Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Euro 2012 Preview – Group B

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 4, 2012

Euro 2012 logoStoppage Time – International Football Blog continues its preview of the oncoming UEFA European Championships which begin on Friday. In this blog we look at Group B which contains Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark.

GROUP B

DENMARK: Best Performance = Winners 1992

Most football fans will know of the legend that has built around the 1992 European Championship winning team. The country hadn’t even qualified for the tournament but an oncoming civil war in Yugoslavia meant that Denmark would enter the tournament in their place and with a team including Brian Laudrup and Peter Schmeichel the nation would go on to enjoy a 2-0 final success over favourites Germany. A repeat of that performance looks beyond the current crop as a tough draw has handed them three of the favourites in the form of Germany, Netherlands and Portugal. There is still hope for Denmark, however, who reached Euro 2012 by topping qualifying Group H over Portugal who, in turn, needed a play-off to reach the tournament. Many observers are expecting 20 year old Christian Eriksen to make his name in this tournament whilst Niklas Bendtner will hope to put a poor season firmly behind him and help Denmark progress.

COACH: Morten Olsen

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 10

GERMANY: Best Performance = Winners 1972, 1980 (as West Germany), 1996 (as Germany)

Footballing aristocracy at its finest, the Germans always expect to, and usually do, perform at the major international tournaments. West Germany became the first nation in 1972 to hold both the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship titles, a fate only matched subsequently by France (2000) and Spain (2010). Further successes in 1980 and in 1996, under the guise of Germany, have helped ensure that the Nationalmannschaft maintain their position as the most successful European national team. A faultless qualifying campaign saw Germany top Group A with ten wins from ten, a massive thirteen points ahead of Turkey, and become the first team outside of joint hosts Poland and Ukraine to qualify for Euro 2012. In a side containing a quality blend of youth and experience there are lots of potential match winners including Miroslav Klose, Mario Gomez, Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski whilst the further development of players such as Mario Götze and Mesut Özil will be paramount to Germany’s chances in the competition.

COACH: Joachim Löw

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 2

NETHERLANDS: Best Performance = Winners 1988

The Dutch are always amongst the favourites in any international tournament despite only ever having been victorious in one major finals. The fabulous team of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard swept all before them in the 1988 tournament in West Germany as the Oranje won their only major trophy so far when defeating the Soviet Union 2-0 in the final in Munich. The Netherlands kept up their marvellous record in qualifying by topping Group E with nine wins and one defeat in ten matches and heading the table over Sweden. Just like Germany, the Dutch are an exciting team with lots of potential match winners. Most eyes will be looking at Robin van Persie, who has been in exceptional form for Arsenal FC this season, but there are lots of other stars in the squad including Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder to name but three.

COACH: Bert van Marwijk

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 4

PORTUGAL: Best Performance = Runner Up 2004

Portugal is arguably the most talented footballing nation never to have won a major international tournament. Their disappointing defeat on home soil in the 2004 European Championship final was the nation’s best chance to win a maiden title but a shock defeat to Greece has set the Portuguese team back. The most recent European Championship in 2008 saw Portugal lose to eventual finalists Germany in the quarter-final stages and with the Germans in their group this time around as well as the Netherlands there is a chance that Portugal will struggle to progress beyond the group stage. Even in qualifying the Portuguese finished second in Group H behind Denmark, the third team in their group in the 2012 finals, so the omens aren’t looking favourable. This will mean more pressure heaped upon the shoulders of star player Cristiano Ronaldo whose personal levels of performance have grown to exceptional levels playing for Real Madrid over the last few years. He will, however, need to be supported by an able cast including the likes of Nani, João Moutinho and Hélder Postiga if Portugal are to defy the odds.

COACH: Paulo Bento

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 5

GROUP B FIXTURES

09/06/12 Netherlands v Denmark

09/06/12 Germany v Portugal

13/06/12 Denmark v Portugal

13/06/12 Germany v Netherlands

17/06/12 Denmark v Germany

17/06/12 Netherlands v Portugal

Denmark: Superliga begins with the usual suspects as favourites

Posted in European Football by peterbein on July 17, 2010
FC København

FC København have made a regular habit of winning titles in the last decade

The new Danish Superliga begins this weekend and many people will be wondering if there is anybody who can stop FC København (FCK) from claiming another championship. The capital club, formed as recently as 1992 due to a merger between traditional clubs KB Copenhagen and B1903, have won the championship eight times in their history but it is in the last decade where they have maintained a stranglehold of domestic dominance winning the title seven times since 2001 including four of the last five championships, only AaB Aalborg  interrupting their run in the 2007-08 season. Can coach Ståle Solbakken keep the title at Parken Stadion or will one of the other teams finally achieve some league glory of their own?

