Saturday, 28 June 2014

Return of Count Suarez

Well well well, who saw this coming? Luis Suarez does what he does best and that is entertain through either brilliance or sheer stupidity. He clearly is unable to control himself and if I had my way he would be banned for a year minimum from all forms of football.

Best Goalie: Vincent Enyeama - The Nigerian was outstanding and managed to help keep the score so close against a potent Argentinian attack containing the likes of Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuaín. I was very close to awarding this to Alexander Dominguez but decided that the former's saves were of a higher difficulty level.

Best Defender: Francisco Javier Rodríguez - Whilst his captain will probably get most of the credit, Rodríguez was at the heart of every piece of good defending against a wonderfully creative Croatian side. He seemed to intercept every ball whilst making a couple of good tackles for good measure. His positional sense has allowed Rafael Márquez to remain in the side despite his age.

Best Midfielder: James Rodriguez - Such was the quality on display from the Monaco playmaker that despite only playing a half Rodriguez was the stand-out player from this round of games. The Japanese defence couldn't handle his silky dribbling skills and eagle-eyed vision whilst his goal was as good as any scored in this tournament so far. Xherdan Shaqiri was very unlucky to not win this award as his hat-trick was very well taken and his overall display was sublime. No other player came close to these two.

Best Striker: Lionel Messi - It seems inevitable that the Argentine captain should win one of these awards at some point during the World Cup and here is his first of what I might assume could be at least a couple. His two goals helped him to again drag his nation out of a sticky situation. His form is similar to that of his club form from a few years ago when no matter how he was playing, if his team needs a goal he will come up with it from nowhere. Giorgios Samaras was the closest striker to Messi but possibly didn't do enough throughout the duration of this game to win this award.

Best Match: Greece 2 - 1 Ivory Coast - What drama at the end of what was a tense game yet one that both teams will feel like they could have and perhaps should have won. In the end the Greeks were very good value for their win, attempting to attack with verve at every opportunity and eventually succeeding at the end. Even if the rest of the match had been played out in a similar manner to the infamous England v Algeria game in South Africa, the last minute penalty and conversion was absolutely sensational and exactly what football is about.

Worst Match: Costa Rica 0 - 0 England - If I'm being completely honest I can't remember much of this game and that is the main reason why I'm awarding this to them. I think the Suarez incident made this game pale into insignificance. 

Surprise Player: Joseé Holebas - The Olympiacos left-back has looked fantastic for his club side this season but I thought he would have anticipated his attacking flair would be curtailed by Serge Aurier and Soloman Kalou's pace and directness. However, he seemed to flow forward with verve and even hit the woodwork with an outstanding shot from outside the area.

Best Manager: Fernando Santos - Many expected his Greek side to sit back and soak up the pressure, hoping for a goal from a set-piece yet Greece seemed to exploit the spaces left behind the Ivorians' midfield to produce many scintillating counter-attacks and probably should have won by more. Their containment of an Ivory Coast side filled with attacking talent was a joy to behold and they have a good chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals. 

Team of the 'Round':
Shaqiri---------Pjanic--------- Rodriguez-----Neymar

Subs: Domínguez, Juanfran, Márquez, Luiz, Alba, Iniesta, Gustavo, Robben, Martinez, Samaras

Golden Boot: Lionel Messi (Unchanged) - Anyone who has three goals or more is in with a chance but I think whomever wins this award will be one of the players carrying their nation (ie. Lionel Messi, Neymar, James Rodriguez) rather than someone like Thomas Müller or Karim Benzema who are the goal scorers in very balanced teams.

Player of the Tournament: Arjen Robben (Unchanged) - I was going to change this to Lionel Messi but Arjen Robben has been simply incredible so far. I think he is playing better than Messi but the Argentine captain is probably having more of an impact on his team as he seems to be dragging them through. If the knockout stages go as planned, Netherlands and Argentina's potential semi-final meeting could decide this award.

Winners: Argentina (Previously Netherlands) - This has been tough to predict this year but Lionel Messi hasn't played anywhere near his best yet and has been one of the two best players at the tournament so far. If he starts to perform or one of the other attackers such as Agüero or Híguain decide to show up, the Albicelestes could become unbeatable.

