Biting nails, baiting the French, and looking away as Keane misses (again)

Continuing the look ahead to next month's World Cup qualifiers

Europe: Group Six

Free scoring England have 26 goals and 21 points to their name after 7 wins from 7 games. So why am I still biting my nails? Because Croatia can still get 23 points if they win their remaining three games, one of which is against England on September 9th. If the unthinkable were to happen and England were to draw their other two games, the group would be tied. Then the boffins at FIFA will scratch their heads before closely scrutinising the goal difference situation and wondering out loud why a bloke in England running an obscure footy blog was ever worried.

Forthcoming fixtures:

September 5th

Ukraine - Andorra

Croatia - Belarus

September 9th

England - Croatia

Belarus - Ukraine

Andorra - Kazakhstan

Europe: Group Seven

If France beat Romania next month, the clash in Belgrade four days later will take on special significance. Beat Serbia and the French would jump into top spot on 19 points. Am I alone in thinking this would be a travesty? Les Bleus have scored eight goals and conceded six in their six qualifying games so far. They only beat the Faroe Islands 1 – 0 and, by some accounts, could have lost. This is hardly the France of Platini, Tigana and Giresse; of Henry, Vieira and Zidane. Sad but true.

Forthcoming fixtures:

September 5th

Austria - Faroe Islands

France - Romania

September 9th

Faroe Islands - Lithuania

Romania - Austria

Serbia - France

Europe: Group Eight

Only one point separates the top two, so this group could still be up for grabs if The Republic of Ireland actually starts winning games. Over to you, Robbie Keane. Three wins and four draws have seen them cling on to Italy’s tatty coat tails, but somehow you feel this form won’t be good enough to secure an automatic place. That said, if they can’t beat Montenegro or Bulgaria, should the Republic be going to South Africa anyway? Watch out for the (possible) crunch game between the Irish and the Italians on October 10th in Dublin.

Forthcoming fixtures:

September 5th

Bulgaria - Montenegro

Cyprus - Republic of Ireland

Georgia - Italy

September 9th

Montenegro - Cyprus

Italy - Bulgaria


Spain, Torres and Richard Curtis films

Looking ahead to World Cup qualifiers in September – Part 5

Europe: Group Five

This is another procession, with current European Champions Spain routinely seeing off a collection of minnows over the last twelve months. There is no evidence that this trend is about to end. Bosnia versus Spain in October is the closest this group comes to anything of interest, and only then because it could be the first time a visiting time has brought out pillows, duvets and mugs of hot chocolate, settled down to watch a Richard Curtis film, drifted off to sleep, and still won.

Forthcoming fixtures:

September 5th

Armenia - Bosnia-Herzegovina

Turkey - Estonia

Spain - Belgium

September 9th

Bosnia-Herzegovina - Turkey

Armenia - Belgium

Spain - Estonia


Anyone for jokes about towels on sun-kissed South African beaches?

Looking ahead to World Cup qualifiers in September – Part 4

Europe: Group Four

The ruthlessly efficient Germans are ruling the roost in this group. Four points ahead, with a game against closest rivals Russia on October 10th sandwiched between visits by Azerbaijan and Finland, would it be premature to start making jokes about towels on sun kissed South African beaches? Nope, didn’t think so. In summary, Finland and Russia are almost certainly hunting for a consolation play-off place.

Forthcoming fixtures:

September 5th

Russia - Liechtenstein

Azerbaijan - Finland

September 9th

Liechtenstein - Finland

Wales - Russia

Germany - Azerbaijan


Limp Central European grudge matches

Looking ahead to World Cup qualifiers in September – Part 3

Europe: Group Three

Poor old San Marino. One goal scored, 37 conceded. It’s not looking good for the landlocked microstate. Still, at least we’ll be spared commentators making what they think are clever references to the Most Serene Republic of San Marino and its status as the oldest sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world. Because nobody cares.

Look out for the limp central European grudge matches still to unfold in this group: Czech Republic v Poland, Slovakia v Slovenia and, best of all, Czech Republic v Slovakia on September 5th. They used to be part of the same country but sort of fell out without Bosnia-style repercussions. Cue jokes about homicidal maniacs and Northern Ireland, who face a tough last three games and will do well to finish second.

