Posts tagged: Football

Women And Football: The Legacy Of Andy Gray

By , January 25, 2011 3:55 pm

I think it goes without saying that the decision to dismiss Andy Gray from Sky following his remarks regarding a female linesman was correct. The fact that he and his co-commentator, supposedly refined journalist Richard Keys, decided to have a dig about the young female referee was pretty shocking to the football world as a whole, and not just the women. It may be an exaggeration to say that their behavior sets women in sports back 50 years, but it might not be far off. Fortunately for the women in football today, there are enough people in power to not let two big-headed presenters get the best of all those women that have worked so hard to get where they are in such a male dominated arena.

The Smug Ones - Andy Gray And Richard Keys Mug For The Camera

I can pretty much guarantee that when 25-year-old Sian Massey took to the pitch at Molineux Stadium, she never envisioned herself becoming the catalyst for the sacking of one of Sky Sports’ most well known commentators. I imagine that she woke up that morning, ate a healthy breakfast in preparation for the game, had a cup of tea to relax, and then proceeded to go about her business on the field as an official for the match. Ninety minutes later and she was most likely headed home, feeling very confident in the fact that she did a fine job officiating a big Premier League contest. And to her dismay and bemusement, she awoke the next morning to find her name branded all over the print, online, and television media. Not for her laudable performance as an official, but because she is a woman, and according to Keys and Gray, women don’t know enough about football to be anywhere near it.

Understandably the chain of events that followed, first the suspension of Keys and Gray followed swiftly with Gray’s sacking, had very little to do with her in the end. She was merely the focal point for a couple of over-the-hill chauvinists who believe they are living in the 1950s, a time when it was perfectly acceptable to chastise women all in the name of being manly. And what makes the whole situation even more comical is that Keys and Gray, who are not well liked by many viewers, are often questioned about their knowledge of the offside rule. Something they ignorantly believed Massey was incapable of knowing simply because of her gender.

Kenny Dalglish, whose own daughter works in the field of football as a presenter, first on Sky Sports and now on ESPN, claimed he didn’t even know a woman was officiating until after the second half began. As the whole situation gathered momentum, the Liverpool boss was then questioned about his thoughts on the matter. Ever the intelligent diplomat, Dalglish simply replied, “I don’t know what Sky’s attitude is towards women, but certainly for me if you’re good at your job I don’t think your gender should be a restraint. If they’re there, then fine. As I said, I didn’t even realize until the second half that there was a woman running the line. It didn’t bother me in any way, shape, or form. The most important thing is how they see and interpret the laws of the game. The fact that we never knew tells you something. And, by the way, I never noticed if it was a guy on this side either.”

Dalglish has since poked fun at the situation by asking the press before his press conference, “Is it OK for a lady to be here? It doesn’t affect Sky?” His daughter Kelly followed suite and supplied her own quick-witted response to the inanity of Keys and Gray’s comments. She said on Twitter: “Phew am exhausted. Just read about something called ‘the offside rule.’ Too much for my tiny brain. Must be damaged from nail polish fumes.”

I can say as a woman who has played, watched, and analyzes football that I’ve never understood some men’s obsessions with constantly wanting to remind women of their inferiority. Many men, such as Keys and Gray, take some kind of pleasure in making others feel subordinate. Anyone with an ounce of self-confidence knows that the best way to make themselves feel better about their own self-image is not to degrade, but to enhance. With Keys and Gray, it seems a clear case of projecting their own inferior lack of knowledge onto someone else.

In all honesty, despite the prevalence of men like Richard and Andy in the world and especially the world of sports, I’ve rarely come across such antiquated attitudes in my personal life. As a kid, I played on official league teams with all girls, but spent the rest of my time playing with the boys. They always picked me for games and I was often one of the first to play. Was this because I was a girl? Was it because I wasn’t a boy? Or was it simply because I could play and no one gave a toss what I was as long as I contributed to the game?

This being the twenty-first century, I assumed people would be able to notice that one person can do anything just as good as another, no matter what their gender, race, or beliefs are. Perhaps it was naive of me to think that Keys and Gray’s sexist opinions were a thing of the past. I can only hope, along with the rest of the intelligent football community, that with Gray now out of the game for the foreseeable future, it will send a message that such behavior is unacceptable. That, and maybe Sian Massey can become a shining example of just what women can do in football when given the chance, despite what some people might say about them.

