The Gonzo Diplomat

Posts Tagged ‘Football’

10 things we have learned from the first round of Euro 2012 games

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm

The first batch of games have been played. Issues like peer pressure, stage fright, good runs, bad runs and niggling injuries have been dealt with, and, as expected, there have been a fair share of surprises. With two games for each team to continue their run in the Euros, what lessons have been learned from Stage one, Round one?

1. Form mean nothing: A valuable lesson that always gets forgotten. The media loves statistics and indulging themselves with banal information prior to a major championship, but once the ball starts rolling, there is no time to see who has scored the most headers in the qualifying rounds, who has the best pass percentage, or who hasn’t lost in the last three months. You can ask Holland to corraborate that. Their form prior to the Euros was formidable, their key striker Robin Van Persie, on fire, and their playmaker Wesley Sneijder under heavy criticism. So suprise, suprise, Holland lost their first game to Denmark, Van Persie was nowhere to be seen, and the best player for the Dutch was Sneijder.

France’s recent form also saw them start the game against England as clear favourites, as did same against Italy, who had come from a 3-0 friendly defeat to Russia. In the end, the favourites couldn’t take all three points against the weaker side, and in Spain’s case, it took a lot of suffering to scratch the draw, with a goal against a team who, in another reference to form, had only let in two goals in the qualifying rounds.

2. Possession means nothing: If form means nothing, neither does possession. The three culprits mentioned in the first point are also proof of this. Holland’s 29 shots, and control of possession was to no avail against an organised and efficient Danish side. Spain’s tiki-taka football was contrasted by an aggressive and well structured Italian eleven that also posed a serious threat to Casillas. Funnily enough, as the French paper L’Equipe criticised Spain’s tactics and inability to score without a striker, the following day they did the same thing against England, controlling possession and the fluidity of the game, but seeing all their efforts break up, with Nasri and Ribery colliding for a central role outside the area, and Benzema having to drop wide to create spaces, thus leaving the area without a striker. Possession gives you control of a game, but without efficiency and effectiveness, and that bit of lady luck, it cannot guarantee wins.

3. One must still respect one’s elders: A lot has been said about the new talents in Euro 2012, yet some of the more veteran players are playing important roles for their country’s. Some are being more representative, like Robbie Keane for Ireland, but Casillas, Pirlo, Buffon, Di Natale, Dennis Rommedahl, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and more importantly, the oldest of the lost, Andrei Schevchenko, whose brace gave the Ukraine three points against Sweden.

4. Ukraine and Sweden hosted the most entertaining game: Thusfar, all the hype about Spain, Germany, Holland and France, have seen how the smaller, supposedly less significant nations have put the best football. France and Spain played the best midfield play of the Euros so far, but their inefficiency when it comes to scoring has turned all their passing and flair into a dull show of frustration and sterile football. Nonetheless, Italy vs Spain was entertaining, but not as much as the Ukraine’s battle against Sweden, where the lack of renowned stars was replaced with real football.

5: Russia are back to business: After missing out on the World Cup, Russia are back to playing the great football they showed in the last European championships. Back then, only Spain’s possession football was able to meet them (and twice), but on their way they disposed of Sweden, Greece and Holland. This year, after a 3-0 trouncing of Italy, the team’s 4-1 demolition of the Czech Republic, with Dzagoev in excellent form, shows that they must not be taken lightly.

6. England are not as disorganised as you would expect: They may not be favourites, and they still aren’t. However, England’s game against France showed that they can stil hold on and fight through a tough football match. Regardless of this though, England were clearly the inferior side, and whilst we have seen that possession doesn’t win you games, lack of balls and creativity, and perhaps an excessive hope placed on Wayne Rooney will not make things any easier for the three lions.

7. Torres…oh Torres..you suck: Yes, OK, the second Torres ran onto the pitch Spain’s football became dangerous and out Italy against the ropes, but was it Torres, or Navas opening wide that did the trick. With a striker, Spain found the spaces they needed to make Italy’s defence spread and run and Torres it great at finding spaces, the only problem is, he cannot score. His three chances against Buffon were blunders that a world class striker, especially one with 60 million, shouldn’t miss. His one on one with Buffon was the kind of angle that Ronaldo slots goals in frequently (such as Barcelona vs Real this season), and the final miss required a subtle chip that Raúl or Villa would have wished for. Yet Torres isn’t Villa, or Raul and it showed.