The league programme kicks off on Saturday in Odense where local club OB, runners up for the last two seasons, will meet Esbjerg fB with the home side most people’s tip to be the team that can end FCK dominance. With former Manchester United players Roy Carroll and Eric Djemba-Djemba, last season’s top scorer Peter Utaka and former AC Milan star Thomas Helveg in the team there is plenty of experience for De Stribede who are an ambitious club but have been starved of success in recent years save for a couple of Danish Cup triumphs in 2002 and 2009. However it is a first league title since 1989 that the third-city club are craving whilst their opponents Esbjerg last won the title over thirty years ago and finished a respectable fourth place last season but were a distant eighteen points behind the champions in the process.

Before FCK came along there was only one team in Denmark who were well known outside of their home country and that was Brøndby IF. The club who gave the world such great players as Peter Schmeichel, Kim Vilfort and the Laudrup brothers have been, by their own high standards, unsuccessful since they achieved the Danish league and cup double in the 2004-05 season. With only the Danish Cup of 2007-08 to show for their efforts since many feel it’s about time that Brøndby IF supplied a major title challenge again and having finished in third place last season they will hope to start this time around with a good win over Randers FC, a small club from northern Jutland who survived in the Superliga by the skin of their teeth having finished just a mere two points ahead of relegated Aarhus GF.

As for the champions they begin their title defence with an away game at SønderjyskE, a team who have just about survived in the top flight since their promotion from Denmark’s 1st Division in 2007-08. The last two seasons have seen the team from southern Jutland (hence the name) finish in tenth and ninth places and their target for this season will be something along the lines of mid-table security. In Zealand, the island on which the capital Copenhagen is located, FC Nordsjælland will face off against Silkeborg IF with both teams fully aware that there was very little other than goal difference separating the two teams last season although in their head-to-head meetings in the 2009-10 season FCN won two of the three games so will have that little advantage going into today’s game in the city of Farum.

The remaining two games in Matchday 1 involve last season’s promoted teams AC Horsens and Lyngby BK. The former went up as last season’s 1st Division champions having pipped the latter to the title by four points. Both teams, who have replaced Aarhus GF and HB Køge in the Superliga, will play against FC Midtjylland and AaB Aalborg respectively upon their return to the top flight. AC Horsens, back in the Superliga after just one season away, will play their first game at home on Sunday whilst Lyngby BK will complete the round of games upon facing the 2007-08 champions from Aalborg on Monday night.

SUPERLIGA FIXTURES – MATCHDAY 1

17/07/2010 Odense Boldklub v Esbjerg fB

18/07/2010 AC Horsens v FC Midtjylland

18/07/2010 Randers FC v Brøndby IF

18/07/2010 FC Nordsjælland v Silkeborg IF

18/07/2010 SønderjyskE v FC København

19/07/2010 Lyngby BK v AaB Aalborg

WATCH VIDEO OF FC KØBENHAVN’S 2009-10 FINAL DAY TITLE TRIUMPH HERE:

FIFA World Cup Review – Europe

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on July 15, 2010
Spain World Cup champions

Spain finally managed to win the FIFA World Cup beating the Netherlands in extra-time

In the last of Stoppage Time’s continental reviews we look back at the varying fortunes of the thirteen European teams that competed in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

With the exceptions of Brazil and Argentina, most people’s predictions before the World Cup tended to centre on teams such as England, Germany or Italy but it was to be two nations that had never previously won the competition who were to reach the final. Spain, a very popular choice of team due to their 2008 UEFA European Championship success, would face off against two-time finalists Holland in a game which, as most finals do, tended to disappoint but did at least have the justice of seeing the right team win the game.

But more on the final later. In the group stages the biggest disappointments were unquestionably Italy, France and England. In the case of Italy and France it was difficult to believe that these two nations competed in the most recent World Cup final in 2006 such was the depths to which team had sank during this tournament. They both finished bottom in groups which, on paper, seemed amongst the kindest in terms of difficulty. England, on the other hand, did manage to make it through the group stage but even the most hardcore England fan knows that they were poor in their first two games, scraped past Slovenia in the final group match before going out to a classic Germany performance in the round of sixteen. Even arguments over Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal cannot escape the fact that the Germans were the better team.

After the group stage had been completed seven of the thirteen European nations had failed to qualify for the round of sixteen. As well as Italy and France, the countries who feel that they should’ve done better in the group stage were Denmark (third behind Holland and Japan), Switzerland (finished third after defeating Spain in their first group game), Serbia (who admittedly suffered some bad luck against Australia) and Slovenia (lost out when USA beat Algeria) whilst Greece would’ve been happy just to score a goal, let alone win a game, before the competition kicked off after their one and only previous appearance in 1994 saw them goalless and pointless. In the event they did finally score their first World Cup goal in their second match against Nigeria in which they also chalked up their first victory. Alas they lost to Argentina in their final game and failed to progress any further.