The King Is Dead, Long Live The King

By , January 13, 2011 2:54 pm

The fortunes of Liverpool Football Club look to be much brighter after the return of one of their legends, Kenny Dalglish. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the club looks set to become successful once again.

Dalglish Returns To Liverpool

After what proved to be one of the worst periods in Liverpool Football Club’s history, the manager that oversaw it all is now gone. And while there are still some, mostly in the media it seems, that believe Roy Hodgson was not given a chance to shine, it was obvious to about 99% of Liverpool fans that his reign had become untenable.

When the news eventually came of his departure, along with the installment of one of Liverpool’s greatest ever players and managers, the future looked bright once again. King Kenny as he is affectionately called by the Liverpool faithful took time away from his vacation to swoop in at the first call from owner John Henry. It didn’t take much to persuade the 59-year-old to take charge of the club for the rest of the season. It is well known he continued to eat, sleep, and breathe Liverpool despite not having been a player or manager there in two decades.

Dalglish’s effect on Liverpool has already been immense. Having been there less than a week, the whole mood around the club has changed. The owners are behind him, the fans are behind him, and most importantly, he is behind the team and the players. What Hodgson lacked (and he lacked a lot), was the ability to unite the football club and the team behind him. His appointment wasn’t a popular one on Merseyside, and the fact that he managed a mid-table team to some mediocre success in the past did not allay any of the fans’ fears he wasn’t the man for the job. It took him six short months to prove this, and a devastating first half of the season is what he left as his legacy.

As a result, the team has been left low on confidence and with less talented players and more deadwood than was at the club last summer. That was not all down to Hodgson, but a lot of it was. He plunged Liverpool into believing it was no more than a mid-table team and expectations of anything grander would never be achieved with a squad like that. It was Hodgson’s belief that given the time and money to put his stamp on the side, he would bathe the team in glory once more. But what glory was he referring to? That of being safely mid-table? That of going into games desiring just not to lose? He proved with his signings, tactics, man-management, and team selection that he was out of his depth. I hate to say it, but I really can’t think of anything positive he left with the club, except his resignation.

The trouble now is that all the damage he did to the club will be difficult to undo before the season ends. If Hodgson thought it was difficult to take a team that previously finished second and seventh in their last two seasons to loftier heights, than the challenge on Dalglish’s shoulders must be far greater. The team currently languishes in 13th place, and if not for the unpredictable nature of the league this season, they may have been in a far worse position.

While I don’t pretend that Dalglish is the long-term answer for Liverpool, he certainly makes for a bright spark to come in and help arrest the club from plummeting further. As he has done through most of his career as a manager, he intends to win by playing football as he used to. I believe that most fans disliked Hodgson not just because he lost, but also because he refused to play in any kind of positive or attractive manner. Many of the players that Roy so rudely alluded to as not good enough and below par, are seasoned internationals and just 18 months earlier, part of a team that finished second in the league and gained one of their highest points totals ever. You don’t do that without footballing talent and skill. These players want to play football, they want to pass the ball from the back, they want to win the ball in the opposition half and attack, they want to move around the pitch with pace and purpose to win football matches.

This is where Dalglish comes in. Despite not having managed for a while, he is a footballing mastermind. Few have achieved what he has as a manager and there is no reason he can’t apply the same ideas he’s always had to a team begging to play attacking, creative football again.

The first two results of his reign have been unkind. What was always going to be a tough game against United at Old Trafford was compounded by the fact that United earned a ghost penalty in the first minute, and Liverpool had Gerrard sent off after only 30 minutes. This not only made the game more difficult, but also exhausted the players for their next match to be played three days later.

Some will be quick to point out that had Hodgson lost these two games, he would well and truly be crucified. But the fact remains that Liverpool fans saw a lot more in these two games than just two losses. The spirit was back, the passing was back, the disappearance of hit-and-hope long balls was back, and against Blackpool, Fernando Torres looked back. They may have lost these two games, but the wins will come if they continue to play in such a manner.

That’s not to say there aren’t criticisms to be made, and Dalglish is just as accountable as any other manager. I believed his team selection wasn’t the best against Blackpool, but then he is trying to discover just what his best team will be. He made substitutions far too late in the game, and that is something I couldn’t take with Hodgson or Benitez for that matter. And to be fair, the team started very well, but petered out in the second half. A lot of that had to do with the previous game at Old Trafford being played with ten men for 60 minutes. Even so, the defense was all over the place at times, and the passing left a lot to be desired.

