All entries for June 2006

June 30, 2006

Germany v Argentina – Form Sides Meet. Can the home team win?

Before the World Cup started I’d never have thought that Germany would turn out to be one of the most impressive sides. But they have and what’s more I almost don’t want to see them go out. Alongside Argentina the Germans are the only team to have performed consistently well throughout the tournament. They arrived with expectations at zero level, a manager under pressure (not least because of his much criticised decision to continue living in California) and what seemed to be an all round absence of quality players. But four games in and they have proved many people wrong. On their current form Germany could give anyone a run for their money. But can anyone beat Argentina?

Argentina seemed to get forgotten about before the tournament began. Whilst Brazil was the name on everyone’s lips, Argentina slipped in unnoticed through the back door. Gone were the big names, Veron, Duscher, Kily Gonzalez and Zanetti (any ideas why Scaloni is in the squad instead?), but in their place Pekerman had created a nifty little side. The squad is a good mixture of youth (Messi, Tevez) and experience (Ayala, Crespo) and has incredible depth. Obviously Argentina caught the eye with the all–star 6–0 drubbing of Serbia and Montenegro, however they have also been part of two of the tournaments greatest games so far; the 2–1 defeat of Ivory Coast and the last 16 game with Mexico.

Unfortunately for Klinsmann, Argentina have everything Germany have and more. In common with every other manager they are the one side he would have wanted to avoid until the final. Germany have built their success in the tournament so far around a settled line–up where the sum of the parts is greater than the individuals. Ballack stands apart as the truly outstanding player, however beyond him the squad is distinctly average. The genius of the side has been the link–up play between the front six players who appear to know down to the tiniest detail what role they should be performing and what their team mates are doing. Individually Klose and Podolski are certainly not among the tournaments most feared strikers, however as a combination they are lethal – think for example of the first goal against Sweden. In midfield it is all about balance with Ballack in the playmaker role, Frings kicking shins and Schneider and Schweinsteiger providing the flair on the wings. It almost makes you wonder where a fit Deisler would have fitted in.

In defence Lahm and Friedrich have been solid, however the central area remains suspect. Whilst I have praised Germany for their impressive play, it must be remembered that, like England, they are yet to play truly world class opposition. Sweden have been their toughest challenge so far, and fortunately the Scandinavian side’s major weakest played directly into Germany’s hands. Sweden have no pace up front and German have no pace at the back. As such Mertesacker and Metzelder had a relatively problem free day. However throughout the tournament the German flat back four has failed to operate correctly. In the opening game a 33 year old Paulo Wanchope evaded the German offside trap twice to score and despite keeping three clean sheets since they have yet to be tested by genuine pace. This, however, will change later today, when Saviola, Messi and Tevez will provide an entirely new challenge. I fear for the Germans.

To combat runs in behind I would imagine that Klinsmann will abandon the high–line he has been playing in favour of dropping the back four on top of the keeper. Frings will probably spend the whole game tracking Riquelme which will inevitably remove a option in midfield, however the German enforcer is a good enough player to cut off the Argentina supply line. If he can do that Mertesacker and Metzelder will have an easier day, however it is important that Schneider and Schweinsteiger exploit Argentina’s lack of natural width if Germany are going to make progress going forward. Obviously the big worry for any team playing Argentina is that on the hour mark Pekerman will in all probability choose to unleash Tevez and/or Messi on the tiring opposition. For me the use of these two players as subs has been inspired and devastating. They turned the Serbia match from the comfortable win into a rout and clinched victory in the Mexico game. In short they are the trump card.

In many ways it is a pity that two sides that have both lit up the tournament must meet at this stage. The Germans can win this game (after all they have the twelfth man that is home support), however I just don’t see it. Surely Argentina must win this tie – the German’s have done exceptionally well, but lack true individual class can’t really defend. This should be enough to condemn them. Although I’m kind of hoping not. England v Germany final anyone?

June 26, 2006

England 1 Ecaudor 0 – Rooney's class begins to show

So England are through the World Cup quarter finals. We are still awaiting the big champagne performance, however we have completed four games conceeding only two goals and keeping three clean sheets. Surely things can't be too bad?

