How I Wasted A Year Writing A World Cup Blog - Contents

My How I Wasted A Year Writing A World Cup Blog book will soon be available to download. As a taster I have decided to let you see the Contents before the link goes live:

Foreword pgs 3 - 4

June 2009 pg 5

How it all began on the road to Soccer City

July 2009 pg 7

Lessons from the Confederations Cup, a quick look at the early qualifiers, the best World Cup goals, the doom-mongering starts, and the phone competition

August 2009 pg 13

The end for Robson, more analysis of the early qualifiers, looking ahead to qualifiers this month and in September, the phone competition continues, the Weasel War Dance, the view from South Africa

September 2009 pg 28

Stacks of World Cup qualifier info, inventing quotes from Maradona, Rik Mayall World Cup song announced, England qualify, beer awaits England fans, Costa Rican coach merry-go-round, England – South Africa blog link, Martin Peters, cybertouts chased by cyberpolice

October 2009 pg 57

New report on SA raises concerns, news round up e-mails begin, England – Ukraine game internet horror, final European qualifiers, Maradona is MAD, capitalist pig dogs, pitching bagels, 3D, the BNP and Lenny Bruce

November 2009 pg 81

Beckham to Milan shock, England v Brazil, death of Germany’s keeper, the play offs and final World Cup qualifiers, Henry’s handball, seemingly endless World Cup draw speculation fuelled by obscure blogs, a guide to staying invisible in South Africa

December 2009 pg 99

The Liam Brady School of Interminable Moaning, the draw for the World Cup finals, US media reaction to draw, Owen poll, official World Cup trash talk challenge begins, Best World Cup Players Of The Decade Part 1, football culture around the world

January 2010 pg 112

Capello injures knee, Best World Cup Player Of The Decade Part 2, 3D footy, Special World Cup 2010 marketing edition, Togo team attacked, World Cup ticket debate, Jesus saves, Best World Cup Player Of The Decade Part 3, Psychic predicts England World Cup misery, Terrorist threat, Best World Cup Player Of The Decade Part 4, Hooligan threat stories

February 2010 pg 133

John Terry affair erupts and goes on and on and on, UK woman cycles to World Cup, Best World Cup Player Of The Decade Part 5: the 1980s, Gerrard as second striker for England, Capello and the English media, Scots upset at chocolate bar, Ferdinand World Cup doubts grow, Ten Top Liverpool World Cup players, Bridge says no to England

March 2010 pg 153

England – Egypt friendly, why US Soccer fans need to start hating England, Crouch stakes his claim, England bugging story, Best World Cup Player Of The Decade Part 6, Blatter on goal-line technology, Beckham out of World Cup, the Best World Cup semis, cheap digs at Eriksson, Rooney injury scare, crisp manufacturer launches ill-judged promotional campaign

April 2010 pg 182

World Cup promotional campaigns slagged off, murder of right wing supremacist in South Africa, debate over Rooney’s fitness continues, Twitter, Ten Top Manchester United World Cup players, “Noble England” release, Tevez “close to Messi” controversy, obscure football tournaments from the past, England goalie urged to wear red, BBC coverage, A Handy Guide to World Cup 2010 Trouble Spots in London, World Cup predictions, guest article from Neal Collins

May 2010 pg 207

Cabanga!, “World Cup Street” announced, Election Special, Rooney injured again, the Capello Index, England and Conservative Governments, provisional squad lists, The Daily Mail and Bill Hicks, World Cup survey, FIFA bans the Paradinha, the World Cup as imagined by deranged lunatics, Ryan Thies of the Long Beach Post, Gloucestershire man’s epic journey to the World Cup, Mexico and Japan friendlies

June 2010 pg 229

The final squads are announced, Walcott on holiday in Hull, Rooney in New York Times, Ferdinand injury, friendly against Platinum All Stars, the final word from my friend in South Africa, World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 in top 10 World Cup blogs, in search of a hero with no 21 on his shirt, the group stage: France and Italy leave early, no-one seems all that interested, and England scrape through, the Round of 16 matches, a preview of England v Germany, reflections on Germany 4 England 1, gallows humour after Germany defeat

July 2010 pg 261

The quarter finals, the South American dream dies, England fans look for solace on dating websites, Paul the Octopus, the third place play-off, World Cup 2010 final: Spain v Holland

Appendix pg 270

The Best World Cup Players of the Decade series

World Cup Finals on film

Top World Cup players for Liverpool and Manchester United

Twitter feed: 2010bafbaf


Reflections on Spain’s victory over Holland

So it wasn’t the classic we hoped for. Personally, I was enthralled from the first minute.

Sure, some of the Dutch tackles wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Bruce Lee epic, and how the red card stayed in Howard Webb’s pocket until the last minutes of extra time is a mystery. Still, there were lots of chances at either end.

Ramos and Robben could easily have put the game beyond doubt, the latter being especially profligate and even refusing to fall over after one tackle, an incident which had seasoned Robben watchers scratching their heads.

With players still flying into full-blooded tackles, plenty of late counter-attacking, two goalkeepers in fine form, and no sign of a breakthrough, the awful prospect of a penalty shoot-out loomed.

Then Iniesta controlled a ball into the box and blasted a right foot shot past the despairing dive of Stekelenburg.

So a game dominated by Spain’s passing game and Dutch attempts to impose themselves on the Spanish midfield ended with a late goal. Cue lots of moaning about how Holland betrayed their traditions – stop it, this isn’t 1974 and nobody suddenly expected this Dutch team to start playing total voetbal.

And let’s be honest, the Spanish weren’t brilliant last night or throughout the tournament; they just have cleverer, more resourceful footballers who know the value of possession and can strike with deadly accuracy when necessary.