8. Germany quietly get the job done: Whilst Holland and Spain are being criticised, Italy praised, England judged and France too, the Ukraine are miracle winners, and the Russians are back in the limelight, Germany sit quietly, with three points, no goals conceded and waiting for their next rival. Their last game wasn’t the most convinving, but it was against a tricky Portuguese eleven, and it looks like this is just how they like it.

9. The grass may be greener, and will definifitely be dryer on the Spanish side: You cannot choose what kind of pitch you want to play in, it isn’t a given right you have. However, quicker pitches, wetter and shorter green carpets give better and more entertaining football that dry hay patches. The things is, many teams don’t want to play pretty football, they want to win games, and you can bet your bottom euro that Ireland, Croatia and whoever else may come, will prefer to play on long dry grass against the Spain, and will refuse to allow to wet the surface. Spain are not known for their physical ability, so the Irish and Croatians have a better chance of slugging it out against Spain will long balls and headers on a dry surface whilst the Spaniards struggle and stroll on long, arid surfaces.

10. People are going to get their heads bashed in: This isn’t football related, but it is repulsive and linked to the Euros. It has happened before, but the sights of thugs beating offices and fans in the head are hard to ignore. This time however, it isn’t the English, who people tend to pick out so quickly, but mainly eastern europeans, russians against ukranians who are giving a dire image to an important competition.

Ten Players Predicted to Flop at Euro 2012

In Sport on June 6, 2012 at 1:11 am

The European Championships are a perfect scenario for players to prove their worth, raise their price tag or make a final impression that may determine their club futures or their chances of winning coveted prizes like the Balon D’Or. However, too much pressure can often lead to disappointment, and as football isn’t always a one man show, too often we have seen extremely talented footballers fall short of their expectations during major tournaments. Here is my list of ten possible flops during Euro 2012.

Wayne Rooney: Whilst many of his team mates will almost certainly not fit the bill (see Kelly, Milner, Henderson, to name a few), Rooney has the pressure of being England’s most talented player. The fact that he cannot play in the first two games, and the expectation that may arise upon his return, Rooney has an impossible task of meeting up to the heroic hopes that have fallen upon him.

 

Fernando Torres: Spain’s tiki taka style of play means that, alongside Germany, they have the most formidable midfield in the Championship However, with Villa missing out on the Euros, Llorente being a poacher and Negredo being far from a world renowned striker, Del Bosque will hope that the striker most suitable for playing within Spain’s system is Torres. Truth be told, he is experienced in playing with this squad, but his lackluster season and constant slipping means that Spain’s goals are more likely to come from players like Silva, Iniesta or Llorente, than Torres.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: The highly skillful swede has been responsible for netting Sweden’s most valuable goals since the departure of Henrik Larsson. However, Sweden´s team, formidable as it may seem, is not as strong as in other years, and sulky Zlatan is not a player who is known for carrying a team on his back.

Antonio Cassano: After a bad season due to serious health issues, Cassano’s return to the Azzuri squad is good news, yet his lack of performances, whilst leaving him fresh and with little fatigue from the season, may result in him losing some spark, and with Di Natale in great form and Pirlo as the brain of the squad, Cassano may fall from the limelight.

Luka Modric: The creative Croatian will no doubt be a key member of his team as they face difficult opposition against Italy, Spain and the Irish, yet too much may be expected of Modric, and if Spain keep the ball off the Croatians with their possession, and Italy play their defence as they are known to do, Modric may have two very quiet games in the Euros.

Gerard Piqué: Considered one of the best defenders in the world at the moment, Piqué’s season at Barcelona has left a lot to be desired and without his colleague Puyol by his side, the Ramos-Pique duo, who openly state they do not get along, are going to face some niggling problems.

Franck Ribery: He is one of the best wingers in the world, but unlike his Bayern colleague Robben, Ribery hasn’t stood out in major tournaments since Germany 2006. With France being somewhat unpredictable, it looks like the player who may make the difference for les bleus is Karim Benzema.

