Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup Preview: Group D

Nickname: The Socceroos
FIFA ranking: 20
How they got here: Cruised through, after switching from Oceania to the Asian confederation -- which meant that they no longer had to win a play-off against a South American team to qualify.
Record in previous tournaments: Knocked out at the round of 16 in 2006 -- their best-ever finish -- after a controversial game against Italy.
Manager: Pim Verbeek, previously the assistant to Magical Guus HiddinkTM and manager of South Korea.
Players to watch: Everton's Tim Cahill, an attacking midfielder with an uncanny ability to be in the right place to thump in a header, is the team's talisman. Apart from that, players like Lucas Neill and Brett Emerton are solid but not spectacular. Harry Kewell could provide some surprises from the wing, if he doesn't fall apart halfway through the tournament.

Nickname: They're called the Fußballnationalmannschaft, which isn't really a nickname (it means "the national men's football team") but is kind of awesomely homoerotic.
FIFA ranking: 6
How they got here: A stereotypically efficient campaing, as they topped their group in Europe.
Record in previous tournaments: Have won three times (1954, 1974 and 1990). Runners-up to Brazil in 2002, and finished third in 2006 after an extra-time loss to Italy in the semi-finals.
Manager: Joachim Löw, who was Jürgen Klinsmann's right-hand man in 2006.
Players to watch: Veteran striker Miroslav Klose has 48 goals in 93 international caps; he'll probably be partnered with Cologne's Lukas Podolski. Erstwhile captain Michael Ballack is out of the tournament with a knee injury, which is a big loss. Philipp Lahm is a talented (albeit pocket-sized) defender, but he doesn't have quite the same presence. Bastian Schweinsteiger will step into Ballack's place in the centre; also keep an eye on midfielder Mesut Ozil, just 21 years old.

Nickname: The Black Stars
FIFA ranking: 32
How they got here: Struggled in the first round of qualifying but eased through their final group.
Record in previous tournaments: Lost to Germany at the round of 16 in 2006, their first appearance at the tournament.
Manager: Milovan Rajevac, who was previously a coach in Serbia.
Players to watch: Asamoah Gyan will probably be the lone striker, supported by Sulley Muntari and captain Stephen Appiah in midfield. But the absence of Chelsea's Michael Essien due to a knee injury
is a massive blow (notably, he was suspended for that loss against Germany in 2006).

Nickname: The White Eagles
FIFA ranking: 15
How they got here: Top of a qualifying group that included France and Romania.
Record in previous tournaments: This is Serbia's first World Cup as a fully independent nation. But they had a number of quarter-final appearances and one fourth-place finish (in 1962) as part of Yugoslavia.
Manager: Radomir Antic, who took over in 2008 after a variety of coaching gigs in Spain.
Players to watch: Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic, who has the killer robot look that you expect from a world-class centre-back. Captain Dejan Stankovic, who's fresh from winning the Champions League with Inter, will be pulling the strings in midfield, while Milan Jovanovic is a threat on the wing.

Verdict on the group
This is a tough one to call -- especially after the injuries to Ballack and Essien, the teams could be quite evenly matched. I do expect Germany to go through, because the Germans just don't get knodked out at the group stage. They just don't. As for the second team, I was going to pick Australia, but looking at the order of their matches (starting against Germany is never a good thing), I'm going to vote for Serbia instead.

World Cup Preview: Group C

Nickname: Les Fennecs (the desert foxes)
FIFA ranking: 30
How they got here: Won a tiebreaker with Egypt after the two teams ended qualification tied at the top of their group.
Record in previous tournaments: Have appeared at the World Cup twice, in 1982 and 1986, and went out at the group stage both times.
Manager: Rabah Saadane, who's been coaching the national side off and on for years.
Players to watch: They don't have anyone that I've ever heard of, but apparently midfielder Karim Ziani is a Zidane-style playmaker.