The best team won in what will probably go down in the history books as a poor final. Get over it; the World Cup hasn’t seen a genuine edge-of-your-seat classic final since Argentina beat West Germany 3 – 2 in 1986. Now we have four years to wait and see if Brazil 2014 breaks the mould.




Previewing the 2010 World Cup Final

Four and a bit weeks have passed since South Africa and Mexico began the World Cup at Soccer City Johannesburg. Tonight the same magnificent stage brings the finalists together for what promises to be a fascinating clash of styles. Let’s look at what lies ahead before I offer my final thoughts on the tournament.

Spain v Holland – the unexpected final

Few before the tournament put these two together as finalists. While the Spanish were expected to do well and progress, the truth is they haven’t played anywhere near their potential and yet somehow still reached the ultimate stage. Overcoming the Germans in the semi-final with a powerful display of passing, control and midfield domination is perhaps the closest they have come to the Spain we expected. Even then it took a very Anglo-Saxon goal from Puyol to put Low’s side out.

With a strong squad and an easy group the Dutch were always considered a good outside bet to at least make the quarter finals. Then they met Brazil and responded to going a goal down with a brave second half display. Suddenly the world was forced to sit up and take notice. This collection of ugly Europeans appeared to have the right mix of resources – swift counter-attackers, hard midfielders, unflappable defenders – and began to enjoy the odd stroke of luck which even the most successful sides need.

Where the final will be won and lost

If the Dutch are to win tonight they must not cede control of the midfield to Spain’s metronomic passers. Sitting back and letting Alonso, Iniesta and Xavi string together complicated passing movements is a dangerous strategy which will ultimately fail. Sneijder and Co. have to harry and pressurise their opponents into making mistakes. Only then can the counterattacking game which has served the Dutch well so far really come into play.

The key clashes

Xavi v Sneijder: probing midfield maestro and the counterattack specialist

Ramos v Robben: hard tackling defender and the roaming forward

Heitinga v Villa: hard as nails centre half and a clever attacker with an eye for goal

Who will win?

The Dutch have little to lose and are in confident mood. They have already vowed not to repeat Germany’s semi-final mistake of sitting back and inviting pressure. The Spanish will triumph if they wrest control of the midfield away from Holland. I think the Dutch have enough tactical awareness, character and speed to win this one.

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 Final prediction: Holland to become World Champions

Thoughts on the tournament

Some of the football has lacked quality, especially in the group stage. That said, there were some early highlights, most notably Germany and Portugal destroying Australia and North Korea. And of course Italy and France left early, which is always amusing.

The knock-out stages saw one of the fancied teams up the ante while the others continued to struggle. We went from media bluster about South American domination to the Europeans rolling over Brazil and Argentina. The latter suggested Germany were unstoppable, but even they could not contain Spain for 90 minutes. The Dutch had their toughest game a round earlier and easily saw off Uruguay.

While I would have preferred a Germany – Holland final, this is my second best option. I’m hopeful both sides will do the occasion and South Africa justice.

Talking of the host nation, the mass bloodshed and rampant crime which many predicted as the inevitable result of holding a World Cup in South Africa never materialised. The crowds have been noisy and the games (mostly) well attended. Overall, apart from the hideous spectacle of fans missing the semi-final because of delays at one airport, the tournament was well organised and well managed. Well done to South Africa. To my friends out there – you can be justifiably proud of what your country has achieved.

Enjoy tonight.


Looking forward to the Uruguay v Germany third place play-off

Not really, if I’m brutally honest. A match between two sides who didn’t reach the final is the equivalent of two slightly sad men sloping off home, greasy kebabs in hand, after failing to pull at a nightclub. They’re rubbish at finding casual partners and will probably end up in bed together just because they have nothing better to do. That’s my not-so-sentimental view of the third place play-off and I’m sticking with it.

Some highlights from previous third place play-off games

Germany beat Austria 3 – 2 in 1934. A grand total of 7,000 people packed themselves into the Giorgio Ascarelli stadium in Naples to see Ernest Lehner score in the first minute. Unfortunately for Lehner, this was the third place play-off and nobody cared then or since.

Four years later Brazil beat Sweden 4 – 2 after very kindly letting the Scandinavians took a 2 – 0 lead. The concept of “parking the bus” and protecting a lead clearly hadn’t been invented.

In 1958 France beat West Germany 6 – 3 in Gothenburg. Just Fontaine picked up another four goals, taking his tournament tally to 13. Helmut Rahn, World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 Player of the 1950s, found the net for the West Germans.

There then followed a succession of some of the dullest victories in the history of football; Brazil eventually broke the pattern with a 2 – 1 win over Italy at the magnificently named Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti stadium in Buenos Aires.

1990. England v Italy. We couldn’t win that one either.

In 1994 the Swedes gave Bulgaria a first half roasting, taking a four – nil lead before “parking the bus”. It had taken them 56 years to learn how to do this.

South Korea and Turkey took part in the 2002 third place play-off. To be honest, their presence made a refreshing change from the usual jaundiced Europeans and South Americans who just wanted to go home. That’s probably because South Korea were home already. Hakan Sukur matched Ernest Lehner’s 1934 feat by scoring in the first minute. Unfortunately for Sukur, this was the third place play-off and nobody cared then or since.

What about tonight’s match?

Suarez will almost certainly return for Uruguay. Personally I would have banned him for two games after his blatant cheating in the quarter final against Ghana. Diego Forlan, easily Uruguay’s best player throughout the tournament, may not recover from injury in time.

Injuries, tiredness and a virus may all have an impact on Joachim Low’s selection. The German coach could find himself forced to use alternative squad players if some of the bigger names are ruled out. We may have seen the last of Miroslav Klose if he can’t play tonight. What a superb striker he was.

The good news for the Germans is they have never lost a World Cup match against Uruguay, scoring 23 goals in 8 matches. The teams met at the same stage in 1970, a solitary goal from Overath settling matters in West Germany’s favour.

