Maradona in talks with God

Argentina coach Diego Maradona is hoping heavenly intervention can save his team’s faltering World Cup qualifying campaign.

1986 quarter-final against England

Of course we’ve been here before with Maradona, something the legendary No.10 admits.

“The Beard (God) saved me many times, I hope he saves me this time too,” he said in a not very subtle reference to his notorious 'Hand of God' goal during Argentina's 1986 victory over England.

Bobby Robson put Maradona straight

It was Bobby Robson who memorably dismissed the so-called celestial interference in earthly matters.

“It wasn’t the Hand of God,” said the then England manager after the match, “it was the hand of a rascal”. Genius.

Argentina face Peru and Uruguay in their final qualifiers next month. Expect a giant hand to sweep the ball into the opposition’s net if Maradona’s team struggle at any time during these games. Or not.

Seeding system for Europe's World Cup playoffs

The eight teams in Europe's World Cup playoffs will be seeded according to official FIFA rankings. There will also be a separate draw to determine which teams play the second legs at home.

Sepp Blatter made the announcements at a news conference after a FIFA executive committee meeting in Rio de Janeiro.

“We have decided on seeding the teams into two groups of four, taking the FIFA world rankings into account, with the top four in one pot and the others in another pot,” Blatter said. The rankings will be published on Oct. 16.

“There will be a separate draw to decide home and away,” Blatter added of the two-legged ties to determine four extra European places at the 2010 finals in South Africa.

This means the likes of former champions France and Germany will theoretically face an easier tie if they have to go through the play-offs.

While there are lots of teams which can still qualify automatically or via the play offs, the news about seedings could have massive implications for Group Seven’s World Cup hopefuls.

Currently second, four points behind Serbia, France could still win the group and condemn the Balkan team which led the group for so long to two tough play off games – all because of a seeding system which may be designed to give underperforming so-called top teams an easy route to the finals.


Muller dismisses current Germany World Cup strikers

Germany’s legendary Gerd Muller says his country’s current crop of forwards are below average, with only one deserving a place in the national side.

Criticism ahead of crucial World Cup qualifier against Russia

Muller scored 365 goals in the Bundesliga and 68 times in just 62 caps for his country, so he knows a thing or two about hitting the back of the net.

Now Muller has turned his sights on Miroslav Klose, Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski as the crucial 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa qualifier with Russia approaches.

“When you see what strikers we have in the national team today... in my day, they would not have even been allowed to even sniff the ball,” he told German television.

Only his namesake Thomas Muller of Bayern Munich deserves any praise, said the 63-year-old.

“He is an incredible young lad,” said Muller. “He can use both his left and right foot, like me. He is quick, strong in the air and he is one that can be taken to the World Cup.”

Germany’s manager hits back

Joachim Low claims the world has moved on since Muller’s heyday.

“I have the utmost respect for players like Gerd Muller, but you cannot make comparisons over decades.”

“It has become incredibly difficult for strikers,” added Low. “Football has developed particularly in the art of defending. Nowadays, strikers don't even get five minutes worth of the room that the strikers used to get over 90 minutes in a game.”

That’s fair enough, but you can’t deny Muller was bloody good. Here he is setting up one goal and scoring the other four in a 5 – 1 demolition of Switzerland: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqrPCRj1P7E

Bent still hoping for World Cup place

Darren Bent thinks he can still catch Fabio Capello’s eye and make England’s World Cup squad for South Africa.

England striker keen to avoid World Cup heartbreak

The Sunderland striker, who has six goals to his name already this season, told The Guardian he has not yet given up hope of going to the World Cup finals.

Bent says “he was crushed not to make the last World Cup” and said he would be "heartbroken" to miss out this time around.

After scoring his sixth goal of the season during Sunderland's 5-2 home win over Wolves Bent said “I can't do much more than I'm doing at the moment. Hopefully Capello is watching.”

Striker played no part in England’s successful qualifying campaign

It remains to be seen whether Capello is looking the other way. There may well be sound reasons why the Italian is ignoring a player who hasn’t played a single second of England’s successful qualifying campaign. Falling over in your solitary appearance could be the main one.

"I went round the keeper and slipped over,” said Bent, describing his chance in last year's friendly win over Germany.

“Things like that define your England career. If that goes in I could be in the next four or five squads - but it wasn't meant to be.”

If first impressions really do count, Bent is probably already clutching at straws.


Ballack confident ahead of World Cup qualifiers

Michael Ballack says he is still enjoying life in England and looking forward to Germany's World Cup qualifier against Russia in Moscow next month.

Living in London

The 33-year-old told FIFA.com London “has a lot to offer, and not just in footballing terms. Both culturally and in culinary terms you feel really at home in the English capital. The city's buzzing, and my family and I are very happy there.”

With three goals to his name already the Chelsea midfielder appears to be reaping the benefits of a long summer break.