Nickname: The Three Lions
FIFA ranking: 8
How they got here: Cruised through qualification with nine wins -- including two cathartic wallopings of Croatia -- and only one loss.
Record in previous tournaments: Won it all in 1966 but haven't been able to repeat away from home. Knocked out in the quarter-finals in both 2002 and 2006.
Manager: Fabio Capello, who won just about everything in Europe before coming to England to give the team the discipline they sorely lacked.
Players to watch: Wayne Rooney. Wayne Rooney. Wayne Rooney. Beyond him, they have lots of other top-class players, like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in midfield. The question right now is who will be fit (captain Rio Ferdinand has already been knocked out with a knee injury) and what formation Capello will use to get them to work together effectively as a team.

Nickname: Zmajceki (the Dragons)
FIFA ranking: 25
How they got here: Finished second to Slovakia in their qualifying group, then -- somewhat surprisingly -- beat Russia in a playoff.
Record in previous tournaments: Have only been to the World Cup once before, in 2002 (which isn't all that bad, considering they weren't even a country) until 1991); didn't win a single game that time.
Manager: Matjaz Kek, who took over as senior coach in 2007 after managing the U15 and U16 teams.
Players to watch: Cologne striker Milivoje Novakovic leads the attack, supported by captain Robert Koren in midfield.

Nickname: They don't seem to have one, and I think somebody (*eyes Amanda and Sarah*) should get on that. "USMNT" doesn't count: it's not a nickname, just a jumble of letters.
FIFA ranking: 14
How they got here: Came through all three stages easily, finishing ahead of arch-rivals Mexico in the final group.
Record in previous tournaments: Their best-ever finish was third place way back in 1930. They made it to the quarter-finals in 2002 but then flopped at the group stage in 2006.
Manager: Bob Bradley, who some of us suspect is actually a robot.
Players to watch: Attacking midfielder Landon Donovan usually gets all the press, although I don't think he's ever really lived up to his own hype. More interesting, to me, are players like Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley (nepotism FTW!).

Verdict on the group
England's chances looked more robust a few months ago, before the squad --particularly the back line -- began getting hit with injuries. But I still have confidence in their ability to top the group, especially with Capello's steadying influence to overcome their usual combination of pre-tournament hubris + group-stage mediocrity + agonizing quarter-final penalty defeat. The USA look like a pretty solid bet for second; their opening group match with England on Saturday should be interesting.

Monday, June 07, 2010

World Cup Preview: Group B

Nickname: The Albicelestes, after their white and sky-blue shirts
FIFA ranking: 7
How they got here: Made hard work of things, including a humiliating 6-1 loss to Bolivia, but eventually qualified thanks to narrow wins in their last two games.
Record in previous tournaments: Have won twice before, in 1978 and 1986. Lost to Germany on penalties in the quarter-finals in 2006.
Manager: Diego Maradona, formerly known for being the Best Player in the WorldTM and scoring against England with his hand. Now known for having gastric bypass surgery and running over reporters with his car.
Players to watch: Leo Messi, aka the new Maradona and the reigning Best Player in the WorldTM, who can do absolutely ridiculous things with the ball at his feet. They've got plenty of other talent, too, with players like Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, and Diego Milito all fighting for a place in the lineup. Somewhat inexplicably, Juan Sebastian Veron is back in the quad, while Juan Roman Riquelme has been left at home, along with Champions League winners Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti. Captain Javier Mascherano will be spending the tournament trying not to get sent off for cursing at the referee.

Nickname: Traditionally known as the Galanoleyki (the blue and whites); they also picked up the nickname of "The Pirate Ship" in 2004, which is baffling, considering that their style is hardly what you'd call swashbuckling.
FIFA ranking: 13
How they got here: Finished second in their qualifying group and then beat Ukraine in the playoffs.
Record in previous tournaments: Have made it to the World Cup only once before, in 1994, when they lost all three group matches and failed to score a single goal. They did win the Euros in 2004, although it wasn't pretty.
Manager: Otto Rehhagel, who led them to their European title and coached in the Bundesliga before that.
Players to watch: Bayer Leverkusen striker Theo Gekas, the top scorer in UEFA qualifying.