Forthcoming fixtures:

September 5th

Poland - Northern Ireland

Slovakia - Czech Republic

September 9th

Czech Republic - San Marino

Northern Ireland - Slovakia

Slovenia - Poland


Looking ahead to World Cup qualifiers in September – Part 2

Europe: Group Two

This is a difficult group to read. OK, Luxembourg and Moldova have as much chance of qualifying as I have of flying to the moon; it’s just that the rest don’t seem all that keen either.

Greece and Switzerland both have 13 points, with Latvia on 10 and Israel on nine. The top two play in Basel on September 5th before the Greeks finish off with games against Moldova, Latvia and Luxembourg. On that basis they should probably qualify outright, leaving Israel and Switzerland to fight it out for a play-off place.

Forthcoming fixtures:

September 5th

Moldova - Luxembourg

Switzerland - Greece

Israel - Latvia

September 9th

Israel - Luxembourg

Moldova - Greece

Latvia - Switzerland


Looking ahead to World Cup qualifiers in September – Part 1

For the next twelve days World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 takes an occasionally wry look at World Cup qualifying fixtures in early September. Well, I say “wry”; on Day 9 I might just have a belly laugh at the expense of our Scottish neighbours if the mood takes me.

Europe: Group One

Albania and Malta only have one game each left to play, so we can forget about them. Substitute nine for one in that sentence and you’d sum up how most pundits felt about the chances of either qualifying – ever.

This group is of course a four-horse race between Denmark, Hungary, Portugal and Sweden. All that could change when the next set of games take place on September 5th.

With 16 points now, the unbeaten Danes take on Portugal in Copenhagen knowing a win will leave Ronaldo’s mob ten points behind.

If Hungary beat Sweden on the same night they will go to 16 points, with the Swedes staying on nine. Portugal will probably then have to beat Hungary twice and hope the Magyars also lose against Denmark. Sweden, on the other hand, face the whipping boys in two of their remaining three games. Beat Hungary in Budapest and they might be in with a chance.

Forthcoming fixtures:

September 5th

Denmark - Portugal

Hungary - Sweden

September 9th

Malta - Sweden

Albania - Denmark

Hungary - Portugal

Competition winner announced

Thank you to everyone who entered the World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 Sony Ericsson phone competition.

The winner of the Sony Ericsson W995 handset is Kevin Jones.

Kevin successfully answered the question “Excluding penalties, how many goals did England score in the last World Cup finals?”

The right answer was: 6

England 1 Paraguay 0 (Carlos Gamarra own goal 3 mins)
England 2 Trinidad and Tobago 0 (Peter Crouch 83, Steven Gerrard 91)
England 2 Sweden 2 (Joe Cole 34, Steven Gerrard 85)
England 1 Ecuador 0 (David Beckham 60)

Congratulations Kevin. Good luck with the rest of the Sony Ericsson prize draw!


News from South America

Brazil have moved to counter the growing threat from Argentina by recalling striker Adriano for next month’s World Cup qualifiers.

The five times winners play away against Argentina and then face Chile at home.

Now recovered from off-field problems that almost caused him to quit football, Adriano has scored 10 goals in 16 games for Flamengo since returning from Italy in April.

Adriano’s return may be a timely move by coach Dunga. The ex-Inter man has form against Argentina, having headed the injury time equaliser in a 2-2 draw in the 2004 Copa America final and scoring twice in the 2005 Confederations Cup final in Brazil's 4-1 victory.

Liverpool midfielder Lucas also returns in place of the injured Kleberson.

Here’s the full squad:

Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Inter Milan), Victor (Gremio)

Defenders: Andre Santos (Fenerbahce), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (Inter Milan), Filipe (Deportivo La Coruna), Lucio (Inter Milan), Luisao (Benfica), Miranda (Sao Paulo), Juan (AS Roma)

Midfielders: Elano (Galatasaray), Felipe Melo (Juventus), Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos), Josue (VfL Wolfsburg), Ramires (Benfica), Julio Baptista (AS Roma), Kaka (Real Madrid), Lucas (Liverpool)

Forwards: Luis Fabiano (Sevilla), Nilmar (Villarreal), Robinho (Manchester City), Adriano (Flamengo)

Meanwhile, Argentina and manager Diego Maradona are also making preparations for the clash in Rosario on September 5th.