“I've just had the longest summer break of my professional career. Usually you only get two weeks, but this time I had five weeks off, which was very important for me in terms of rest and recuperation.”

Ballack could even afford to break a toe and still claim a place in a team which is currently riding high at the top of the English Premier League. Now he and his Chelsea team-mates face rivals Liverpool before the World Cup qualifiers conclude in October.

World Cup showdown against Russia

The game takes place on an artificial pitch favoured by a strong and skilful home side which is likely to include Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin. With the difference between the two sides down to one point courtesy of a 2 – 1 win for the Germans twelve months ago, Ballack knows it won’t be easy.

“We can't let the artificial pitch be an excuse for us - we'll just have to adapt to the conditions. Russia have got a strong team and they have got results in the past, so we will have to be at our very best if we are to get something out of our trip to Moscow. We're confident that we will qualify directly for the World Cup, because we're totally motivated for this match, well prepared and we know that we can get the right result.”

FIFA World Rankings

Germany are currently fourth, level with Italy, in the rankings. How does the German captain think his team compares with the rest of the world?

“The rankings are just the snapshot of a particular moment. Teams like The Netherlands and Spain have certainly strung some great results together, but we have always proved at big tournaments that we are focused on the job and playing at our peak, and that is why our place towards the top of the rankings is totally justified.”


South American World Cup squad news

Brazil and Argentina have announced squads for their forthcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Brazil squad

Coach Dunga has named a strong 24-man squad ahead of the final two games in the South American World Cup qualifiers against Bolivia and Venezuela.

Despite already having secured qualification, Dunga said “We're Brazil and we have to win always.”

Among the players joining Real Madrid’s Kaka and Daniel Alves of Barcelona is Liverpool’s Lucas.

Argentina squad

Javier Zanetti is among the names left out by Diego Maradona after the recent defeat against Paraguay.

Liverpool defender Emiliano Insua joins team mate Javier Mascherano for the first time. Argentina play Peru on October 10 and Uruguay four days later.

Meanwhile, Maradona has decided to only use Argentina-based players in a friendly against Ghana next week.

The game is a good opportunity to assess the fitness of 35-year-old Ariel Ortega. If he impresses, the forgotten wonderkid of Argentinean football may get one last shot at World Cup glory.

1966 hero’s thoughts on England and World Cup 2010

World Cup winner Martin Peters says England need someone to help Wayne Rooney up front and a great goalkeeper if they are to stand any chance in South Africa next year.

1966 medal winner's views

“I think England are going to be there or thereabouts and if they have a little bit of luck they could go on and win it, but I think we are a bit short in two key positions,” Peters told skysports.com.

“We still need a striker who can score you four or five goals in a tournament to accompany Wayne Rooney and a goalkeeper who can play out of his skin. If we had them then I'd say we can definitely win it.”

Emile Heskey isn’t the answer, said Peters, because the Villa striker’s “goal scoring ratio is not good enough. You can say he makes space for other people but when you're trying to win the World Cup you need your centre-forward to be scoring goals.”

Sort out the England goalkeeping situation

Peters also has a problem with the goalkeeping situation. He spent years with Gordon Banks and Pat Jennings, but believes the current England players aren’t developing a stable relationship with one keeper.

“I don't like the rotation with goalkeepers. You need to build up the understanding whether the keeper is going to be coming or the defenders getting out the way.”
“When I used to play with Pat Jennings, for example, you knew that he was going to collect most things so you held back and so if it is Robert Green given the opportunity then they need to stick with him and give him the chance to build a relationship with the back four.”

His favourite in the England squad

Asked about his favourites, Peters replied “I like Steven Gerrard to be honest with you. He gives 110 per cent every game, he works hard, scores goals, plays from midfield and I like him above all else.”

But it isn’t all about one player: “To win a World Cup it takes togetherness. Everyone's got to be working hard for themselves and each other. You work your socks off for yourself and for your mate, for the guy who plays in front of you, beside you and behind you. You've got to work as a team; you've got to work as a unit.”

“Providing we can sort those two positions out that I highlighted then there is no reason why we can't go on and win it!”


Trapattoni secures new Republic of Ireland deal

Giovanni Trapattoni has signed an extension to his contract as Republic of Ireland coach. He also announced the provisional squad for the remaining Group 8 World Cup qualifiers.

Beyond 2010 for Trap

The new deal will see 70-year-old go on past the current 2010 World Cup campaign and onto the Euro 2012 campaign.

“I am delighted to continue my job with the FAI,” Trapattoni told the Football Association of Ireland website.

“This squad has huge potential. Our results demonstrate what self belief and structure can achieve and I am really looking forward to continuing the work we have begun.”

Remaining World Cup qualifiers

The Republic can still grab an automatic World Cup spot if they beat Italy on October 10th and Montenegro four days later, but only as long as the Italians also slip up in their final game against Cyprus.

While a play-off place seems more likely, Trapattoni is still looking for a final push from his squad.

