Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Euro 2012 Preview – Group D

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 4, 2012

Euro 2012 logoIn the final blog looking ahead to the 2012 UEFA European Championship, which begins on Friday June 8th, we preview Group D which contains co-hosts Ukraine as well as two-time winners France, England and Sweden.

ENGLAND: Best Performance = Semi-Finals 1968, 1996

Despite their status in the international game England still remains one of football’s great underachievers. It is perhaps for this reason, along with the fact that there are so many strong teams in this tournament, why the Three Lions go into Euro 2012 with dampened enthusiasm. Perhaps a downgrade in expectations could actually do the English some good as the pressure to perform in this year’s championship isn’t anywhere near as great as it has been in the last ten years or so. After all England have only ever reached the semi-finals of the European Championships on two occasions and even failed to qualify as recently as 2008. England qualified comfortably from qualifying Group G finishing unbeaten in eight games and topping the table six points ahead of Montenegro. It was against Montenegro, however, that Wayne Rooney picked up his three match ban, which was reduced to two on appeal, which will see him miss the first couple of matches in the tournament. In his absence the likes of Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll will be expected to step up whilst Theo Walcott will also be required to show that he has finally matured into a top class international.

COACH: Roy Hodgson

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 7

FRANCE: Best Performance = Winners 1984, 2000

It now seems like so long ago that the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry et al were setting the world alight with their free-flowing football and winning silverware. Twelve years since they won their second European Championship the French seem to be getting back on track following a turbulent couple of years in which internal strife and splits within the camp took centre stage rather than the action on the pitch. Under Laurent Blanc many fans of les Bleus will hope that they will show hunger and desire as well as purpose. Despite a shock 1-0 defeat the beginning of the campaign the French finished top of qualifying Group D by just a single point over Bosnia & Herzegovina. Franck Ribéry is the centre figure of the French team and with players of the quality of Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri around him they will be strong in attack and could score plenty of goals.

COACH: Laurent Blanc

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 16

SWEDEN: Best Performance = Semi-Finals 1992

The Swedes will be making their fifth appearance at a tournament finals since they made their debut in 1992. In that year Sweden, in front of their home supporters, reached the semi-finals but were unable to seize the initiative against Germany and went out 3-2. Since then the Swedes have failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals and not many expect to see them do so this time. Sweden, it must be mentioned, are a very capable side who are physically strong and resilient at the back. They qualified from Group E just three points behind the Netherlands and didn’t have to take part in the play-offs as they went straight through to the finals on the back of having the best record amongst runners up. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the undoubted major star of the team but much is also expected from 24 year old Rasmus Elm who is attracting some other Europe’s biggest clubs.

COACH: Erik Hamren

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 17

UKRAINE: Best Performance = Winners 1960 (as part of the Soviet Union)

Like their near neighbours Russia, Ukraine was a major contributor to the great Soviet Union sides of yesteryear. Since independence, however, Ukraine has failed to match the expectations of its public having only qualified for one major tournament in the last 16 years (i.e. 2006 FIFA World Cup). As joint hosts Ukraine will, therefore, enjoy its first experience in the European Championships and will fancy their chances of upsetting the big boys in their group. Veteran Andriy Shevchenko is hoping for one last swansong in front of his adoring fans but, whatever happens, it is a fitting stage for the legendary Dynamo Kyiv star to bid farewell to international football. Young stars Yaroslav Rakytyski and Andriy Yarmolenko have the ability to excite and to provide the firepower for Shevchenko and his striking partner Artem Milevskiy.

COACH: Oleg Blokhin

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 50

GROUP D FIXTURES

11/06/12 France v England

11/06/12 Ukraine v Sweden

15/06/12 Ukraine v France

15/06/12 Sweden v England

19/06/12 Ukraine v England

19/06/12 France v Sweden

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World Cup: 25 Years Ago – El Diego made me a football fan (+video)

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 22, 2011

It has been well documented in the English press that today is the 25th anniversary of Diego Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God” goal in Argentina’s 2-1 victory over England in the 1986 FIFA World Cup. That game brought out the best and worst sides of a player who, in my opinion, was the greatest footballer ever to play the game and it is arguably what “El Diego” did in the whole of that tournament which turned me from indifferent to passionate about the game of football.

