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