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Posts Tagged ‘ Inter Milan ’

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.

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World Cup 2014: The Dark Horses

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Yesterday, we had a good look at the four teams most likely to win the upcoming World Cup. What we have yet to touch on is one of the most lively debates before any international tournament. Who will be the team who emerges from nowhere to thrill the crowds and cause a few upsets along the way? Is there a team from lower down the international pecking order who can surprise us all and go all the way? Usually there is at least one team who overachieves in these competitions, and calling them right is often the difference between winning and losing the fantasy football wars, so here we will look at four teams who could potentially go from dark horses to World Cup champions in the space of a few weeks in June. Continue reading

A Beautiful Game No More

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In the last number of weeks, we have been treated to a flurry of high-profile football games, with clashes at the top of the Premier League, big name ties in the FA Cup and the return of the Champions League with the first knock-out round. But did any of those big games bring about a truly enjoyable and competitive game? And if not, why not?

This week’s Champions League ties saw Barcelona take on Manchester City and Bayern Munich against Arsenal. All four teams would have to be considered expansive and attacking in their play, and with both English sides at home, the onus was on them to come out and attack. In theory, we were set up for two classic encounters with sides attacking and counter-attacking constantly. Yet the City game in particular was a huge disappointment. Manuel Pellegrini’s side have averaged 3.5 goals per home game, but ceded ground to the Catalan side from the off, which must have been why Aleksandar Kolarov was picked to play from the left wing. They only looked vaguely threatening and hugely dependent on Yaya Toure to roam forward from midfield and David Silva to create the chances. In fairness, it almost came off when Silva played in Alvaro Negredo, who rounded the goalkeeper only to be driven too wide to apply the finish. By and large though, City were happy to sit back and soak up the pressure, and their attacks were few and far between.

They were largely successful in containing Barcelona until their defensive unit were complicit in giving up the lead. Barca won the ball up the field, Vincent Kompany dropped too deep too fast and played on Lionel Messi, and Martin Demichelis brought him down, giving up the penalty and earning a red card, and changing the complexion of the game from then on. It’s almost impossible to play gung ho against this Barca team at the best of times, but with ten men it becomes time to batten down the hatches. It is interesting to note that it was Jesus Navas, as well as Kolarov, who got withdrawn, as he had the genuine pace that could have offered City a swift counter-attacking option.

The Arsenal game was fairly similar, in that it was changed by the red card to goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, but really by that time Munich had taken hold of the game. But Arsenal did come out and play hard and fast for the first fifteen minutes, making Bayern look like a ragged bunch of journeymen. This spell culminated with the penalty won and missed by Mesut Ozil, who was presented with the chance to answer the bandwagon jumpers who have blamed him for most of Arsenal’s problems of late. Unfortunately for him and that game, he missed and the belief seemed to transfer from the Arsenal players to Bayern’s almost immediately. Arsenal barely had an attack of note after that, and certainly none after the red card.

In the case of Champions League ties, the home tie is a tricky one, given the importance of away goals. Even though the crowd are roaring you on and looking to take a lead for the away leg, it may suit a lot of teams to come out with a nil-nil, knowing a score draw in the next leg would see them through. For instance, if City had registered a scoreless draw the other night, would it have seemed farfetched that they could have nodded in a couple of goals from corners or free kicks in the Camp Nou, and put the game beyond Barcelona? Down a man, it is obviously pertinent to minimise the damage, and the couple of away goals both sides gave up mean they are highly unlikely to overturn the deficit and win their ties.

Pellegrini clearly has a lot of fear when thinking of this Barcelona side. Who wouldn’t? He has seen this team first hand a little too often for his own good in the last ten years, as he managed Villareal, Real Madrid and Malaga against them in La Liga during their pomp. It is unlikely he didn’t carry battle scars from all those encounters, and they possess great weapons. But Man City went away from their own strengths in the face of all this, when really they might have been better served by trying to put them on the back foot. Going forward, Barca’s most impressive player was Dani Alves, but he was on a yellow card from early on and is not the most accomplished defender on the planet, could they not have looked to exploit him more? Fortune favours the bold, and Man City had the team that could have troubled Barca a lot more than they did.

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What made these games in particular quite dull affairs was the possession-based game plan of both winning sides. As Bayern and Barca camped out in the English sides halves for the second half of their games, who was visibly enthralled? Toni Kroos smashed in a beautiful goal from outside the box, but Bayern didn’t really carve Arsenal open. Rafinha and Alves as full backs were the most incisive players of the midweek action as they had lots of space when defenders were already sucked in, but Bayern had to resort to lumping on big centre forwards to get the second goal. Nothing wrong with it, but they weren’t exactly cutting holes in the Arsenal rearguard by passing slowly and laterally outside the box. It was dull.