Putting it simply, it took a little while for the football bug to bite when I was a kid. My first footballing memory was of seeing Manchester United beat Everton in the 1985 FA Cup final but the game was forgotten as soon as it was over and I didn’t bother with football again until Liverpool FC won the cup twelve months later. Football had begun to creep into my consciousness after Liverpool had won the cup that year, especially as they beat local rivals Everton in the first ever all-Merseyside FA Cup final, but I personally think that, had there not been a World Cup in the summer of that year, that I could’ve forgotten about football again. But when I saw Diego Maradona, in the famous Number 10 shirt of Argentina, pretty much dominate his team and the tournament then that was when I really began to take notice of this Beautiful Game.

THE “HAND OF GOD” GOAL:

The game which gained Maradona worldwide fame was the 1986 FIFA World Cup quarter-final played in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. El Diego had already been part of the 1978 and 1982 World Cup squads but didn’t get to play a single minute of the former whilst his country suffered a second round exit in the latter. The 1986 tournament had already seen Argentina finish on top of their group – ahead of Italy, Bulgaria and South Korea – and get past eternal rivals Uruguay in the second round, setting up a hugely anticipated clash with England. The stakes would already have been high enough in any case but with relations between the two countries at arguably an all-time low following the Falklands War of 1982 there was an edge to the game which was certainly stronger on the Argentine side.

The game finished 0-0 at the break but it didn’t take long for one of the most controversial moments in the history of the sport to emerge. Six minutes into the second half Maradona, realizing he was not going to win a header against oncoming England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, decided to punch the ball into the net, an incident which none of the match officials spotted. The English players were incensed by the decision to award the goal and the sense of injustice had barely had time to sink in before the English were on the receiving end of one of the all-time great World Cup goals. Maradona, picking the ball up inside his own half, went past four players and rounded keeper Shilton before turning the ball home. If ever a goal was going to make me sit up and take notice then this was it. In the relatively short time that I’d been watching football this game seemed to have it all. The English very nearly came back but could only halve the deficit in the end and Maradona had taken his team to the semi-finals.

“THE GOAL OF THE CENTURY”:

As much as the England game proved to be one of the highlights of the tournament, the truth was that Maradona did more than just score those two goals. He went on to help his side defeat Belgium 2-0 in the last four stage, scoring both goals, before setting up Jorge Burruchaga for the match-winning goal in the 3-2 victory against West Germany in the final. The memories of the man and the legend that was Maradona certainly helped play their part in making me the football fan that I am today. I think that if the Hand of God didn’t exist then it would’ve been necessary to invent it.

World: Classic rivalries sign off the international year

Posted in International Football by peterbein on November 18, 2010
Spain v Portugal

Portugal and Spain met again on Wednesday in a repeat of their 2010 FIFA World Cup Round of 16 match

Three of the great football rivalries finished off what has been an eventful year in international football. Spain, FIFA World Cup winners in 2010, had a short trip next door to Portugal, the team they knocked out of the world’s greatest football tournament at the Round of 16 stage and the country with whom they aspire to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. England, another potential host of the 2018 tournament, wanted to keep up their unbeaten record since South Africa with a home victory against a France side crossing the English Channel with a renewed confidence under new coach Laurent Blanc. The biggest game of them all took place in the unfamiliar surroundings of Doha with South American giants Argentina and Brazil clashing in the capital of Qatar in an exhibition match which the hosts hope showed off their credentials for hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi scored the winner for Argentina

If truth be told the game between South America’s two biggest football nations failed to live up to expectations. Perhaps the lack of the usual passion from the stands whenever these two great teams meet had something to do with the performances of both teams being somewhat lacklustre, or maybe it was something to do with the players not wishing to overexert themselves just a few days before they go back to their club sides in order to resume domestic league action. In any case chances were few and far between but there was one outstanding highlight which proved to be the difference between the teams. With the game having entered second half stoppage time Lionel Messi picked up the ball on the halfway line and performed a give and go with substitute Ezequiel Lavezzi. He promptly fed Messi with a return ball with which the Barcelona star sped towards the Brazil penalty area and unleashed a shot from the edge of the area. The ball squeezed in past goalkeeper Victor and gave Argentina their first win over Brazil since 2005.