So regardless of who makes the team, the omens are good for Germany. Oh and that bloody octopus “says” they will win.


It's a Spain - Holland final!

Pardon me if I don't get too over-excited. This will probably match every other game involving the Spanish since 2006; they pass the opposition to death before somehow conjuring up a goal and seeing out the remaining time with little fuss. Don't get me wrong, I like the Spanish; they have some excellent players and their football is, at times, breathtaking. It's just teams know what to expect and they set up a mass defence, all the while hoping to nick a goal on the break. Germany v Holland would have been a much better final. Two evenly matched sides, the history between them, in footballing and political terms. Instead, everyone just expects Spain to win. Our only hope is an early Dutch goal...

Of course my real problem is that bloody octopus...

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after Germany v Spain: 31/62


It’s time to retire the World Cup octopus

Some notions offend my rational enlightenment outlook: the Jeremy Kyle Show, which resembles a medieval witch court complete with toothless cackling crones intent on revenge or hatred or whatever motivated them to get out of bed that day; celebrity culture and the seemingly endless parade of nonentities who are famous for one thing – being famous; the idea that an Old Etonian can run a 21st century country; the list is, as the saying goes, a tirade against everything I despise.

But for me the most offensive anti-rational anti-enlightenment notion doing the rounds at the moment is the one which says an octopus can successfully predict the outcome of football matches.

As you may have heard, Paul the Octopus has successfully predicted the outcome of every Germany game at World Cup 2010.

He also successfully predicted the outcome of 80% of Germany’s games during Euro 2008.

Now you may think this is an amazing feat for an animal which lives at the Oberhausen Sea life Aquarium. Keep away from me if you do. This is an animal picking one of two boxes, both of which have food in them. There is no rational choice other than what the vibrations in the box mean to Paul. He’s hungry. End of story.

But no; some incredulous nutters take the notion that an octopus can predict the outcome of football matches very seriously.

There can of course be only one rational explanation: Paul’s Oberhausen handlers are in league with the German team. They build the Germans up as the tournament progresses, throw in the occasional shock such as losing to Serbia, and then put the pressure on the opposition by claiming Paul has backed them (he picked the jar with the Spanish flag on it).

Meanwhile, Germany’s players fall over themselves to let everyone know how good the Spanish are, how del Bosque’s team is the best in the world etcetc, all the time raising Spanish expectations and dampening their own before another unexpected victory tonight.

Paul the Octopus and the German team – together they make a powerful combination of tentacles and mind games.

Please can we retire him once the full extent of this charade is revealed tonight? Then Paul can do post-match interviews where he tells all about the complex food choosing strategy which fooled the Spanish before slipping back under the water in search of mussels.

Germany v Spain prediction: Germany WIN

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after Holland v Uruguay: 31/61


Men flock to dating sites after England World Cup 2010 exit

It seems English men took solace in the dating game after the recent defeat against Germany – but women were still keen to follow the remaining World Cup 2010 games anyway.

Online dating site “Singles 365” claims traffic to the site in the aftermath of England’s exit was up over 134 per cent compared with the same day the previous week, and up over 187 per cent during the following week.

Other sites also recorded similar rises in activity as English men searched for consolation after the crushing loss.

The Singles 365 survey reveals that the boom started within minutes of the final whistle and peaked just thirty-two minutes later.

“We were genuinely stunned to see how many men registered on the site straight after the game,” said Katie Mowe from Singles 365. “Our message to all the single ladies out there who are looking for a date is strike while the iron is hot – the football season will start again in less than two months.”

Sadly for the men, another survey found that more than seventy per cent of women in England said they intended to watch the remaining matches even though England had been knocked out. Only five per cent said they would be avoiding the FIFA World Cup.

Let’s stop and pause here for a second. “More than seventy per cent of women in England said they intended to watch the remaining matches even though England had been knocked out.”

Market researchers who know more about these things than me will probably wonder how representative the sample of people was. If 1000 questionnaires were completed across England, that’s OK. If the women who completed surveys were all piling out of a Newcastle club at 3am, it’s not really representative at all.

Put simply, I don’t believe 70% of women in England intended to watch the remaining matches even though England were already home. Sorry. Had they said “70% of men” I wouldn’t have a problem.

Anyway, here’s my point: 70% of women still watching the footy leaves 30% free to chase depressed men looking for something to do until the football season starts again in August. 30% of women who don’t like football and 100% of men who do. That’s not a recipe for romance in anyone’s eyes, it’s just another in a long series of ill-judged World Cup promotional campaigns. Let’s hope it’s the last.

Holland v Uruguay prediction: Holland WIN


Reflections on the World Cup 2010 quarter finals

Not so long ago you couldn't do a World Cup 2010 search on Google without stumbling on articles about South American dominance and how all the likes of Kaka and Messi had to do was turn up and it would only be matter of time before European teams were genuflecting before them, gasping in amazement at yet another 70-pass move, and wanting to take them home to meet their mothers.

OK, I'm paraphrasing, but the general message is the same: the South Americans were expected to canter their way to the semi-finals, only stopping occasionally to swat inferior and ugly Europeans out of their path.

The evidence did look pretty conclusive. They (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay) lost one game out of 15 in the group stage.

The losing side (Chile) didn't last long anyway, leaving the field open for the real cream (and Paraguay and Uruguay) to rise to the top.

Sure enough, all four made it through to the quarters as speculation grew about an all-South American final.

Meanwhile, the ugly Europeans were scrambling their way through the group stage with varying degrees of difficulty.

Germany and Spain lost group games, Italy and France were rubbish, the Dutch were effective but seemingly over-reliant on Robben, and the less said about England, the better, I think.

Surely the Kuyts and Friedrichs of this world would realise the game was up once they pitted their decrepit brand of football against the divine righters from Buenos Aires and Rio?