“I'm only thinking of victory, I'm not considering defeat,” he said, before moving onto dangerous territory for someone who had a gastric band fitted in 2005.

“We're hungrier than Brazil,” insisted Maradona, thereby unintentionally inviting a global blog audience to submit their own jokes. Brazil currently lead the group by one point from Chile (26), Paraguay (24) and Argentina (22).


The view from South Africa

Karen Lotter runs the independent football blog Vuvuzela South Africa (http://www.vuvuzelasouthafrica.co.za/). I decided to ask Karen about preparations for the tournament and what visiting fans can expect next year. Here’s what she had to say...

How are preparations for the tournament going?

"Well, it seems like all the brand new 2010 Stadiums are on track and will be handed over at the right time. Cape Town is preparing for the World Cup Draw on 4 December and people here are buying South African flags, learning to diski dance and making sure they know all the words of our four-language national anthem."

What makes you so confident?

"As Dr Irvin Khosa, Chairman of South Africa's 2010 World Cup Local Organising Committee, has said, 'The days of planning are over, we are in the final straight'. I know there is still a lot being done on transport, but I feel very confident, because the new Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele was our provincial Premier here in KwaZulu-Natal and before that he was a brilliant provincial Transport Minister. So if anyone can sort out an improved transport infrastructure, it will certainly be Minister Ndebele."

In the UK we heard about the strikes which appeared to be disrupting construction work. What happened and how was it all settled?

"Winter is strike season - it's almost over. I think the strikes were bound to happen. The stadium workers belong to a few unions and it took a while for the negotiations between the members and their unions and the minister of Labour and FIFA to begin."

"South Africa has only been a democracy for 15 years and we are still struggling to untangle the mess that centuries of colonialism and apartheid have created."

Could these strikes flare up again and further threaten preparations for the tournament?

"It's almost spring, so I don't think so."

What kind of a welcome can visiting fans expect in South Africa in 2010?

"South Africans are good at uniting for a big event, even if we tend to bicker among ourselves, so I think fans can imagine a multicultural rolling out of the red grass mat. Fans can expect great weather; very friendly people; first world facilities; good roads, accommodation etc."

"Besides the obvious - awesome football, I think fans will enjoy the space. Africa is big, the nights are still very dark in most places outside the cities and you can see the Milky Way and the Southern Cross. Plus there is plenty of wildlife from coast to coast."

Which cities or stadiums are likely to generate the best atmosphere?

"Wow, all the cities have their own vibe. Johannesburg is the biggest city in the country and home to Soccer City. Cape Town has the curvaceous new Green Point Stadium and the wine routes and so much stuff to do. And then I'm naturally biased towards Durban with its Moses Mabhida Stadium (pictured) with the arch - because this is where I live. Durban is in the Kingdom of KwaZulu, the home of King Zhaka and we have the warm Indian Ocean with beautiful safe white beaches all year round."

Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso took offence to the Vuvuzela during the Confederations Cup. Will the African trumpet survive the calls for a ban during games?

"This is an African World Cup and we will do it the African way. The Vuvuzela is very much part of the soccer games in South Africa. I have six of my own and I treasure them. Sepp Blatter has made it very clear that the Vuvuzela will stay. I know some Europeans are running Ban the Vuvuzela websites and blogs. I think it must be so hard for them to realize that they can't order us Africans around anymore!"

In your opinion who is the best player in the Bafana Bafana squad?

"Well, I like Steven Pienaar, Teko Modise, Benjamin Parker and Richard Henyekane now - we'll see what happens after the European tour in September - they have a series of friendlies coming up."

How far will Bafana Bafana go next year?

"It is too early to ask this - they performed well in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and with Joel Santana as coach I would hope at least to the quarter finals."