In the two all-European affairs there were plenty of goals and lots of experimentation. All of the four teams involved had their fair share of new caps or young players been given a chance to prove their worth in the last friendly matches of the year. At Wembley Stadium the French national team looked a class apart from their English hosts for much of the game and when Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena had given Les Bleus a 2-0 lead the writing was on the wall for the Three Lions. Substitute Peter Crouch did come on to restore some pride as he scored a late consolation goal but Laurent Blanc’s French side did him proud as he tries to restore former glories. England coach Fabio Capello, on the other hand, is increasingly coming under pressure as his stock seems to fall with each inadequate England performance.

For the European and World champion Spanish team there was a shock in store as old foes Portugal, who the Spanish knocked out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, gained some revenge with a 4-0 thrashing of their Iberian neighbours. Carlos Martins gave the hosts the lead right on the brink of half-time and the Portuguese carried on where they left off early in the second with Helder Postiga scoring twice in the 49th and 68th minutes. A late stoppage time goal from Hugo Almeida sealed the deal for Portugal and allowed them to accept the cheers of the home crowd who have not had a lot to shout about in recent months. For the Spanish the friendly result was merely a blip but at least they have played their part in what has been an exciting year in international football.

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: Round of 16 Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 29, 2010
Germany v England

Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski celebrate Germany's 4-1 win over England

So the Round of Sixteen is completed in the FIFA World Cup with eight teams having to face up to the stark reality of flying back home to face the critics whilst eight teams look forward to the quarter-final stage in what remains a fascinating tournament. South America has performed well with the possibility of all four semi-finalists hailing from that particular continent should they overcome their respective opponents in the last eight. However there are three European teams and the sole African representative remaining who would like to deprive the Latin Americans of complete domination. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks back at the Round of Sixteen and provides the quarter-final draw.

The knock-out stages began last Saturday with Uruguay playing against South Korea who appeared to be Asia’s best chance of a last eight representative. Sadly for the Koreans it only took eight minutes to fall behind as Luis Suárez gave Uruguay the lead and, thus, added to the goal he scored against Mexico in his team’s final group game. The Koreans though didn’t give up and were back on level terms on 68 minutes when Lee Chung-Yong headed the equalizer from a free-kick and set up a fascinating climax to the contest. With ten minutes remaining it was to be Luis Suárez again who would settle the game in Uruguay’s favour showing his class with a beautifully curled shot into the top right corner of the net. The second game on Saturday saw Ghana create history as they defeated the United States to put themselves into a World Cup quarter-final for the first time. Kevin-Prince Boateng gave the Black Stars the lead after just five minutes after his run from the halfway line saw him steer the ball hard and low into the net past Tim Howard. The Americans restored parity in the second half when Landon Donovan shot home from the penalty spot after Clint Dempsey had been brought down by Jonathan Mensah in the box. It was a classic game of two halves which finished 1-1 and, thus, needed thirty minutes of extra-time. Just three minutes had passed when Asamoah Gyan continued his wonderful tournament by scoring an excellent goal from distance and, with no further scoring in the game, ensured that Africa had its sole representative progress into the last eight of the competition.