The round of sixteen saw England, Portugal and Slovakia say goodbye although in the case of Slovakia they did have many good chances to beat the Netherlands before suffering a 2-1 reverse at the hands of the Oranje. The quarter-finals saw previous talk about South American dominance turn to European dominance as Spain, Netherlands and Germany all made it through with victories over Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina respectively. The semi-finals saw Spain reassert their style of play over a Germany team who were perhaps weighed down with expectation after two earlier against England and Argentina. Despite the dominance of possession and territory for the Spanish it took until the 73rd minute for Carles Puyol to head home the only goal of the game to gift the Spain a place in their first ever FIFA World Cup whilst the Netherlands got the better of Uruguay with a 3-2 win securing their third World Cup final appearance.

So the only certainty about the FIFA World Cup final would be that it would create a first time champion. Many neutrals before the game saw it as a breath of fresh air that none of the previous winners had reached the final for, in theory, this should’ve provided the motivation for two hungry teams to go out and secure their place in the history books. Sadly the game as a spectacle failed to live up to expectations but that has happened on so many occasions. Much of the post-match reaction centred upon English referee Howard Webb who dished out a World Cup final record 14 yellow cards and one red card in a game which saw many tough challenges (how Nigel de Jong didn’t go for his lunge on Xabi Alonso is a mystery) and a controversial moment at the end where, just before Andrés Iniesta’s 116th minute winning goal, a Wesley Sneijder free-kick was deflected by a Spanish player and should’ve been a corner but Webb gave the goal kick for Spain instead. With this incident leading up to the goal the Dutch were understandably furious but even allowing for this incident the Spanish had the more positive approach and were deserved winners. Spain became the third nation in history to win the UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup double after West Germany (EC 1972, WC 1974) and France (WC 1998, EC 2000) and ensured that Europe overtakes South America in World Cup wins with a 10-9 lead.

FIFA: Groups E and F Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 25, 2010
Keisuke Honda

Keisuke Honda was amongst the goalscorers for Japan against Denmark

Figures given are as follows: Games Played/Points Scored

GROUP E: NETHERLANDS 3/9; JAPAN 3/6; DENMARK 3/3; CAMEROON 3/0

Whisper it quietly but if there’s a team who are creeping in under the radar to win the FIFA World Cup then that could be the Netherlands. They won all three group matches to finish with maximum points and look like they could be a prime contender to lift football’s greatest prize. Having enjoyed a bit of good fortune to take the lead in games against Denmark and Japan the Dutch were always in control in their final game against Cameroon and Bert Van Marwijk must now keep a lid on expectations and keep his players’ feet on the ground. Japan made history by qualifying beyond the group stage for the first time outside of their native land with the 1-0 defeat to Netherlands being their only reverse. Two fantastic free-kick goals in the third match against Denmark set-up them up for a famous win and they now get to look forward to a Round of 16 tie against Paraguay.

GROUP F: PARAGUAY 3/5; SLOVAKIA 3/4; NEW ZEALAND 3/3; ITALY 3/2

Well who would’ve thought it? The defending world champions not only going out of the competition but finishing below rank tournament outsiders New Zealand in the process. Not very much went right for Italy in their three group matches but the truth is that they were just not good enough. In any case credit should be given to Paraguay who topped the group with a win and two draws and they were joined by Slovakia who played their part in the game of the tournament so far when defeating Italy by three goals to two. Arguably the unluckiest team in the competition are the All Whites of New Zealand who were unbeaten in three games and still failed to progress to the next stage but Rikki Herbert’s men can be rightly proud of their performances in this tournament which gives them a platform to build on for future competition. Paraguay will play Japan in Pretoria on Tuesday whilst Slovakia’s reward is a tough tie with the Netherlands in Durban on Monday afternoon.

Vladimír Weiss

Vladimír Weiss led his Slovakia team to the knock-out stages after a 3-2 win over Italy.

FIFA: Cameroon out as Denmark win; Aussies and Ghana draw; Holland win again

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 19, 2010
Dennis Rommedahl

Dennis Rommedahl helped Denmark come from behind to beat Cameroon 2-1

Cameroon became the first team eliminated from the FIFA World Cup as they went down to a 2-1 defeat to Denmark and, thus, remain pointless after two group matches. Even if Cameroon were to win their third group match against the Netherlands on Thursday their inferior head-to-head record against the other two teams would render them unable to gain the second spot in Group E. In the other Group E game today the Netherlands won their second match of the tournament but only after scraping a 1-0 win against Japan thanks to some bad goalkeeping. Group D saw Australia reduced to ten men and unable to keep hold of a lead as they drew 1-1 to Ghana in a frustrating game for the Socceroos.

Dennis Rommedahl was the central figure for a Denmark side who had to come from behind to clinch a 2-1 win over Cameroon. Things started well for the four-time African champions when deadly striker Samuel Eto’o took advantage of some sloppy Danish defending to give the Indomitable Lions the lead after just ten minutes. In what was a game full of energy and commitment both teams went forward and tried to put opening match defeats behind them. With twelve minutes remaining in the first half Denmark got their reward when Simon Kjær’s long pass reached Dennis Rommedahl who squared the ball for the oncoming Niklas Bendtner to equalize for the Scandinavians. Rommedahl was to prove decisive in the second half when he picked the ball up outside the Cameroon penalty box, weaved his way past Jean Makoun and curled the ball around the keeper to complete the victory for Denmark. Despite Paul Le Guen’s Cameroon trying to attack frantically in the time remaining the Danish defence held out for the win and they can now play against Japan in their final game on Thursday, June 24th in what will be a winner-takes-all encounter.