“The final two qualifying matches against Italy and Montenegro in Croke Park next month will be pivotal in our efforts to qualify for South Africa. Having performed well against both Italy and Montenegro away from home, we hope that playing in front of a home crowd against these teams will give us an extra advantage. Everything is still to play for as the group stages draw to a close.”

Cyberpolice to track 2010 World Cup ticket fraudsters

A crack team of cyberpolice from New Scotland Yard is hunting down ticket fraudsters intent on ripping fans off.

According to The Times the London-based e-Crime Unit may have already “helped to save tens of thousands of football fans from being duped into buying bogus tickets for the 2010 World Cup finals.”

The unit has apparently tracked down and closed more than 100 sites, with as many as 20 based in Britain.

England fans have already bought approximately 43,000 tickets and demand is expected to be high when the next batches go on sale.

Some of these buyers may well be fraudsters, which is where New Scotland Yard comes in.

“Once they have tracked a site, the e-Crime Unit alerts police and authorities in other countries to go after the fraudsters by having the sites shut down.”

Unfortunately, some of these sites may go unnoticed. So if you’re going to South Africa make sure you only buy from authorised companies selling official tour packages or tickets.


Have you heard about Rik Mayall's World Cup song?

A giant of British comedy is to release a World Cup song next year – and it promises to give England a patriotic boost ahead of the tournament in South Africa.

Noble England

According to my sources ‘Noble England’ is a serious song which harks back to the days of Shakespeare.

“Football chants are one of the great traditions of following football” says Mayall “...and Shakespeare is also part of our national heritage. It seemed only natural that they should go together.”

Excellent; nothing stirs the blood more than a ‘Henry V French-baiting we put two fingers up to you at Agincourt, Waterloo etc’ song.

“We had to be careful to do justice to the language and not destroy the integrity of the passage,” continued Mayall.

“We think the song does just that yet still being fun and inspiring whilst capturing the nationalistic pride of the World Cup and the enjoyment of the greatest game on earth”.

Not a rubbish Vindaloo-type song

This is all very promising. Noble England certainly doesn’t sound like another mindlessly repetitive hammer-corks-into-my-ears-until-the-blood-runs-dry Vindaloo-type effort.

If it is I will summon an army and together we will burn down the offices of the record company responsible.

To be released by Motivation Records

To their credit, and presumably because inciting a mob of torch wielding loons wasn’t quite the effect they were looking for, the producers from indie label Motivation Records are also touting ‘Noble England’ as a rival to any 'official' FIFA World Cup anthem.

Thankfully there are no plans for Embrace to re-release their 2006 song There’s No One You Can’t Beat, which was of course hastily retitled There’s No One You Can’t Beat Except The Team Which Just Put Us Out when England lost.

I’ll have more news on ‘Noble England’ once it arrives. Keep up to date with the latest on Noble England and the 2010 World Cup by:

Becoming a follower of the World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 blog at:


Checking the news and views at World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 on Facebook

Watching out for 2010bafbaf on Twitter


Visit http://www.nobleengland.com/ and find out how you can share a feast with Rik Mayall on St George’s Day 2010.

Come on you noble Englishmen!

USA World Cup game threatened by political turmoil

The crucial World Cup qualifying match between the USA and Honduras may be moved as tension grows in the Central American country.

Ousted president Manuel Zelaya recently returned to Tegucigalpa but immediately took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy, says the New York Times.

His replacement, Roberto Micheletti, has closed all Honduran airports and introduced curfews and roadblocks.

FIFA’s first option would probably be another Central American state. There is also the possibility of moving the game to a city in the United States while still considering it a home game and gate for Honduras. They apparently enjoyed wide support in Chicago in June when the two sides met.

FIFA and the United States Soccer Federation are now monitoring the situation. The game is scheduled to take place on October 10th.

With two qualifying matches remaining, the USA leads the six-team North, Central America and Caribbean group on 16 points. Mexico are second on 15, followed by Honduras on 13.


England - South Africa World Cup blog link

Karen Lotter from Vuvuzela South Africa was recently interviewed for World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010.

Now I've take the opportunity to give Karen and visitors to her blog some insights into what's been happening in England, including qualification, the likely squad, and possible World Cup songs. The important stuff, in other words.

For the full article visit http://www.vuvuzelasouthafrica.co.za/

I can’t do it all, says Messi

The blame for Argentina’s poor World Cup qualifying performances lies with the team.

That’s according to Lionel Messi, the Barcelona forward whose own form for his country is now under intense scrutiny.

Messi is clearly reluctant to take the blame for a dismal run of form which has left Argentina on the verge of missing the World Cup for the first time since 1970.

“I'm not going to win a game by myself,” Messi told Spain's Radio 2. “It's the responsibility of everyone on the team,” the diminutive striker said in an AP report for USA Today.

Messi also had words of praise for beleaguered coach Diego Maradona.