Sunday saw two potential classic matches on paper turn out to be pretty one-sided affairs. There was much controversy in the Germany versus England match (it wouldn’t be Germany v England otherwise) when a Frank Lampard shot hit the underside of the bar and came down at least a metre over the line but the linesman didn’t see it and denied England an equalizing goal which would’ve tied the game at two-all. Before then Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski had given the Nationalmannschaft a two-goal lead before Matthew Upson halved the deficit by getting on the end of a Steven Gerrard cross. Sadly for England that was as good as it got as even the most die-hard fan of the Three Lions would admit that they were outclassed by a Germany team whose splendid counter-attacking play created two goals for young starlet Thomas Müller in the final quarter of the match to give Germany a convincing 4-1 win. Later that evening any ideas that Mexico had to get revenge on Argentina for knocking them out of the 2006 tournament were soon dispelled in equally controversial circumstances. Carlos Tévez was in an offside position upon giving Argentina the lead on 26 minutes but the linesman, once again, failed to spot the indiscretion and the Mexico players were furious. Gonzalo Higuaín doubled the lead on 33 minutes and the Albiceleste sealed the win in the second half when Tévez scored his second seven minutes after the break. Javier Hernández did score a consloation for El Tri but Diego Maradona’s men came through any potential fightback to claim a place in the next round.

Carlos Tevez

Carlos Tevez scored twice for Argentina in their 3-1 win over Mexico

Monday night saw two of the tournament favourites, Brazil and the Netherlands, continue their good progress. The Netherlands continue to win despite playing football which is far from what we expect from the pioneers of Voetbal Totaal. Arjen Robben gave the Oranje the lead thanks to a trademark left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty box and one was expecting the Dutch to go on and stroll the game from there. However they were made to fight for their victory which they finally sealed in the 84th minute when Dirk Kuijt squared the ball to Wesley Sneijder in the box to make it 2-0. Up until then the Slovakians had plenty of chances which were spurned and, as a result, they would rue their profligacy in front of goal especially as they halved the deficit with the final kick of the game, a penalty from Robert Vittek after Martin Jakubko was brought down in the box. There was no time after the kick to continue and the Dutch went through to the next round with what was ultimately a slender 2-1 victory. Brazil made much easier work of their all-South American encounter with Chile, a team who finished just a solitary point behind them in World Cup qualifying. Two goals in three minutes at the end of the first half from Juan and Luís Fabiano were complimented by a beautiful finish from Robinho on the hour mark to give the Seleção an easy 3-0 win over a disappointing Chile team who did, to their credit, try to play some direct football once they conceded the third, no doubt believing that they had nothing to lose from such an approach. Dunga’s men are looking ominously good but many will feel that their quarter-final with the Netherlands will be their first real test of the tournament. A fascinating encounter awaits.

The final two matches in the Round of Sixteen were played today and, once again, there was joy for the South Americans but only after Paraguay had been taken all the way to a penalty shoot-out by a Japan team who were unfortunate to have to lose in such a manner. The only missed penalty in the shoot-out was by Japan’s Yūichi Komano whose spot-kick hit the crossbar and went over. Because Paraguay had the first kick in the shoot-out their final goal from Óscar Cardozo meant that a fifth kick for Japan was unnecessary and La Albirroja progressed to the quarter-finals by the skin of their teeth. To finish the round we had an Iberian derby between Spain and Portugal which looked like a mouth-watering match on paper but which, sadly, failed to live up to expectations. Cristiano Ronaldo, just like Wayne Rooney and Franck Ribéry, failed to shine during this tournament and he was amongst the most disappointed of the Portuguese side after the final whistle blew after their 1-0 defeat probably because he knew that he hadn’t done his talent any justice. The goal which won an otherwise poor game came in the 63rd minute from David Villa, whose initial shot at keeper Eduardo was parried back to his feet and then forced home going in off the bar at the second attempt. This meant that Villa joins Gonzalo Higuaín and Robert Vittek on four goals each and one wouldn’t bet against him adding to that total in Spain’s quarter-final match against Paraguay on Saturday.

FIFA WORLD CUP – QUARTER-FINAL DRAW

02.07.2010 Netherlands v Brazil (Port Elizabeth)

02.07.2010 Uruguay v Ghana (Johannesburg)

03.07.2010 Argentina v Germany (Cape Town)

03.07.2010 Paraguay v Spain (Johannesburg)

FIFA: Groups C and D Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 25, 2010
Jermain Defoe

