will hope to continue his form at his third European championship. He has improved his game quite a lot at AC Milan providing many assists and will be a serious threat in Poland.

 

By Andrew Harte

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