£500 Sony Ericsson phone competition reminder

Visit World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 and you could win a fantastic FIFA branded Sony Ericsson W995 handset.

Answer this simple question and leave your name and address in the Comments box:

Excluding penalties, how many goals did England score in the last World Cup finals?

You have until August 23rd to submit your answer and contact details. The winner will be announced here on August 24th. Good luck!

If you win the phone, enter your details at www.WinTheTickets.co.uk, including the IMEI number, and you will automatically be entered into a prize draw:

Daily Prizes: 1 x Sony BRAVIA TV
Every day a stylish 40-inch Sony BRAVIA TV is up for grabs.

Weekly Prizes: 2 x pairs of tickets to the 2010 FIFA World Cup
Win two pairs of tickets to a 2010 FIFA World Cup match. Flights and three nights in 4-star accommodation are included.

Grand Prize: 1 x 2010 FIFA World Cup Golden Ticket
This golden ticket entitles the winner to a pair of tickets to every game their country plays – including the final. This once in a lifetime prize includes flights and 4-star accommodation.

PS. If anyone from Sony Ericsson is reading this, I genuinely have got my eye on your X1 and World Cup finals tickets / accommodation. Not exactly taking the hint, are you?


Latest World Cup qualifying results

Spent some of last night ‘tweeting’ (2010bafbaf) goal news as it came in from around Europe. Discovered that if Croatia and Slovenia score around the same time, and one of the scorers has 17 letters in his name, you will run out of available space or 'characters' as Twitter fans call it. Lesson learned.


Group 3

Slovenia 5 San Marino 0

Group 4

Azerbaijan 0 Germany 2

Group 6

Belarus 1 Croatia 3

Group 7

Faroe Islands 0 France 1

Group 9

Norway 4 Scotland 0

North, Central America and Caribbean

Mexico 2 USA 1

Trinidad and Tobago 1 El Salvador 1

Honduras 4 Costa Rica 0

Costa Rica. What are you like?


The Weasel War Dance and other pointless prancing about

The news that Everton FC has launched its new all-black kit with a haka is worrying, and not just because it looked and sounded so rubbish.

Real danger lies ahead when teams start appropriating famous war dances for their own grubby shirt-selling money-making ends or indeed just because they think it might make them look harder than they really are.

For instance, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has performed an upset pirouette in technical areas across Europe for years. This routine involves spinning furiously on the spot while referees of all nationalities and colours contrive to sabotage his beloved team’s plans.

The upset pirouette would become so much more fearsome if Ferguson decided to combine it with the Samoan Fire Knife dance.

According to legend, tribal performers of fire knife tomfoolery Nureyev about while twirling the knife and doing other acrobatic stunts. It looks dangerous, so obviously I won’t be recommending that Fergie try it out every day for the rest of his life.

Of course Ferguson isn’t alone in his overuse of potentially fatal dance routines. For years football pundits have claimed to see something of The Kailao in Rafa Benitez. This ancient Tongan war dance encourages men to fling their arms about in a fierce manner as directed by a lead dancer with a fondness for changes in formation and zonal marking. Stop it, Rafa.

And as for Arsene Wenger, some have even convinced themselves that the Arsenal manager is copying the Weasel War Dance.

This colloquial term describes the behaviour of excited ferrets and weasels. Wild ones use this dance to confuse or disorient prey; the domestic variety normally exhibits this behaviour after the capture of a toy or another prize. It “consists of a frenzied series of sideways and backwards hops, often accompanied by an arched back, hissing noises, and a frizzy tail.” Just about sums the man up.

So this dancing malarkey all looks a bit unhinged. On the other hand, are we missing something here? On this evidence, mimicking war dances, human or otherwise, may just be the way to the top. Don’t be too surprised if you see David Moyes doing the haka on the Goodison pitch before the autumn.



Latest World Cup qualifying news

This week sees the welcome return of World Cup qualifiers. Matches take place on Wednesday 12th August in several European groups and in the North, Central America and Caribbean group.


In Group 3 Slovenia take on San Marino in Maribor. This match has no relevance to anyone except statisticians who gather stats about San Marino games. Can they become the first team ever to concede 723 goals in a qualifying group?