Well, it didn't happen, and I'm delighted. The Brazilians weren't very good and frankly never played anywhere close to their potential. The way coach Dunga had them playing was the polar opposite of the great sides of the early seventies and eighties. If the response to the Dutch defeat is to dump Dunga and go back to their roots I'll be delighted.

The next Argentina manager has a different dilemma: how to get the best out of Messi. The Barca striker had a terrible World Cup. While his team mates put the goals away, Messi huffed and puffed, keeping opposing defences distracted but rarely threatening. Ineffective against the Germans, he was a pale imitation of the player who terrorised defences in Spain and across Europe last season.

None of this is intended to take anything away from Holland or Germany. The Dutch were resilient and refused to go down without a fight. They now have an excellent opportunity to reach the final with a semi against a Uruguay side which was lucky to get past Ghana. The loss of Suarez will not help the Uruguayan cause, nor will his references to another "Hand of God" endear him to sensible football fans.

As for Germany, their 4 - 0 demolition of Argentina was a pleasure to watch: compact defensive work allied to a swift and incisive counter-attacking style. They have a core of gifted players who see hard work as the platform for launching devastating strikes. This remarkably effective strategy could serve them equally well against Spain.

The European champions held off a spirited Paraguay, surviving a penalty, missing one themselves, and then scrambling a late goal through Villa. The Germans will hardly be quaking in their boots.

We've gone from South American domination to seeing their top sides humbled. Their Spanish cousins may not be up to the job. We may be heading for a Holland v Germany final - and who could say they saw that coming?

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after the quarter final games: 30/60


Predictions for the World Cup quarter finals on Saturday 3rd July

Argentina v Germany: @ 3pm (Green Point Stadium, Cape Town)

Unmistakably the tie of the round, whoever wins this battle between genuine World Cup heavyweights could prove unstoppable. Can the Germans repeat their mauling of England or will Messi finally shake off the lethargy which has dogged him thus far in South Africa? Ronaldo and Rooney didn’t manage it; Torres looks unfit; this tournament could be the one where the unsung heroes are more important than the stars. A youthful German side which appears to have taken a principled stand against the very notion of star players could prove the point today. The Dutch did it; so can the Germans.

Paraguay v Spain: @ 7.30pm (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)

There are two possible scenarios here: another 90 minutes of Alonso, Xavi and Iniesta Ole-ing their way around and through a massed defence before chance after chance falls to a tired-looking Torres who clearly isn't fit and is eventually replaced by someone we've never heard of who is surprisingly effective; or another 90 minutes of Alonso, Xavi and Iniesta Ole-ing their way around and through a massed defence before chance after chance falls to a tired-looking Torres who clearly isn't fit but somehow fashions a pass to Villa. He won't miss. Either way Spain will emerge victorious.

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after yesterday’s quarter final games: 28/58


Predictions for the World Cup quarter finals on Friday 2nd July

Holland v Brazil: @ 3pm UK time (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)

It's time to find out whether the Dutch have a genuine chance or are just another bunch of seventies-style chokers forever condemned to a life of repeats showing them falling on their arses again. If the Brazilians were that good I would choose the latter without hesitation. They aren't, which is why I think Holland can win this one if Robben, van Persie and Sneijder are up for it.

Uruguay v Ghana: @ 7.30pm (Soccer City, Johannesburg)

Forlan and Suarez aside, this is an unappealing Uruguay side which scraped through qualifying and landed in a relatively easy group. Ghana, on the other hand, had to take on the Germans and Serbia armed only with an entertaining if childishly naïve attacking philosophy - and they got through before putting the USA out. Nice one, lads. For the sake of this World Cup I expect them to beat Uruguay and become the first African side to reach a World Cup semi final.

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after the Round of 16 games: 27/56


Gallows humour after Germany World Cup defeat

Good to see the English have reacted to the latest World Cup defeat in time-honoured fashion – by making fun of ourselves and the team. In a hundred years time, historians assessing the period will conclude that whatever the indignity, however painful the suffering, the English just don’t do revolutions. We find comedy much more useful. It only takes a few minutes to think up a joke and, unlike revolutions or civil disorder, humour is relatively painless. Unless, that is, you’re on the receiving end of stories such as:

“Police are asking for witnesses tonight after an elderly black man had several shots fired at him from close range and was left badly shaken”.

“Several Germans were thought to be responsible and the victim, a Mr David James of Portsmouth, was taken to hospital with mild shock”.

“It is also alleged that at the time of the shootings ten bystanders looked on and did nothing to help Mr James”.


The England team went out to visit an orphanage on Saturday morning. “It's good to put a smile on the faces of people with no hope, constantly struggling and facing the impossible”, said Jamal Umboto, aged 6.


Video technology confirms England are very bad at football

And so to today’s final last 16 matches...

Paraguay v Japan (3pm)

Paraguay will definitely win this. Or Japan will. It’s 50/50. WIN for Japan.

Spain v Portugal (7.30pm)

Potentially one of the stand out matches of the tournament so far, which probably means it’ll be less exciting than Swiss Railway Journeys on Sky. Prove me wrong, you Iberian dandies. WIN for Spain.

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after yesterday’s games: 26/54


Predictions for today’s last 16 matches (with a heavy heart)

No, it’s not a new Radiohead anthem for the World Cup, although I couldn’t get No Surprises out of my head last night. It’s just a reflection of my mood this morning after the terrible defeat against the Germans. I refer you to the BBC page for a list of UK newspapers I won’t be reading today.

Meanwhile, the competition continues today with two more last 16 matches:

Holland v Slovakia (3pm)

Brazil v Chile (7.30pm)

While I’d be delighted if the minnows won, I just can’t see it. WINS for Holland and Brazil. All together now, "No alarms and no surprises...".