This is because Japan, who beat Cameroon in their opening match, were unable to get the better of the Netherlands who won their second consecutive game thanks to some questionable goalkeeping from Eiji Kawashima. He parried a long distance shot from Wesley Sneijder into the back of the net to gift the Dutch the only goal of the game. In a game short of creativity and chances the Japanese set out to frustrate the Dutch and keep chances at a minimum but once Sneijder had scored they had no option but to attack. This they did and they had a couple of chances to equalize, most notably when Shinji Okazaki got into the box and hit the ball over the bar from a good position in the last minute of the game. But although the Dutch were not at their fluent best they did enough to win and only need a draw against Cameroon in their final group match to seal top spot in Group E.

Asamoah Gyan

Asamoah Gyan scored to give Ghana a share of the points against Australia

In the third game of the day the Australians set about restoring battered pride by playing a Ghana side who had overcome Serbia in their opening Group D game. Australia took the lead in the eleventh minute of the game when a Marco Bresciano free-kick was spilled by Ghana keeper Richard Kingson, allowing Brett Holman to dispatch the rebound and give the Socceroos the advantage early on. The Australians were fuming mid-way through the half though when Harry Kewell, back in the side after injury, was adjudged to have handled the ball on the goal line which led to match referee Roberto Rosetti showing him a red card. Asamoah Gyan put away the resulting penalty kick to restore parity for the Africans who seem to be the continent’s best chance of further progress in the tournament. Even though there was no further goalscoring the match didn’t suffer entertainment-wise as both teams went looking for a winner but the luck just wasn’t with either team. Australia will have been happier with the point considering they played the match for more than an hour at a numerical disadvantage whilst the onus should’ve been on Ghana to finish the Antipodeans off but found themselves keeping the Aussies at bay as the game reached its conclusion. The final group matches in Group D, to be played on Wednesday June 23rd, see Australia play Serbia in a bid to keep their tournament hopes alive whilst Ghana will hope to remain unbeaten by gaining something against Germany.

FIFA: Kuijt and Honda secure wins; de Rossi saves Italy

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 14, 2010
Dirk Kuijt

Dirk Kuijt scored the second in the Netherlands' 2-0 win over Denmark

The Netherlands got day four of the FIFA World Cup under way with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Group E opponents Denmark. With the Dutch among the favourites to lift the trophy on July 11th there was always going to be huge expectations on Bert Van Marwijk’s team to start the tournament with a win but, in the end, there was nothing to worry about even after the first half had ended goalless. That’s because, after an even first half in which no team dominated proceedings, the Dutch were gifted a bizarre own goal just thirty seven seconds into the second half after a Robin Van Persie cross from the left-hand side was headed by Simon Poulsen towards his own goal and, ultimately, went in off the back of Daniel Agger. This seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Danes who offered little resistance to the Netherlands’ superior play with the Oranje enjoying two thirds of the possession and many more shots at goal than their opponents. The victory was wrapped up with just five minutes left to play when substitute Eljero Elia was played through by Wesley Sneijder and his shot hit the post only for Dirk Kuijt to tap the ball home from just a couple of yards out to seal the win for the Netherlands. No doubt that Kuijt enjoyed talking about that one to the world’s press after the game.

The second game of the day was also in Group E and a match which both Japan and Cameroon saw as their best chance to take three points. With the Netherlands and Denmark to come for both sides the magnitude of this game was multiplied for the group outsiders and it was Japan who were to be jubilant at the end of a game which didn’t offer too much by way of goalmouth action especially at the Japanese end of the pitch where, sadly, one of the world’s best strikers Samuel Eto’o remained a strangely anonymous figure on the right-hand side of the park. The goal that decided the match came in the 38th minute when a dangerous cross from the right by Daisuke Matsui found Keisuke Honda in the six-yard box who just about had enough time to take a touch to control the ball and then send it past keeper Souleymanou Hamidou. After that the Japanese were very organized and allowed Cameroon very little space to roam until the last twenty minutes when they started playing deeper. Even then it would’ve been very harsh on the Japanese had they conceded an equalizer which they very nearly did on 85 minutes when Stéphane Mbia struck a beautiful shot from long range only to see his effort come back off the woodwork. Thankfully for Japan they managed to hold on to the win and now meet the Netherlands on Saturday, June 19th in Durban while Cameroon must pick themselves up for their clash with Denmark in Pretoria on the same day.