Korea Republic (aka South Korea)
Nickname: The Taeguk Warriors. (The taeguk is apparently that yin-yang symbol in the middle of the Korean flag.)
FIFA ranking: 47
How they got here: Were undefeated in qualifying from their group in Asia.
Record in previous tournaments: Made it to the semi-finals at home in 2002, but were knocked out at the group stage in 2006.
Manager: Huh Jung-Moo. Who? Yeah, me neither.
Players to watch: Midfielder Park Ji-Sung, nicknamed "Three-Lung" by Manchester United fans for his indefatigable workrate.

Nickname: The Super Eagles
FIFA ranking: 21
How they got here: Squeaked into the tournament with a 3-2 win over Kenya in their final game of the qualification rounds.
Record in previous tournaments: Failed to qualify in 2006. Their best-ever finish was the round of 16, in 1994 and 1998.
Manager: Lars Lagerback, who previously managed Sweden but took over with Nigeria after the Swedes failed to qualify for this tournament.
Players to watch: Plenty of pace up front with Obafemi Martins and Aiyegbeni Yakubu. But they'll miss the strong presence of Chelsea's Jon Obi Mikel in midfield.

Verdict on the group
Maradona is constantly changing his tactics, has made some bizarre choices for the squad, and doesn't seem to know how to get the best from Messi.
The team is like a Ferrari being driven by a retarded, drug-addled monkey.
Despite that, I'd still expect them to top the group, because they've just got too many good players. How far they get beyond that depends on how well they can rise above Maradona's limitations as a manager and really play as a team.

As for the second team to come out of this group, I don't think South Korea will be able to reproduce their dark-horse form of 2002, which leaves Greece or Nigeria. I'm voting for Nigeria, partly because of their quasi-home field advantage and partly because watching Greece makes me want to poke my eyes out with a shish kebab.

World Cup Preview: Group A

Nickname: Les Bleus. They wear blue. Nobody said that they were imaginative.
FIFA ranking: 9
How they got here: Finished second in their qualifying group, and then won a playoff against Ireland thanks to Thierry Henry's hand.
Record in previous tournaments: Won the whole shebang for the first and only time in 1998. Lost to Italy on penalties in 2006.
Manager: Raymond Domenech and his magic astrological charts
Players to watch: Despite the World Cup-winning generation of Zidane et al having retired, France have plenty of talent, from captain Thierry Henry up front to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Franck Ribery and Yoann Gourcuff will be providing the midfield trickery.

Nickname: El Tri, for the three colours on the Mexican flag
FIFA ranking: 17
How they got here: Finished second to the USA in CONCACAF, after an erratic qualifying campaign that saw Sven-Goran Eriksson sacked as manager.
Record in previous tournaments: Best-ever performance was reaching the quarter-finals in 1970 and 1986. They've been knocked out at the Round of 16 in the last four tournaments.
Manager: Javier Aguirre, who took Atletico Madrid into the Champions League in 2008.
Players to watch: Playmaker Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the man that MLS fans love to hate, who's been lured out of retirement. Barcelona defender Rafa Marquez captains the side. Also keep an eye on Tottenham starlet Giovani Dos Santos.

South Africa
Nickname: Bafana Bafana = "the boys, the boys"
FIFA ranking: 83
How they got here: Qualified automatically as hosts.
Record in previous tournaments: Have only qualified twice before, in 1998 and 2002, and failed to get out of their group both times.
Manager: Carlos Alberto Parreira, who coached Brazil to the World Cup trophy in 1994.
Players to watch: Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar. A notable absentee is West Ham striker Benni McCarthy, the team's leading scorer, who's been left at home after a mediocre season.