Jermain Defoe scores the goal which gave England a 1-0 win over Slovenia

Figures given are as follows: games played/points scored

GROUP C: USA 3/5; ENGLAND 3/5; SLOVENIA 3/4; ALGERIA 3/1

The United States left it very late to clinch top spot in the group but their stoppage time winner in the 1-0 victory over Algeria provided one of the FIFA World Cup’s most dramatic finishes thus far. It was justice served for the Americans after they had two perfectly good goals disallowed earlier in the tournament and it seemed that they would lament those two particular moments of bad luck until Landon Donovan’s 91st minute winner over the North Africans settled the contest. Thankfully the late winner made any arguments about the legitimacy of the disallowed goals academic and meant that the United States finished top of the group on goal difference from an England side who were made to work hard for their place in the Round of 16. Jermain Defoe scored the all-important winning goal for England against Slovenia after 22 minutes to give the Three Lions their first win of the tournament and provide Fabio Capello’s men with a much-needed boost in morale ahead of their game on Sunday afternoon against a familiar foe.

GROUP D: GERMANY 3/6; GHANA 3/4; AUSTRALIA 3/4; SERBIA 3/3

And so it was meant to be. Germany, after the scare of losing to Serbia in their second group match, eventually saw off a determined Ghana side in the final group game to set up a Round of 16 clash with England. Mesut Özil scored the winning goal for Germany in their 1-0 success over Ghana when unleashing a powerful left-footed shot from the edge of the box to seal the deal for the Adlerträger. Despite the defeat the Africans were able to celebrate after the match as they too had qualified for the knock-out stages. Australia beat Serbia 2-1 but had an inferior goal difference to Ghana who became the only one out of five African nations to progress beyond the group stage. Ghana’s reward is a Round of 16 tie against the United States in Rustenburg on Saturday whilst Germany face-off against England in Bloemfontein on Sunday.

Mesut Özil

Mesut Özil (right) is congratulated by Bastian Schweinsteiger after his goal gave Germany a 1-0 victory over Ghana

FIFA: Setbacks for Germany and England; USA denied victory

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 19, 2010
Milan Jovanović

Milan Jovanović scored the only goal in Serbia's 1-0 defeat of Germany

The FIFA World Cup is far from predictable and the events of yesterday are a classic case in point. Germany, who had thrilled everybody with a great display in their opening match defeat of Australia, were on the receiving end of a defeat themselves going down to a Milan Jovanović goal moments before half-time. In the same group the United States came from two goals down to gain a 2-2 draw against Slovenia but the controversial decision to disallow Maurice Edu’s late goal could ultimately prove detrimental to the USA’s chances of progression. England had a chance to stamp their authority on the tournament but were denied by a resilient Algeria side who were worthy of the point gained in the goalless draw between the two sides in Cape Town.

Germany went into their game against Serbia as clear favourites but the Balkan nation had other ideas as they were far from willing to let the Germans walk all over them. The game was played at a lively pace throughout with both teams having a clear number of chances, especially Lukas Podolski who missed a seven attempts including a penalty kick on the hour mark which would’ve equalled the score for Germany. However there were sixty seconds of madness that decided the game for Serbia. Firstly, in the 37th minute, Miroslav Klose picked up his second yellow card and saw red thus reducing Germany to ten men. One minute later Serbia were ahead thanks to Milan Jovanović. His colleague Miloš Krasić ran down the right and crossed it for Nikola Žigić who knocked it down with his head for the unmarked Jovanović to steer home from six yards out. Germany’s keeper Manuel Neuer had been a little slow to come out and the Serbian hitman made him pay for his brief moment of indecision although, to be fair, Neuer had been left exposed by his defence. The game saw Serbia hit the woodwork another couple of times in the second half and the truth is that Germany, for all of their waste in front of goal, could’ve been beaten by a couple more and were ultimately grateful just to lose by the solitary goal. In Group D today Ghana meet Australia which, if the Socceroos win, would see all four teams on three points. An interesting game in Rustenburg awaits.