Daniele de Rossi

Daniele de Rossi saved a point for Italy in their match against Paraguay

The third game of the day was the first game in Group F and it was a decent, if not a classic, affair between defending world champions Italy and South Americans Paraguay. The first half couldn’t build up too much attacking rhythm due to the particulary harsh weather conditions in the stadium which saw a torrent of hailstones and a lot of rain drenching the players throughout the first forty-five minutes but at least it didn’t prevent any goalmouth action. There were a couple of half chances before the main action took place in the 39th minute when a free-kick from Paraguay’s Aureliano Torres found the head of Antolín Alcaraz, who rose well above Daniele de Rossi and Fabio Cannavaro in the box, to give Paraguay the lead which they took into the half-time break. If Daniele de Rossi felt partly responsible for the goal in the first half then he made up for it in the second half equalizing after 63 minutes when Paraguayan keeper Justo Villar completely missed his attempted punch of Simone Pepe’s corner which allowed de Rossi to tap in from a couple of yards out at the far post to put the Azzurri back on level terms. After that it was the Italians who looked most likely to score a second but, unfortunately for them, their best chance to win it was saved when Villar turned Riccardo Montolivo’s long-range shot round for a corner.

In the end Paraguay must’ve been glad to pick up a point but if it weren’t for some dodgy goalkeeping from Villar then they could’ve been celebrating more tonight. Nonetheless they start the tournament with a point and will hope to get a win against Slovakia on Sunday, June 20th in Bloemfontein whilst for Italy a meeting with New Zealand in Nelspruit on the same day could see their FIFA World Cup take off in style.

FIFA: World Cup Guide – Part Three

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on June 2, 2010
Morten Olsen

Can Morten Olsen guide Denmark beyond the group stage in South Africa?

In the final part of our build up to the FIFA World Cup, which kicks off on Friday, June 11th, Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks at those teams that qualified from Europe (FIFA world rankings correct on May, 26th):

DENMARK – Winners of Europe Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 36

The Danes qualified from a tough group including Portugal, Hungary and arch-rivals and neighbours Sweden. Although not expected to win the competition Morten Olsen’s men will prove tough opponents and history has proven that anybody that takes the Danes lightly does so at their peril. Their group opponents are the Netherlands, Japan and Cameroon so may fancy their chances of reaching the last sixteen.

Coach: Morten Olsen

Star Player: Niklas Bendtner

PORTUGAL – 2nd in Europe Group One (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 3

Portugal were in danger of not even getting a play-off place after a dreadful start to the campaign. A strong finish saw them placed second, one point ahead of Sweden and Hungary. In the play-off they then beat Bosnia-Herzogovina 1-0 in each leg; Bruno Alves deciding the first game in their favour, Raul Meireles scoring the only goal in the second leg. Expected to get past the group stage.

Coach: Carlos Queiroz

Star Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

SWITZERLAND – Winners of Europe Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 24

The Swiss qualified fairly comfortably in a group where Greece were the only real rivals for the first place position and Latvia threatened on occasions to spoil the party. Solid if not spectacular, Switzerland will see anything beyond the second round as a successful World Cup but first they must negotiate their way past a group containing Spain, Honduras and Chile. Can the wily old fox Ottmar Hitzfeld get the best from a limited squad in these finals?

Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld

Star Player: Tranquillo Barnetta

GREECE – 2nd in Europe Group Two (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 13

Otto Rehhagel steered the Greeks to the World Cup after a two-legged play-off against the Ukraine. The 2004 European champions drew the first leg at home 0-0 but managed to win the away leg 1-0 thanks to a strike from Dimitrios Salpingidis. Like the Swiss not many pundits expect the Greeks to go beyond the second round but could, at the very least, qualify for the last sixteen from a group containing Argentina, South Korea and Nigeria.

Coach: Otto Rehhagel

Star Player: Theofanis Gekas

SLOVAKIA – Winners of Europe Group Three; FIFA World Ranking = 34

Slovakia qualified from what was an open group containing neighbours Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland and Slovenia. A 1-0 away win in Poland on the final matchday of the qualifiers secured their place and succumbed Slovenia to a play-off. In a group involving Italy, Paraguay and New Zealand so will definitely be involved in a fight for second place but may just lack some quality to get to the knockout phase. Sadly for Slovakia they will have to play without their defensive talisman Martin Škrtel who injured himself in a friendly game before the tournament.

Coach: Vladimír Weiss

Star Player: Robert Vittek

SLOVENIA – 2nd in Europe Group Three (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 25

Slovenia surprised everybody by finishing second in the group above heavyweight eastern Europe neighbours Czech Republic and Poland. They surprised everybody again by beating the mighty Russians in the play-offs on away goals. After a narrow 2-1 defeat in Moscow, the Slovenians scored on the edge of half-time in the return fixture in Maribor thanks to Zlatko Dedič and the away goal proved to be the crucial difference between the two teams. Slovenia have a tough draw and may struggle for the third spot behind England and the United States but recent history proves that they can cause a shock on their day.