There is a trend in football now, largely thanks to the successes of Barcelona in the last decade, to play possession-based attacking games. Hog the ball, wear down your opponent, wait for your moment when the concentration levels drop, then pounce.  This has seen the rise of the offensive full-back, who is seemingly the player with the most space available to them. In turn, it now seems the centre-back is the new full-back, as the wider areas are closed down and the middle is where the space lies, so if you are lucky enough to have a centre-back with good ball skills they can drive forward and pick a pass, allowing your team to recycle possession effectively. But it is this type of dominant attacking that is making games less open. Opponents are generally pinned back and have to play with a defensive mind-set. There have been examples of teams capable of getting results with strong counter-attacking, such as Gareth Bale’s Spurs (no offense, AVB) and Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan team. These sides were able to take advantage of the major weakness of teams like Barca and Bayern, which is the defensive side of the game. Inter were able to knock out Barcelona and eventually win the Champions League by attacking when the moment was right, and defending solidly otherwise. But teams down the bottom of the league rarely have the speed of thought found in that Inter team’s Samuel Eto’o or Wesley Sneijder, nor the clinical finishing of Diego Milito. Thus, they spend the whole game defending and more or less awaiting the inevitable.

Even away from the elite teams in Europe, this trend can still be the case. The Europa League game between Swansea and Napoli had a similar plot. Swansea were always going to enforce their possession game too, but with all due respect they are not at the same standard as Barca or Bayern. The Napoli line-up was also one that boasted great talent, particularly going forward with the tremendous Gonzalo Higuain and the high profile Marek Hamsik, as well as winger Lorenzo Insigne who has played for Italy and Jose Callejon, who came through the ranks for Real Madrid before making a summer move to Naples. Add in counter-attacking away-leg specialist Rafa Benitez (see; any successful Liverpool European tie during his reign), and this should have been a rip-roaring tie with back and forth attacks. Unfortunately, not the case. Swansea played well but didn’t create too many clear chances, while Napoli were quite poor and resigned themselves to defending from early on.

Liverpool have played Arsenal twice in the last few weeks, with the first game a one-sided slaughter as Liverpool exposed Arsenal’s defence repeatedly in the first twenty minutes. The game was over after those early exchanges, and the second game could have gone the same way, with Daniel Sturridge having two great chances early on. Admittedly, the FA Cup game was a much more competitive game than any of the others mentioned, particularly in the second half. But it still wasn’t an end to end kind of game, as Liverpool dominated possession while pushing for an equaliser. The dross served up in the Arsenal versus Manchester United fixture was perhaps explainable by the frailty of both sides. Arsenal were just coming off the hiding at Liverpool, while United have struggled all year as a particular game plan and style remains unclear.

This is not to say anything is wrong with being a strong defensive side. Some of the best games in history have been based on a strong defensive effort defying a ferocious attack, like the Italian win over Brazil in the 1982 World Cup. There is certainly an art to defending, and it seems to evade the Pep Guardiola inspired teams like Munich and Barcelona. But if opposing teams are unwilling or unable to launch attacks and get at their back four, they will continue to get steamrollered. A fascinating encounter (not unlikely after the first leg results) would be a two-legged affair between these two teams down the Champions League line. None of the other games mentioned were uninteresting in their own right, but a tie between Bayern Munich and Barcelona might give us the furious, frenetic end to end game we’d all love to see.

Images courtesy of uefa.com, uefa.com/AFP/Getty Images

Creating Paradise : The Jock Stein Story

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It was the September 10th 1985, Scotland had just earned a valiant one all draw with Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff, securing a vital play off with Austria which would eventually lead to Scotland’s qualification for the 1986 FIFA world cup.

The game was rendered meaningless, however, after the news filtered through about the tragic and sudden death of legendary Scottish boss Jock Stein. Continue reading

When Football Meets Tragedy

Football has long been associated with tragedy and unwanted headlines. From the 1985 atrocity at Heysel to the 1989 disaster at Hillsborough the football world became engulfed in shock and horror at such incidents that will never be forgotten.

But since the turn of the noughties a different kind of footballing tragedy as quickly emerged and the game has really brought a lot into perspective this past weekend. On Saturday Tottenham hosted Bolton Wanderers in an FA Cup quarter final. A lively and pulsating affair had to be abandoned shortly before half time after Bolton star Fabrice Muamba collapsed in the centre of the pitch. White Hart Lane fell silent as the severity of what had happened became apparent. Players and fans alike were distressed as the former England under 21 star lay still on the ground.

Shortly after Muamba was rushed to a London hospital details began to emerge as to what had actually happened the Zaire born star. Muamba had suffered a cardiac arrest and remains critically ill. The world of football has united in rallying around the fallen Trotters midfielder and some remain fearful that he may never be able to play again. Of course though football plays second fiddle to life itself and if Muamba can come out of this unaffected then he will have won footballs greatest battle.

Fast forward to Sunday and the footballing world was still in shock yet few could have imagined such harrowing events to bear a reoccurrence just a day later. Kilmarnock had beaten Celtic 1-0 in the Scottish League Cup final to win their first ever League Cup and in doing so denying the Hoops the chance to win the treble. As the players celebrated at the final whistle, Liam Kelly`s joy turned to grief as he was informed that his father had suffered a heart attack in the stands. Kelly rushed down the tunnel to be at his father’s bedside but Jack Kelly passed away at approximately 5pm yesterday afternoon. Kilmarnock players and fans have dedicated the win to Jack but football has really been put into perspective this weekend.