Nickname: Los Charrúas
FIFA ranking: 16
How they got here: Finished fifth in the South American qualifying pool, and then won a two-leg playoff against Costa Rica.
Record in previous tournaments: Won the first ever World Cup, in 1930, and repeated the feat in 1950, but have had less success in recent years. Didn't qualify in 2006, and went out in the first round in 2002.
Manager: Oscar Tabárez, who's previously managed all over South America as well as in Europe.
Players to watch: Strikers Diego Forlan (of Atletico Madrid) and Luis Suarez (Ajax), with captain Diego Lugano anchoring the team from centre-half.

Verdict on the group
France struggled in qualification, and despite the talented players in the team, they're hampered by the wackadoodle tactics of coach Raymond Domenech, who is currently eclipsed only by Diego Maradona in the managerial nutbar stakes. Still, they should have enough quality to top the group, and I'd expect Mexico to put in a solid showing behind them. The home fans will be hoping that South Africa can pull off an upset, but realistically they'll just be hoping not to embarrass themselves.

Well, I'm back

Um. Hi there, to the four people who are actually still reading this after an extremely lengthy hiatus. As an explanation, I went back to school and it sucked up pretty much any free time that I might have had in which to watch soccer, let alone write about it. But I have now graduated (yay!), and the World Cup is about to start (double yay!). Which means that I have deeply significant things to share with the internets about who should play in midfield for England, which teams are most likely to win it all, and which players have the dodgiest haircuts and/or tattoos.

Coming up shortly: Overviews of all eight groups, largely for my own benefit so I can get my head around who all these teams are (and can somebody tell me which is North Korea and which is South?).

Monday, October 06, 2008

Premiership Weekend Roundup: October 4-5

Manchester City 2-3 Liverpool
Oh, that was just gorgeous. Ok, not Liverpool going behind 2-0 by halftime, or Xabi Alonso practically having his ankle taken off by Zabaleta. (And seriously, what is it about him that encourages people into dangerous tackles?) But everything after that was great. And even before City were reduced to 10 men, Liverpool's second-half performance was light-years removed from the way they'd played before the break. It wasn't quite an Istanbul-style comeback, but a win like this is a hyge psychological boost. If they keep pulling off stuff like this, they just might have a chance at the title -- assuming, that is, that being considered favourites doesn't make them immediately collapse.

Blackburn 0-2 Manchester United
I said when United were trying to sign Dimitar Berbatov that I didn't think it was a good idea, because he's a lazy player. And he may indeed be lazy, but I don't care anymore, because he's turned out to be a fantastic addition to the team, not only scoring goals but creating opportunities for his teammates. The score was only 2-0 but it could've been more, even if Wes Brown hadn't scored the opening goal with the help of a foul on the keeper by Nemanja Vidic.

Sunderland 1-1 Arsenal
Sunderland held Arsenal off for 85 minutes before Grant Leadbitter gave them the lead, coming on as a substitute and scoring a beautiful goal with practically his first touch of the game. It wasn't enough to give them the victory, though, as Cesc Fabregas equalized in added time -- with a header, of all things. This is especially noteworthy since (a) Cesc is roughly as tall as I am, which is to say, not very, and (b) he doesn't even have poofy hair giving him a couple of extra inches anymore.

Chelsea 2-0 Aston Villa
With Drogba injured and Anelka not 100%, apparently Chelsea are copying the "who needs strikers" strategy that Man United pioneered last season. That's nice for them. I was attempting to study for an economics quiz, so I wasn't paying much attention, apart from noting that John Terry doesn't really need to hike his shorts up that much. I'm just saying.

Other results
West Brom 1-0 Fulham
Wigan 0-1 Middlesbrough
West Ham 1-3 Bolton
Tottenham 0-1 Hull
Portsmouth 2-1 Stoke
Everton 2-2 Newcastle

Holy crap, I just realized that Hull are in third place. Hull.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Champions League Matchday 2: September 30-October 1

Aalborg 0-3 Manchester United
A goal for Wayne Rooney, two for Dimitar Berbatov, thank you very much. Let's all just forget about that weak draw with Villareal, shall we? I think it's safe to assume that Celtic are going to be eliminated at the group stage, as per usual, and based on this performance Aalborg really aren't much of a threat, so no worries until the knockout rounds start. Now United just need to get things sorted out in the Premiership.

