Reflections on the England – Japan friendly

England's final World Cup friendly ended in a 2 - 1 victory. Here are my thoughts and the reaction of the UK press.


Predictions for the final England World Cup 2010 squad

Predicted first XI in italics.


Green, James, Hart

Green did his cause the power of good against Mexico; the other two are probably now behind him in the pecking order.

Hart lacks experience at this level and James is due a calamity game.

In fact, I say put the Portsmouth keeper in against Japan and watch the colour drain out of the faces of England’s defenders. Then we’ll know James is along for the ride.


Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson, Carragher, King, Upson

King looked vulnerable at times against Mexico and there must still be doubts about his ability to play a run of games if injury deprives England of Terry or Ferdinand.

I genuinely worry about Glen Johnson’s positional sense. Put him in midfield where he can run at defenders, not look as if he’s on the verge of some almighty cock-up.

The rest are experienced veterans.


Gerrard, Lampard, Milner, Barry, Lennon, Walcott, Adam Johnson, Joe Cole

Speed, hard work, drive, guile, experience and youthful exuberance: this is a great combination of players who have significant tournament experience and those who, if called on, can make an ‘impact’.


Rooney, Crouch, Heskey, Defoe, Bent

The only one I am still concerned about is Heskey. The rest scored goals for fun all season.

Let’s see how close this is to the final 23 announced by June 1st.


England fan in marathon journey to World Cup

A man from Gloucestershire is nearing the end of a gruelling journey to South Africa. Here's his amazing story.


World Cup 2010 group-by-group review with a twist

In March this year I posted a response to an article by Ryan Thies of the Long Beach Post (California).

Ryan had a problem with England and wasn’t shy about expressing his opinions in a forthright manner.

“Why USA Soccer Fans Need To Start Hating England” pulled no punches. John Terry’s infidelities, the England team’s parade of divers and cheats, English fans and their jingoistic hypocrisy, Princess Diana: few escaped his wrath.

Well he’s at it again, only this time England isn’t the only team in Ryan’s sights.

I read the original article, quickly decided Ryan was trying to be provocative, and penned a response which said the article had rekindled my faith in the land of Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks and Saturday Night Live.

Then, in true World Cup competitive spirit, my response was equally forthright and insulting. You know the sort of thing, references to my surprise at the US having to play in the group stages, as they only usually turn up when most of the hard work is over, this absurd habit of calling the US team the USMNT (United States Men’s National Team) etcetc. All characteristically playful, as you would expect.

Ryan has since replied to tell me he thought the comparisons I drew between him, Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce were, as he put it, “hyperbolic”. I’m quite pleased by that, because most people use a different spelling of the world “bolic” to describe my writing.

He also wanted to flag up his latest project, a World Cup group-by-group review with a twist – the twist being Ryan sticks the knife into most of the 32 participating teams. Don’t take it too seriously; he’s only winding you up...



Reflections on the England - Mexico friendly

3 - 1 flattered England for a while but was fully deserved in the end as Mexico faded in the second half.

Playing against a side which is comfortable in possession and capable of breaking at speed is valuable preparation for any tournament.

Gerrard is better in the centre than out on the wing. Rooney also prefers him in this position.

Glen Johnson would make an excellent midfielder. Strong in the tackle, he's also not afraid to run at defenders. What a goal!

If World Cups were won by 'impact players', England could book the homecoming parade today.

Although not at his best in an unfamiliar anchor role James Milner is on the plane to South Africa. Michael Carrick may be sweating about his squad place now.

Presuming both sides match each other's group stage record and win in the last 16, I'll take Mexico in the quarter finals right now.


Predictions for England - Mexico pre-World Cup friendly

Less than three weeks to go before World Cup 2010 starts and the friendlies are coming thick and fast. Here are my predictions for tonight’s game at Wembley.

England will put a 'really, really strong team' out, but, since none of the Chelsea contingent will be picked, we can be really, really sure the team will not be the best XI.

Rooney will operate as a lone striker supported by Gerrard for some part of the game.

The debate over the state of the Wembley pitch will continue when a mistimed tackle takes out half of Fabio Capello's coaching staff.

Jamie Carragher will be booed, whether he plays or not.

James Milner will cement his place in the first XI.