“My personal and professional relationship with Maradona is tremendous,” he said. “Not just with me, but with everybody. Working with Maradona, it's impressive to see how he treats his players.”

Now Argentina waits to see if Messi and Maradona can end qualifying with wins against Peru and Uruguay. Anything less than victory in both games could see them facing an ignominious play off against the fourth placed team in the North, Central America and Caribbean group.


Tips on how to keep fans happy during the World Cup

An ex-South Africa player says fans need beer, food and TV screens to enjoy the World Cup.

Former Bafana Bafana striker George Dearnaley told South African newspaper Cape Argus “Football fans are not after sophisticated food and fancy establishments. Pub, bar owners and anyone who wants to sell anything should keep it as basic and simple as possible.”

Dearnaley says fans at what is expected to be an 80 percent male-dominated event just want to know where to stay, eat and watch the games.

“All they want is to watch the game, drink ice-cold beer, eat good food and have a great night out,” he said.

So his message to anyone hoping to attract fans and grab a slice of the lucrative football market next year is simple: “If you want their attention, put up posters reading 'cold beer here' or 'live games'. Put up generic football images, flags and sell good food at affordable prices.”

Problems mount up for new Costa Rica manager

Rene Simoes was recently appointed to turn Costa Rica’s fortunes around in the two remaining World Cup qualifiers.

But it seems the 56-year-old Brazilian is running into trouble already, according to the Los Angeles Times.

L.A. Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, one of the players Simoes took to the 1998 World Cup for Jamaica, is not optimistic about his old coach’s chances.

“It's not a very good time to come in for Rene Simoes; he has two difficult games coming up” [home against Trinidad and Tobago and away against the USA], Ricketts said.

“It's a very tight group, and for him to impose his style on the Costa Rica team will be very difficult.”

The answer, says Ricketts, may be the counter-attacking game favoured by Simoes.

“When he came to Jamaica for the '98 campaign, we were unbeaten at home,” he said.

“[Simoes] plays a very tight defensive game. Everyone is pulled in and you beat them on the break.”

Complicating the new coach’s situation even more is the attitude of Costa Rica's top clubs, some of whom are not pulling their weight.

“Simoes has asked to have two weeks with his players leading up to the final two qualifying games [in October], but two of the country's top club teams, Saprissa and Cartagines, are refusing to release their players for that long.”

Costa Rica is currently behind the USA, Mexico and Honduras in fourth place. Only the top three automatically qualify for South Africa. The fourth place finisher faces a tough two-game playoff against the fifth placed South American team.


Blatter takes aim at World Cup doom mongers

Sepp Blatter has called for the media to think positively about the World Cup in South Africa as yet another FIFA event is plagued by questions about security and crime in 2010.

According to worldfootballinsider.com a visibly irritated FIFA President was once again forced to answer questions on a topic he clearly has little time for.

“Please support us by saying let’s go there and trust the South Africans and South Africa,” he said.

“They are ready to organize the game and your security. But 100 percent security you will never find it anywhere in the world.”

Blatter cited the successful Confederations Cup and the country’s staging of rugby and cricket World Cups and other international events as evidence that South African law enforcement organisations can cope.

“There was not one single incident in security [at the Confederations Cup] and still questions are coming ‘what about security’.”

Security isn’t the real point, says worldfootballinsider.com. No-one doubts “there will be high-level security in and around the 10 stadia in nine host cities. The problem lies in ensuring the safety of the 450,000 visitors expected to attend matches.”

Blatter was speaking at the launch of the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour. The solid-gold trophy will soon embark on its longest ever global tour, visiting 86 countries during a 225-day journey.

This excellent initiative is designed to “allow thousands of fans to enjoy a close-up view of football’s greatest prize.”

What a shame they ruined the idea by getting a well-known fizzy drink company involved.

Their spokesman said “Our programs to support the 2010 FIFA World Cup, such as the Trophy Tour, will leave a lifelong impression on consumers that helps to reinforce loyalty and preference for our business and our brands.”


Giant 3D screens await World Cup fans in England

If you can’t go to the World Cup the next best thing might be watching games on digital 3D screens at the cinema.

A company called Cineworld is planning to roll out live 3D coverage of World Cup matches from next year's tournament in selected cinemas.

The screens boast images twice as sharp as a high-definition Blu-ray disc and can broadcast live TV footage in 3D, as long as viewers wear the standard-issue bulky 3D glasses.

The News of the World report says Cineworld is experimenting with brand new digital projectors that were installed in its cinemas last January.

“The technology needed to make this work fully is still in development but it will be operational by the time tournament begins on June 11 next year,” says the report.

It quotes an insider saying “For all the fans who can't make it out to South Africa, this will be the next best thing to being there. With the right camera angles it could look as if the players are kicking the ball out into the middle of the audience.”

I’ll believe it when I 3D it.


World Cup organiser unhappy at Western coverage of preparations

The head of the 2010 World Cup Organising Committee has expressed his concerns about Western media coverage of preparations for next year’s finals.