The team has a lot of hard work ahead of them, and when I say the team, I refer to the players, Kenny Dalglish, Steve Clark, Damien Comolli, and John W. Henry. No one expects success overnight, and it may even be a season or two before Liverpool are back to their best. What’s important now is the progress the team makes from here until the end of the season when they will have time to further assess where the club is at on all fronts.

Unlike the previous manager, the belief that the future looks good for Liverpool is back. While they may be facing a difficult time in the here and now, and the media continues to be unsupportive of Liverpool, their fans, and their future, those that understand the club will know what lies ahead. So as one manager and era comes to an end, let the next begin with nothing but hope in our hearts and the king back on the throne.

The Blame Game

By , December 31, 2010 12:50 pm

Hodgson Can't Help But Blame Everyone Else For Liverpool's Woes

I think a lot of Liverpool supporters went to sleep following the abhorrent loss to Wolves at home with one phrase swimming through their confused heads; “He must go now, surely.”

‘He’ refers to Liverpool’s morose and often oblivious manager, Roy Hodgson, a man that came to Liverpool on the back of some decent results for a mid table team. Did the fans want him? Not really. Did the fans force themselves to continue to support their club despite a defective ownership regime and a new manager they didn’t particularly prefer? Yes, absolutely.

But rather than wake up to A) a resounding resignation from Hodgson following his abject failure at the helm of Liverpool Football Club or B) A resolution from the club’s new owners, NESV, to rid the club of its poor performing manager in time to salvage what’s left of the season, fans awoke to finger pointing. And this wasn’t just any old finger pointing that Hodgson has done in the past, like calling out the poor performances of players, blaming his predecessor for all the players at his disposal (blaming his predecessor for pretty much everything that’s gone wrong since he took over, come to that), or blaming the owners for not providing him enough funds to buy useful players. No. This blame was now being shifted to the fans.

In his own misdirected hostility, Hodgson now finds that the source of his managerial ineptitude lies at the feet of the people that pay their hard earned money to watch the team they love. What Liverpool may have lacked for a number of years on the pitch in terms of trophies, they have never lacked in the all out support that the fans give them. While other clubs bay for blood as early as a few games into the season, Liverpool fans have patiently watched their team get worse with each game and yet still not call for the manager’s head wholly and completely. Until now that is.

“Ever since I came here the famous Anfield support hasn’t really been there,” Hodgson noted after the loss to Wolves. Since the fans never wanted him in the first place, and Hodgson has now secured this to be Liverpool’s worst start to the season since they were relegated in 1954, it’s hard to understand why he feels he hasn’t seen enough support. The fundamental point he’s missing is that respect and support is earned, not just given because you show up and claim to be a successful manager. So far as I’ve seen from his past, he has had no real success when it comes to managing at the highest level and winning a number of trophies. No offense to the Swedish league and the Swiss national team, but managing there is not what I consider great achievements in the world of football, and I think Liverpool fans agree.

Many in the media, as well as Hodgson, have constantly used the lack of quality in the side as an excuse for the poor performances, mainly blaming Benitez for below par buys. While this reason can’t be completely discarded, it’s hard to believe that a majority of the players that played in the season securing second place with only two losses is not capable of playing any better than they are currently this season. Although a few of those quality players have left (Alonso, Mascherano), Hodgson deemed it appropriate to bring in players he felt suitable for the club, while also discarding some valuable players at his disposable (Insua, Aquilani). With the exception of Meireles, the dross he’s brought in has only added to the shortcomings Liverpool needed to address, not make worse. There is no doubt the team needed rebuilding after a 7th placed finish, but to get rid of quality players and bring in aging ones was not the way to go. Those decisions must solely rest on Hodgson’s shoulders, despite how much blame he wants to lay on Benitez and even Christian Purslow.