If selected, Glen Johnson will make a horrible defensive error.

There will be plenty of references to Man Utd’s new foreign signing.

There will be a Mexican Wave.

The clashes between Australia and New Zealand in Melbourne and Japan and South Korea in Saitama will be much more demanding. Watch out for some heartbreaking injuries as the tackles fly in.


The World Cup as imagined by deranged lunatics

Some people think I'm a Luddite because I prefer to watch footy with mates and beer, either at home or in a pub.

That's right, I have no time for this ridiculous 3D nonsense or the streaming of matches on the Internet.

If we were meant to watch football wearing dark glasses and forever banging our lower legs into stout tables before crying out in pain, surely evolution (sorry creationists) would have left us with better eyesight and thicker shins.

The same applies to watching footy on a laptop just because some bright spark decided to charge you for the privilege. Football is a communal experience, not something to be enjoyed in groups of one.

Personally speaking, I've had more than my fill of these geeks who are always looking for some new way to enhance the viewing experience.

I actually prefer to watch a game knowing Wayne Rooney won't leap out of the screen and threaten to demolish my fish tank with his size 12 boots.

And yes, going out or having people round is better than watching a game on a computer or laptop by myself. They lock you up for shouting at your computer, whereas bawling at the TV is perfectly acceptable behaviour.

Strangely enough, the people behind the latest futuristic World Cup idea didn't take any of these considerations into account when proposing their latest jaw-dropping viewing enhancement suggestion: holographic football.

According to PC World "Japan has announced plans to offer the 2022 World Cup not only in 3D but also in holographic form."

The idea is to capture all 360 degrees of World Cup matches using up-to 200 HD cameras, and then to "project life like full 3D images onto football fields the world over."

The journalist putting this horrifying vision together then asks: "What does this mean?" before answering "It means that potentially I could go to my national stadium (Wembley), sit down and see the game that was taking place in Japan as if it was happening right in front of my eyes - With holographic players moving around the pitch."

We really are in trouble if the people responsible for producing future World Cups think this is a viable proposition.

Call me what you like, but seeing someone who might or might not be Rimmer from Red Dwarf scoring a goal only to dematerialise in front of my eyes is not a pleasant thought.

Then there is the next logical step - holographic crowds. You think the ground is packed with humans until you notice everyone around you moves in the same slightly clumsy way as the players, speeding up, slowing down or occasionally freezing depending on the quality of the satellite link. They're holograms too!

We've come a long way since watching a match involved either buying a ticket or turning on the TV. I'll leave you to decide whether 3D, streaming and holograms represent progress or a nightmarish dystopian vision.


FIFA bans the Paradinha: a bit too late for this keeper

While FIFA is content to let the French Handball team get away with blatant robbery because the game can’t cope, so they say, with TV replays, the penalty manoeuvre known as the Paradinha or “little step” is apparently too much for the guardians of the game.

Just in case you don’t know, the Paradinha involves the penalty taker trying to fool the keeper with a false move. What a shame FIFA’s intervention was too late to prevent this keeper from falling over and breaking his arm after being beaten by what is now an illegal penalty kick.


World Cup survey of fans gets low marks

I’ve just spotted the results of a survey conducted by a company described as “the exclusive Financial Services partner for all FIFA events”. Apparently this global brand thought talking to fans in the United Arab Emirates about the World Cup would be a convincing marketing ploy. Here are some of their findings.

More than one third of UAE football fans polled predict Brazil will be victorious this year. 16% tipped Argentina to take the top spot, with 11% favouring Spain.

A third of UAE football fans believe a Middle East team will win the World Cup in their lifetime.

UAE football fans are also confident that the FIFA World Cup will be hosted by a Middle Eastern country in the next twenty years with 40% believing that this is definitely likely, and 50% viewing it as probable.

The UAE was also tipped to be the most likely Middle Eastern country to host the World Cup according to 74% of respondents.

15% thought that Qatar would play host in the future followed by 7% who predicted that Saudi Arabia would be the first Middle Eastern country to become a host nation.

Finally, “the most memorable moment in FIFA World Cup history”, as voted for by UAE football fans, “was Maradonas (sic) famous game, as voted by 17% of respondents. This was closely followed by the infamous head-butt by Zinedine Zidane (15%) and the 2006 win by Brazil (11%).”