According to a report by The Patriotic Vanguard, a “Sierra Leone News Portal”, Dr. Danny Jordaan told a reception for visiting African journalists to “report objectively about the infrastructure, security and other things connected to the 2010 World Cup.”

Jordaan also reportedly “disclosed that the organising committee of the 2010 World Cup was not happy about the way western media were reporting about South Africa hosting the tournament.”

The journalists were visiting the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium at Port Elizabeth in South Africa.

The full report is available at http://www.thepatrioticvanguard.com/spip.php?article4553

No pre-tournament party for Capello’s England

In another welcome move England players have reportedly cancelled their pre-World Cup party, according to one of today’s papers.

The news follows a crackdown on the WAGs, the wives and girlfriends who traditionally accompany players during the tournament.

According to The Times the days of David Beckham hosting lavish parties at “Beckingham Palace” in Hertfordshire are over.

The paper says that “will be very welcome news for Capello. The England manager dislikes extracurricular distractions, with the players spending far more time in their hotel rooms while on international duty under the disciplinarian.”

Capello has already said he will “limit the number of visits from the WAGs in South Africa next summer.”

“We are there to play football, not for a holiday,” Capello said.

The only risk now is the trouble the WAGs might get up to if left unattended. At least the players distracted their attention; left to their own devices, the shopping and partying junkies might actually cause more off-field problems.


South Africa to welcome England football fans

Businesses which benefited from the recent Lions tour are now ready to lay out the red carpet for England fans next year, according to the AFP news agency.

The report quotes a businessman and a tourism director who are both looking forward to the atmosphere and the cash generated by followers of Fabio Capello’s team.

Latest estimates say the World Cup is expected to boost the South African economy by 55.7billion Rand (GBP £5b), generate 415,400 jobs and hand the government a 19.3billion Rand (GBP £1.6b) tax bonus.

Nearly 500,000 football tourists are expected to spend 8.5billion Rand during the month-long championship in June and July.

Andre Malan is one of the businessmen hoping some of this cash is spent in his restaurant and bar.

He helped look after 6,000 rugby fans on match day when the touring British and Irish Lions tour took on the Springboks in June.

Now he wants to extend a similar welcome to football fans. “I think everyone says they would definitely want them [England] at their stadium. They've got the largest following of supporters,” said the manager of the Eastwoods Tavern in Pretoria.

Mark Williams, South African tourism director for the United Kingdom and United States, is equally enthusiastic.

“When the Lions tour came to South Africa, there were close to 40,000 Brits or English that came out to South Africa and spent a billion rand."

"So from a football perspective, hopefully it will be a bit more and hopefully they will spend a bit more."

“It's a fantastic atmosphere,” added Andre Malan. “These guys when they come out, they come in large numbers. Obviously beer is high on the priority list for them. They eat a lot and drink a lot.”

South Africa appears ready to give England fans the essentials!


Speculation about likely World Cup bases

A Reuters report out today about World Cup bases makes for interesting reading, not least because some of the teams mentioned haven’t yet qualified and may not even do so.

According to this report France, Sweden and Paraguay have set up coastal bases, despite the South Americans being the only one of the three to have secured qualification.

The French have apparently booked a facility on the southern Cape coast. Coach Raymond Domenech must be thinking the play offs are an inconvenient but easily surmountable barrier.

Other teams looking ahead include Sweden, who have booked in at Durban, and Argentina, Germany, Italy, Mexico and the USA, who have all booked hotels or guest lodges in Pretoria.

Japan and Switzerland are heading for Johannesburg. Japan have already qualified, but the Swiss may not make even make the play offs.

England will allegedly be based at Sun City, although Fabio Capello and his team will probably wait for the draw in December before deciding on the location of their base for the tournament.

Costa Rica announces new coach

Rene Simoes is the new national coach of Costa Rica.

The 56-year-old Brazilian takes over from Rodrigo Kenton who was sacked earlier this week after a three-game losing streak put Costa Rica’s World Cup qualifying chances in jeopardy.

Simoes managed Jamaica from 1994 – 2000 and took them to the World Cup in France in 1998.

He also led the Brazil women's national football team to silver medal spot at the 2004 Olympics, and has coached Trinidad and Tobago, the Iran under-23 side, and Portuguese club side Vitoria.

A second brief spell with Jamaica ended in September 2008 after a poor World Cup qualifying campaign.

Simoes became the manager of Fluminense in October 2008. They sacked him in March 2009.

He then became manager of Coritiba but moved on again in August.

It remains to be seen whether his stay with Costa Rica is any more successful.

Veron admits play-offs may suit Argentina

Juan Sebastian Veron has said he would be happy to settle for fifth-place in the South American qualifiers.

The midfielder knows this would see Argentina face the fourth-placed team from the North, Central American and Caribbean group over two legs for a place in South Africa.