The players most definitely have some responsibility in the way the current season has unraveled, but it’s not the players who make the team selection, or decide the tactics. Both of these football fundamentals have been so abstract and lacking any kind of masterful thought, that it’s a wonder the team’s done as well as they have. Playing Kuyt on the left, Meireles on the right, with no thought for pace or wide play was not the way to win at home against Wolves. Leaving out an improved Maxi and a fit-again Agger only compounded the bizarre team selection. Hodgson is not lacking enough quality to be consistently dropping points the way he has. But even putting results to one side, this system is not how Liverpool play. Deep, long balls searching for one of the best strikers in the world, and, as Hodgson seems to have forgotten, works magic with the ball at his feet, is never going to score you goals. The woeful tactics Hodgson has imposed must be something he can take blame for, if nothing else.

Oh how I wished that Hodgson would stop singing the song of blame about everyone else being responsible for Liverpool’s shambolic state. Instead, I dreamt of him belting out Led Zeppelin’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” before signing his resignation with immediate effect. But alas, it was only a dream and reality wreaked its ugly head in my face as I awoke to the news that he was not only still in charge, but chastising the fans for their lack of support. Face it Roy, it is nobody’s fault but yours that Liverpool are where they are, and the sooner you face that reality and move on from the club, the sooner you might just gain the support of its fans.

Goodbye Old Friend

By , July 12, 2010 1:12 pm

Spain Win The World Cup

The World Cup is an extraordinary 64 games in a four-week span. So much football in what seems like a massive span of time. Yet the competition went in a flash and suddenly a new winner is crowned and the glorious world tournament is over for another four years. There is a feeling of slight depression when saying goodbye to this old friend, that stops by but once every four years. They leave you in a state of awe, sadness, surprise, joy, and most of all, hungry for more. It’s a cruel, cruel way to come and go, but alas, this is what we love about the beautiful game’s most prestigious tournament.

You could say many things about this World Cup, but in the end, it was a tournament of firsts. South Africa became the first African nation to host a World Cup, and they put on a brilliant show. People all over the world were opened up to a new culture and vibrant people who were as enthusiastic about football as any other great footballing nation around. The crowds were full of energy, and supported their home countries, as well as the other African nations all the way to the bitter end when Ghana were overcome by Uruguay.

It was also the first time the host nation went out of the tournament at the group stage. It wasn’t for lack of trying, South Africa had a splendid start against Mexico and earned a well-deserved 1-1 draw, but they capitulated to a very strong Uruguay side. Their win against France was a nice way to go out, but may have been overlooked due to France’s ultimate display of atrociousness.

Spain, the victors, proudly walked away with the World Cup trophy for the first time in its nation’s history. Not only did they win the final, but they made it to the semifinals for the first time as well. And not only that, but they also were the first European team to win the cup outside of Europe. To go on such a run as they did, and beat Germany in the semifinal, you had to think this was their tournament to lose. That being said, if the Dutch had overcome this resilient Spanish side, they would have also been declared winners for the first time in their history as well.

Wesley Sneijder Dejected After Holland Lose The Final

The World Cup 2010 was not just a time for firsts, but also for surprises. Massive footballing nations bowed out of the competition at much earlier stages than anyone had anticipated. And it’s not even to say they were beaten by far better teams. One of the major stories at this year’s World Cup has to be the way many teams performed well below par. You could name a handful of countries including favorites Brazil and Argentina, as well as England, France, Italy, Ivory Coast, and Portugal that crashed out. The stars on these teams all have a lot to answer for as many of them left the tournament embarrassed and disgraced.

It wasn’t all roses, though. France deserves some kind of medal for being the most deplorable side in attendance. Raymond Domenech should be ashamed of himself and his team for putting on such a ridiculous World Cup campaign. You could argue they had no right to be there after Henry’s “Hand of God,” but to play their games with such a poor spirit and lack of respect was a shame. Many other countries would have been happy to take France’s place.

Only A Yellow? Poor Refereeing Calls Made The Headlines In South Africa

There’s no way to talk about this World Cup without mentioning the officiating. The refereeing has got to be one of the most abysmal displays at a World Cup to date. What started off strong in the first few group games slowly turned into a nightmare for the tournament’s referees and FIFA. Too many red cards and important, game-changing plays missed by the officials cost teams dearly when the stakes were incredibly high. Lampard’s well over-the-line goal and Tevez’s clear offside have to be two of the biggest mistakes. And of course, who could forget the perfectly good goal-that-never-was for the USA against Slovenia to win the game 3-2. The USA still topped their group, but it made their last game a must-win in the end. The sad thing is, despite these easily correctable offenses, Sepp Blatter and his gang of misfits don’t seem intent on fixing things anytime soon. Knowing them, we’ll be watching the ball cross the line and waved off at the next World Cup in 3-D, but still with no goal-line technology.

