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Posts Tagged ‘World Cup’

England World Cup Squad of the Week #3

Roy Hodgson has just named his England squad for next week’s friendly match against Denmark as he continue’s his preparations for this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, and there were one or two players in there, such as Ross Barkley and Ashley Cole, who haven’t featured prominently for their clubs in recent months. Cole’s reputation and experience makes him a shoe-in for the finals if fit, but here at aboutaball.co.uk we have been picking an England squad each week based purely on players’ performances in that week’s Premier League matches. Here’s our latest selection.

Starting off as usual with the goalkeepers, there wasn’t much choice as only three Englishmen turned out in goal for Premier League clubs in this round of fixtures. Fortunately they all acquitted themselves fairly well, with Joe Hart and John Ruddy both keeping clean sheets and Ben Foster making some decent saves despite conceding one goal, so they all make the squad with Hart as first choice.

There weren’t too many contenders for the centre-back slots this week but the four we have chosen all had solid performances. Once again the Chelsea pairing of Gary Cahill and John Terry were integral in their team’s shut-out of Everton at Stamford Bridge and their partnership is forming the bedrock of Chelsea’s push for the title. Their individual talent makes them strong contenders for national team starting spots, but it’s their understanding from playing together at club level that would be invaluable to Hodgson come the summer. Therefore, we’ll continue to include Terry in these squads whilst there remains a possibility that he could be enticed back into the frame. Backup this week is provided by Curtis Davies, who stood out in Hull’s demolition of Cardiff, and Mike Williamson, who impressed for Newcastle as the kept a clean sheet in the victory over Aston Villa.

Glen Johnson’s return to action for Liverpool was a welcome sight, but he looked a bit rusty, so he didn’t make the cut for this week’s squad. Instead we have gone for Manchester United’s Chris Smalling and Everton’s Leighton Baines with backup from John Flanagan and Liam Rosenior at full-back. No English full-backs really stood out last weekend, but these four were better than most and the likes of Flanagan and Smalling offer a lot of versatility.

Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson were the outstanding English performers in the heart of midfield last weekend and we’re aligning them in the heart of a 4-4-2 formation this week with the lively Raheem Sterling on one flank and the revived Stewart Downing on the other. Matthew Jarvis will provide cover in the wide areas and Frank Lampard and Jake Livermore in the centre with Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey as a more attacking wildcard following his great strike at Anfield.

Up front there wasn’t much competition this week with Daniel Sturridge continuing his impressive run of form. Let’s hope it continues into the summer and Wayne Rooney can return to the height of his powers to play alongside him as they would make an fearsome partnership on their day. Rooney scored with a fine strike against Crystal Palace and there were also goals from Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan in West Ham’s home win against Southampton that earned them a place in this week’s squad.

So our England World Cup 2014 Squad of the Week #3 is:

Goalkeepers:
Joe Hart
John Ruddy
Ben Foster

Defenders:
Liam Rosenior
Chris Smalling
Leighton Baines
John Flanagan
John Terry
Gary Cahill
Curtis Davies
Mike Williamson

Midfielders:
Jack Wilshere
Frank Lampard
Jake Livermore
Jordan Henderson
Jonjo Shelvey
Matthew Jarvis
Stewart Downing
Raheem Sterling

Forwards:Adam Johnson
Carlton COle
Kevin Nolan
Wayne Rooney
Daniel Sturridge

And our England starting XI of the week would line up something like this:

England Team of the Week

England Team of the Week #3

England World Cup Squad of the Week #2

With only thirteen rounds of Premier League matches left before the 2014 World Cup finals kick off in Brazil, here’s the second in our new weekly series of England squads picked solely on the basis of the English players who perform best in each round of Premier League fixtures until the end of the season. We’re looking for the form players in this final third of the season – previous performances and reputation will count for nothing. By the end of the campaign, we will hopefully have a clear idea of who deserves to be on the plane to Brazil.

Starting off between the sticks, we’ve gone for Joe Hart following his clean sheet against Norwich City at Carrow Road. He edges out his opposite number from that match, John Ruddy. As Celtic’s Fraser Forster was on the end of a beating this weekend, we’ve selected Hull’s Steve Harper as our third choice ‘keeper thanks to his clean sheet at Sunderland.