Certainly I was amazed that Sven went for the 4–5–1 option against Ecaudor. Before the competition the South Americans were for me one of the weakest sides in the competition and although they proved themselves to some degree against Poland and Costa Rica they were never likely to be the sort of team that required us to play a holding midfielder.

As a result the game was always going to be a low scoring one and inevitably England played in a way that drew a few groans, but yet again we got the job done. If Lampard had got his shooting boots on the could have got a hatful and obviously the heat was again oppressive.

I have to say Rooney played much better as a lone front man than I anticipated and I think the way he plays from here on in could determin our progress. Everyone knows he is the man with the X factor and we saw most definite glimpses of it yesterday particularly in the second half.

Having said that I would ordinarially still much rather prefer to see Rooney up front with Crouch. I hate 4–5–1 as a formation, however if it helps us to win the World Cup I'm all for it. Under Scolari Portugal play a slightly more offensive version of the same tactic so it would make sense to attempt to flood the midfield with five against three.

Anyway we are there – in the last eight. Rooney's starting to smoke, lets hope he catches fire

England: Robinson, Hargreaves, Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Beckham (Lennon 87), Carrick, Gerrard (Downing 90), Lampard, Joe Cole (Carragher 77), Rooney
Subs Not Used: James, Campbell, Bridge, Carson, Crouch, Jenas, Neville, Walcott

Booked: Terry, Robinson, Carragher

Goals: Beckham 60

Ecuador: Mora, De la Cruz, Hurtado, Espinoza, Reasco, Valencia, Edwin Tenorio (Lara 69), Castillo, Mendez, Delgado, Carlos Tenorio (Kaviedes 71)
Subs Not Used: Villafuerte, Ambrossi, Ayovi, Benitez, Borja, Guagua, Lanza, Perlaza, Saritama, Urrutia

Booked: Valencia, Carlos Tenorio, De la Cruz

Att: 52,00

Ref: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium)

June 23, 2006

The Hoon's Final Show

Tune in from 4pm to hear Steve's last ever show. With Hoon highlights, gaffs, quizzes and a special gift from the sports team what better way could there be to round of term.

June 21, 2006

Sweden 2 England 2 – The Best and Worst of England

After solid, but uninspiring preformances in their first two games England had turn on the style last night. Finally we saw the sort of attacking football (particularly in the 15 minutes before half time) that might get the other nations to sit up and take notice. However whilst the offensive performance improved, we also had our worst defensive performance since Denmark last year. Overall a point is fine and takes us on to the next stage, but without Owen how will we fair in the next few rounds?

In terms of last night's game to positives were obviously the first half performance (once the teamhad got over the loss of Owen), Joe Cole's goal and all round contribution, the partnership between Lampard and Hargreaves and Rooney's determination. And also the fact we now have to play Ecuador. The negatives were Owen's injury, the horrific organisation at set plays, and the way we lost the initiative after half time.

Luckily I think the Ecaudor game gives us time to work on these problems, as they are a poor side, but not a side that likes to pile players behind the ball. I'm hoping that as long as England show appropriate respect they will get the result.

With Owen out Sven has more tactical decsions to make. I was a great advocate of the Owen/Rooney partnership solving our problems. However with Owen now out and given Hargreaves performance last night I think it may be time for Frank to hit the bench. Having said that I would not be surprised to see Lamps and Gerrard lining up together against Ecaudor with Hargreaves back in for the quarters.

For all the perceived problems England do have one major advantage in our softish fixture list. If we can beat Ecuador we will in all probablity meet Portugal or Holland in the quarters – two good, but beatable sides – who should provide a smooth build up to meeting the competition's top draw sides.

Finally what a strike by Joe Cole. So far he is my man of the tournament for England.