Azerbaijan face Germany in a Group 4 clash in Baku. Then they reconvene in Germany next month before the three-time winners glide into the finals as ‘one of those teams you’ve got to watch’. Probably because they get to play the likes of goalless and guileless Azerbaijan twice in four weeks.

Minsk is the venue for the Group 6 encounter between Belarus and Croatia. Anything less than a win for the Croatians and England qualify as group winners. Tee-hee.

Here’s an odd coincidence. France take on the Faroe Islands twice in a month. No matter; the big one in Group 7 is the match between Serbia and France in Belgrade on September 9th.

In Europe the 8 best group runners-up go into a home and away play-off. Any guesses what the winners of the Group 9 game between Norway and Scotland are playing for?

North, Central America and Caribbean

This group has three automatic finals places. The fourth placed team goes into a play-off with the fifth placed team in the South American group.

Mexico - USA in Mexico City

Mexico have only ever lost one qualifying game at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. This probably won’t lift the spirits of a USA team which the Mexicans recently trounced 5 – 0.

Honduras - Costa Rica in San Pedro Sula

Two more wins will probably be enough for Costa Rica to qualify outright. Their penultimate game is at home against Trinidad and Tobago, who are doing their best to end the group with whatever the opposite of a flourish is.

Trinidad and Tobago - El Salvador in Port of Spain

The whipping boys of the group. One might steal fourth place but only if the teams above them decide to holiday together in the Bermuda Triangle.

Get the results as the games end this week at World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010.


Is Tevez fit or not?

Carlos Tevez might play for Man City this weekend, despite pulling out of the Argentina squad for next week’s friendly against Russia.

It’s the age-old story of a twisted ankle and a manager desperate to start the season with an expensive player who needs looking after.

At least that’s the only way I can interpret the latest comments from Mark Hughes.

According to one report Hughes “is mulling over the prospect of handing Carlos Tevez a friendly run-out against Celtic on Saturday.”

He is, however, apparently also “mindful of the fact the Argentina coach Diego Maradona has agreed to his request not to name the striker in his squad to face Russia in a friendly next week.”

Hughes’ admirably straight-faced response to questions on the subject suggests he may adopt a similar approach as the season progresses.

“We are pleased he is fit and well at the moment. He is not going with the international squad, which is good news from our point of view.”

So we know Tevez is fit but he can’t go to Russia to play for the country of his birth. That’s a clear victory for Man City in the season's first club versus country debate.


Early qualifiers for next year Pt 6

South Africa

Urged on by the vuvuzelas, next year’s hosts earned a creditable third place in the Confederations Cup.

In fact, only a late strike from Brazil’s Daniel Alves and an extra time stunner from Xabi Alonso denied Bafana Bafana the glory their enthusiasm and tenacity probably merited.

Of course Alonso publicly belittled the African trumpets, complaining that the noise they generate is hideous.

With this one comment the Basque midfielder almost certainly guaranteed he and his team mates will hear a lot more of them in 2010.

That said, Bafana Bafana will need more than trumpets and a prodigious work rate to make much progress next summer.

Much will rest on the form of Steven Pienaar and a posse of Europe-based players who will probably drag them to the last 16 but no further.

Then the angry bees will swarm around Spain and Alonso, forcing an early exit. After all, this is the World Cup.


Robson remembered

Back in the summer of 1990 I'd just graduated and embarked on several weeks of happy drinking and footy watching.

Over the course of that sunny June Bobby Robson's team took us all closer to World Cup glory than we could ever have imagined.

Of course he was a great club manager with Ipswich, Barcelona, PSV and Newcastle. But he was also the width of a post (Waddle's shot) and penalties away from our first World Cup final since you know when.

With more luck we could now be remembering him as the manager of England's second World Cup winning side. It wasn't to be, but Robson deserved praise for his achievements that year.

Later he cemented his place in the nation's heart by repeatedly battling illness. Robson carried on through a succession of posts until eventually falling foul of the managerial merry-go-round at his beloved Newcastle. How sad that it should happen there, of all places.

Thanks for everything, Bobby.