There weren’t that many contenders for the defensive positions this weekend, especially at fullback, so we’ve taken a risk and only picked seven defenders for the squad and beef up the midfield options. Hopefully Jon Flanagan’s ability to play on both sides would mitigate that risk as Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw are the only other full-backs in the squad. There were good performances for Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Spurs’ Michael Dawson in clean sheet victories for their clubs and they are joined by Crystal Palace’s Scott Dann and West Ham’s James Tomkins to make up a full complement of four London based centre-backs.

There were plenty of impressive English central and wide midfielders this weekend and it was difficult to narrow to selection down to the nine that we have chosen. Liverpool’s line up from their 5-1 crushing of Arsenal has provided Gerrard, Henderson and Sterling, with goalscoring wingers Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer and Tom Ince also joining the party. Swansea’s Leon Britton, Chelsea’s Frank Lampard and Fulham’s Steve Sidwell complete the midfield options, the latter after an impressive display in the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.

A few English strikers found the net this weekend, but Darren Bent misses out on the squad in favour of Southampton’s Rickie Lambert, who turned in another fine all round performance, Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge, Stoke City’s Peter Crouch and West Ham’s two-goal hero Kevin Nolan.

So our England World Cup 2014 Squad of the Week #2 is:

Goalkeepers:
Joe Hart
John Ruddy
Steve Harper

Defenders:
Gary Cahill
Scott Dann
Michael Dawson
James Tomkins
Jon Flanagan
Kyle Walker
Luke Shaw

Midfielders:
Steven Gerrard
Jordan Henderson
Frank Lampard
Leon Britton
Steve Sidwell
Raheem Sterling
Nathan Dyer
Wayne Routledge
Tom Ince

Forwards:Adam Johnson
Kevin Nolan
Daniel Sturridge
Rickie Lambert
Peter Crouch

And our England starting XI of the week would line up something like this:

England team of the week

England team of the week

Do you agree? Who would you have picked on this week’s Premier League performances? You can leave your comments below.

England World Cup Squad of the Week #1

There are now only fourteen more rounds of Premier League matches left before England manager Roy Hodgson must name his twenty-three man squad for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. We thought it would be a good time to start our countdown to the tournament with a new weekly feature on the English players who perform best in each round of Premier League fixtures between now and the end of the season. We’re going to pick our own England squad each week based solely on performances in the most recent set of matches and see which players most consistently make the cut so that we will be able to tally up their appearances come June and see who most deserves to be on the plane to Brazil. We’re looking for the form players in this final third of the season – previous performances and reputation will count for nothing.

We will start with the goalkeepers. There isn’t a lot of competition at the moment and Celtic’s Fraser Forster is likely to be in the final squad, which leaves two places for Premier League goalkeepers. It wasn’t a vintage weekend for English ‘keepers, but Ben Foster produced a couple of crucial saves and performed well enough in West Brom’s draw against Liverpool to earn one of the spots. We’ll hand the third spot to Joe Hart, who was beaten by a good shot in Manchester City’s defeat to Chelsea, ahead of Hull’s Steve Harper, who could have done better with the Tottenham goal, and John Ruddy, who let in two for Norwich at Cardiff.

In defence there weren’t many outstanding performances from English full-backs in the Premier League this weekend but several centre-backs staked a claim for a place in the England squad. Not least among them were the club partnership of Gary Cahill and John Terry who did what nobody else has done for over three years and shut out Manchester City at the Etihad. Yes, we know John Terry is out of the reckoning for England selections at the moment, but stranger u-turns have happened in the past so we’re going to keep him in contention for the time being. As a partnership, those two are going straight on to this week’s England teamsheet with squad back up from Sunderland’s Wes Brown and James Tomkins of West Ham, who both impressed with clean sheets for their clubs. Leighton Baines gets our nod for the left-back slot ahead of Southampton’s Luke Shaw but right-backs are a bit thinner on the ground at the moment. We’ll hand Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne a starting spot even though he only played the last thirty two minutes. He made a big impact as all three goals came after his introduction and he created one of them with a good run and cross. Liverpool’s Jon Flanagan gets in as his back up.

There was a bit more competition for places in midfield this week, where the stand out performer was Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He scored two goals and will be a certainty to make the squad if he carries on in that form. It’s a real boost to England to have him back from injury and he should be fresh for the World Cup having missed over half the season. He’ll slot into a midfield three alongside Gareth Barry, who was effective as ever in Everton’s comeback win against Aston Villa, and Jack Colback, who shone for Sunderland against Newcastle. Other options in the centre of the park will be provided by the West Ham pair of Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan as a more advanced option.