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after yesterday’s games: 24/52


Reflections on Germany 4 England 1

So England are out, once again at the hands of Germany. What went wrong?

The first half could be broken up into two contrasting periods - the first 35 minutes and the remainder of the half.

The opening half hour or so reminded me of the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul. Germany ripped into England much as AC Milan tore through Liverpool on that famous night. Only profligacy and luck kept the German tally down to two goals. England were disjointed and ill at ease. Nothing seemed to go right for them.

Then Upson scores with a header. Suddenly the Germans are on the back foot. Within a minute Lampard’s looping shot from the edge of the box has clearly bounced over the line. I am out of my chair. It is 2 – 2 after an amazing turnaround.

The only problem was neither the ref nor the linesman knew what I and the players and millions watching around the world could see, so they waved play on and Germany survived to see the first half out.

The case for video replay technology has never been made more eloquently.

In the second half Germany were content to let England come at them. Lampard was desperately unlucky again when his long range free kick clattered off the bar with the keeper well beaten.

It would be England’s last meaningful chance as first Schweinsteiger and then Ozil set up Muller for two devastating strikes on the break.

Gerrard went close late on, and Heskey and Cole replaced Defoe and Milner, but the contest had effectively ended once Germany chose to unleash their counter-attacking forces.

England’s defence, and the men who were supposed to be shielding them, couldn’t cope with the lightning thrusts orchestrated by Schweinsteiger, Ozil and Klose.

It would be easy and comforting to claim the perfectly valid disallowed goal by Lampard cost England the game.

The truth is far more alarming – all too often, Germany’s movement and awareness tore a fragile defence to shreds.

A more effective front two backed up by a confident midfield might at least have given the Germans something to think about.

Sadly, Rooney and Defoe had little to offer, and the midfield quartet of Lampard, Gerrard, Barry and Milner lacked sufficient drive and imagination to threaten Germany’s defence.

Without meaning to take anything away from an excellent young German side which on this evidence could go on to win the tournament, this was a poor England performance.

English football will now doubtless enter another period of soul-searching before the qualifying campaign for the next European Championships begins. How many of this current squad will still be around for Euro 2012 remains to be seen.

World Cup 2010: a preview of England v Germany

So it’s finally here; another World Cup, another England – Germany clash. I could barely sleep last night, the anticipation gnawing away at me until I was finally forced to get up at 7am. What the hell is it about these matches that shreds nerves and causes so much general anxiety?


World Cup 2010: The complete last 16 schedule and predictions for today’s last 16 matches

Glad Chile got through yesterday; the Swiss have hardly played since beating Spain, suggesting they had already exceeded their low expectations and were content to meekly leave, which is exactly what they did.

And Brazil - Portugal?; while this wasn't the classic everyone was hoping for, I saw signs that Portugal could cause Spain some problems in the last 16. The Brazilians are, as might be expected, very good going forward. How their defence copes under pressure we don't yet know.

Sat Jun 26

3pm UK time 1A Uruguay v 2B South Korea (Match 49) Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth)

7.30pm 1C USA v 2D Ghana (Match 50) Royal Bafokeng (Rustenburg)

Sun Jun 27

3pm 1D Germany v 2C England (Match 51) Free State

7.30pm 1B Argentina v 2A Mexico (Match 52) Soccer City (Johannesburg)

Mon Jun 28

3pm 1E Holland v 2F Slovakia (Match 53) Durban (Durban)

7.30pm 1G Brazil v 2H Chile (Match 54) Ellis Park (Johannesburg)

Tues Jun 29

3pm 1F Paraguay v 2E Japan (Match 55) Loftus Versfeld (Tshwane/Pretoria)

7.30pm 1H Spain v 2G Portugal (Match 56) Green Point (Cape Town)

Uruguay has looked good so far, while the South Koreans are capable of a surprise. I fancy an upset here: South Korea to WIN.

The kings of the late goal might need another one to save themselves against an attacking Ghana side which is playing for African pride: Ghana to WIN aet.

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after yesterday’s games: 22/48


World Cup predictions for today’s final Group G and Group H games featuring Spain, Brazil and Portugal

Anyone who watched Italy during this tournament probably had a sneaking suspicion they weren’t going to get very far; well done Paraguay, Slovakia and Japan; van Persie is warming up for the Dutch, who now have a relatively easy path to the semis and (possibly) a meeting with Spain. Talking of the Spanish, what are my predictions today?

Portugal v Brazil (Durban) 3pm

Brazil will definitely head the group if they draw or win today. Lose and the Portuguese leapfrog them into top spot. To qualify, the Ivory Coast need to score a hatful against the North Koreans and hope Brazil do the same to Portugal.

Brazil WIN

North Korea v Ivory Coast (Nelspruit) 3pm

Should be comfortable for Drogba and Co.

Ivory Coast WIN

Chile v Spain (Tshwane/Pretoria) 7.30pm

Chile just needs a draw to head the group. If that happens, and Switzerland beat Honduras in the other match, Spain would be out. If Spain and Switzerland both win, the group will be decided by goal difference, with Chile the likely losers. Chile and Spain will qualify if today’s matches are both draws.

Spain WIN

Switzerland v Honduras (Mangaung/Bloemfontein) 7.30pm

They did well to beat the Spanish but were outplayed by Chile. Can the Swiss roll Honduras over?

Prediction: Switzerland WIN

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after yesterday’s games: 20/44

So I didn’t successfully predict the outcome of a single game yesterday. I wonder if this octopus can do any better!


England World Cup 2010 special: looking ahead to Germany game

At last, a World Cup 2010 finals performance to be proud of: lots of chances, dynamic forward play, excellent defending, so many positives. England have given themselves a platform but sterner tasks now lie ahead.

And of course it had to be Germany, didn’t it? The old enemy, beaten in 1966 and then triumphant against us in subsequent World Cup matches (1970 and 1990).