I really don’t know where to start here.

Maradona’s famous game: I presume this is a reference to the 2 – 1 quarter final victory over England. Let’s forget his other performances and concentrate on the infamous stuff, eh? Speaking as a football fan Maradona’s second goal against England was more than “memorable”; it was breathtaking. He went on to set up the decisive goal in the final with an inch-perfect pass. That was memorable. Besides, a “game” isn’t a “moment”.

Zidane’s head-butt: I’m starting to see a pattern here.

The 2006 win by Brazil: I’m lost for words.

So here’s the state of play – if the UAE ever hosts a World Cup, the locals will want it to be packed full of dodgy handballs and physical violence, because that’s all they can remember. The name of the winning team will also need to be written in prominent places so every UAE resident can see it four years later.

“The exclusive Financial Services partner for all FIFA events” will “continue to hold these global rights to all FIFA World Cup events up until 2014”. Let’s hope this gives them enough time to revamp their research department and avoid this kind of schoolboy nonsense.


It's the last 16 in the World Cup - who should England try to avoid?

Imagine England are about to advance from Group C in first or second position. Whatever happens, Capello's men will still face a tough last 16 clash. Using the power of predictions it's time to look at who England might face and who is best avoided from Group D.


Model predicts England World Cup victory in South Africa

No, I don’t mean Kate Moss has gone into the predictions game. This is another of those stat-crunching, data heavy, finger in the air exercises, this time from JPMorgan Chase & Co.


The 2018 World Cup bid, the Daily Mail and Bill Hicks

The late and much lamented Bill Hicks regularly entertained audiences in the early nineties with his impersonations of then US President George Bush. It’s time to repeat one of his most famous quotes.

“We still live in a dangerous world,” Bush (Hicks) would say, before the conscience of the comedian interrupted proceedings.

“Thanks to you,” he would conclude, not so subtly suggesting one of the reasons why there was so much trouble in the world was the practice of selling arms to unstable pariah regimes which could go loopy at any time.

I mention Hicks because the Daily Mail, which released details of a private conversation between Lord Triesman and a former civil servant, during which the peer claimed Spain was preparing to bribe referees at the World Cup with the help of the Russians, today ran an article calling for Seb Coe to save the England bid.

Of course the article reiterated the main accusations from the original article without saying who printed them in the first place.

In its view, Triesman had to go because of his “stunning indiscretions”, “wild allegations” and “wholly destructive comments”, all of which were presented to Daily Mail readers over tea and toast.

Fair enough, the man’s a complete fool for allowing himself to be trapped by someone driven by money and perhaps other darker motives.

But she turned up to have dinner with Triesman after being fitted with a wire by the Daily Mail. So if the paper asks: “Is our World Cup bid damaged beyond repair?”, you could always reply, “Very possibly, thanks to you.”


World Cup 2010 news from the Jamaica Observer

The World Cup can't be far off - because the deluge of over-opinionated articles, not all of which will be written by me, has begun. Step forward Hartley Anderson of the Jamaica Observer.


Analysing the 2010 World Cup provisional squad lists

I’ve just been looking through the entire provisional squad lists (yes, they have to do it all again by the June 1st deadline) and spotted some unusual facts and figures. Hope you don’t mind me sharing them with you.


Try World Cup 2010 Fantasy Football with Metro

I’ve just had an hour on the Metro site looking at their new World Cup Fantasy Football game. It’s great for hardcore footy fans and anyone who just wants to play around during the biggest sporting event on the planet. Let me explain how it works and then you can have a go.

First you pick a formation (4-3-3 etc) and then you select 15 squad players using your £100m budget. Pay attention to the instructions as you must choose a certain number of players from different positions.

Once you’ve done that you can follow the stats, leaderboard and live scoring as the tournament progresses.

You can even transfer players, take part in mini leagues and tournaments, and try your hand at some predictions.

I spent my £100m fairly quickly and even threw in Harry Kewell just for a laugh.

Now I’ll sit back and watch my team of World Cup All Stars sweep everything before them – or despair as they put in a series of disappointing performances. That’s the thing about the World Cup. You never know what you’ll end up with.