Surprise Team: Costa Rica - Topping arguably the most difficult group is a mighty achievement for this tiny nation. The two weakest teams on paper made their way through Group D but Costa Rica have a very realistic opportunity to meet the winners of Netherlands and Greece in the quarter-finals which must have been beyond their wildest dreams. I have been incredibly impressed with their levels of fitness and also their efficiency.

Overperformers: Chile - Unfortunately for Chile a meeting with the home nation is probably the last side that they wanted to face but Brazil is whom they have drawn. It will be a tight, close-run affair but I think they home nation will succeed eventually whether they need extra time or not. It's unlucky because Chile may have reached the depths of this tournament had they have a little more fortune in the draw.

Underperformers: Italy - This Uruguay team is nowhere near as good as they used to be yet Italy looked completely drained at this tournament. Perhaps they shouldn't have started with both Ciro Immobile and Mario Balotelli or perhaps they shouldn't have played such a physical game when in the Amazon Rainforest. Either way Cesare Prandelli seems to be on his way, which is a shame as he is one of the better if not the best international manager currently plying his trade in Europe.

Final Thoughts
Luis Suarez has a problem and has received a ban from "all footballing activities" for four months. Whilst I think he should have been given a harsher punishment I am surprised with the swiftness and deliberation set out by FIFA in this case. It has been handled much better than most things within the organisation and I must commend them on that. Whatever you think of the Uruguayan striker, I for one find him very entertaining whether he is dribbling as if he is playing at lunchtime in his school or reenacting the escape scene from Silence of the Lambs, he is fun to watch.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Champions Have Fallen

The giants of international football over the past six years have feebly perished leaving the race to lift the golden trophy an open affair.

Best Goalie: Guillermo Ochoa - The Mexican goalkeeper was a huge reason why Brazil were unable to find the net, pulling off a couple of outstanding saves whilst looking a calm presence at the back. There were a few other 'keepers in contention for this award with Tim Howard pulling off a wonder save as well as the likes of Asmir Begovic, Claudio Bravo and Vincent Enyeama displaying their knack for making numerous saves throughout their respective matches.

Best Defender: Jonathan Mensah - There weren't any stand-out performances in defence unlike Rodriguez's one last round but the young Ghanian provided a last line of defence for his country keeping a potent German attack out for much of the game. His last ditch tackles were a joy to behold and aided by his natural athleticism and dominant aerial performance, he provided the Black Stars with a slim but reasonable chance of qualification. 

Best Midfielder: Blase Matuidi - It would be impossible to not wax lyrical about the French performance against a strong Swiss side so that's exactly what I'm going to do. The all around brilliant performance of PSG's unsung hero formed the foundation upon which France would go on to dominate their local opponents. His energetic dribbles and accurate passing would have kept fans of Les Bleus on the edge of their seats whilst scoring their second goal seemed to make certain of a French win.

Best Striker: Karim Benzema - Even an inability to convert from the penalty spot couldn't taint what might be the Real Madrid striker's finest performance in a French shirt. He assisted two goals, scored one, had a golazo controversially erased from the record books yet it was the small things that impressed me the most. He allowed France's attacks to continuously flow forward through brilliant movement and tidy touches when both controlling and passing the ball. Others who were close to this award were Emmanuel Eminike, Enner Valencia and Mario Mandzukic.

Best Match: Australia 2 - 3 Netherlands - Once again there were many matches to choose from but the way the scoreline continued back and forth until the Dutch took their final lead was exhilarating. The Aussies pure grit was inspiring to watch as were both Robben and Cahill's goals. The only negative was the way it was decided with an unfortunate goalkeeping error from the very promising Matthew Ryan.

Worst Match: Japan 0 - 0 Greece - Anyone who watched this game needs no explanation.

Surprise Player: Abdelmoumene Djabou - The Algerian winger who played down the left wing against South Korea was outstanding defensively, preventing the Koreans from attacking down the right until he was subbed off. He scored one goal and created another but perhaps more impressive was his ability to win free kicks. I don't think he is good enough to play for a big club but he has certainly done enough to maybe receive a transfer bid from a more reputable league than the Tunisian system.