Already you can hear the echoes of past defeats – the Germans are a knock out team, they’ll probably take us to penalties again etc etc.

Isn’t it about time we went into a game against Germany thinking more about whether we can win rather than the inevitability of defeat? England may as well go home now if they choose the latter course.

Yes, they are good; Oezil in particular is a major threat, and in Khedira they have unearthed a youthful successor to Michael Ballack. But Lahm aside, is the defence really that sound?

It’s all set up for a gripping Sunday afternoon. I personally can’t wait.

Who will join England in the last 16?

World Cup predictions for today’s final Group E and Group F games featuring Holland, Italy and Denmark

Slovakia v Italy (Johannesburg) 3pm

Prediction: DRAW

Paraguay v New Zealand (Polokwane) 3pm

Prediction: Paraguay WIN

Denmark v Japan (Rustenburg) 7.30pm

Prediction: Denmark WIN

Cameroon v Netherlands (Cape Town) 7.30pm

Prediction: DRAW

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after yesterday’s games: 20/40 (50%)


England player ratings from Slovenia match

James – confident throughout but didn’t have much to do anyway: 7

Johnson – lots of attacking play and mostly solid defending apart from rash early tackles: 7

Terry – one dodgy pass but atoned with superb second half block; steadfast, as always: 8

Upson – looked one paced at times; excellent tackle prevented a late Slovenia goal: 7

Cole – reliable and always ready to threaten defenders going forward: 7

Milner – fast and energetic on the right, he provided the outlet England have lacked: 8

Gerrard – missed a sitter but always looked a threat going forward: 8

Lampard – looked more lively but rarely threatened: 7

Barry – good passing and firm defensive work: 7

Rooney – still needs to find his touch but looked less deflated despite missing a sitter: 7

Defoe – took his goal well and only faded once the Hail Mary balls started coming his way: 8

Subs: Heskey (6), Cole (6)

This performance was such an improvement from the previous two games. More purpose, drive and imagination. Now let's see what the last 16 holds for England.

World Cup predictions for today’s final Group C and Group D games featuring England, the USA and Germany

So now we know who progresses from World Cup Groups A and B. Better luck next time, South Africa. It was always going to be a tough call to qualify from that group; and the two best teams emerged from Group B – Argentina look devastating at times.

So what about today’s games?

Slovenia v England (Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth) 3pm

Unimaginative, tired, devoid of ideas, lacking passion – that’s the England story so far. Since Friday we’ve also had crushed rebellions and apologies as coach Capello has moved to reassert his authority. The question is this: will he accept some or all of the proposed changes (Heskey out, Cole in, Gerrard in the hole behind Rooney) or ignore his critics? Only time will tell.

Prediction: England WIN

USA v Algeria (Tshwane/Pretoria) 3pm

After two draws, the last an amazing comeback which ended with an inexplicably disallowed goal, the US now need to beat the same Algerian side which stifled England in Cape Town last Friday. I think they can do it.

Prediction: USA WIN

Ghana v Germany (Johannesburg) 7.30pm

Despite stumbling against Serbia, the Germans should have enough in their armoury to finish the group off with a win.

Prediction: Germany WIN

Australia v Serbia (Nelspruit) 7.30pm

The Aussies have defied their critics (including this one) before. They’ll probably give it an almighty effort. And it won’t matter, because the Serbs will break their hearts.

Prediction: Serbia WIN

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after yesterday’s games: 17/36

Don’t miss tomorrow’s England special – win or lose, you’ll get all the headlines here.


World Cup predictions for today’s final Group A and Group B games featuring South Africa, Argentina and Uruguay

Finally, we can all cheer as someone has administered a good old fashioned World Cup spanking, even it was Portugal; Chile dominated again and fully deserved their three points; and Spain could have had a hatful of goals, which is ironic, because Group H might be decided by goal difference.

Now we really start to sort the men from the boys as the final group matches begin, starting with:

Mexico v Uruguay (Rustenburg) 3pm

Neither wants to play Argentina in the next round, so both teams should go for the win. I expect an in-form Uruguay to nick this one.

Prediction: Uruguay WIN

French Handball Team v South Africa (Mangaung/Bloemfontein) 3pm

What a mess Les Bleus are in. Desperately poor performances, one player expelled from the squad, and now the minister for Health and Sport is reportedly on her way to the French camp to gee the players up. Does she know more about passing and movement than they do? On current evidence, probably. Go for it, South Africa!

Prediction: South Africa WIN

Nigeria v South Korea (Durban) 7.30pm

Astonishingly, despite having lost their two opening matches Nigeria can still qualify if they win and Argentina beat Greece. Tell me that isn't going to happen.

Prediction: South Korea WIN

Greece v Argentina (Polokwane) 7.30pm

Asked about the successful performance of the South American teams in the competition, Diego Maradona believes the qualification schedule there is much more demanding than in Europe. Typical Argentinian – always having a go at islands beginning with the letter F.

Prediction: Argentina WIN

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after yesterday’s games: 14/32


World Cup predictions for today’s Group G and Group H games featuring Portugal and Spain

Paraguay is emerging as one of the tournament’s potential dark horses – let’s see what they make of New Zealand in their final game; I can’t believe how poor Italy is; and Brazil don’t need a helping hand, but they got one or two last night – that said, sending off Kaka was a joke.

Portugal v North Korea (Cape Town) 12.30pm

I expect this to be a Ronaldo shotfest, the twinkle-toed moaner taking advantage of lax defending to shoot from all distances and angles. The odd thing is my Dad kept mentioning some match in 1966. No idea what he’s talking about.

Prediction: Portugal WIN

Chile v Switzerland (Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth) 3pm

The South Americans are poised to head this group by late afternoon. The Swiss may well have over exceeded expectations already after beating Spain. At least that’s what their wily manager would have us believe.

