Posts Tagged ‘World Cup’


Brilliant Germany, Hapless Brazil or a Bit of Both?

July 9, 2014

Vista busy cursor  It will take Brazil a long time, if ever, to get over their 7-1 World Cup Semi Final mauling by Germany.

Brazil built up the game to be all about passion, emotion, riding the fans’ wild support and “doing it for Neymar”. While about it they seemed to entirely forget about discipline, shape, organisation, patience, control. The Germans couldn’t believe their luck. Thomas Muller was quoted after the game saying every time the Brazillians got the ball they rushed forwards with it and left the Germans masses of space to get at their defence on the counter.

Taking nothing away from the Germans, they were awesome. Movement, passing, vision, pace. Wonderful. But not 7-1 worth of wonderful without a lot of help from their opponents. Would that German side have stuck seven past Costa Rica, who got to the quarter finals while only conceding one goal (penalty shoot-outs aside)? Costa Rica don’t have stars or flair players but they know how to set themselves up to be solid and competitive.


Brazil have been shown up as not that great. They do have some decent players but got further than they deserved thanks to the incredible local support, occasional bits of brilliance from Neymar and moments of luck. Without their two best players, with the weight of expectation upon them and up against a very good team they were unmasked as not up to it. Worse, their over-reliance on emotion rather than organisation allowed the Germans to start sticking the goals in, and the realisation they were undone broke Brazil’s spirit so that they went utterly to pieces and the flood-gates opened.




England players seeing red over Green

June 22, 2010

I go along with much of James Hamilton’s analysis of the current malaise in the England camp, leading to the abysmal showing against Algeria.

The key to it is clearly the awful and unsettling treatment of Robert Green. Like Hamilton, I saw Capello’s handling of the incident as nothing short of torture for the unfortunate keeper. Sure the mistake was criminal at this level and utterly inexplicable. But Capello should either have announced there and then that Green was being dropped or immediately given him his unequivocal backing.

Despite the seriousness of the error, the best option would have been to back him. How likely was Green to repeat the howler against Algeria or in any other match? How much better for morale to show the squad that he has faith in his players and will stand up for them, at least after a one-off mistake. Particularly bearing in mind how hard Green worked to atone for his error in his second half performance and the open, honest and brave way he spoke to the media after the game.

Instead, Capello heaped the pressure on poor Green by telling him he was on probation during training. This just dragged the whole episode out and put Green under intolerable scrutiny. No wonder he cracked, underperformed in training and had to be dropped. Worse than that, it sent a very unfortunate signal to the whole squad. It left them worrying that their coach was likely to disown them and hang them out to dry if they messed up even once during a match. Hardly a recipe for encouraging them to express themselves confidently on the pitch.

I also take on board Hamilton’s first point about Capello’s disciplinarian regime being tolerated during qualification but resented when it carried on into the World Cup finals themselves. But I think the players know Capello is that sort of a manager and was unlikely to suddenly turn blokey and become “one of the lads” on arrival in South Africa. They would have put up with the discipline if at least they could believe Capello was right behind them. But the treatment of Green after the USA match put paid to that.

What is happening in the England camp has its analogue with the French debacle which in fairness is far worse. The French squad have also reacted badly to what they perceive as unfair treatment of one of their number, in their case Nicolas Anelka, leading to a complete breakdown of relations between players and coach. There are differences. Domenech was already due to leave after the tournament so staying on the right side of him was less of a concern. And the French players have gone much further than their English counterparts, effectively going on strike. And with less cause. Anelka deserved to be sent packing and the players have a duty to their country which should have overriden their loyalty to any one team-mate. In contrast with the French players, the England team have too strong a sense of duty to their nation to engage in open revolt, but the effect on their morale is harder to shake off.

The French are a lost cause. Tant pis. As for England, well, in Capello’s shoes I would be apologising to both Green and the whole squad. He should be letting them know that he is there for them, aloof or not, and then getting on with the job.

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England football team promoted to the bigtime

September 10, 2009

I remember writing a distinctly gloomy piece about the England football team after the ignominious defeat to Croatia, at Wembley in  November 2007, which finally took the  Euro 2008 finals out of reach.  It was called “England football team relegated to the wilderness” and speculated about how the resulting fall in world rankings and consequent lower seeding in future qualifying tournaments would add significant extra hurdles to England’s chances of making it back to the final stages of major international football competitions such as the World Cup.

England have now banished that fear by qualifying for South Africa 2010 (and in some style, it being Croatia’s turn to suffer a bit of ignominy) but I don’t think I was wrong to write what I did.