Coach: Matjaž Kek

Star Player: Milivoje Novakovič

Michael Ballack

Michael Ballack (left) will be a huge loss for Germany but they should still progress far in the tournament

GERMANY – Winners of Europe Group Four; FIFA World Ranking = 6

The Germans remained unbeaten in a relatively easy group although impressive home and away victories against Russia proved to be crucial as they won their group by four points. Joachim Löw will be quietly optimistic about his side’s chances in South Africa despite a list of pre-tournament injuries including the likes of Michael Ballack, Simon Rolfes and René Adler to name but three. With new captain Philipp Lahm ready to take charge the Nationalmannschaft will hope to progress from the group stage and reach the last sixteen with, perhaps, a potential clash with old foes England on the cards.

Coach: Joachim Löw

Star Player: Bastien Schweinsteiger

SPAIN – Winners of Europe Group Five; FIFA World Ranking = 2

It’s been a vintage couple of years for the Spanish national team; European champions in 2008, a 100% record in World Cup qualifying and a spell at number one in the FIFA world rankings, can they go all the way and be the best team in South Africa? Last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup saw them surprisingly knocked out by the United States at the semi-final stage so they will still have to be weary of so-called ‘lesser opposition’. Having been written off as chokers in previous tournaments the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa and Xabi Alonso will be determined to do it for Spain when it really matters and a group containing Honduras, Chile and Switzerland shouldn’t cause too many problems.

Coach: Vicente del Bosque

Star Player: David Villa

ENGLAND – Winners of Europe Group Six; FIFA World Ranking = 8

Fabio Capello’s men easily saw off the likes of Ukraine and Croatia in their group and qualified with two matches to spare. Hopes are high that the so-called “golden generation” including Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney et al will perform in South Africa but will there be the usual disappointment to follow all the hype? Fabio Capello thinks not and one can say that England are real candidates for the title mainly because of the Italian’s stewardship. The group stage shouldn’t cause too many problems but the mentality of the squad will be questioned once the knockout stages get under way.

Coach: Fabio Capello

Star Player: Wayne Rooney

SERBIA – Winners of Europe Group Seven; FIFA World Ranking = 15

Although Serbia could only get one point out of six against group favourites France other results in the group went in their favour and, therefore, they went through by topping the group by one point against their more illustrious opponents. Will be tough to beat and contain a number of technically skillful players with experience from many of Europe’s top leagues. They will find it tough in Germany’s group but can progress if they make full use of their ability.

Coach: Radomir Antic

Star Player: Dejan Stanković

FRANCE – 2nd in Europe Group Seven (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 9

Les Bleus started the qualifying campaign in terrible fashion only collecting one point in their first three games. In the next seven games they took 17 from 21 points and, though never convincing, did what they had to do to secure a play-off place. France later played Republic of Ireland in a two-legged play-off and despite the controversy that surrounded Thierry Henry’s infamous handball leading up to the goal that secured France’s passage to South Africa the French will be considered one of the favourites to provide a strong challenge in South Africa although they are in an open group containing the host nation, Uruguay and Mexico so they’re not far from certain to qualify for the Round of Sixteen just yet.

Coach: Raymond Domenech

Star Player: Franck Ribéry

ITALY – Winners of Europe Group Eight; FIFA World Ranking = 5

The current world champions were taken all the way by the Republic of Ireland in their group but a late equalizing goal from Alberto Gilardino in Dublin secured the point that the Italians needed to top the group. If Marcello Lippi can steer the Azzurri to further World Cup glory in South Africa then they will join Brazil as record champions of the competition with five wins each. Should qualify with relative ease from their group which contains Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia and, despite an ageing squad, are expected to go far in the tournament.

Coach: Marcello Lippi

Star Player: Andrea Pirlo

NETHERLANDS – Winners of Europe Group Nine; FIFA World Ranking = 4

It’s difficult to judge just how tough an opponent the Dutch will be in South Africa. They qualified with a 100% record from arguably the weakest group in qualifying including Norway, Scotland, Macedonia, and Iceland. As usual there have been pre-tournament reports of internal arguments so it seems that the Dutch, despite their potential, never learn the lessons from previous mistakes. A further setback for the Dutch is the injury in a pre-tournament friendly against Hungary to Arjen Robben who may miss some, if not all, of the tournament with a hamstring problem. At the very least they should easily get past a group containing Japan, Denmark and Cameroon without too many problems but anything beyond that remains questionable knowing past history.

Coach: Bert Van Marwijk

Star Player: Robin Van Persie

Italy National Team

Will the Italians be celebrating World Cup success yet again in South Africa?