Mario Gomez: This is a risky one. His season has been fantastic at Bayern Munich and many predict that he may be the competition’s top scorer. This will mainly be due to Germany’s midfield assists, but the same way that Gomez is known for his  goals, he is also known to be a bottler, and even though he my get a few in his tally, his misses will be just as impressive.

Andrey Arshavin: He is already known in the Premiership, and his talent is undoubted. A key member of the Russian squad, he was also fundamental in their victory the other day against Italy. However, Arshavin is also inconsistent, and just when people will be expecting the most out of him, it is likely that he will do just as he did at Arsenal, and fade away.

Cristiano Ronaldo: This is his moment, there is no Messi to deny him from being the best player in the tournament, but Portugal’s mediocre form, despite being one of the best squads in the tournament, Ronaldo’s past form with Portugal and his recent penalty misses for Real Madrid and Portugal, show that he can also buckle.

Ten Debutants to look out for in Euro 2012

In Sport, Uncategorized on June 5, 2012 at 3:04 am

Last week the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, feebly posed trying to defend his posture and explaining that things were going as expected and that sooner or later Spain would crawl out of the shithole they currently find themselves him. Dry mouthed and twitching, he went on to add that he hoped that the Spanish national Football could bring “some joy” to those who were suffering in his country, the same way that they had during the last four years, where they managed to hide some of the ex-President Zapatero’s lamentable doings by boasting about sporting glorious, such as the Spanish national basketball and football teams and Rafael Nadal.

It is time for Euro 2012, and even though part of me wants Spain to lose as to not allow the Spanish public to face distractions from the crude reality that is surrounding them, I am somewhat wooed by the opportunity they have to become the first side to consecutively win European Championships, World Cups and a subsequent European Championships.

It is pure subjectivism, but everyone likes to have their say in who will be the best team, best players or worst losers in any football tournament. Whilst for many players, this won’t be the first time they step into the international limeleight, there is a selection of players who will be making their debuts. If in the last world cup players like Özil and Müller stood out, here are some debutants to keep an eye out for in Poland and Ukraine.

10. Alan Dzagoev: Russia, Attacking midfielder, 21 years old, CSKA Moscow:

The youngest outfield player to debut with the Russian national side, at the age of 18 and 116 days, Dzagoev is an intelligent player with great vision and not afraid to score the odd goal. Some formidable performances in the Champions League may have sparked some interest amongst other European clubs who will keep an eye on the youngster to see how he performs in these championships.

Bring on the youtube video with annoying music:

9. André Schürrle: Germany, Forward, 21 years old, Bayer Leverkusen.

Germany have a habit of brining in new stars in every championship. From Lahm and Schweinsteiger, to Neuer, Özil and Müller, this year the same applies for Die Mannschaft. Schurrle isn’t a new face, but it is his first mayor championship, and even though his first team chances are limited, he is tipped to shine when the moment arises for him. A technically gifted player, Schürrle has been in great form for both his club and his country, where his dribbing skills have excelled and also been complimented with his physical grit and dedication to recover balls with interceptions and tackles, perhaps to the detriment of his scoring abilities, he has established hismelf more as a hard working creative scorer rather than a goal poacher.

8. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: England, 18 years old, Winger, Arsenal FC

A talented and physically gifted winger, Chamberlain is a footballer many England fans will be looking to as a future prospect. However, I cannot help but feel similiarities with Theo Walcott in the whole future English wonderkid tag. People should keep a look out for Alex, to see if he really is worth all the fuss, that is, if England do well enough, and if Roy Hodgson takes the risk and gives the powerful player enough minutes.

7. Jordi Alba: Spain, 23 years old, Left Back, Valencia CF

Another Catalan in the Spanish national team, only this one was not formed in the Masía, Jordi Alba owes most of what he has learned to Valencia CF. His technical ability has earned him a spot in the World Champion’s starting eleven, covering Capdevilla’s old spot, with Arbeloa moving to right back. Whilst Spain’s most laudable assets are its midfield players, many eyes will be on Alba as he is currently playing for a team that has in the past sold players like David Villa, Juan Mata and David Silva. Barcelona and Manchester United are reported to be interested in his services.