I suppose football wouldn’t be football but for all the ups and downs. When all is said and done, it was an engrossing tournament. Full of shocks, headlines, referring decisions, star names (new and old), and in the end, it exploded with footballing wonder as only the World Cup can produce. It’s a shame we have to wait so long to meet again, but as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Goodbye old friend, until we meet again in Brazil.

Two World Wars And One World Cup: Is The Rivalry Real, Or Merely An Apparition?

By , June 25, 2010 2:45 pm

England v Germany: Will It Be World War III?

An old rivalry will spark into life on Sunday, June 27, 2010, as England prepare to take on Germany in the first knockout round of the World Cup. To say there’s some history between the two countries is a gross understatement. But when faced with the cold hard facts of bygone days, the rivalry does tend to lean more to one side than the other. The feeling the English have of a genuine enmity with the Germans comes from a place far deeper than football, because the so-called football feud is one of illusion rather than pure truth.

This is not to say that the heated antagonism between the two nations when they meet on the football pitch is unfounded. Since the World Cup final in 1966, in which England won 4-2, the matches between the sides have been hotly debated, contested, and analyzed. The thing to remember is not just that England beat Germany that night, to win their first (and so far only) World Cup, but rather what has happened since. Germany have appeared in 11 major tournament finals, and won five of them, including three world cups. In contrast, England have appeared in two semi-finals. It’s not worth pointing out exactly how those ended.

That being said, England must be given credit for always believing in their side during these encounters. It’s not as if they haven’t beaten Germany since 1966, or at least come close. The 1990 World Cup semi-final was indelibly etched into the minds of the English as an “almost there moment” due the dramatic penalty misses from Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle. The match was also famous for a photograph that encapsulated not only a moment in time, but also a decade of change across England. The sight of Paul Gascoigne crying after being shown a second yellow card of the tournament, effectively forcing him to miss the final had England reached it, seeped into the national consciousness and created an emphatic rise in the levels of support the country showed its team. With his England shirt pulled over his mouth and tears streaming down his cheeks, the player affectionately known as Gazza helped remind the fans what this game means to their country.

Paul Gascoigne Sheds Tears For England

England and Germany were to meet again through the decade, but it wasn’t until 2001 that England finally lived up to the hype surrounding the antagonism. A 5-1 mauling of Germany in Munich, with little Michael Owen getting a hat-trick, proved to be another twist in the tale. As both teams eventually qualified for World Cup 2002, the result meant a lot more to England. Yet still, while the game’s full time score was intimidating, it brought England no closer to glory. It did, however, give England something to be proud of and headlines reading, “Don’t Mention The Score” proudly circulated the nation reminding a new generation of the bitter history between these two countries.

Perhaps now is the time, South Africa the place, for England to prove why this rivalry is indeed a rivalry. After years of hard fought battles and generations of both countries irreversibly affected by two world wars, football matches may seem insignificant. But as the world has progressed in the last 65 years and peace formed across Europe, these games remain as a symbol for the two sets of fans. And leave it to the English to remind us at every turn just how much these games symbolize a historic moment in time. According to an England supporter at the tournament, “This World Cup is exactly like the second world war,” he chuckled. “The French surrender early, the US turn up late, and we’re left to deal with the bloody Germans.” If they are indeed dealt with, it will send shock waves of the past across England and the country may well be on their way to re-living the glory they witnessed in 1966.

Is England The Future France?

By , June 21, 2010 11:39 am

Fabio Capello and Raymond Domenech: They Could Be Twins

Two group games into the World Cup and France have fantastically imploded for all the world to see. Perhaps it’s fitting considering their path to the finals in the first place. To say Les Bleus’ qualification was ‘questionable’ is an understatement. Thierry Henry’s now infamous “Le Main De Dieu” (Hand of God) against the Republic of Ireland was shameful. Even French newspaper Le Monde titled their headline “Blues Relieved, Irish Disgusted.” Yet, Henry didn’t seem to feel any shame as he came out publicly and admitted to the use of his hand that led to the goal for France, subsequently allowing them to qualify in place of Ireland. Sadly, this is a player who was revered around the world as one of the best in the history of the game. With one incident, he marred his good name forever. But at least he got France qualified. The French are the only ones to forgive him so far.