Prediction: Chile WIN

Spain v Honduras (Johannesburg) 7.30pm

Prediction: Spain WIN

Who would have thought it? The favourites succumbing to the Swiss. It can’t happen again, can it? No.

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after yesterday’s games: 11/29


World Cup predictions for today’s Group E and Group F games featuring Italy, Brazil and the Ivory Coast

The Dutch didn’t exactly look like world beaters yesterday – but what a strike from Sneijder; let’s hope that’s the last we see of Harry Kewell after his characteristic 25-minute cameo resulted in a sending off which probably helped Australia; and it’s goodbye to Cameroon – if they couldn’t defend against the Danes, the chances of surviving against better teams were slim.

What’s happening at the World Cup today?

Slovakia v Paraguay (Mangaung/Bloemfontein) 12.30pm

How conceding in the last minute against New Zealand will affect Slovakian morale remains to be seen. Their opponents should certainly be buoyed by the point gained against Italy. Whoever wins will probably qualify but it’s the Slovakians who need three points most – they play Italy last.

Prediction: Slovakia WIN

Italy v New Zealand (Nelspruit) 3pm

OK, the defending champions aren’t much good, but they should have enough in their limited armoury to see off New Zealand. Right?

Prediction: Italy WIN

Brazil v Ivory Coast (Johannesburg) 7.30pm

This is a tough one to call. The Brazilians barely got out of second gear against South Korea, while the Ivory Coast rode their luck against Portugal. Demanding final games are just days away, so both must do much better today. Hopefully this means we will see lots of attacking and a high scoring draw.

Prediction: DRAW

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate after yesterday’s games: 11/26


Reflections on England v Algeria - World Cup 2010

Last night’s performance veered from frustrating to unbearable and, by the end, unwatchable. I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed in an England World Cup side before. So what went wrong and can we take any positives from this match?

The performance

First, I could waste some of my own time and yours by rating players out of 10. Instead, I’ll make it simple. Nobody got over 6 and the majority were 5 or less. For a World Cup game against supposedly inferior opposition, that’s frightening.

Heskey didn’t hold the ball up enough and struggled to play his team mates into promising positions.

Rooney seemed tired, his touch has deserted him, and he’s clearly angry with himself and the position England finds itself in.

Lennon seems unable to make meaningful contributions and is quickly marginalised.

Lampard and Gerrard misplaced way too many passes and only occasionally threatened Algeria enough to look like scoring. Put simply, they are not functioning as a midfield partnership.

Barry earned some valuable match fitness. That’s pretty much all I can say about him.

Johnson and Ashley Cole failed to attack Algeria’s flanks.

That horrifying back pass aside, Terry did OK. Now he has to work alongside another centre half for the Slovenia game.

Carragher got himself booked and never looked completely comfortable.

James did enough to keep his place against Slovenia.

Of the subs, only Defoe made an impact.

Overall, England lacked drive, guile, pace and imagination. It was as dispiriting a performance as I can remember from an England side, and I’ve seen quite a few over the years.

What should England do for the Slovenia game?

Heskey should be replaced by Defoe or Crouch.

Gerrard should be pushed forward into the hole behind Rooney and the other striker.

Joe Cole should start on the left side of midfield.

Barry should hold a position in front of the defence and stay there.

Someone should tell Ashley Cole and Johnson they can get forward to support attacks.

Dawson should play, not Upson. The Tottenham man is quicker than his West Ham counterpart, who could be all too easily turned by nippy Slovenian attackers.

If Rooney isn’t playing well, he should be replaced after an hour or so.

The formation should be 4 (Johnson, Terry, Dawson, Ashley Cole) 1 (Barry) 3 (Joe Cole, Lampard, Gerrard) 2 (Rooney, Defoe or Crouch). 4 – 4 – 2 isn’t working and it’s time to try something different.

Above all else, England need to play as a team, not individuals. Failure to do so will result in an early exit.

World Cup predictions for today’s Group D and Group E games featuring Holland, Australia and Cameroon

Serbia have really disturbed Group D with their victory over Germany; Slovenia – USA was one of the best games so far; and I’ve had my say about England already. Don’t get me started again.

So what games can I totally misjudge the outcome of today?

Holland v Japan (Durban) 12.30pm

While we may not see much of Robben, the Dutch are still far too good for Japan. Expect a hatful of chances and plenty of action, mostly in Japan’s half. Can the Unofficial World Champions go on from here to scoop the real prize?

Prediction: Holland WIN

Ghana v Australia (Rustenberg) 3pm

No Cahill, an inability to keep clean sheets during World Cup finals matches, both central defenders on yellow cards, and the possibility Harry Kewell may have recovered from his latest debilitating hairband injury. This is Ghana’s for the taking.

Prediction: Ghana WIN

Cameroon v Denmark (Tshwane/Pretoria) 7.30pm

The Danes were a little unfortunate against Holland and should make their mark today. Of course all of this depends on which Cameroon team turns up – the one with Eto’o on fire or the poor lot which lost to Japan. This could be quite a game if it’s the former.

Prediction: Denmark WIN

And the World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate is now: 9/23


World Cup predictions for today’s Group C and Group D games featuring England, the USA and Germany

Argentina are definitely looking the best of the South Americans to me; Greece probably still need to beat them next week to have any chance of going through; and France? The sooner we see the back of them, the better it will be for this World Cup.

Germany v Serbia (Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth) 12.30pm

Having purred their way through an easy first game, the Germans may be about to face a more formidable obstacle in the shape of a chastened Serbia. We’ll all have to sit up and pay attention if Low’s men continue the excellent form they showed during the recent Australia rout.

Prediction: DRAW

Slovenia v USA (Johannesburg) 3pm

Win and Slovenia will qualify for the knock out stage. Anything else and this group will be heading for a nail biting last day.