The United States were looking down and out in the Group C game against Slovenia who took an early lead in the 13th minute thansk to a great 25 yard strike from Valter Birsa who was left unmarked and had the time to weigh up his shot before rocketing it home. Things got better for the Eastern European side with three minutes to go before the break when Milivoje Novaković played a well-timed through ball into Zlatan Ljubijankič who guided it past an oncoming Tim Howard to double Slovenia’s lead. The half-time break came at just the right time for the Americans who had time to re-group and get their focus back after a disastrous first forty-five minutes. After the break the USA pulled one back through their talisman Landon Donovan who, having received a long pass from Steve Cherundolo down the right flank, chose to run direct to goal and hit the ball fiercely into the net from a tight angle and instantly brought his side back into the game. With ten minutes remaining the game was tied when Michael Bradley was on hand to steer home Jozy Altidore’s knockdown from a long pass from Donovan. The game had turned and the Americans were the only team who now looked like winning it and, three minutes later, thought they had but Maurice Edu’s goal was disallowed for a foul in the box and the Slovenians had been saved by what was a very harsh decision. Nonetheless the USA are still in the competition after what was a fantastic fightback and they will hope to progress in the final match against Algeria in Pretoria on Wednesday, June 23rd.

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney couldn't break the deadlock in England's 0-0 draw against Algeria

England had high hopes going into the tournament but those hopes are increasing wearing thin after another clueless display from Fabio Capello’s men against Algeria in Cape Town last night. It’s not that the Three Lions couldn’t create any chances, if anything they created a decent number with eight on target, but they just lack something up front. For all Emile Heskey’s work rate the sad fact is that he doesn’t look remotely like scoring when he gets the ball and seems to lack any natural inclination to want to strike at goal with the ball at his feet. Captain Steven Gerrard didn’t always seem to be on the same wavelength as his colleagues and the likes of Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney spurned their chances by not striking the ball cleanly enough. Algeria were tough to beat and had a resilient defence and should be congratulated for their determination to pick up a point although their attack does seem a little lightweight with striker Karim Matmour lacking any predatory instincts in the box. However it was a job well done for Algeria who will meet the USA in their final match whilst England, who faced the wrath of an angry supporter who invaded their dressing room after the match, will play Slovenia in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday, June 23rd in a game they have to win in order to progress.

FIFA: Wins for South Korea and Argentina while England stumble to draw

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 12, 2010
Lee Jung-Soo

Lee Jung-Soo scored South Korea's opening goal in their 2-0 victory over Greece

Saturday saw six more teams get their FIFA Wold Cup campaign underway with Groups B & C taking centre stage. The first match of the day is an early contender for the Stoppage Time Most Boring Game Of The Tournament award as South Korea and Greece provided an utterly underwhelming exhibition – a term I use very loosely – of football which could’ve put an insomniac asleep. The only moments to behold in an otherwise forgettable affair were Lee Jung-Soo’s seventh minute opening goal and Park Ji-Sung’s goal which doubled the lead for the Koreans in the 52nd minute. The defending from Greece for the first goal was poor with an entire back four standing still while Lee turned the ball home at the far post whilst unmarked. Another defensive slip allowed the Koreans to double the lead with Loukas Vyntra giving away possession to Manchester United star Park who bust a gut to get into the box before sliding the ball home past a helpless Alexandros Tzorvas.

The unforgivable crime from the Greek side, even worse than their defending, was their inability to raise themselves for the occasion in a game they were, on paper at least, most likely to obtain any points from. They seldom looked like any kind of threat up front and it is no surprise that their unenviable record of having never scored a goal in FIFA World Cup finals to date still stands true after this match. After the Greeks scored no goals in three matches in the 1994 tournament I wouldn’t be surprised to see them replicate that statistic this time around. Credit, though, must go to the South Koreans who didn’t need to be at their best to obtain three points from this most dire of football matches.