Without even coming close to the mess they made of Sven Goran Eriksson’s departure and choice of successor, they might easily have replaced Steve McClaren with another inadequate appointment.  If they had then it is not hard to see how England might by now have found themselves wandering in that wilderness, occasionally bumping into Scotland, Wales and N Ireland.  I guess the FA deserve credit for settling on Capello but, as I explained in a comment to this post, they rather lucked into a situation where the outstanding candidate had helpfully just been fired by Real Madrid and was on the lookout for a high profile International appointment so he could end his career on a high.  All the FA had to do was stand firm in the face of the misguided media baying for the appointment of Jose Mourinho.

And my faith in Capello was entirely justified.  He may or may not win the World Cup next year (for starters, Spain and Brazil will not roll over for anyone) but he has got the best out of the remnants of our “golden generation” and blended in a bit of the upcoming platinum generation in the likes of Lennon, Defoe, Milner, Walcott.  We’ will not disgrace ourselves.

Interesting that in that post I wondered about whether Capello would play “British football”, the same point controversially raised by Croatia coach Slaven Bilic before last night’s game.  He accused Capello of changing England’s game away from their traditional style.  Quite possibly Bilic is right, and we have our answer.  Capello has either moved away from or redefined “English football” depending on how you look at it.  Not a problem so long as we win with confidence.  And also by playing good football, laying another of my fears to rest.

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Fabio Capello: More crewcut than haute coiffure

December 14, 2007

Fabio Capello is not the ideal manager for the England football team (for a start he is not English, is not a fluent English speaker and is not famed for playing the beautiful game), but he is quite categorically the right man for the FA to put their faith in at this time. In the current circumstances he is as ideal as we are going to get.

I have had my doom and gloom binge in the immediate aftermath of England’s bungled and calamitous failure to qualify for Euro 2008 and the inevitable departure of Steve McClaren. It is still true that only by making a spectacularly good choice of new England manager can there be any hope of averting the descent into footballing oblivion I alluded to in my earlier post. Thankfully, Capello is the right choice, the ray of hope to pierce my despondency.

Capello is the kind of manager to turn to when you’re in a bind. If your overpaid, decadent, under-motivated, arrogant Golden Generation is not performing, you need Fabio Capello to come in and sort them out. Language is not a problem. He doesn’t need anyone to translate “prima donna” for him.

Don’t expect much on the style front. But you can expect results.

Twice Real Madrid have called on Capello as their Mr Fix It in times of dire decline. The first time in 1996 and again in 2006. On the latter occasion his challenge was to arrest the downward spiral caused by Real’s over-reliance on their ageing and underperforming Galacticos, the “untouchables” past their sell-by dates who needed a good kick up their pants or just a kick out the door. Capello won La Liga at the first time of asking (as he had done in 1996/7) and was again rewarded with his P45.

Fabio Capello

Real see him as the man to stop the rot, clear out the chaff, bring back self-belief, get results when only results matter. They don’t see him as the man to produce the sort of football they want to watch. Capello (incidentally the Italian word for “hair”) is more crewcut than haute coiffure. Once the emergency repair is done they’ll find someone else to inject the style the fans demand. Dear Fabio can busy himself elsewhere until the club goes off the rails again.

And busy himself he will, with the England team. Real’s loss, our gain.

Kudos to the FA for keeping their heads down, their mouths shut and getting on with the job. No bungling, this time. No farcical leaks, ill-judged approaches or embarrassing public rebuffs.

Rather less kudos to the media. No sooner had McClaren been given his marching orders than Fabio thrust his arm up in the air and said “I want the job! I can do it for you!” And the response of the British media? “Oh, apparently this Capello bloke wants the job, but never mind, lets look at the wider field of possible candidates. Which English managers might be an option this time? And wouldn’t it be great if Mourinho took the job?”

Mourinho is the darling of the British press. Far less qualified in terms of track record than Capello, but far higher profile here and his antics have captured the imagination of many. I really could not see Mourinho as England manager. Thank heavens he turned it down.

So the arrival of Capello has lifted my gloom a little, but there are still some unanswered questions:

Is he a short term fix?

Obviously he will sign up for an extended contract, but then so did Steve McClaren. The question remains: are we (or should we be) looking to him the way Real Madrid are apt to, as a short-term troubleshooter? Will we enjoy the upturn in our fortunes but tire of his brand of football after a while?

Will Capello play “British football”?

The raw materials are different. English players are used to football at break-neck pace, not the measured possession football more characteristic of the continent. Capello will want discipline, strong defence, effective marking, control of the ball on the pitch. Can our players play that way, or can he find English players with the qualities he needs? Will he retain any of those elements of British football which mark us out and sometimes discomfort the opposition, for all their silky passing skills?