6. Ashley Young:  England, 26 years old, Winger, Manchester United

He may not be a teenager, or even in his early twenties, but Euro 2012 will be the first time Ashley Young will put on an England shirt in a major tournament. A venomously quick player, his year at Manchester United has earned him some valuable experience, despite it being relatively unfortunate. Rather than Walcott and Chamberlain, the absence of Rooney will put added strain on his United colleages, Danny Wellbeck and Ashley Young. Whilst Wellbeck is a steady striker, Young’s runs down the wind and interior shots are a handy weapon for England, that is, if his diving doesn’t marr his talent.

5. Yann M´Vila: France, 21 years old, Defensive Midfielder, Rennes.

Another player who will be scouted by bigger teams M´Vila represents the gritty, hard working and robust defensive midfielder that France have been accustomed to with Makelele and Viera. Quicker and younger than Lassana Diarra, this player may be regarded as the new Essien and many teams will be checking his worth in the Euros.

4. Olivier Giroud: France, 25 years old, Striker, Montpellier.

The truth is that most of the burden of scoring France’s vital goals are going to fall on Karim Benzema. This means, that with the little pressure surrounding him, Giroud can show what he can do and how he has become on of France’s most rated strikers in one succesful year for Ligue 1 Champions Montpellier. However, as with other French strikers like Anelka, Saha, Trezeguet or Cissé, you never know what to expect.

3. Kevin Strootman: Holland, 22 years old, Central Midfielder, PSV Eindhoven.

Capain of PSV Eindhoven and only 22 years old, Strootman’s consistency and important role has made him an essential assett to both PSV and the Dutch national side. To some he is considered the new Roy Keane, and for starters he is competing for a starting role in the first eleven with Kung-Fu master Nigel de Jong. Strootman’s leadership and maturity is one that will appeal to many clubs, particularly in the Premier League.

2. Robert Lewandowski: Poland, 23 years old, Striker, Borrusia Dortmund.

Dortmund have a habit of bringing up gifted youngsters, and whilst most of the praise two seasons ago fell for Nuri Sahin, Lewadowski is a player who has improved dramatically over the last years. It is no coincidence that he was nominated the best player in the Bundesliga for the 2011-2012 season (the last two winners being Sahin and Özil),and subsequently, most of the joint-host nation’s hopes to finish respectably lie on the 23 year old, who scored 30 goals in 46 matches last season, and can score great goals like the one he scored last week against Andorra.

1. Mario Götze: Germany, 20 years old, Attacking Midfielder, Borrusia Dortmund.

Whilst Spain’s midfield seems to take all the plaudits, Germany are without in possession of best future prospects in midfield. With players like Schweinsteiger, Özil, Müller, Kroos, Khedira, Schürle, and even Marko Marin, you would think they would have enough, yet Mario Götze is one of the most promising footballers around. An essential part to Borussia Dortmund’s recent success, and a key partner to Sahin in his first season, he has been vital in this season’s Double winning side. Along with Schürrle he is also one of the two players to play for Germany who were born in the reunified Deutschland. This new wave of post Berlin Wall gootballers has also brought a new style of football, more flair than Germany were accustomed to, Götze will be on many manager’s wishlists by the end of the European Championships.

ONE MORE TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Christian Eriksen: Denmark, 20 years old, Midfielder, Ajax

By the time he was 19, Christian Erksen had already had trials at AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea. However, he had decided to learn his trade at Ajax, who were renown for bringing up talented youngsters in a league that had also been a stepping stone for foreign players like Ronaldo, Romario or Ibrahimovic. He did play in the World Cup, even though to little effect, which is why he isn’t mentioned in the list before. However, keep your eyes peeled for this gifted playmaker.

The maddening Vuvuzela and Jabulani: Few favours for Africa

In Sport, TV/Movies, Uncategorized on June 15, 2010 at 6:28 pm

 

I have only gone to watch an International football match on two occasions, one was in Elland Road, Leeds in 1996, where I watched Spain beat Romania 2-1 in the group stages of the European Championship, and the second time was in the Martinez Valero stadium in Elche in September 2003, to watch a Euro qualifier between Spain and Ukraine, which also ended 2-1.