We were somewhat spoilt for choice in the wide areas this week, with plenty of Englishmen putting in stellar performances in the Premier League. In the end we went for Sunderland’s Adam Johnson on the right side of attack with Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge on the left, but it could just as easily have been Adam Lallana or Jay Rodriguez of Southampton, who also make our squad, as does Sturridge’s team mate Raheem Sterling. That doesn’t leave many places for out and out strikers in the squad, which is just as well because not many made an impression this week. Only two really stood out and they were West Ham’s Andy Carroll, with his two assists against Swansea, and Southampton’s Rickie Lambert, with a goal and two assists against Fulham.

So our England World Cup 2014 Squad of the Week #1 is:

Goalkeepers:
Ben Foster
Joe Hart
Fraser Forster

Defenders:
Gary Cahill
John Terry
Wes Brown
James Tomkins
Leighton Baines
Luke Shaw
Nathaniel Clyne
Jon Flanagan

Midfielders:
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Gareth Barry
Jack Colback
Mark Noble
Kevin Nolan
Adam Lallana
Raheem Sterling

Forwards:Adam Johnson
Daniel Sturridge
Jay Rodriguez
Rickie Lambert
Andy Carroll

And our England starting XI of the week would line up something like this:

England team of the week

England team of the week

Do you agree? Who would you have picked on this week’s Premier League performances?

Japan Qualify for the World Cup: Japan 1-1 Australia

Japan have become the first team to qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil following a 1-1 draw against Australia in Saitama. The point means that the Blue Samurai are now guaranteed to finish in one of the top two spots in Asian Qualifying Group B and can relax ahead of their final match away to Iraq next week. Japan could still be mathematically be pipped for first place in the group by the Iraqis, who can join them on 14 points if they win their last three games, starting with a visit to Oman later today, but it’s an unlikely scenario and won’t worry the Japanese too much even if it happens.

Australia now occupy second spot in the group with seven points from six games, ahead of Jordan only on goal difference and a point clear of Oman, with the Iraqis a point further back but having a game in hand on the latter three teams. The Socceroos know that they now have qualification in their own hands with two home matches against Jordan and Iraq left on the agenda and two wins will definitely seal their place in the finals.

It was a tight match in Saitama with both teams reluctant to take too many risks in the knowledge that a draw would be a decent result. Neither manager made a change until the 72nd minute when Australia introduced Dario Vidosic and Japan left it until ten minutes from time before shuffling their pack, but soon after they did so they fell behind to a Tommy Oar goal and responded by bringing on Havenaar and Kiyotake to push for an equaliser. Their late pressure paid off as Matt McKay handled inside his own box and Keisuke Honda smashed home the resultant penalty in injury time.

World Cup 2010: Battle of the Continents

The World Cup is the only major tournament where national teams from all the continents meet  in meaningful competitive matches and, coming only once every four years, it gives us a rare and interesting insight into the relative footballing strengths of the different continents.

Of the 64 matches at the 2010 World Cup, 53 were contested between teams from different continental federations (there were also 10 all-Europe clashes and one all-South American match), and we have analysed the results of those games to produce a league table of the continents showing which are football powerhouses and which are the also-rans.

South America took the title as the strongest continent, largely thanks to their impressive performances in the group stage where all five of their representatives reached the second round, four of them winning their groups. They ruthlessly dispatched the weaker opposition they encountered in the first round and didn’t seem to need any time to acclimatise to the conditions, but their performances dipped later on in the tournament. Overall they contested 24 matches against teams from other continents and won half of them, earning 1.75 points per game (on a 3 points for a win, one for a draw basis). They also scored the most goals per game at 1.375.

Europe were not far behind, with an average of 1.62 points per game from their 34 matches against teams from other continents. European teams started slowly but the ones who made the second round grew stronger as the tournament progressed and they made up three of the last four teams. Europe and South America’s results put them comfortably ahead of their nearest challengers in our table showing that the traditional football hotbeds are still leading the world.