Sweden: Isaksson, Lucic, Mellberg, Edman, Alexandersson, Linderoth (Andersson 90), Kallstrom, Ljungberg, Jonson (Wilhelmsson 54), Larsson, Allback (Elmander 74).
Subs Not Used: Alvbage, Hansson, Ibrahimovic, Nilsson, Rosenberg, Shaaban, Stenman, Anders Svensson, Karl Svensson

Booked: Alexandersson, Ljungberg

Goals: Allback 51, Larsson 90

England: Robinson, Carragher, Ferdinand (Campbell 56), Terry, Ashley Cole, Beckham, Lampard, Hargreaves, Joe Cole, Rooney (Gerrard 69), Owen (Crouch 4).
Subs Not Used: Bridge, Carrick, Carson, Downing, James, Jenas, Lennon, Neville, Walcott

Booked: Hargreaves

Goals: Joe Cole 34, Gerrard 85

Att: 45,000

Ref: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland)

June 16, 2006

Boris Johnson Interview on Today's Show

That's right. Earlier in the week I spoke to Tory MP and spokesman for higher education Boris Johnson about all things sporting. Tune in at around 4pm to find out which former tabloid editor he often plays squash with, what he thought of England's start to the World Cup and hear him describe 'that tackle'.

June 15, 2006

England 2 Trinidad and Tobago 0 – Tactical Changes Pay Off

We all hoped if would be a drubbing for Trinidad and Tobago. It didn't turn out that way, but England made steady progress into the last 16. For 80 minutes it looked like the central American side had done enough to lay the pressure on England going into the final group fixtures, however just when it seemed all was lost, it all came good.

I always felt that once we scored one the floodgates would open and I don't think anyone is going to claim that Trinidad and Tobago deserved anything from the match. They came to frustrate and that they did. It was the only tactic they could use and it almost came off. Thankfully, though, Sven was just too wiley for them. The guy is paid £4.5m a year to make decisions and for me, today, they all came off.

Rather like when weaker teams go to Highbury or Old Trafford in the Prem Beenhakker stuffed his whole team behind the ball and we just couldn't break them down. The fact that John Terry stood out in the first half (not least for his marvalous goal line clearance) tells its own story. However in the second half Eriksson gambled and it paid off. Rooney was immediately a threat, but most tellingly putting both Beckham and Lennon down the right gave us a great mix of trickery and top class delivery. Obviously it could have gone wrong, and very nearly did (nippy Glen could have made more of his chances) however, for me, the manner of the first goal entirely vindicates the risk.

So why did we have to change things in the second half? Were Sven's original tactics were totally up the spout? Perhaps contraversially, rather than seeing the problem solely as the Lampard–Gerrard axis I would say the role of Peter Crouch is as much to blame as anything. I appreciate Crouch plays his heart out every time he puts on the shirt, however I honestly believe that with Lampard and Gerrard having to share the deep role we need a striker with better hold up play. Too many times with Owen and Crouch up front the ball is lost before Gerrard and/or Lampard can get up to support. Unfortunately I see the only solution as being to get the Owen/Rooney combiantion going again ASAP. Rooney can hold the ball better than Crouch and Owen is a more natural goal scorer. Crouch is a good player, but I think to have him in the side is to have to drop one of Lamps or Stevie G. Which personally I don't think we can afford to do.

Anyway another valuable three points and a chance to experiment a bit against Sweden. So far so good.

England: Robinson, Carragher (Lennon 58), Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Beckham, Lampard, Gerrard, Joe Cole (Downing 74), Owen (Rooney 58), Crouch
Subs Not Used: Campbell, James, Bridge, Hargreaves, Jenas, Carrick, Carson, Walcott, Neville

Booked: Lampard

Goals: Crouch 83, Gerrard 90

Trinidad and Tobago: Hislop, Edwards, Sancho, Lawrence, Gray, Birchall, Whitley, Yorke, Theobald (Wise 85), Stern John, Jones (Glen 70)
Subs Not Used: Cox, Latapy, Samuel, Charles, Scotland, Ince, Wolfe, Andrews, Jack

Booked: Theobald, Whitley, Jones, Hislop, Gray

Att: 41,000

Ref: Toru Kamikawa (Japan)

June 12, 2006

Keep tuning in to RaW Sport World Cup Specials

We are now on day four of the World Cup and so far we have had many memorable moments both out in Germany and in the RaW Sport studio. Thanks to Rob and Dave S for presenting todays show, and also to Dave H – our man out in Germany – for contributing on the phone.