The Spanish were not necessarily the best chanters, but they made up for this with occasional songs and a great beat of the drum, usually orchestrated by Manolo el del Bombo, a 61 year old fan who hasn’t missed a Spain game since 1982, regardless of where the team are playing and matter what the expense.

I'll booom the frickin vuvuzela

The Spanish, or at least the patriots, are nonetheless vivid when watching their national side, but they are not the only ones. The Tifossi are radical followers who usually mix their laudable singing with not so pleasant flares, along with  passionate singers like the Germans, the Argentineans, even the God-awful French, or the samba music of the Brazilians. 

It is because of this that there is something that is really starting to irritate me during this World Cup, and finally this week I have seen the issue being debated in the media.

What is actually is the point of the irksome vuvuzela?

I first noticed it while watching last summer’s Confederations Cup, and even though I found it annoying, I never thought that it would affect the actual World Cup, where fans from different continents would impose their flair to the games they went to see.

However, I have had to endure nine games where all you can hear is the incessant sounds of those horns, sounding more like a World Motorbike Rally or an invasion of hornets that a football game.

FIFA “reacts”

The website southafrica.info described the vuvuzelas as “a brightly coloured horn that imitates the sound of an elephant and symbolises the beautiful noise of South Africa”   However these little horns can reach up to 127 decibels, nearly as much as the sound a jet engine makes when taking off.

Whilst footballers, managers and journalists have all complained about the awful noise these so called instruments make, the World Cup organisers initially contemplated banning the vuvuzela, however, after a very brief debate, it has been decided that the only moment the horns will be silent will be during the national anthems.

haaaaaaaarrr in your face!

The official spokesperson of the World Cup committee, Rich Mikhondo asserted,

“They will not be banned. We never considered banning the vuvuzelas, and we ask that the whole world respects our culture. The vuvuzelas are here, and they will stay until the end of the World Cup.”

Whilst perhaps it is a question of respecting another culture, perhaps the South Africans should also realise that this may be damaging their image. Despite this, Mikhondo continued,

“The fans and those watching the games on TV need to accept our way of celebrating football. The vuvuzelas have been used in South African stadiums for the last ten years. Their origins come from the horns our ancestors used for reunions. They are an instrument of expression of our spectators, and other fans are using them too”.

The last point is true, the habit is catching on with other, and whilst many players are opting to not complain too loud, as to not get the local fans against them, it is the TV viewers whose angst is being fuelled.

On facebook to this date, 30,142 have joined the group in favour of vuvuzelas, whilst 500,000 are in the groups condoning the instrument.

Vuvuzelas and jabulanis.

The Jabulani: popular in Benidorm and Blackpool

It appears that this World Cup will be significant because it is the first time the tournament has been held in Africa, and the Soccer City Stadium is, no doubt about it, and extraordinary ground, yet there is also plenty of controversy, particularly regarding security and transport problems. However, when the problems also spill onto the pitch, then the image of probably the world’s biggest tournament is stained. The annoying vuvuzela, added to the Adidas’ Jubilani beach-ball, which has already left several players and goalkeepers blushing and cursing, added to the recent news of FIFA’s banning of 36 Dutch fans who were banned from entering a stadium for making an advertising campaign of a beer brand that was not an official World Cup sponsor, is only ruining the image of this tournament, and certainly not doing a favour to the African continent.

Up until the now, the football has been dull too, but let’s hope to see sparks soon, because it must be on the pitch that this World Cup is remembered because, unfortunately, at least for now, Africa has wasted a great opportunity to show it’s worth.

P.S. For now, the vuvuzelas will remain, and all we can do is test our patience and train, with online games like these: http://bartbonte.com/vuvuzela/  The How long Can You Stand The Vuvuzela? Game

Season is Over…

In Sport on May 17, 2010 at 6:31 pm

The football season is over. All that is left is silence. It is now time to go outside and enjoy the spring, whenever that fiendish sun decides to pop out of the clouds and the volcanic ash disperses.