A distant third came Asia, with 1.07 points per game from their 14 matches showing that the most populous continent is well placed to mount a challenge to the established powerhouses in years to come. Football has been rapidly gaining in popularity in Asia over the past couple of decades and playing standards have been steadily rising, so you can expect them to consolidate their current position and close the gap on the big two in the next decade. Their teams did have the leakiest defences at the tournament, conceding 2 goals per game but that was mainly due to North Korea‘s capitulation against Portugal.

Oceania is a surprise fourth in the table and it was the only unbeaten continent at World Cup 2010, with New Zealand‘s three draws from as many games earning them an average of one point per game. They also had the meanest defence but the lowest goals scored average at the tournament, scoring and conceding at 0.6′ goals per game.

North America (CONCACAF) will be disappointed at their fifth place finish, although getting two of their three teams to the second round suggests that judging them purely on a points per game basis is unfair. Nevertheless, they would have hoped for at least one quarter final representative and a better average than 0.91 points per game from their 11 fixtures.

Africa‘s challenge, or lack thereof, was the most disappointing aspect of the first World Cup on African soil. They managed only 0.9 points per game from 20 matches and five of their six representatives dropped out in the first round. Once again they failed to turn their potential into results and seem not to have made any progress in recent years.

Whether or not these performances will result in changes to the number of places each continental federation gets at the next World Cup remains to be seen. What is for sure is that South America will have an extra place as Brazil will qualify automatically as holders, with four more countries qualifying automatically and once going into a play-off. Europe has done more then enough to hold on to it’s 13 places but there may be a redistribution of the remainder. Africa will drop down to five teams as they lose the hosts spot that went to South Africa, and they may even have to make a further concession as Asia now warrants as many, if not more places than Africa. I would give Asia a full fifth place at the World Cup and make the fifth best African team play off against their fifth placed South American counterparts and have the Oceania representative play off against the fourth placed North American team.

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Our Proposed World Cup Allocations for 2014:

South America (CONMEBOL): 5.5
Europe (UEFA): 13
Asia (AFC): 5
Africa (CAF): 4.5
North America (CONCACAF): 3.5
Oceania (OFC): 0.5

*We’re not counting the Confederations Cup as a major tournament.

World Cup Comebacks

With the 2010 World Cup now a slowly fading memory, we continue our series of tournament reviews by looking at the excitement factor. It was a World Cup without a signature ‘classic match’ standing out to be remembered in years to come. Yes, it had it’s fair share of dramatic incidents, memorable moments and some tremendous goals but there was no real thriller of a game to keep us on the edge of our seats throughout the ninety minutes and send us on a roller-coaster of emotions.

This was probably due to the defensive outlook of many teams. It was the norm to approach any game against one of the tournament favourites with a plan to simply defend and frustrate the opposition. Many teams showed little ambition to score themselves. Two defensive midfielders were de rigeur for most coaches and defences were better organised than ever before, with all eleven players usually being well drilled in their defensive duties. These tactics left little scope for beautiful football to flourish and precious little chance of any high scoring games, especially in the opening rounds of the group stage where, more than ever before, teams were simply desperate not to lose.

The winners can usually be relied upon to weigh in with their fair share of goals, but on that front Spain were disappointing. They played neat and tidy passing football, keeping possession effortlessly, but repeatedly failed to find a cutting edge in the final third. Their main goal threat actually came from set pieces, where Puyol and Ramos were dominant in the air, and their tally of 8 goals in 7 games was comfortably the lowest ever for a World Cup winner. Their four knockout phase matches were all won 1-0.

Of the 64 matches at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, only 28 (43.75%) saw both teams find the net. This was probably because most teams that did manage to take the lead immediately became even more defensively minded once they had something to hang on to. Instead of pushing forward in search of more goals to extend their lead, they typically shut up shop and attempted to kill off the game. There were even fewer games where the lead actually changed hands: Greece 2-1 Nigeria, Denmark 2-1 Cameroon, Holland 2-1 Brazil and Germany 3-2 Uruguay were the only 4 matches in which both teams had the lead at some point. It’s a shame that Germany against Uruguay was the Third Place Play-off match because if was arguably the best game of the tournament and the only one in which the lead changed hands twice. Had it been a semi final, it could have been the classic match the tournament needed.