“It gives us another chance to qualify. To qualify directly we will have to win ourselves and we need other results to help us, but for the playoff we depend on ourselves,” Veron told Goal.com.

Veron, who will miss the qualifier against Peru next month after being sent off against Paraguay, also had a few comments about Lionel Messi and why Argentina are under-performing.

“If you see how he [Messi] moves at Barcelona, and how they move at Barcelona, it is very different to the national team. What he has at Barcelona is players in front of him who arrive from the sides and important players inside of the area, where he supports, switches off and then continues.”

The implication is that Argentina don’t play this way, and Messi suffers as a result.

“What I see is that there are players who aren't at the level which everyone expects for the national team. And maybe for their clubs they have this. Maybe they feel more comfortable in one place than the other.”


Xavi eyes World Cup contenders

Barcelona's Xavi has begun the job of highlighting the teams which might threaten Spain in South Africa next summer.

To nobody’s great surprise the 29-year-old has picked out Brazil, Italy and Germany. He also believes England and the Ivory Coast are potential dark horses.

“We have a superb generation of players, we have already qualified for South Africa and also have the experience of playing there,” Xavi told Reuters.

England, says Xavi, “appeared to have found a new swagger and a solid foundation for possible success”.

He also likes Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, and said a defence including captain John Terry and Rio Ferdinand would be hard to penetrate.

“England were the big absence from Euro 2008 and I expect they are itching to show they can win the World Cup.”


Costa Rica sack coach

Poor recent form has put Costa Rica on the brink of elimination from the World Cup and resulted in Rodrigo Kenton being handed his P45.

The former national team assistant and youth manager took over the Ticos in June 2008 and single-handedly resurrected their fortunes after a disastrous spell under Hernan Medford. By last month his team were riding high at the top of the North, Central America and Caribbean group.

But three losses over the past month means Costa Rica are now in fourth spot and face the prospect of a play off against South America's fifth-place finisher. This could be Ecuador, Colombia or Argentina.

A new coach will soon be appointed to oversee the remaining qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago (10th October) and the USA (14th October).


For England in 2010 see Watford in 1984, apparently

So Fabio Capello says getting to the World Cup Final is an “aspiration” for him.

“Playing in the final would be success,” said Capello over the weekend. “For now, playing in it will do, rather than winning it. But if people are asking me what my aspiration is, then it is to reach the final.”

There are any number of problems with this statement. Let’s start with the obvious. His job is to win football matches and tournaments. That’s what the FA pay him for. Unless I'm misreading the situation, this means winning games up to and including the World Cup Final.

Of course reaching the final would be a significant accomplishment or even an amazing achievement. What it would not be is success. Success goes to the winners.

As for “playing in it will do” as opposed to “winning it”, pardon me if I don’t wonder what is going on in the man’s head. Merely days after securing qualification he appears content with not actually winning. Playing is good enough, apparently.

No it isn’t. Here’s why.

In 1984 Elton John’s Watford reached the FA Cup Final. They were delighted to have done so and told everybody they would enjoy the day.

The team they would play were mystified by this attitude. Everton players subsequently went on the record to make clear their attitude to the final – they wanted to win.

For a serial winner of La Liga and Serie A, the latter as player and manager, to come out with such statements is worrying.

Come on, Capello. Clear this up. Either you want to win next summer or you don’t.


England win World Cup tie on penalties shock

That’s right, some England players do know how to take a penalty... at the Homeless World Cup in Italy.

People who are homeless and socially excluded are enjoying a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent their country and change their lives forever.

This annual international football tournament was first held in Graz in 2003. 18 national teams took part. Just six years later and 48 nations have come together for Milan 2009.

The event now supports grass roots football projects in over 60 nations and works with over 25,000 homeless and socially excluded people throughout the year.

Teams from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are squaring up against the likes of Argentina, Germany, South Africa and Spain.

They play Street Soccer on courts 22m long by 16m wide. The maximum number of players on a team at any one time is four (three outfield and one goalkeeper). Halves last 14 minutes and winning teams receive three points. Drawn matches are decided by a sudden-death penalty shoot out.

In this year’s tournament England advanced through the Preliminary stage after winning four games and scoring 37 goals in Group D.

Yesterday the Secondary group stage saw England draw 3 – 3 with Rumania before winning a thrilling penalty shoot out. Earlier in the day the team had lost 4 – 2 against Portugal. Matches against Hungary and the Ukraine take place today.

After the Secondary stage, the teams are split into six groups of eight according to their results. England will be hoping to become one of the top eight ranking sides to play for the official Homeless World Cup trophy.

Let’s hope the players involved in a penalty shoot in South Africa can cope just as well.

For more on the Homeless World Cup visit http://www.homelessworldcup.org/


Scab Villain takes Croatia defeat well

Let’s be fair, you can’t have much going for you when anagram makers dwell on your name for a nano second before shouting “Scab Villain”.