Prediction: DRAW

England v Algeria (Cape Town) 7.30pm

The old cliché about “must win” games has never seemed more appropriate. Early indications are that England captain Steven Gerrard will have a more advanced role supporting Wayne Rooney. It’s time for England to show what they can do. The link is for anyone feeling the need to carry a spare pair of pants for tonight. The Football Supporters’ Federation says there isn’t much demand for pants bearing the name of Danny Shittu. Not yet, anyway.

Prediction: England WIN

And the World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate is now: 9/20


World Cup predictions for today’s Group A and Group B games featuring Argentina, Nigeria and the French Handball Team

Chile looking good; Spain, you absolute chokers; Diego Forlorn no more – if he carries on like this I will be forced to call him by his real name, and that would never do. South Africa now need the results to go their way, starting with a draw tonight in Polokwane. Then they must beat the French and hope Forlorn does the job against Mexico. It’s a tall order.

Argentina v South Korea (Johannesburg) 12.30pm

How do you stop Messi? I suppose the South Koreans could take up Tae Kwon Do again. Interesting that both coaches played the last time the sides met at a World Cup finals. Who will prevail this time around?

Prediction: Argentina WIN

Greece v Nigeria (Mangaung/Bloemfontein) 3pm

Both sides need to show they have recovered from poor first game performances. What better way to do that than to have Sotorios Kyrgiakos of Liverpool and Everton’s Aiyegbeni Yakubu slap each other for 90 minutes. Sounds like fun to me.

Prediction: DRAW

France v Mexico (Polokwane) 7.30pm

The French Handball Team could recall Malouda and Henry. Let’s see if they can recall the laws of the game at the same time. Anything other than a win for either side will imperil their chances of progressing to the knock out stages.

Prediction: DRAW

After yesterday’s games the World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate has fallen below 50% again: 8/17


World Cup predictions for today’s Group H and Group A games featuring Spain, South Africa and some other teams

Some accounts reckon the New Zealand v Slovakia wasn’t half bad – still glad I missed it; not even Drogba and Ronaldo could prevent a stalemate; and Brazil are functional with occasional dashes of brilliance – this should give the other contenders some hope. So what about today’s World Cup games?

Honduras v Chile (Nelspruit) 12.30pm

It’s the battle between Central and South America. Whoever wins will catapult themselves up the table in the race to finish second to you know who. I think Chile might just shade this one due to their experience and because they have ex-Liverpool winger Mark Gonzalez in their ranks. OK, I’m only joking about that last bit.

Prediction: Chile WIN

Spain v Switzerland (Durban) 3pm

While they are expected to steamroller pretty much every team they meet, the favourites came unstuck during last year’s Confederations Cup. That said, they’ve still only lost one game since the Spanish Armada, and that was in, well, it was a long time ago. I’m not expecting a slip up today.

Prediction: Spain WIN

South Africa v Uruguay (Tshwane/Pretoria) 7.30pm

The hosts are determined not to become the first to fail to reach the knock out stages. Uruguay, it seems, are equally determined to win their first World Cup match in 20 years. This is my match to watch today.

Prediction: South Africa WIN

After yesterday’s games the World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate has jumped to a much healthier 7/14


World Cup predictions for today’s Group F and Group G games featuring Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast

No great surprise in the Holland – Denmark game yesterday; Cameroon, what are you doing?; I should have known the Italians are always slow starters. So what matches can I not guess the outcome of today?

New Zealand v Slovakia 12.30pm (Rustenburg)

By far the winner of the “game I most want to avoid” competition. I can't even be bothered to look for any links, because they probably don't exist. This could be the footballing equivalent of playing Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man and James Caan in Misery at the same time. The way my luck is going at the moment, this almost certainly means I’ll miss a seven goal thriller.

Prediction: DRAW

Ivory Coast v Portugal 3pm (Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth)

Rumours of a rift in the Portuguese camp persist after Nani went home early. Can matinee idol Carlos Queiroz persuade his men to pull together and repeatedly let Ronaldo do all the work? This could be there’s for the taking if Drogba is refused permission to play with a robotic arm or something.

Prediction: DRAW

Brazil v North Korea 7.30pm (Johannesburg)

The old legends from 1970 and 1982 don’t like this Brazil side and the way they play at all. Can the likes of Kaka rekindle the old flame to crush the Great Leader’s hopes? You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

Prediction: Brazil WIN

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate so far: a dismal 4 correct results from 11 games


World Cup predictions for today’s Group E and Group F games featuring Holland, Cameroon and Italy

Congratulations to Slovenia for complicating Group C and giving England more cause for thought; what fool said Serbia were dark horses?; impressive stuff from the Germans. On to today’s World Cup games...

Holland v Denmark (Johannesburg) 12.30pm

Fancied by many as a good outside bet, it seems the Dutch are having a few moans before today’s game. That doesn’t sound like ideal preparation to me, but when you’ve the likes of van Persie and Sneijder in your side you can probably afford the odd gripe. The Danes will need to play out of their skins today to get anything from this tough opener.

Prediction: Holland WIN

Japan v Cameroon (Mangaung/Bloemfontein) 3pm

Top man Samuel Eto’o allegedly fell out with Roger Milla recently. It may or may not have something to do with an argument over the best way to celebrate a goal (wiggle your arse near the corner flag or set off on a lung-bursting run seem to be the only options). This shouldn’t stop the Inter striker giving Japan a torrid time.

Prediction: Cameroon WIN

Italy v Paraguay (Cape Town) 7.30pm

Since my attempts to predict the outcome of games have so far proved woefully inadequate I thought it was time someone else had a go (see link). The defending champions are not even being considered as potential winners this time around. This could take the pressure off them if they get an early goal. Don’t write them off just yet.

Prediction: Italy WIN

The World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 prediction success rate so far: 3/8

Less than 50%. Must do better today.