This brings us on to the subject of comebacks, which are surely one of the most exciting football spectacles. Those four matches could be called comebacks but they only involved a team recovering from one goal down. The biggest comeback, and only recovery from two or more goals down in World Cup 2010, was by the USA in their group game against Slovenia. They came back from 2-0 down at half time to draw level and even had a late winner wrongly disallowed. England also fought back from 2-0 down - or they would have done had the referee spotted the ball crossing the line for Frank Lampard’s ‘equaliser’ – in their knockout match against Germany. The goal was disallowed and we were denied the spectacle of only the 29th fight back from two goals down in World Cup history.

A closer examination of the previous 28 World Cup fightbacks shows what a crucial decision that proved to be, because 75% of the teams who have managed to come back from two or more goals down have gone on to secure a win or draw in the match. Taking only the data from World Cups post-1954 (to discount most of the freak scores from early tournaments), the figure is even higher – 88% of teams who have come back from a two (or more) goal deficit have gone on to win or draw the game. The last time a team lost having cancelled out a two goal deficit was back in 1994 when Holland drew level with Brazil at 2-2 only to concede again and lose 3-2 in their quarter final. Germany had only once previously thrown away a two goal advantage at the World Cup and on that occasion they went on to lose 4-2 to Switzerland. England had come back from two down once before and ended up drawing 2-2 with the USSR.

The consequences of letting a two goal lead slip are plainly there for all to see. Once you’ve lost such a lead, you are very unlikely to get it back. The psychological impact on the players is immense as they see their hard work undone before them and the momentum swinging firmly towards their opponents. On one side heads drop, on the other the adrenaline is rushing and they can almost feel the wind behind their sails. It takes a very mentally strong group of players to recover from the hammer blow of losing a two goal cushion to regain the initiative and score a winner. It has happened only twice in the last 56 years, so perhaps England would have taken Germany to extra time and penalties had Lampard’s goal been allowed.

The full list of World Cup matches during which a team has come back level from a deficit of two (or more) goals is shown below. Credit must go to Portugal (1966), Colombia (1962) and Austria (1954) for the only three-goal comebacks – perhaps the greatest World Cup comebacks of all time. Incredibly, Germany have come back from two or more goals down on six occasions. The next best is Mexico on three and the team to have lost the most two goal leads at the World Cup is Hungary, also three times.

(The team that made the comeback is shown first in bold and in green where they went on to win the game or red where they went on to lose)

World Cup Comebacks

2010 USA 2-2 Slovenia
2006 Ivory Coast 3-2 Serbia
2002 Uruguay 3-3 Senegal
2002 South Africa 2-2 Paraguay
1998 Mexico 2-2 Belgium
1998 Mexico 2-2 Holland
1998 Germany 2-2 Yugoslavia
1994 South Korea 2-2 Spain
1994 Holland 2-3 Brazil
1986 Germany 2-3 Argentina
1982 Germany 3-3 France
1970 Peru 3-2 Bulgaria
1970 Germany 3-2 England
1966 Portugal 5-3 North Korea [3 goal comeback]
1962 Colombia 4-4 USSR [3 goal comeback]
1958 Germany 2-2 Czechoslovakia
1958 England 2-2 USSR
1954 Mexico 2-3 France
1954 Belgium 4-4 England
1954 Austria 7-5 Switzerland [3 goal comeback]
1954 Uruguay 2-4 Hungary
1954 Germany 3-2 Hungary
1950 USA 2-5 Chile
1950 Paraguay 2-2 Sweden
1938 Poland 5-6 Brazil
1938 Switzerland 4-2 Germany
1938 Brazil 4-2 Sweden
1934 Egypt 2-4 Hungary

NB: There were no comebacks from two or more goals behind in the 1930, 1974, 1978 or 1990 World Cups.

All Time Record:
TOTAL: 28 teams have come back from 2 or more goals down at the World Cup
8 went on to win (29%)
13 went on to draw (46%)
7 went on to lose (25%)

Since 1954:
TOTAL: 17 teams have come back from 2 or more goals down at the World Cup
4 went on to win (23.5%)
11 went on to draw (64.7%)
2 went on to lose (11.8%)

More than one 2-goal comeback:
Germany 6
Mexico 3
USA 2
Uruguay 2

Lost a 2-goal lead more than once:
Hungary 3
Serbia/Yugoslavia 2
Brazil 2
France 2
England 2
USSR 2
Sweden 2

Maradona and the 2010 World Cup – Jimmy Burns

Few individuals hold the key to making the World Cup one of the most exhilarating  there has ever been and the most controversial than Diego Maradona,  a flawed genius whose drug-fuelled helter-skelter life had produced some of the best football in the history of the game. It will be fascinating to watch whether Maradona can inspire his talented squad to greatness, or be brought down to earth, in tears.