Best Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto - I was very tempted to pick Algerian manager Vahid Halilhodžić but what Pinto is achieving with this Costa Rican team is absolutely outstanding. I do think that Italy looked a little tired and if I had to pick the worst manager of the round it would probably be Cesare Prandelli as he dropped Marco Veratti when the game seemed to call for control of possession. Even so, the Colombian deserves immense credit for putting the minnows into a pole position to qualify top of the supposed "Group of Death".

Team of the 'Round':
Valbuena----Matuidi-----Jones-------A. Ayew

Subs: Bravo, Srna, Márquez, Gonzalez (Costa Rica), Hazard, Pjanic, Aránguiz, Valencia, Mandzukic

Golden Boot: Lionel Messi (Previously Karim Benzema) - Something about Lionel Messi's last minute winner against makes me think this may be his tournament. I thought Argentina had a good chance beforehand but their performances so far have left a lot to be desired. However, if the tiny genius can keep dragging his country to victory anything is possible for Messi both individually and within his team. Neymar will probably do the same thing with Brazil whilst everyone else I mentioned last round are still well within reaching distance of this award.

Player of the Tournament: Arjen Robben (Unchanged) - Was again the best player on the pitch and whilst he didn't stand out as much this match I do think he looks a completely different player this year compared to his injury-ridden tournament in South Africa. He seems to have completely upped his physical attributes too becoming a much better athlete than he has been at any other point in his career. Again, there are a lot of players with fantastic performances so far but I'm sticking to my guns here!

Winners: Netherlands (Previously Germany) - Germany didn't seem as though they could handle Ghana's attacking exploits which could prove a problem against more clinical sides. Watching how poorly the Dutch team seemed to be playing against a resolute Australian side made me think if they can win this game they can probably win the entire tournament. Maybe my Manchester United fandom is kicking in here.

Surprise Team: Costa Rica - Italy may have been suffering from their physical encounter with England in the rainforest but Costa Rica were good value for their win. Italy just couldn't cope with their organisation and team ethic. If Costa Rica qualify top of their group they could face the easiest possible opponent in the next round assuming Colombia top their own group too.

Overperformers: Chile - Knocking out the champions whilst performing to an extrodinary level, La Roja have shown themselves to be the real deal but unlike in the last tournament I think they have two very established superstars in Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal who will be good enough to carry them very far in Brazil. Hopefully Aránguiz hasn't injured himself too badly.

Underperformers: Spain - It is sad to see such a legendary side crumble away like this. In reality they have so much talent throughout their nation that they should be comfortably making the semi-finals. Vincente del Bosque will more than likely continue in his role as I believe Pep Guardiola will be the next Spanish manager after a few more years in Munich. This will provide the catalyst for promoting the talented youth that has struggled to break through but there will likely never be a generation with so many of the planet's greatest players such as Xavi, Iniesta, Torres, Villa, Ramos, Puyol and Casillas. Look for them to come back with a bang in 2016.

Final Thoughts
I truly believe Roy Hodgson should leave and have the decency to hand in his resignation. He chose the wrong players for the squad, leaving players like Ashley Cole and Andy Carroll at home has been proved to be wrong. Ricky Lambert doesn't provide the same impact of the bench that Carroll is capable of whilst Cole is clearly still England's best left-back and he was sorely missed. The FA shouldn't keep Hodgson just because it is difficult to find a replacement. 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Copa, Copacabana

In contrast to South Africa, the first round of games in Brazil have been fantastic. Most matches have been full of goals, action and controversy. 

Best Goalie: Tim Howard - He looked ever composed at the base of a very professional American defence, catching every ball he went up for whilst making a couple of good saves too. This award could have gone to a number of goalkeepers as no one player has really stood out.

Best Defender: Ricardo Rodriguez - The Swiss left-back played an almost perfect game against an Ecuador team that seemed to have no clue how to stop him. He provided both assists including one in the last minute for the winning goal but he also defended extremely competently. Other full backs like Serge Aurier, Daley Blind and Juan Zuniga.

Best Midfielder: Oscar - No player performed better over the past eight games than the Brazilian maestro. His ability to control play with both his dribbling and passing abilities were telling and the Croat defence just couldn't handle him. He would have won this award without scoring a goal in the final minutes of the game but that was just the icing on the cake.