Fast-forward eight months and France’s karma has kicked in. Their first match, while not a total disaster, was a toothless draw against Uruguay. This was the first of many dull opening round games, but as 2006 runners up, people expected more. In the second game, France began to unravel. Another awful display led to a 2-0 loss to Mexico. The difference in body language between the sides, epitomized by the two managers, was astounding. Mexico’s manager Javier Aguirre was demonstrative on the sidelines, cheering his players on, congratulating their efforts at every turn as they played admirably against France. On the other end of the spectrum, French manager Raymond Domenech cut a lonely and uninterested figure on the sideline. He stood frozen, arms crossed, blank expression on his face. No effort was made to inspire his team, it almost felt as if he didn’t care whether they won or lost, conceded or scored. The team was dreadful. What followed was a break down of epic proportions. The squad refused to train, France striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home after a profanity filled tirade against Domenech, and France’s team director, Jean-Louis Valentin, resigned. Before driving away after he angrily walked out on the French squad, Valentin added, “As for me, it’s over. I’m leaving the federation. I’m sickened and disgusted.” That really says it all.

England, on the other hand, do not look like descending into this kind of chaos, but many similarities can be drawn between the two sides, much to the England fans’ irritation. In regard to England’s latest group game against Algeria, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a worse performance. The image of former England and Liverpool player Steve McManaman, one of the panelists covering the match, slamming his head against the desk after the final whistle was something to behold. To claim the team lacked inspiration, creativity, passion, and talent would be a massive understatement. They looked an empty shell of a football team, with no idea as to what they were doing there. Most predicted an easy victory for England, as Algeria is not a team that should be feared by players of England’s magnitude. The result couldn’t be further from that assumption. The England squad even used the word ‘fear’ in the aftermath of a shockingly dull 0-0 draw. Fear? What exactly were they scared of? These are players who play for Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool. They’ve played in Champions League finals, won league titles, and many can be named with the best in the world in their respective positions. And yet they were scared of Algeria, a team that should have been swept aside with consummate ease, especially after a disappointing draw with the United States. This was their opportunity to regain confidence and propel themselves easily into the round of 16. But rather than resemble the great team they are quite capable of being with players like Rooney, Gerrard, and Lampard, they looked like… well, France.

Capello had a lot to answer for after the game against the USA, but even more to answer for after Algeria. He once again refused to use Joe Cole, probably England’s most incisive player when it comes to unlocking defenses with sheer creativity. Instead, he opted for Gareth Barry in the middle. A player I am still not convinced should be there, and shoved Gerrard out to the left. But rather than allow the formation to shift from a rigid 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 with Gerrard just behind Rooney, where he is devastatingly dangerous, he was forced wide and had no impact on the game. Neither did any of his teammates. Wayne Rooney thrives on having boundless energy from the first to the last whistle, and chasing back to defend is something he is renowned for. By the closing stages against Algeria, he barely walked back to defend, let alone run. And what of Capello? He stood frozen on the sideline, arms crossed, blank expression on his face. He made no effort to inspire his team or look for solutions to shake them out of their slumber. Instead, he resembled Domenech and his team resembled France.

But there is still hope. While France has dissolved into turmoil, England is attempting to band together and pick themselves up. Largely due to the USA’s unlucky draw against Slovenia, they now hold their fate in their own hands for Wednesday’s third group stage match. With a win, they become the England team everyone believes they are. Anything less, and their future has an undeniable feel of French ‘je ne sais quoi.’

Group H And How They’ve Changed The Tournament… For The Better

By , June 16, 2010 1:17 pm

Switzerland Midfielder Gelson Fernandes Scores The Only Goal To Defeat Spain

It’s midday and so ends the final game of the first round of the group stage in the World Cup; a game that has completely turned the competition on its head.  No one expected it, no one predicted it, and I doubt many can even believe it.  Spain, 2nd in the world rankings, a team heavily favored to win the tournament, were humbled 1-0 by Switzerland, a team with no real recognizable players and ranked a lowly 24th coming into this game.  Shock, awe, and bewilderment surrounded this final round one game as Spain now have it all to do in their remaining two group stage matches.