In his native Argentina, Maradona remains a legend, the country’s most famous export far surpassing any writer, artist, or politician in his ability to fuel mass interest across frontiers. The nation’s identity with Maradona has been fuelled by the populist centre-left  Peronist government which has spent most of a decade encouraging his return to a prominent role in football after his last descent into drug-induced collapse.

In January 2000 Maradona stared death in the face again after proving himself, over the years remarkably resilient to self-abuse. Grossly overweight and suffering from a heart condition that he had inherited from his father, he collapsed while on vacation in the Uruguayan resort of Punta Del Este. Maradona’s friend, the Argentine president at the time Carlos Menem put it all down to a ‘stress attack.’ Later the Uruguayan police revealed that analysis of Maradona’s blood and urine showed ‘excessive consumption of cocaine.’

Within days, he was residing in Havana, Cuba, courtesy of another friend Fidel Castro. Photographs of that time show Maradona, with a shock of died orange hair, a tattoo of Che Guevara on his flabby arm and a heart monitor round his ample girth, looking like an inflated Harpo Marx. In his early days in Havana Maradona punched the windscreen of a reporter’s car. None of this seemed to worry Castro who found ways of making political capital out of Maradona’s presence on the island. The local media portrayed him as the good leader of the people, in contrast to the Goliath of the North (the United States) who had refused to give Maradona a visa since his expulsion from the 1994 World Cup.

His subsequent thirty-episode chat show, called La Noche del Diez (The Night of the Number 10)  Maradona enticed a range of international sports stars, musicians, and his favourite politician Castro to participate as guests.   In the opening programme, Maradona and Pele exchanged personally autographed national shirts, headed a ball to each other for nearly a minute, and sang a tango together. The performance pushed the TV show to the top of the ratings list.

And yet ratings for the final ‘The Night of the Number Ten’ –an interview with Castro- dipped suggesting that Maradona’s popularity remained, as it always had been,  based more on football than politics . Viewers were getting tired of a programme that was such a blatant exercise in self-promotion and seemed to get Maradona no nearer to another sporting come-back.

Argentina qualified for this summer’s tournament after beating Uruguay 1-0. The victory was overshadowed by Maradona’s globally televised and You-tubed sexually explicit, foul-mouthed rant at his growing army of media critics.

“There were those who did not believe in this team and who treated me as less than nothing”, a wild eyed Maradona declared, clutching his crotch before the cameras, “Today we are in the World Cup finals with help from nobody but honor. To all of you who did not believe in us, and I apologize to all the women here, you can suck my dick and keep sucking it. I am black or white, I’ll never be grey in my life. You can take it up your ass.”

Victim, knight, defiant rebel, foul-mouthed sexist thug-only Diego Maradona could claim to be all four in one statement, and get away with it.

Maradona’s Argentina now enters the tournament in South Africa with a squad that includes some of the world’s most gifted players – the undisputed star among them FC Barcelona’s  Lionel Messi,already voted  the best player in the world, at the age of  22, four years younger than Maradona in hisprime when in Mexico 1986 , he invoked the Hand of God in his controversial goal against England. Maradona in that match went to score one of the best goals ever seen in the history of football. The genius of Messi’s performance with FC Barcelona reached new heights in the quarter final match of the Champions  league earlier this season when he scored four sublime goals against Arsenal and provoked glowing headlines around the world.

The jury is out whether Messi has already surpassed Maradona’s brilliance but in Argentina it is still Maradona who remains the more popular of the two. Whereas Messi has spent his teenage years forming himself as an international player outside Argentina, Maradona first made his name with BocaJuniors, the club of the working classes in Buenos Aires. It is in Boca’s home, the southern Buenos Aires neighbourhood of La Boca, where the myth of Maradona as the people’s idol has endured the longestand where local shopkeepers still manage a brisk trade in shirts surviving from his days as a player.