FIFA World Cup draw – The Verdict

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 5, 2009
Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron hosted the World Cup draw in South Africa

The draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup took place in Cape Town, South Africa, yesterday. Presented by Charlize Theron (pictured) and including a host of figures from the football world including FIFA president Sepp Blatter and perhaps  the most recognisable sporting icon in the world David Beckham, the draw did throw up some intriguing individual ties and some interesting groups. “Stoppage Time” assesses the groups and the matches that should shape the fortunes at the beginning of the tournament:

GROUP A: SOUTH AFRICA, MEXICO, URUGUAY, FRANCE

The host nation should find it very tough in a group which looks like it will be very close. The French will be favourites to go through but their clash against Mexico could decide who wins the group. However the South Africans may harbour hopes of surprising Mexico in the opening game of the tournament. Uruguay, with their deadly strike force of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, will certainly fancy their chances of finishing in the top two. Their final group game against Mexico could be amongst the most intense of the championship.

GROUP B: ARGENTINA, NIGERIA, SOUTH KOREA, GREECE

Almost an exact copy of Group D in the 1994 FIFA World Cup (Argentina, Nigeria and Greece played in a group that contained Bulgaria instead of South Korea). Despite qualifying the tough way Argentina should top this group quite comfortably, the opening match against Nigeria will probably be their toughest assignment. However the Greeks may wish to spring a surprise in much the same way that they did in EURO 2004 when they became European Champions. South Korea can only expect to finish bottom.

GROUP C: ENGLAND, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ALGERIA, SLOVENIA

Almost after the draw had finished the English media were in overdrive, hyping up their country’s chances of winning the 2010 World Cup. It’s true that they should expect to top this group with relative ease. The only match of real interest is England’s opening clash with the USA, a game that throws back terrible memories for the “Home of Football”. If the Americans can repeat their 1-0 victory in the 1950 World Cup (so unbelieveable a result in those days that the English media initially reported a 10-0 victory for England!) then it would leave the group wide open. The match will have a personal edge involving the LA Galaxy footballers David Beckham and US Captain Landon Donovan, a war of words between the two earlier in the season may add a bit of extra spice to this match. Algeria and Slovenia will be fighting to avoid the wooden spoon.

GROUP D: GERMANY, AUSTRALIA, SERBIA, GHANA

Not as easy for Germany as it may appear on paper. The Australians were very unlucky to lose to the Italians in the 2006 World Cup (a dubious penalty tucked away by Francesco Totti five minutes into stoppage time) and they will hope to put up a challenge for the top spot in this group. Serbia are competing in their first finals as an independent nation and have a leader in Manchester United player Nemanda Vidic. Ghana could be a team that plays open, attacking football but their defence will concede plenty of goals. Germany are quietly optimistic that they can go far in this tournament. The matches between themselves, Australia and Serbia should determine the outcome of the group.

GROUP E: NETHERLANDS, DENMARK, CAMEROON, JAPAN

This group looks to be a fairly comfortable one for the Dutch. As I reported in my blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Three” the Dutch had a very easy group in qualifying and they will look to take that form into this group. Cameroon will be a strong contender for second place and with players like Samuel Eto’o and Geremi can give the Danes a tough challenge when they meet in their second group match. Japan have improved as a nation in the last decade but won’t be expected to trouble the other three too much.

GROUP F: ITALY, PARAGUAY, NEW ZEALAND, SLOVAKIA

The current world champions Italy won’t have too much trouble getting through this group. The opening group game between themselves and Paraguay should be among one of the better ones in the group stages. Slovakia are a tough team on their day and won’t go down without a fight. However they may be just a little too inexperienced at this level and will find it tough to get to the Round of 16. New Zealand will be ecstatic to be in South Africa but their squad is very limited, therefore expect defensive tactics from a nation that will want to avoid embarrassment in this tournament.

GROUP G: BRAZIL, NORTH KOREA, IVORY COAST, PORTUGAL

There’s a 1966 World Cup feel to this group; it was Portugal who, literally, kicked Pele and his great Brazilian team off the park (Goodison Park to be precise) and it was Portugal who had to come back from 3-0 down to defeat the surprise package of the tournament North Korea 5-3. This time, though, matches in this group involving North Korea should be more clear-cut as they’re the outsiders of this tournament. The Ivory Coast, involved in a tough group including Argentina and Holland in the 2006 World Cup, will be expecting as tough a time in 2010 but some will feel that they can beat Portugal, whose qualification for the World Cup was only confirmed via a play-off. If the Ivorians can get three points against Portugal in the opening group match then they should reach the second round.

GROUP H: SPAIN, SWITZERLAND, HONDURAS, CHILE

The current European champions Spain are currently the favourites to win the FIFA World Cup and they will be encouraged further having seen the draw. They should easily overcome the challenges of their group rivals leaving the rest to fight it out for second place. Honduras qualified thanks to events elsewhere (see blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part One) but aren’t expected to get through this group, therefore the match between Switzerland and Chile (both teams’ second group match) should prove to be amongst the more important.

FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Three

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 3, 2009
Italy 2006 World Cup

Fabio Cannavaro lifts the World Cup for Italy in 2006

In the final part of our build up to tomorrow’s FIFA World Cup finals draw “Stoppage Time” looks at those teams that qualified from Europe:

DENMARK – Winners of Europe Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 26*

The Danes qualified from a tough group including Portugal, Hungary and arch-rivals and neighbours Sweden. Although not expected to win the competition Morten Olsen’s men will prove tough opponents and history has proven that anybody that takes the Danes lightly does so at their peril.

PORTUGAL – 2nd in Europe Group One (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 5

Portugal were in danger of not even getting a play-off place after a dreadful start to the campaign. A strong finish saw them placed second, one point ahead of Sweden and Hungary. In the play-off they then beat Bosnia-Herzogovina 1-0 in each leg; Bruno Alves deciding the first game in their favour, Raul Meireles scoring the only goal in the second leg.

SWITZERLAND – Winners of Europe Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 18

The Swiss qualified fairly comfortably in a group where Greece were the only real rivals for the first place position. Solid if not spectacular, Switzerland will see anything beyond the second round as a successful World Cup.

GREECE – 2nd in Europe Group Two (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 12

Otto Rehhagel steered the Greeks to the World Cup after a two-legged play-off against the Ukraine. The 2004 European champions drew the first leg at home 0-0 but managed to win the away leg 1-0 thanks to a strike from Dimitrios Salpingidis. Like the Swiss not many pundits expect the Greeks to go beyond the second round.

SLOVAKIA – Winners of Europe Group Three; FIFA World Ranking = 34

Slovakia qualified from what was an open group containing neighbours Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland and Slovenia. A 1-0 away win in Poland on the final matchday of the qualifiers secured their place and succumbed Slovenia to a play-off.

SLOVENIA – 2nd in Europe Group Three (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 33

Slovenia surprised everybody by finishing second in the group above heavyweight eastern Europe neighbours Czech Republic and Poland. They surprised everybody again by beating the mighty Russians in the play-offs on away goals. After a narrow 2-1 defeat in Moscow, the Slovenians scored on the edge of half-time in the return fixture in Maribor thanks to Zlatko Dedic and the away goal proved to be the crucial difference between the two teams.

GERMANY – Winners of Europe Group Four; FIFA World Ranking = 6

The Germans remained unbeaten in a relatively easy group although impressive home and away victories against Russia proved to be crucial as they won their group by four points. Joachim Loew will be quietly optimistic about his side’s chances in South Africa. If experienced campaigners such as Michael Ballack and Miroslav Klose can gel with the upcoming talent such as Mesut Ozil, Marko Marin and, if chosen, Stefan Kiessling then the “Nationalmannschaft” could be a real threat in the championship.

SPAIN – Winners of Europe Group Five; FIFA World Ranking = 1

It’s been a vintage couple of years for the Spanish national team, known to all as “La Seleccion”; European champions in 2008, a 100% record in World Cup qualifying and number one in the FIFA world rankings, can they confirm their status as the world’s best team by going all the way in South Africa? Having been written off as chokers in previous tournaments the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa and Xabi Alonso will be determined to do it for Spain when it really matters.

ENGLAND – Winners of Europe Group Six; FIFA World Ranking = 9

Fabio Capello’s men easily saw off the likes of Ukraine and Croatia in their group and qualified with two matches to spare. Hopes are high that the so-called “golden generation” including David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney et al will perform in South Africa but will there be the usual disappointment to follow all the hype? Fabio Capello thinks not and one can say that England are real candidates for the title mainly because of the Italian’s stewardship.

SERBIA – Winners of Europe Group Seven; FIFA World Ranking = 20

Although Serbia could only get one point out of six against group favourites France other results in the group went in their favour and, therefore, they went through by one point against their more illustrious opponents. Will be tough to beat but not expected to go too far in their first World Cup since independence.

FRANCE – 2nd in Europe Group Seven (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 7

“Les Bleus” started the qualifying campaign in terrible fashion only collecting one point in their first three games. In the next seven games they took 17 from 21 points and, though never convincing, did what they had to do to secure a play-off place. France then played Republic of Ireland in the two-leg play-off and despite the controversy that surrounded Thierry Henry’s part in the goal that secured France’s passage to South Africa the French will be considered one of the favourites to provide a strong challenge in South Africa.

ITALY – Winners of Europe Group Eight; FIFA World Ranking = 4

The current world champions (see picture above) were taken all the way by the Republic of Ireland in their group but a late goal in Dublin secured the point that the Italians needed to top the group. If Marcello Lippi can steer his charges to further World Cup glory in South Africa then they will join Brazil as record champions of the competition with five wins each.

NETHERLANDS – Winners of Europe Group Nine; FIFA World Ranking = 3

It’s difficult to judge just how tough an opponent the Dutch will be in South Africa. They qualified with a 100% record from arguably the weakest group in qualifying including Norway, Scotland, Macedonia, and Iceland. Usually the Dutch flatter to deceive in the big tournaments, will they do the same again despite their world ranking?

* FIFA world rankings correct on December 1st, 2009.