Try it out for yourself at http://fantasyfootball.metro.co.uk/worldcup/ now. Good luck!


England and Spain neck and neck in World Cup poll - vote today

England have finally overtaken Spain in the official World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 poll. Here are the current results:

England 68 (26%)

Spain 67 (26%)

Brazil 40 (16%)

Argentina 26 (9%)

The Netherlands 18 (7%)

Italy 15 (6%)

Germany 11 (4%)

Ivory Coast 9 (3%)

254 votes so far and just 28 days left before the tournament starts. Get your vote in today.


England’s World Cup record under Conservative governments

If you’re a football fan and you struggle to stomach the thought of a Conservative Government in the UK, look away now. The stats on England’s World Cup record under Conservative governments are dire.


The verdict on the Capello Index

“Own goal” is the phrase which crops up most this morning in analysis of the England coach’s decision to launch the Capello Index. What exactly is it and how might the index cause more problems than it solves?


Rooney injury worries – can he last the World Cup intact?

Once again Wayne Rooney limps off at the tail end of a Manchester United game. Am I the only person beginning to wonder whether he can endure the rigours of a World Cup?

The PFA and Football Writers' Association award winner has scored 33 times this season, offering Utd fans a much needed scoring option following the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez last summer.

United even jumped to 86 league goals over the course of the campaign, a remarkable step up from the 68 accrued last season.

So he’s helped to up the goal tally and his manager doesn’t seem too concerned about Rooney’s latest injury.

“I think he's aggravated the groin again. I don't think it's serious – he'll be OK for England,” said United manager Alex Ferguson.

Well, we’ve been here before, but at least this time England aren’t alone in having injury worries.

Spain’s Fabregas, Torres and Xavi may struggle to play regularly in South Africa.

Holland’s Robin van Persie is only just coming back from injury.

The good news is Socceroo legend Harry Kewell will probably be fit after missing the last twelve years with hair band problems. That’s good news for everyone else but not Australia.


Carragher to play for England at World Cup 2010?

I don’t think anyone saw this coming – Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher could be on the verge of a return to the international scene just in time for World Cup 2010 in South Africa.


World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010 General Election special

On the day the British people go to the polls I think it is only right and proper to explain to the rest of the world how the process works and who is involved. Under no circumstances NOTOCAMERON should anyone interpret any of the following RETURNTODARKAGES as biased against any particular party TORIESARESCUM or an attempt to tell people how to vote TACTICALTOKEEPTHETORIESOUT.


Where are the World Cup 2010 celebrity endorsements for England?

Top sporting celebs are getting behind South Africa as the World Cup approaches. Can we look forward to English celebrities doing likewise?


'World Cup Street' to start in June

A unique experiment in broadcasting is to take place during the 2010 World Cup. An entire street of 1966 England World Cup fans and their families goes 'live' during the tournament, giving the modern generation a taste of what life was really like in the Swinging Sixties.

Modelled on 'Blitz Street', the C4 programme which built a 1940s street and then bombed it back to the Stone Age, 'World Cup Street' features reconstructions of life in a typical English street throughout July 1966.

Tony Robinson of Time Team guides viewers through the ninety-minute episodes, each one focusing on England's group and knock out matches in the run up to the memorable final.

Highlights include the episode in which the Atkins family fall out because the baby has colic and Dad can't follow the commentary on the Argentina game.

Don't miss the episode where the local loner has one too many Stouts in the pub and picks a fight with a lamppost on the way home.

And of course there's the final itself, when everyone gets together in the street for a party during which a new family from what older residents of 'World Cup Street' call 'The Empire' is repeatedly snubbed.

'World Cup Street' also features men with handkerchiefs tied to their heads, policemen allo-alloing, two gangster brothers breaking heads, and hushed conversations about birth control.

It was a gentler, more innocent age. Find out for yourself when 'World Cup Street' starts on Channel 4 at 9pm on June 12th and continues until July 11th.


England fans shouting “Cabanga” - somehow I can’t see it

There are plenty of unusual World Cup 2010 stories doing the rounds at the moment but one caught my eye this week and I can’t resist commenting on it. The story involves supposed experts in sports performance choosing a word which they believe can inspire England to glory in South Africa.