After his Croatia team were rolled over by England, the fun anagram aficionados can have with your moniker is presumably the last thing on Slavan Bilic’s mind this morning.

Generating implausible excuses which might go down well back home but are regarded as laughable by anyone with half a brain would seem more appropriate.

“They stole our magical yak” or “Our players all caught swine flu in London” might fit the bill nicely.

Instead, the refreshingly honest Bilic openly admitted his team were second best. “We didn't expect this in our worst nightmares,” he said.

“They were fantastic from the start. They played their own game and they looked the sharper, more aggressive side even before the first goal.”

“I would like to congratulate them for a fantastic performance.”

His team may not make it past the play offs but Bilic gets my vote for his cliche free approach to footy speak.

Here are the scores from last night’s other games:


Group 1

Albania 1-1 Denmark

Hungary 0-1 Portugal

Malta 0-1 Sweden

Denmark (18 pts) meet Sweden (15) in Copenhagen in October. If Portugal (13) and Hungary (13) draw on the same night, superior goal difference means the Danes only need a point to take the group.

Group 2

Israel 7-0 Luxembourg

Latvia 2-2 Switzerland

Moldova 1-1 Greece

More draws. Does no-one want to win this group? The Swiss have 17 pts, with Greece and Latvia on 14.

Group 3

Northern Ireland 0-2 Slovakia

Slovenia 3-0 Poland

Czech Republic 7-0 San Marino

Slovakia (19) are on the verge of automatic qualification. With one game to play, Northern Ireland (14) need a miracle or the Protestant equivalent to overcome Slovenia, who have two games remaining.

Group 4

Wales 1-3 Russia

Germany 4-0 Azerbaijan

Liechtenstein 1-1 Finland

Russia (21) and Germany (22) are still determined to keep this group interesting, even though everyone else gave up on it months ago.

Group 5

Spain 3-0 Estonia

Armenia 2-1 Belgium

Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-1 Turkey

Spain qualify.

Group 6

England 5-1 Croatia

Belarus 0-0 Ukraine

Andorra 1-3 Kazakhstan

England qualify. Woo-hoo.

Group 7

Romania 1-1 Austria

Serbia 1-1 France

Faroe Islands 2-1 Lithuania

This group will probably go down to the last matches unless the French (15) give up early and concede to Serbia (19).

Group 8

Italy 2-0 Bulgaria

Montenegro 1-1 Cyprus

A runners up place is probably already in the bag for The Republic of Ireland (16). Beat Italy (20) in Dublin next month and they might make this group interesting.

Group 9

Scotland 0-1 Holland

Norway 2-1 FYR Macedonia

Does this group deserve a runners up spot? No.

South America

Paraguay 1-0 Argentina

Brazil 4-2 Chile

Bolivia 1-3 Ecuador

Uruguay 3-1 Colombia

Venezuela 3-1 Peru

Paraguay qualify.

Argentina slip into fifth place. If it stays this way they will play off against the fourth placed team in the North, Central America and Caribbean group. So they should probably qualify anyway.

Asian Play-off 2

Saudi Arabia 2-2 Bahrain

2-2 on aggregate

Bahrain will play New Zealand in the Asia/Oceania Inter-Continental Play-Off.


Group A

Cameroon 2 Gabon 1

Cameroon now head the group. Roger Miller can relax in his armchair – for now.

North, Central America and Caribbean

Trinidad and Tobago 0-1 USA

El Salvador 1-0 Costa Rica

Mexico 1-0 Honduras

The USA lead the group on 16 points. One more victory should guarantee qualification.


Latest African qualifying scores

Mozambique 1 – 0 Kenya
Togo 1 – 1 Morocco
Benin 1 – 1 Mali
Nigeria 2 – 2 Tunisia
Ghana 2 – 0 Sudan
Algeria 1 – 0 Zambia

Ghana’s victory in Group D and the draw between Benin and Mali means Michael Essien & Co become the eighth team to qualify for next year’s finals. They should soon be joined by Algeria and the Ivory Coast.


Maradona admits “I might need more than the Hand of God now”

Argentina have lost 3 – 1 at home to Brazil. The result means their chances of automatic qualification for South Africa 2010 are now in considerable doubt.

By contrast, Brazil have officially qualified, and deservedly so. They will soon be followed by Spain, who battered Belgium 5 – 0 and will probably give Estonia a kicking on Wednesday night.

Elsewhere, there was cause for rejoicing on both sides of the border as Northern Ireland and the Republic secured wins. Both now have a great chance of at least making the play-offs.

In Group 1 Sweden have renewed hope of a place in the finals after a 2 – 1 victory in Hungary.

Switzerland beat Greece and now look in control of Group 2.

France are officially rubbish – unless they beat Serbia this week.

Scotland must avoid defeat against Holland on Wednesday. If they don’t, their best hope is for Norway and Macedonia to draw in Oslo.

As expected, Croatia overcame Belarus. Now they must beat England at Wembley to have any chance of automatic qualification.