Liverpool 3-1 PSV Eindhoven
Well, Robbie Keane scored his first goal for Liverpool. And his goal celebration looks just as stupid as it did when he was at Spurs. I think Jamie Carragher needs to sit him down and have a word with him. Or, you know, just take a look at Steven Gerrard, celebrating his 100th goal in a Liverpool shirt. The knee-slide is always a classic. (Thank god he's stopped that back-patting thing he was doing for a while.)

Arsenal 4-0 Porto
Blah blah beautiful football blabbity blah talented youngsters blah blah blee. Y'all know it's only a matter of time before Van Persie is broken again.

Cluj 0-0 Chelsea
Is it bad for me to be disappointed that Didier Drogba isn't more seriously injured? Probably, yes. Anyway, yay Cluj! Long may you inspire bad vampire-related puns in the sports media.

Group A
Cluj 0-0 Chelsea
Bordeaux 1-3 Roma

Group B
Anorthosis Famagusta 3-1 Panathinaikos
Inter 1-1 Werder Bremen

Group C

Sporting Lisbon 2-0 Basel
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Barcelona

Group D
Liverpool 3-1 PSV Eindhoven
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Marseille

Group E
Aalborg 0-3 Manchester United
Villareal 1-0 Celtic

Group F
Fiorentina 0-0 Steaua Bucharest
Bayern Munich 1-1 Lyon

Group G
Arsenal 4-0 Porto
Fenerbahce 0-0 Dynamo Kyiv

Group H
Zenit St. Petersburg 1-2 Real Madrid
Bate Borisov 2-2 Juventus

Monday, September 29, 2008

Premiership Weekend Roundup: September 27-28

On the one hand, I am insanely busy right now. Booo. On the other hand, I finally have Setanta set up at my new apartment so I can watch the games properly. Yaaaay. So here we go...

Manchester United 2–0 Bolton
Yes, okay, that penalty was ridiculous. I'm not even going to try to defend that. I'm more interested in seeing Wayne Rooney come on as a substitute and link up with Cristiano Ronaldo to score a beautiful goal. And now, in seeing whether he's actually going to get to start their Champions League game this week.

Everton 0–2 Liverpool
Fernando Torres did basically nothing for an hour, and then won the game in the space of two minutes. (Should have had a hat trick, actually.) And it was an excellent performance from the whole team; they thoroughly deserve their spot at the top of the table.

Arsenal 1–2 Hull

Other results
Stoke City 0–2 Chelsea
Newcastle 1–2 Blackburn
Middlesbrough 0–1 West Brom
Fulham 1–2 West Ham
Aston Villa 2–1 Sunderland
Portsmouth 2-0 Tottenham
Wigan 2-1 Manchester City

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A recap

Manchester United: Drew with those Chelsea bastards.

Liverpool: Drew with Stoke. Stoke.

My team: Made it to the playoff final and lost on penalties.

I: Do not want to talk about it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Premiership Weekend Roundup: September 13-14

Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United
Ok, see, this is why it's not such a great idea to like both Liverpool and Manchester United. Because yeah, I wanted United to win, and Berbatov to be amazing on his debut, and Wayne Rooney to score a hat-trick or something. And instead I got Rooney marooned out on the wing, an own-goal for Wes Brown, and the Edwin van der Sar Comedy Experience. And yet I can't really be upset, because just look at Jamie Carragher's face.

Other results
Arsenal 4-0 Blackburn
Chelsea 3-1 Manchester City
Fulham 2-1 Bolton
Hull 2-1 Newcastle
Portsmouth 2-1 Middlesbrough
West Brom 3-2 West Ham
Wigan 1-1 Sunderland