Will Capello’s methods translate to the International arena?

Capello’s method is based on discipline, on hard work, on doing it his way. He does not suffer fools or wise guys.

He can establish his tough regime when he is installed at a club and has hands on influence over everything, every day. Can that still work when he only has the players for a week here and a week there? Will they go back to their clubs in between times and revert? How will Capello’s football ethic be sustained?

I don’t know the answers but Capello will work it out. He is an intelligent and supremely confident man. A winner.

Not only that, but a winner who actively wants the job. He does not fear the reputational damage of an ignominious exit such as McClaren’s. The notion of failure does not come into it. He is not so young any more, and has only success on the International stage left to crown a peerless career in football.

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England football team relegated to the wilderness

November 29, 2007

The consequences of England’s defeat to Croatia last week go far beyond mere failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championships. That particular unedifying result has consigned our national football team to the sporting wilderness. We will be frozen out for years. Hasta la vista, England.

Maybe you’re thinking this is just a blip. After all, we’ve missed out on qualification for major tournaments before and bounced back. You might be forgiven for imagining we need only pick a manager a bit better than the last one and we’ll storm back for the 2010 World Cup.

steve mcclaren

Maybe not so easy this time. We saw the impact of the loss to Croatia almost immediately. That result affected our position in the world rankings so the following Sunday, when the draw for the World Cup qualification rounds was made in Durban, we were not one of the top 9 seeded countries allocated to the 9 European qualifying groups. Our top seed status had gone to Greece. To qualify for the World Cup finals we now have to come top in a group including Croatia (again), as the top seeded country, or finish second and win a play-off against another team finishing in second place in their group.

How good are our chances? We were well behind Croatia’s standard in the European qualification group and have a lot of catching up to do. If the best we can manage is second (which is not itself a given), we are still likely to be facing a tough play-off. Would we come through that? We bottled it against Croatia last week, despite having been given an unlikely and undeserved second chance courtesy of Israel.

On balance, I am not at all confident we will make the 2010 World Cup. If we fail again, our world ranking will tumble further and qualifying for Euro 2012 will become harder still. Is it my imagination or are we staring into the abyss?

To stave that off we have to pull off a miracle, beat the odds and qualify for the 2010 World Cup. That means finding a new England coach who truly has what it takes to turn the ship around. What hope of that?

Brian Barwick is still there at the helm for the FA. The man who botched the job last time around. Admittedly, last time the FA found themselves (through their own mishandling of Sven Goran Eriksson’s departure) having to make an appointment in a hurry. This time they have all the time in the world so it should be easier.

Except that, as a legacy of the previous England manager appointment process, some of the best candidates are already out of the frame. How likely that Felipe Scolari might reconsider, or Martin O’Neill, after the way they were treated by Barwick in the past?

There is another factor that will put many of the best candidates off. Taking on the England job is looking a less and less attractive proposition. Particularly in the aftermath of the McClaren sacking, the job is looking ever more like a recipe for having to live with intolerable pressure of expectation, incessant intrusion from the media and the real risk of it all ending in career-limiting reputational damage.

The best job in football? Ask Graham Taylor, or Steve McClaren. Terry Venables did not benefit from being put under the spotlight, nor Glen Hoddle. The same is true of Sven. He has landed up in a reasonable position with Manchester City, after a while out of football, but still his stock has fallen considerably.

And all this despite being blessed with the “golden generation” of players. More like the iron pyrites generation. What about the next generation, the one we need to be platinum to get us out of this rut? All we hear is that English talent is being squeezed out of the Premiership by the influx of foreign stars. We get the best league in the world, but at the expense of our national team. Add to that the fact we have totally failed to grasp the nettle when it comes to sorting out football at the grass roots, creating the academies to teach our best young prospects the footballing techniques to complement their natural skills and turn them into future world-beaters. Our next generation of England footballers will probably be the plastic generation.

One possible opportunity to claw our way back into the bigtime might be to land the privilege of hosting the 2018 World Cup. Our chances looked quite decent until recently, but now…

It’s a horrible snowball effect, set in train by that awful “sliding doors” moment when we thought Crouch’s equaliser had saved the day, took our foot off the gas and invited Croatia on to us, setting the scene for their deserved winner.

And all this doom and gloom is just the impact of the Croatia defeat on our footballing prospects. Add the social and economic impact of England’s exclusion from forthcoming major football tournaments and the picture is even worse.

This time we do have to get the right manager. This time the FA must be professional, take their time, ignore the media, get the right man. This time, the FA must secure the investment to reorganise football at the grass roots and upwards.

This time. Because we might be in the wilderness for 40 years before the next time.

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