Which of the  two will endure as a living legend will be put to the test in South Africa, as will Messi’s ability to express his genius under Maradona ’s tutelage. There appears little evidence to back up the somewhat irrational theory that Maradona wants to deliberately undermine Messi in order to preserve his own place in history. On the contrary, Maradona  has never displayed  any  paranoia in the presence of his his alleged successor while Messi considers Maradona his footballing idol.“I’ve seen the guy who will inherit my place in Argentine football,” Maradona said of Messi in 2005. More recently he declared: “Messi needs to lead the national team and the he knows it. We have high expectations.”

So determined is Maradona to ensure that  the young star plays to the best of his abilities in South Africa  and inspires a whole team, that he recently flew to Barcelona and spent an emotional session with Messi in which each promised the other to do everything in  their gift to bring the World Cup back to Buenos Aires in July. “The Argentine players  are growing in confidence with every day under Diego, “ Maradona’s childhood friend and one-time agent  Jorge Cyterszpiler told me.

As for Messi, he remains self-effacing about his achievements despite a growing tendency to show a public display of gratitude to God for his goals with the sign of the Cross.  “Even if I play for a million  years, I will never be near to what Maradona  was as a footballer. I don’t compare myself to Maradona. I want to make my own history and do something important with my career, before adding. “To be a  legend one needs to win a World Cup.’

The fact that both Maradona and Messi have declared a common ambition of winning the Cup in South Africa may explain why an increasing number of Argentine football fans are sporting their national colours these days and why a popular chant has begun to resonate beyond La Bombonera. “We will once again be champions, just like in 86,” it goes.

  • Jimmy Burns’ revised and updated best-selling biography of Diego Maradona: ‘Maradona: The Hand of God” has just been pubished by Bloomsbury.
  • For more information on the author and his books and an amazon bookshop

Exclusive: Sir Geoff Hurst on the 2018 bid

A couple of days ago Aboutaball had the opportunity to meet-up with Sir Geoff Hurst for a chat; you can hear the full podcast here Geoff Hurst Interview podcast. We couldn’t pass up the chance to talk to a Football legend who is still heavily involved in the English game to get his take on World Cup’s past, present and future. In the seond of three posts we discuss the 2018 World Cup bid and lost balls from 1966.

picture by Todd Halfpenny

Following the apparent entrapment of Lord Triesman, it raises questions over the English Media and their apparent desire to press the self destruct button on anything England seems likely to do well at. It’s been good to see the likes of Gary Lineker taking a stand against this by boycotting the Mail. We asked Geoff for his thoughts:

The 2018 world Cup Bid, why do some aspects of the media want to ruin England’s chances?

“I was part of 2006 bid team and I know most people in the Country want to see England host a World Cup. It’s surprising that people in the media who have a powerful influence are not being supportive.”

However…

“The current story has to be printed, it’s a damaging blow and hopefully we’ve got 6-8 months so things can change. They’ve done well to move quickly for damage limitation”

Most worrying…

“The Media this is coming from are football writers, if they’re English it’s disappointing they’re not supporting it”.

I think it’s clear as a country we should get behind the bid and follow Lineker in boycotting anyone who’s against it.

We then moved onto other things, in the future there anyway and English sports person could better scoring a World Cup final hattrick at home against Germany?

“You can better it by scoring 4. But we need to get World Cup here and get to the final. Scoring three goals in the World Cup Final at him was something you never really dream about”

Is it true that you didn’t get the hattrick ball for 30 years?

“Haller took the ball after the game, it was forgotten. 30 years later the Sun and Virgin got Haller to bring the ball back, they paid 80 grand”

Interestingly after all the PR Geoff didn’t get it back himself, infact he said he expected it to just turn up after the match…

“After the game (1966 Final) I thought it’d just turn up, first time I thought about it was sitting in the dressing room, I thought it’s tradition, the ball will find it’s way back”

And he pointed out he’s not the only player to lose a Final hattrick ball…

“Like the other day Frank Lampard woofed the FA Cup final ball in the Crowd and Drogba didn’t get it” :)

Geoff is heading up an initiative that’s bought 20,000 coaches into the game to get more kids involved in football in a safe environment off the streets. Kids just playing and having fun has produced some of the greats and maybe will help produce a World Cup hero for 2018?

Exclusive: Sir Geoff Hurst on the 2010 World Cup

picture by Todd Halfpenny

A couple of days ago Aboutaball had the opportunity to meet-up with Sir Geoff Hurst for a chat; you can hear the full podcast here Geoff Hurst Interview podcast. We couldn’t pass up the chance to talk to a Football legend who is still heavily involved in the English game to get his take on World Cup’s past, present and future. In the first of three posts we discuss the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, England, Brazil and Messi.