Best Striker: Joel Campbell - The Costa Rican striker played out of his skin causing the Uruguayans all kinds of trouble. His dribbling was electric whilst his shooting was good enough to get him a goal. The assist topped off his performance which could secure him a starting place in Arsenal's team next season. Arjen Robben was very close to getting this award.

Best Match: Uruguay 1 - 3 Costa Rica - I found it very difficult to pick the best game but I thought this game was the best as I wasn't expecting a second half comeback from Costa Rica. Joel Cambell showed excellent skills whilst Keylor Navas kept Uruguay out from all but the penalty spot.

Worst Match: Iran 0 - 0 Nigeria - Anyone who watched this game needs no explanation.

Surprise Player: Charles Aránguiz - The Chilean midfielder displayed his array of passing throughout the game, whether it's a short one-timer or a diagonal long ball he can do it all. I wouldn't be surprised to see him move to a European team, perhaps Fiorentina or Udinese.

Best Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto - The Colombian manager guided his Costa Rican team to a surprise victory over a Uruguay side which whilst I did not think they would do very well, I didn't think they would lose to Costa Rica. His five defenders looked solid and Uruguay were unable to create many chances from open play. They may be a little over reliant on Joel Campbell up front but the talented front man looks more than capable of shouldering that pressure.

Team of the 'Round':

Subs: M'Bolhi, Zuniga, Hummels, Blind, Modric, Jones, Valbuena, Sanchez, Müller

Golden Boot: Karim Benzema - This was tough to predict at this point but I opted for Benzema due to France's relatively easy group. Others who are in the mix right now are Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller and Neymar.

Player of the Tournament: Arjen Robben - Looks determined to atone for his guilted miss in the last tournament's final. His position just behind Robin van Persie makes him impossible to mark for defenders whilst when the Dutch play in their usual formation he is allowed to play in his preferred position down the right wing where he can work to devastating effect.

Winners: Germany - Without a doubt they looked the best team in the opening matches. Even if they weren't playing well I still think that they could win it, it's in their blood and 24 years is too long for Germany not to win it. (I pretty much copy and pasted this from four years ago)

Surprise Team: Costa Rica - I do feel as if I'm repeating much about this Central American team but it wasn't just their result against Uruguay but their performance too that surprised me.

Overperformers: Netherlands - Scored a wonderful win against Spain by exploiting every weakness in the current World and European champions.

Underperformers: Spain - Vincente del Bosque has picked both his first team and his squad incorrectly. I think it will be tough for them to continue their phenomenal run in international tournaments. He has been very loyal which is admirable but it will cost both Spain and him their reputations.

Final Thoughts :)
Once again the referees have been very poor, especially those who are from competitions which aren't played to the same level such as those in Asia. 


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Desastre Español II (Spanish Disaster II)

Another poor start for Spain at a World Cup but it will be the manner of this defeat that shocks the world. Not many would have predicted such an emphatic win for a Dutch side that has lost it’s star midfielder in Kevin Strootman to injury early this year. Louis van Gaal tactically outmanoeuvred Vincente del Bosque as the Spaniard decided to remain loyal to the vast majority of players who have served him so well in the past.

Players like Fernando Torres and David Villa remain in the squad when others such as Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo are watching from home despite superior form being shown by the latter pair. Even a player like Xavi should count himself fortunate to remain in the starting lineup with so many fantastic, more youthful midfielders available for the Spanish squad.

It would surprise me to see del Bosque make any drastic changes to the team as he is a very consistent manager with his team selections though I expect Cesc Fabregas to start ahead of Diego Costa in their next match against the Chileans who would have watched the score-line in this match with a mixture of delight and trepidation.

This Spanish team are a group of players who usually react to adversity in a positive manner though this group could prove a step too far for this ageing group. If this is to be the stage where the current world champions are to depart the competition, could this be the end of del Bosque, and if so, could it be the start of a new era, most likely under the tutelage of current Bayern supremo Pep Guardiola?

Thursday, 5 July 2012

WCRR's European Championships 2012 Awards

Best Goalkeeper: 
Iker Casillas - Again Saint Iker has pulled out all the stops when his country has needed him the most. Buffon could have received this award but the whole Italian team's performance in the final was too poor to remove from my memory.