All credit must go to Switzerland in the end.  They defended astonishingly well despite Spain having 74% of the possession.  I’m not one to focus solely on stats, but the results of this game are something to note.  Spain had a walloping 25(5) shots (on goal) to Switzerland’s 9(2), the Swiss committed 19 fouls and collected four yellow cards in their attempts to thwart The Red Fury, and Spain and Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas had but one save to make.  It’s also worth mentioning how Switzerland have an excellent record of not conceding a goal since the previous World Cup, and once more extended that record today.  Watching the game as a Spain supporter must have been torture as they produced an attacking display to rival the best in the world, but for all their mesmerizing movement, talent on the pitch, and plethora of chances, a goal eluded them in the end.

The kickoff previous to this enthralling match was between the other Group H contenders, Honduras and Chile.  These two Central and South American teams, respectfully, were pretty evenly favored at the start.  And while most viewers who weren’t fans of either team watched the match merely to kill time until Spain kicked off, this ended up being quite the exciting encounter.  Chile took it to Honduras from the first whistle, and never stopped going at them throughout the match.  Chile scored a somewhat lucky goal, not unlike many other countries so far in the tournament, but one thing they did no one else has yet to do was continue to attack and aggressively achieve the win.  I want to say a special thank you to both Honduras and Chile for finally giving this competition what it needed: a desire to win. I’m speaking to you Portugal, Ivory Coast, and England.  These two teams went out onto the pitch accepting nothing less than a victory and they put everything into the game to make sure of it.  This particular World Cup has yet to win over many viewers, casual and die-hard alike, due to the fact that the games have been far too cagey.  Teams are so petrified of losing that they forget why they’re in the finals in the first place: to win.

That being said, every team in Group H proved why the World Cup is such an intense and fascinating tournament.  Just when it looked as though predictability would be the big winner in South Africa, a game or two comes along to smack a little sense into the contest.  And that’s exactly what the competition needed at this point.  Some of the games have been so tepid that they’ve lulled many into ennui already.  Granted, it is still only the group stage, but for football fans and especially for casual viewers of the game, we demand action, as these are supposedly the most dexterous players and teams in the world.  As one door shuts, another one opens.  The first round of the group stage ends, and we can all agree that it held few surprises, but just as we assumed this would be the way forward, four teams made quite sure it wouldn’t be.

A Tale Of Two Countries

By , June 14, 2010 4:28 pm

England Keeper Green Makes A Howler

Team USA Celebrates The Draw

Where to begin when discussing the England vs. USA World Cup match. For a game with few goals and overall little action from each team on the pitch, there could easily be a novella written in response to the game, which enraptured so many from both sides of the pond. That the game induced such a polarized response from each country was astounding. What was seen as a massive disappointment in the English camp for not producing a win they should have easily attained was conversely seen as a monumental triumph to the USA. How can two such disparate opinions be used to reflect the same 1-1 draw? In an attempt to answer this, let’s take a look at both sides.

For England, before the game even began and the team lineups were announced, there were definitely some raised eyebrows. Two things struck me immediately. One, where was David James? I think it’s safe to say that while James has had his “calamitous” moments for England, he’s still the most experienced and trust worthy keeper they have, surely the best bet to be in goal in what was always going to be a cagey match. Instead, Robert Green, a very good keeper despite having a somewhat mixed season at West Ham, was the starter between the posts. An interesting choice by Capello, but not a total shock. And two, young winger James Milner was on the left wing, a position I questioned who would fill before the start of the game. Despite the piqued interest the lineup brought, I decided to have faith in the manager, and especially applauded his choice of Milner over Joe Cole. While Joe Cole is one of England’s most creative players, he’s been injured off and on for almost two seasons and Milner has shown vast improvements in his game over the same period of time.

Even with a strong lineup, there was doubt in the team selection, and trust me, the English don’t need much of a reason to have doubts about their team, so much so that winning the World Cup wouldn’t quell them all. But even with those doubts, you felt a sense of confidence in Capello and his strategy. Conversely, you had the USA team. And, unlike England, the USA doesn’t need much of a reason to get behind their team. They felt confident in their manager, Bob Bradley, who proved that the USA can not only compete in the world of football, they can win, as their infamous win over Spain showed. Nevertheless, England were still highly favored to get the job done and after four minutes, with influential captain Steven Gerrard scoring, you felt it would be a day of vindication for England and a way to silence their own supporters’ ever-present doubts.