The confetti still sits on stadium seats, and people try to distract themselves from the daunting mental images of their team’s woeful performances before a heartbreaking relegation.

In Istanbul, the Şükrü Saraçoğlu Stadium still has a scent of burnt plastic, and resembles a trashy toothless smile, where void spaces lie where seats used to be, before being thrown in fury last night.

The scenario couldn’t have been more disheartening for the locals. Fenerbahçe just needed a win to obtain their 25th league title. The rival was fifth place Trabzonspor and the score, a nail biting 1-1 draw. When the final whistle blew, the thousands of fans who hadn’t brought a radio with them lackadaisically listened to the loudspeaker to hear the final results, hoping that their neighbours Beşiktaş had managed to take some points off their title challengers, Bursaspor. When the loudspeaker said that the final result in the Bursa Atatürk Stadium was also 1-1, the crowd went crazy, fans embraced; flares were lit in joy as the crowd bounced and chanted.

Yaaaay! We love you!!

Until they found out that the final result in Bursa had in fact been; Bursaspor 2-1 Beşiktaş.

Then the crowd also went crazy. Only this time they didn’t embrace, they howled, they cursed, and they began to tear off seats and set fire to part of the stadium.

I burn you with my hatred!

That is what the end of the football does to some. The cumulus of a long season, the reaping of the benefits, the cursing of the defeats. There should be no room for fanaticism in football, and whilst it is repulsive to see the attitude of some of the wild fans in Turkey, many people would probably be feeling the same anger, only restraining themselves, whilst sat on their sofas, or crunching the match review on the terraces, their eyes fixed on their beloved team.

In Italy, the league title was painted in nerrazurri as Inter Milan battled away to a fifth successive Serie A title, added to their Coppa Italia win the week before, and the Champions League Final on Wednesday in Madrid against the Bundesliga champions, Bayern Munich.

Whilst Italy and Germany still have that last football match to look forward to, in England all eyes are set on South Africa and next August, after a hard fought season saw Chelsea win the Premiership on the last day, and completing the double with an FA Cup win over Portsmouth, whilst Manchester United’s only consolation was a Carling Cup win earlier on in the year.

Special mention should be given to the Spanish Liga. Whilst many have condoned it for being an evident two horse race, the quality of both teams has ensured that it be a season to remember. The most expensive team in the world fought hard against one of the greatest teams of the last decades and lost.

Having invested over 230 million pounds on talent, it was expected that Real Madrid would pose a real threat to the title. That part is true, however, there is no doubt that after a season with no trophies, it is only a matter of time before fingers are pointed, scapegoats found and jobs are lost. It looks like Manuel Pellegrini’s days as Real Madrid coach are numbered, despite finishing the league with an historic 96 points.

In Madrid, seats may not be thrown and fires may not rise in the Santiago Bernabeu, but the craze and manias of football have many different appearances.

...There may be trouble ahead...

The Monday after the season is over; people have different faces and different moods. Some people nurse evil hangovers, in London, Chelsea fans scoff in pride at their new double success, in Milan, half the city is all smiles, but are careful not to boast too much, as to not be cursed by fate on Wednesday night. In Munich, the beer is still flowing and confidence is high as they too seek a treble victory. In Canaletas, Barcelona, the streets are finally clean of blaugrana confetti, after this magical week, where Barcelona have won the league and the basketball European Cup.

However, in some cities, it is time to reflect. In others, it is time to forget. Relegations and final defeats, runners up spots, failing to make it to the Champions League or to the Europa League. Football season is over, there is no need to plan your mid-week starting eleven on the breakfast table, or buy the newspaper to read the back pages, who cares if England have won the Cricket World Cup?

And talking about the World Cup…

Maybe it is best to rest our players in our minds for a few days. Give them a holiday. Let them wander a bit, because in a matter of weeks, we will be cheering them on, cursing their misses, playing manager and mourning defeats in this summer’s football bonanza. Football season may be over, but it is glorious that every two years, the summer drought is shortened, and we will only have to think about that stupid volcanic ash until kick off in Johannesburg on the 11th June.