Best Defender: Pepe - Pepe played as well as any centre-back has in any tournament that I have seen. Consistently excellent from the first game to Portugal's semi-final exit.

Best Midfielder: Mesut Özil  - His attacking play was simply breathtaking. His naturally fluid style of dribbling combined with his eagle eyed vision and pin point passing, Özil was the most entertaining player to watch throughout the tournament but especially in the knock-out stages.

Best Striker: Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Ibra raises the ability of all those around him whilst his physical presence affords him the time and space that every striker desires on the ball. He has the best first touch in world football and his every move was to be admired throughout his short stint at the tournament. 

Best Match: Sweden 2 - 3 England - A stirring comeback from "Roy's Boys" after going down to a rather good Sweden side but with great goals from Carroll and Welbeck, this game was hard to take your eyes off.

Worst Match: Italy 2 - 0 Ireland - This match felt like a dead rubber and played out in a very monotonous and predictable manner.

Surprise Player: Alan Dzagoev - I had heard great things about Dzagoev but the way Russia started the tournament you would have made them favourites straight away. Unfortunately for the young man, Russia exited in the group stages and he was unable to build upon his goal tally of three.

Best Manager: Paulo Bento - I was going to award this to Prandelli but his tactical mistake in the final of switching to four at the back against Spain meant that I had to give this to Bento. He did a masterful job with Portugal and probably deserved to make the final. Unlucky to go out on penalties, Portugal and Bento might be a team to watch at the World Cup, especially if Ronaldo can play to his absolute best.

Team of the Tournament:
---------------------- Casillas -----------------------
Arbeloa-------Pepe--------- Hummels ---- Coentrão

Honourable Mentions - Buffon, Gabre Selassie, Agger, Alba, Iniesta, Pirlo, De Rossi, Sneijder, Gomez, Balotelli

Player of the Tournament: Mesut Özil - Özil was an absolute joy to watch throughout the tournament but his defensive teammates just couldn't handle the likes of Balotelli and Cassano. In my opinion, Özil is the best out and out central attacking midfielder in the world and he will only continue to improve.

Surprise Team: Greece - They weren't able to replicate the country's 2004 success but they did manage to qualify from their group stage where they were probably favoured to finish last. Karagounis' performance in their third game was arguably the performance of the tournament.

Overperformers: Portugal - Drawn in the 'Group of Death' but still able to qualify by nullifying the likes of Sneijder in the last game. Should have been in the final after a great performance against Spain but were knocked out on penalties.

Underperformers: Russia - Netherlands were knocked out by Germany and Portugal but Russia couldn't qualify from a group consisting of Poland, Czech Republic and Greece. That is not good enough for a side that has two players in my Team of the Tournament. They should have been aiming for a good performance in the quarter finals but unfortunately one of the more exciting teams were knocked out early.

Monday, 2 July 2012

A Spanish Armada

Best Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas - Wins by default given the amount of goals Italy conceded.

Best Defender: Jordi Alba - His goal alone was enough to win this award but he also provided Spain with an outlet at every opportunity and seemed to be on the ball as much as Xavi or Xabi Alonso!

Best Midfielder: Xavi Hernandez - At his tiki-taka best, Xavi was a joy to behold. Dominating the game with his metronomic passing, dictating the tempo of the game and strangling the life out of any Italian hope. He picked up two assists but his contribution was immeasurable.

Best Striker: Fernando Torres - The game was over when Torres scored and picked up his assist but he made a fantastic contribution after coming off the bench and actually picked up the Golden Boot courtesy of his pass to Mata.

Surprise Player: Jordi Alba - Yes he was made to look like Usain Bolt by the statuesque Italian defence but his performance was astonishing and he might be able to establish himself as the best left back in the world.

Underachieving Player: Daniele De Rossi - One of Italy's strongest players but he made an error leading to a goal as well as just playing poorly. He was unable to break apart the Spanish possession game but so did every player in blue.

Best Manager: Paulo Bento - Portugal were tactically too strong for Spain and countered superbly. Unfortunately for them, as mentioned before, their talismanic winger and captain just didn't finish well today. His only bad decision was leaving Ronaldo until the fifth penalty in the shootout meaning that he didn't even get the opportunity to score.