Five minutes before half time and once again, it was the England fans who felt vindicated as Green committed a howler to end all howlers. He fumbled what should have been a simple save and the USA went delirious with joy. The game continued for another 50 minutes, with neither team making much of a push to win and it ended in a 1-1 stalemate. England, perhaps as usual, started the game brightly with a lot of cut and thrust, as well as an early goal. They ended it, perhaps as usual, with a whimper rather than a bang. Despite Green’s massive mistake, England made no real effort to win. Golden boy Wayne Rooney was nonexistent, Milner was substituted after 30 minutes for being ineffective, and Ledley King came off injured at the half. A great wave of disappointment certainly washed over the England camp, even though they got what some would see as a respectable result.

On the other side, the USA celebrated as if they had just won the World Cup. They defended well, created some chances, and in the very American tradition of seeing the glass half full, they saw their team’s lucky draw as proof they can come up against the best teams in the world and walk away with a result. In some ways, I can see their point. This is a team who not so long ago were always amongst the lowest rated in the world, yet they recently beat Spain and now have an important draw against England in the World Cup under their belt. All credit to them feeling a great sense of accomplishment, but I’m afraid this really wasn’t much more than England living up to their reputation of bottling it when the pressure is on.

On The Eve Of The World Cup

By , June 11, 2010 6:32 pm

This morning I woke up with a sense of anticipation. I didn’t celebrate Christmas as a child, but I imagine this is the feeling kids have when they awake on that winter holiday. But today, the moment my brain re-entered consciousness, the emotions rushed over me as I realized… tomorrow, the World Cup begins. The day before an event like the World Cup is almost greater than the actual tournament. Everything is before you, clean and hermetically sealed in its pretty pre-tournament package, where dreams can still manifest and anything is possible.

Four years is a long time, and yet if feels as if no time has passed since the last World Cup. Germany 2006 was a grand competition, full of excitement and controversy.  In fact, it probably comprised the most controversial moment in recent sports history as Zinedine Zidane gave new meaning to the phrase “use your head” in a sporting context. The tournament began with a bang as host Germany’s Philipp Lahm scored a blinder to let everyone know how and why this is the biggest event on the planet. That was the moment I woke up and knew just how special this tournament is.

After an immensely heated and controversial final, I took all the pleasure I experienced over the previous four weeks and locked it into my memory. “Until next time” I told myself. Next time is finally here and once again I get to escape my life and enjoy something so visceral that there are no words to describe it. Granted, this is how I feel about football in general. My club team brings fourth a fire from inside me that I didn’t even know existed until I met them. I love, I hate, I cry, I smile, I scream, I cheer, I throw things. Over the years, many an innocent pillow has been hurled violently at the TV. But for every pillow, there’s been ten times as many jubilant wails. The pure elation, as mentioned earlier, is utterly indescribable.

The last World Cup revealed to me that this feverish enthusiasm was not, as I had previously thought, reserved solely for my club team, but for the country I supported as well. Sadly, they met their World Cup maker in the form of Portugal in the quarter-finals. After an intense penalty shoot-out in which I was poised rigidly in front of the television, I fell to my knees and began to cry. I don’t cry often, and I never dreamed I would be the type of person to cry over sports, but there I found myself, alone and shedding tears for a country that I loved and whose dreams I just witnessed shatter to pieces.

Again, fast forward four years. Despite my own life changing dramatically, the love I felt for my team the day they were knocked out is still very prevalent and raring to go. The butterflies in my stomach continue to flap their wings every time I think about the moment the first whistle is blown in South Africa. My team don’t kick off until Saturday, but tomorrow I will be tuned in and shut off to the outside world as soon as the tournament tells me it’s time to begin. I arose this morning with a fraught feeling of anxiety, and continued my day wondering what the next four weeks will bring to my life. Tonight, as I lay my head on a pillow that will more than likely be launched at the TV in the coming weeks, I can rest easy. Rest easy in the knowledge that I am on the precipice of witnessing the greatest sporting event of all time, with the whole of the world watching over my shoulder. This is the feeling that I want to hold on to, and the one I will remember fondly as the next World Cup rears its beautiful head in another mere four years time.

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