Firstly we asked the obvious, who is his World Cup pick?

“Brazil, they’re never far away, it’s a huge country, great support, great pedigree and still producing players. We (England) don’t produce as many so don’t have the depth.”

How can you argue with that, bookies have Brazil down as 5/1 second favorites. When asked who he’d punt for next?

“Spain had a good Euro’s so they up there”

Spain are the 9/2 favorites for the World Cup, however Geoff agreed Spain will probably suffer from key players being tired/injured after a hard season in England.

“Foreign players in our league are now subject to the same stresses we have, players in Spain have a winter break and maybe don’t play at such a high tempo”

It’ll be interesting to see how the top Premier League star do compared to their counterparts in Spain. A less demanding schedule may need to be looked into if England want any hope of winning future World Cups.

We then asked something he knows a lot about, scoring goals, who’s most likely to get the Golden Boot?

“Messi I would think.”

Chance of a Messi World Cup final Hattrick?

“No. There’s a chance but records show in 44 years nobody’s done it.”

On Argentina and Messi…

“I’ve spoken to Ossie Ardiles, he’s not hopeful about the Argentine side. They don’t provide the unit to give Messi the platform that Barcelona does. Even the Great Messi isn’t a one man band”

So Messi is already a Great, this is high praise from someone who was a great player himself

“He’s a World Class player one of the greats.”

Asked to go for a Dark Horse?

“An African side maybe”

And on England’s chances?

“I believe we’ll do well. I’d be
disappointed in Capello’s management and discipline if we didn’t make the Semi finals. The draw has been kind to us.’

On us having no fighting fit centre backs…

“It’s a concern, you rarely pick players not 100% fit, Ledley King only plays every other game but under the circumstances there’s a case to take him. Especially as Capello has mentioned he may play with 3 centre backs, 2 attacking full backs and flood the midfield due to a lack of a holding player”

and surprisingly…

“Martin Peters made the point he’s played more games than Rio. Twice the number of games and it’s better to have someone to play the odd game than someone not good enough. Spurs players have been noticed because the club has done so well in the run in”

On Carragher…

“Maybe he’s matured and thinks that England are better places under the current management. It’s always disappointing when people don’t want to play for England. He should be in the squad, he’s a great character and can fill in at full back.”

Geoff is off to South Africa for the opening ceremony, opening game and England’s first match, thanks to McDonalds.

We’d like to thank the Royal mint for making the interview possible,  Geoff Hurst is currently working with them to raise awareness of the 150,000 limited edition World Cup Medal giveaway. To show your support for the England team and claim your free (+ £1 p&p) World Cup Medal visit www.itsenglandstime.com and get your Medal while stocks last.

Ruud van Nistelrooy set to snub Premier League for a switch to Hamburg

Real Madrid striker Ruud van Nistelrooy is set to reject a return to the Premier League and instead join Bundesliga side Hamburg on a free transfer. The 33 year-old Dutchman has been linked with moves to West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City, but now it appears he is set to move to Germany despite some big-money offers from the English clubs.

van Nistelrooy has failed to win back a place in the Real Madrid side following lengthy injury lay-offs during the last 18 months. The Spanish club have allowed him a free transfer in order for him to be able to try and push for a place in the Dutch national squad for the forthcoming World Cup this summer after reversing his decision to retire from the international scene after Euro 2008.

The star striker has not been short of offers since becoming available, with half the top flight clubs around Europe vying for his signature. And that’s hardly surprising given his goalscoring record. During his club career, his has amassed 326 goals from 514 appearances and has scored 33 times from 64 appearances for the Netherlands.

Despite receiving better financial offers from elsewhere, including a reported offer of £100,000 a week from West Ham United’s new owners, van Nistelrooy is about to put pen to paper on a transfer to Hamburg.

Spanish sports daily Marca, believe that the main reason behind van Nistelrooy’s decision to snub the Premier League is that he doesn’t believe he is at the same physical level as he was when he was at Manchester United. The less physical demands of the Bundesliga may suit him much better.

A deal between the two clubs is believed to have been concluded and van Nistelrooy will travel to Germany over the weekend to finalise personal terms and complete a medical before signing for the Rothosen.

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