But the combination of football and tragedy is not a new thing yet on field tragedies have become all too regular in the past decade.

Perhaps the earliest and most notable case came in the death of Cameroon international Marc Vivien Foe who perished during a Confederations Cup tie in 2003. His death was viewed as a rare occurrence yet other notable footballers such as Benfica starlet Miklos Feher and  Espanyol captain Dani Jarque suffered a similar fate. Spain and Sevilla star Antonio Puerta also died as a result of cardiac arrest he suffered during a game with Getafe.

Some players have been lucky to survive such instances. Reuben De La Red`s glittering career at Real Madrid was cut short due to a heart problem and Longford Town star Sean Prunty saw his career abruptly ended after a medical showed up a heart defect.  

Then of course there is the case of former Ireland international Clive Clarke. The two times capped star was playing for Leicester City when at half time during a match against Nottingham Forest he went into cardiac arrest. Thankfully he survived but his fledgling career was over at the age of 27.

Who can forget the faith suffered by Portsmouth star Kanu. In 1996 the then Inter Milan star was diagnosed with a serious heart defect following the Olympics. The Nigerian underwent surgery to replace an aortic valve. After successful surgery Kanu resumed his football career and 16 years later he is still playing.  

We live in an era where professionals of any sport are so fit they are almost like machines. But how fit is too fit? As of yet there is no firm reasoning as to why the players mentioned in this article suffered the faith that they did. FIFA and all other sporting bodies need to act and ensure players hearts are checked regularly.

The greatest battle in football lies not on the pitch but instead in the hands of the powerbrokers who must ensure all players are checked regularly so we don’t witness another tragedy that is essentially a life or death situation.

Top Ten January Transfers

What a month January was in the world of football. Few would have predicted half the moves that were made and certainly the quality of players available was better than before. Here Glenn Dowd analyses what he believed to be the top ten signings of the January transfer window.

1)Fernando Torres

Roman Abramovich`s decision to splash out E50 Million on Torres is a great investment, that signals Chelsea`s intent to maintain an end of season title run. One of two major signings that shook the world of football, Torres had been expected to stay at Liverpool where he was idolised by many. However after slapping in the transfer request, he got the move he craved.

2)Andy Carroll

Future England star is a ready made replacement at Liverpool for Torres. Carroll was destined to follow Alan Shearer as the new Toon messiah but jumped at the chance to leave Newcastle for Anfield. A fee of E35 Million raised many eyebrows, with the Geordie becoming the clubs record breaking signing.

3)Luis Suarez

The star of the 2010 World Cup has also linked up with Kenny Dalglish`s men. The Scot paid just over E22 Million to nab the Ajax striker. Certainly big things in store for the Uruguayan if he can get to grips with the Premier League immediately.

4)Edin Dzeko

City`s long pursuit of Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko paid off in January, with E27 Million sealing the deal for the Bosnian. Dzeko has already bagged his first goal for the club in the 1-1 FA Cup draw with Notts County and his goals will prove the catalyst should see maintain their title challenge.

5)Darren Bent

Few would have seen this coming. The thought off Darren Bent leaving Sunderland must have never crossed the mind of Mackem`s fans. But then it happened almost immediately and the once favoured hero of Wearside became the Villain, linking up with Gerard Houliier at Aston Villa with a price tag of E18 Million around his neck.

6)David Luiz

Chelsea`s relentless pursuit of Benfica Defender David Luiz eventually paid off at the eleventh hour on deadline day. E21 Million and Nemanja Matic were enough to ensure the Portuguese international would move to Stamford Bridge.

7) Stephen Pienaar

Definitely the bargain of the transfer window. With Stephen Pienaar`s contract coming to an end in the summer, Everton decided to cash in on their star player, after realising he would not renew his deal. The South African turned down Chelsea in favour of a move to Spurs,providing  a E3 Million bargain for Harry Redknapp.

8)Robbie Keane

The Irish striker has moved to West Ham on loan until the end of the season. He may well be the man to keep the Hammers up. Avram Grant has added some good signings in this window with Wayne Bridge,Demba Ba and Gary O`Neill all moving to Upton Park. Should the Hammers survive, Keane will sign a permanent contract.

9)Roque Santa Cruz

The Paraguayan has returned to Ewood Park, his first home in English football. After an unsuccessful spell at Man City, Santa Cruz welcomed a move back to Blackburn. The stiker has intially arrived on loan but if he can find his form again he will be an astute signing.  

10) Sulley Muntari

Few would have predicted somebody who won the Champions League last year to arrive at Sunderland, but thats what has happened. Sulley Muntari, the Ghanaian international, has arrived on loan at Steve Bruce`s side from Inter Milan. A valuable addition to any squad.

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