Reports that Cameroon brought Roger Miller out of retirement are of course untrue. Whatever the cause, if they repeat yesterday’s 2 – 0 victory over Gabon against the same opposition on Wednesday evening, they’ll be dancing in the streets of Yaounde.

And if the Ivory Coast don't qualify from their group now, we can expect a ridiculous conspiracy theory from Didier Drogba within hours.

The North, Central America and Caribbean group is still up for grabs after wins for the USA, Honduras and Mexico.

That’s the qualification stuff over and done with for now. Now for the important stuff - inventing quotes from Maradona which hark back to this infamous Hand of God goal against England in 1986.

Quizzed by reporters after the loss against Brazil the legendary No. 10 may or may not have said “I might need more than the Hand of God now”.

He may or may not have gone on to say “I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing.”

And finally, there is of course some doubt about whether Maradona actually said “I’m genuinely sorry about that incident. It should never have happened and I probably deserved to be booked or even sent off. Of course the second one was a belter, so I’d prefer to talk about that if you don’t mind.”

Somehow I can’t see that happening...


Will Cameroon bring Roger Miller out of retirement?

Looking ahead to World Cup qualifiers in September

South America

The top 4 teams qualify for the World Cup. The 5th placed team enters a home-and-away playoff with the 4th placed team from the North, Central America & Caribbean group.

Brazil currently lead the group by one point from Chile (26), Paraguay (24) and Argentina (22).

The real surprises are the Chileans, who have managed to overcome the handicap of ex-Liverpool winger Mark Gonzalez to score 23 goals. We can expect to hear more about the trio which has contributed 13 so far - Alexis Sanchez, Humberto Suazo and Matias Fernandez - next year.

Expect a late surge from Argentina, who’ve been a bit inconsistent so far. They play Brazil and Paraguay in early September, while Chile take on Brazil in the second of their scheduled September games.

Forthcoming fixtures:

September 5th

Argentina - Brazil

Chile - Venezuela

Colombia - Ecuador

Paraguay - Bolivia

Peru - Uruguay

September 8th

Uruguay - Colombia

Venezuela - Peru

Paraguay - Argentina

Bolivia - Ecuador

Brazil - Chile

North, Central America and Caribbean

Three sides qualify directly for South Africa 2010 and the fourth-placed team takes on the fifth-placed finisher in South American qualifying.

This one looked almost done and dusted for Costa Rica until a recent heavy defeat in Honduras put their plans on hold. Now four teams are vying for the three automatic places: Costa Rica (12 pts), Honduras and USA (10) and Mexico (9).

The US has the easiest of the September fixtures, facing El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago in the space of four days. They should win both.

Costa Rica and Mexico also square up in early September. This and the US – Costa Rica clash in October are the remaining key games.

Forthcoming fixtures:

September 5th

USA - El Salvador

Honduras - Trinidad and Tobago

Costa Rica - Mexico

September 9th

Trinidad and Tobago - USA

El Salvador - Costa Rica

Mexico - Honduras


One team qualifies from each group.

Ghana and the Ivory Coast are looking good in their respective groups. If the latter beat Burkina Faso in early September they will be six points ahead with two games to play.

Cameroon clearly need to bring Roger Miller out of retirement. They have one point from two games and must now beat Group A leaders Gabon to stand any chance of going through.

Forthcoming fixtures:

September 5th

Group A

Gabon - Cameroon

Togo - Morocco

Group B

Mozambique - Kenya

Group C

Rwanda - Egypt

Group E

Malawi - Guinea

Ivory Coast - Burkina Faso

September 6th

Group B

Nigeria - Tunisia

Group C

Algeria - Zambia

Group D

Ghana - Sudan

Benin - Mali

September 9th

Group A

Cameroon - Gabon

Asian play-off

The winner plays New Zealand in the Asia/Oceania Inter-Continental Play-Off

September 5th

Bahrain - Saudi Arabia in Manama

September 9th

Saudi Arabia - Bahrain in Riyadh

Keep an eye out for the scores and results at World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 from this Saturday.


Macedonia, Norway, Iceland and Scotland - thank God they aren't horses

Looking ahead to World Cup qualifiers in September – Part 9

Europe: Group Nine

Take out the Dutch and you’re left with four mediocre teams who between them have scored 20 goals and conceded 34 in 25 games. Putting this in perspective, the already qualified Holland have scored 16 and conceded just two in their seven games.

I think I can say without fear of exaggeration or censure that this is probably the worst group in Europe. No-one would be surprised if this group failed to provide a contender for one of the runners up spots. Collectively and individually, Macedonia, Scotland, Norway and Iceland are so poor that if they were horses someone would have shot them by now.

Forthcoming fixtures (if you insist):

September 5th

Scotland - FYR Macedonia

Iceland - Norway

September 9th

Norway - FYR Macedonia

Scotland - Netherlands