Team of the Round:
Honourable Mentions - Iniesta, Mata, Pedro

Official Awards
Golden Boot: Fernando Torres - I'll be honest, I did not see this one coming but I still don't think that Torres is back to his best.

Player of the Tournament: Andres Iniesta - I wouldn't have given it to Iniesta as you will see later and this seems like a nostalgic award by the voters.

Final Thoughts - This Spanish team is one of the most successful international teams to ever live and I wonder if this will be enough for them to be remembered as the greatest team of all time. We will see in a few decades but I think they might just have ripped that crown from the 1970 Brazil team's head.

Friday, 29 June 2012

A Tale of Tradition

Best Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon - Was perhaps kept the busiest out of all the goalkeepers but it was a close run affair between Buffon and Patricio.

Best Defender: Pepe - Has been the best defender in the competition so far but his run comes to an end as Portugal go out on penalties. Showed his experience of the Spanish game with a very good display that kept the Spanish out of his net. His Madrid counterpart, Sergio Ramos, could have also won this award as well as Leo Bonucci.

Best Midfielder: Mesut Özil - Despite his team being knocked out, the German magician created many chances for his teammates as well as cooly slotting home from the penalty spot but it came far too late to affect the match's outcome. His passing was superb as was his dribbling and, perhaps more surprisingly, his defending. There were many great performances from midfield with Moutinho, Pirlo and Montolivo all playing well.

Best Striker: Mario Balotelli - Will there be a more defining image from this tournament than Super Mario standing strong after scoring a marvellous goal? He's a mercurial talent and the German defence just couldn't handle his pace and power. This could spur him on to greatness within the game.

Best Match: Germany 1 - 2 Italy - A game with a great goal from a fantastic player. Italy's midfield really outplayed Germany and they made Gomez look extremely ordinary. Both matches were of a similar standard so this was quite a difficult decision. 

Worst Match: Portugal 0 - 0 (p) Spain - Portugal definitely deserved to go through but the Spanish machine just keeps on rolling. They consistently perform to a level good enough to win tournaments and this match was no exception.

Surprise Player: Joao Moutinho - It's not the fact that Moutinho is an unknown player because he is a very efficient and consistent midfielder but the fact he put in his best performance of the tournament against the Spaniards was a little bit of a surprise to me.

Underachieving Player: Cristiano Ronaldo - He played well until he had to shoot. Had his finishing been stronger yesterday, Portugal would be through and Spain would be going home early from a tournament for the first time since Germany in 2006.

Best Manager: Paulo Bento - Portugal were tactically too strong for Spain and countered superbly. Unfortunately for them, as mentioned before, their talismanic winger and captain just didn't finish well today. His only bad decision was leaving Ronaldo until the fifth penalty in the shootout meaning that he didn't even get the opportunity to score.

Team of the Round:
Honourable Mentions - Patricio, Pereira, Piqué, Bonucci, Alba, Busquets, De Rossi, Kroos

Golden Boot: Mario Balotelli (Previously Mario Gomez) - I'm not really sure who will get the Golden Boot at this rate but I plumped for Balotelli as he still has the final to come but in truth it could be anyone. There hasn't been a phenomenal goal scorer at the tournament so far.

Player of the Tournament: Andrea Pirlo (Previously Mesut Özil) - For me Özil has probably been the best player but seeing as he has been knocked out of the competition, Pirlo could win it despite the fact that Spain will probably win the trophy at the end of it all. He's been instrumental in Italy's wonderful cup run and is a bit of a media darling.

Winners: Spain (Unchanged) - Italy could pull a surprise if they use the same tactics as they did in their first game against the champions (where they played three at the back including De Rossi) but I have a feeling that Prandelli will play four at the back in which case Spain will comfortably win the final.

Surprise Team: Portugal (Previously Greece) - Portugal played extremely well which was surprsing as I hadn't really given them a chance against Spain though if they played as well as could be hoped for and still got knocked out maybe they really didn't have a chance!

Final Thoughts - Mario Balotelli is on his way to superstardom if he hasn't reached that peak already but the Italians should use this momentum, even if they do not win the final, to build another World Cup winning side. They have a lot of talent but they also have a fantastic manager, maybe even the best manager in the competition.