Just to let you know what to expect for the rest of this week; tomorrow Rob and myself will be presenting a one hour update from 4pm with reaction to the Italy v Ghana, USA V Czech Rep and South Korea v Togo and build up to France v Switzerland.

On Wednesday we will be on from 8.30pm with pizza and also an interview with Tory spokesman for higher education and all round legend Boris Johnson. Not one to be missed!

Then on Friday we will have all the reaction to England's latest adventure.

June 11, 2006

Men of the Tournament (so far)

I know that we are only at the end of Day 3 of the Tournament, but I have been impressed by the performances of some players from the teams who have already featured in Germany.

Shaka Hislop pulled off some great saved in goal for Trinidad and Tobago, and was instrumental as they held Sweden to a goaless draw.

Ivan Hurtado and Rafael Marquez have been immense at the back for Eduador and Mexico respectively. Marquez was the heartbeat of the Mexican team in the second half of their game, with great vision and passing and was able to spur the team on to victory.

This morning Arjen Robben had an explosive game for the Netherlands, at the centre of all the action, whilst on the other side Ognjen Koroman changed the game for Serbia and Montenegro once he came on, and was unlucky to be on the losing side.

After a disappointing World Cup in Korea four years ago, Figo produced the goods against Angola this evening.

Tune into a RaW Sport World Cup special tomorrow from 4pm for an hour of reflection, discussion and previews of the greatest Tournament on Earth.

June 10, 2006

England 1 Paraguay 0 – a game of two halves?

I should be revising, but heck – football is more important.

Well done to England for taking all three points in their opening game. The first match of the tournament is always tough in terms of trying to find rhythm and coherence and to win without conceeding is not to be sniffed at.

With three points in the bag we now stand and excellent chance of making the next round, and hopefully the team can build on this performance in the next two games.

For me our top players were Beckham, Joe Cole, Terry and Owen. In the first half especially, these four stood out for me, however overall it was a very decent team performance and everyone played their part. For 45 minutes we played exactly as everyone expected – calm, efficient possession football the kept the Paraguay players out of the game. Although it was only 1–0 at half time I was very happy with what I'd seen.

Obviously after half time it was not quite so easy, however I think that was more down to the loss of Owen than anything else. If it was a tactical move it was a very strange one and we never looked like scoring after that. Nevertheless the only way Paraguay were ever going to get back into the game was through us making a mistake and fortunately we didn't, but I do hope Sven is not quite so negative in the following games.

Much has been made of the slightly odd shape of the squad and its lack of attacking cover and I think more than anything that was the biggest worry to come out of the game. If Owen and Rooney get injured at the same time how will we score?

Compared with the Germans I think we look a better side, but it will be interesting the see how the other big sides start off. Certainly it is hard to judge anything from the first match, I just hope we will be seeing more performances like the first 45 minutes rather than the second.

England: Robinson, Neville, Ferdinand, Terry, Ashley Cole, Beckham, Lampard, Gerrard, Joe Cole (Hargreaves 82), Owen (Downing 56), Crouch. Subs Not Used: Bridge, Campbell, Carragher, Carrick, Carson, James, Jenas, Lennon, Rooney, Walcott.

Booked: Gerrard, Crouch.

Goals: Gamarra 3 og.

Paraguay: Villar (Bobadilla 8), Caniza, Gamarra, Caceres, Toledo (Nunez 82), Bonet (Cuevas 68), Acuna, Paredes, Riveros, Valdez, Santa Cruz. Subs Not Used: Barreto, Cabanas, Da Silva, Dos Santos, Gavilan, Gomez, Lopez, Manzur, Montiel

Booked: Valdez

Att: 48,000

Ref: Marco Rodriguez (Mexico)

June 09, 2006

Sven's the Man

Many people are saying that Sven's legacy as England manager will rest on how the team performs over the next month and without doubt that will be true. If we will the cup Sven will be a legend if we go out with a wimper it will be one of failure.

I would just like to put on record at this point that whatever happens in Germany I still believe Sven has been the best England manager since Bobby Robson and shouldn't be getting fired. He is one of the few genuinely world class managers in the game and ignoring his personal life his record as England manager is without blemish in my opinion.

Well done Sven for taking us from the sort of team that struggles to qualify for tournaments to world champions*!


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