The irony is that, despite the sorry football on show in the first game, there were more goals to be seen between South Korea and Greece than there were in the following Group B encounter involving Argentina and Nigeria which was a much more entertaining game. The game was decided by an early Gabriel Heinze header with the Argentine centre-half completely unmarked twelve yards out to head home a Juan Sebastián Verón corner in the sixth minute. Their opponents Nigeria were finding it difficult to get going in the first half with the Argentines having much more possession but unable to find the second goal with it. Lionel Messi had at least four great chances in the match to get on the scoresheet and, as the game went on, the Nigerians were finally encouraged to go further forward by otherwise defence-minded coach Lars Lagerbäck, therefore allowing for a much more open game as it entered the final twenty minutes. Taye Taiwo had Nigeria’s best chance in the 71st minute when his toe-poked effort from the edge of the box shaded past the post and Obafemi Martins’ long-range effort seven minutes brought a decent stop from Sergia Romero. Diego Maradona was restless on the touchline but was able to celebrate the victory after the final whistle and provide a much-needed three points to start the tournament for La Albiceleste.

Steven Gerrard

England captain Steven Gerrard scored after just four minutes in their 1-1 draw against the United States

The final game on the second day of the competition was in Rustenburg where Group C got under way with an intriging clash between England and the United States. It was a confident USA team who got the game under way but they were made to pay for some slack defending after just four minutes when Steven Gerrard, replacing the injured Rio Ferdinand as England captain, ran into some clear space in the penalty box and was put through by Emile Heskey to give the Three Lions an early lead. England looked comfortable early on but the Americans gradually grew into the game with Jozy Altidore having their first real chance  after twenty minutes and then the USA had the most possession for the rest of the half. Just when it looked like England would go in at the break holding on to a slender lead it suddenly disappeared when goalkeeper Robert Green failed to hold on to Clint Dempsey’s speculative drive in the 40th minute to restore parity for the Americans and this was how it remained going into the interval.

The second half saw no real improvement from England and there were times when the United States looked the better side. They certainly had the best chance of the second half when Jozy Altidore got the better of England substitute Jamie Carragher and his low shot was turned against the post by Robert Green, who made up for his first half blunder at that moment. The expected stars of the match, England’s Wayne Rooney and USA’s Landon Donovan, didn’t really live up to star billing although the former did become more prominent in the last fifteen minutes of the game winning a number of free-kicks whilst the latter had a couple of shots from distance but didn’t really trouble the England keeper. The Man of the Match, in my opinion, was Emile Heskey whose tireless devotion to the cause made some of his critics, including yours truly, eat their words. As well as setting up the goal he was hard-working, won many aerial challenges and was a menace both in and around the USA penalty box until replaced by Peter Crouch in the 79th minute. Next up for England is Algeria in Cape Town on Friday, June 18th whilst the USA face Slovenia in Jo’Burg on the same date.

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?

England: Rooney seals League Cup triumph for United

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on February 28, 2010
Carling Cup

The English League Cup, aka Carling Cup, was won today by Manchester United

Manchester United won their fourth English League Cup overall, their third in five years, in front of 88,596 at Wembley Stadium today when beating Aston Villa 2-1. James Milner had given the Villains the lead from the penalty spot after just five minutes but goals from Michael Owen and his later replacement Wayne Rooney scored the winner for United who gained an element of revenge over the Birmingham side who had had the better of their two league encounters earlier this season.

The big news before the kick-off was the decision of United boss Sir Alex Ferguson to leave Wayne Rooney on the bench for the 50th final in this competition’s history and instead play Michael Owen from the start. Martin O’Neill’s Villa side welcomed back captain Stiliyan Petrov who was struck down earlier in the week with a virus that forced him to miss his team’s FA Cup game against Crystal Palace. After the match kicked-off it wasn’t to be long until the first major incident of the afternoon when Gabriel Agbonlahor was pulled down in the United penalty area by Nemanja Vidic, the referee Phil Dowd having no hesitation in pointing to the spot but deciding not even to book the United defender. James Milner stepped up to coolly convert the penalty having sent United keeper Tomasz Kuszczak the wrong way and Villa fans were dreaming of a first triumph in this competition since they defeated Leeds United in the 1996 final. However the defending cup holders had other ideas and it wasn’t long before parity was restored. The usually reliable Richard Dunne made a mistake by giving possession away to Dimitar Berbatov. When Dunne tried to atone for his error by tackling Berbatov he only succeeded in diverting the ball into the path of Michael Owen who justified his start by placing the ball past keeper Brad Friedel and Villa’s lead had only lasted for eight minutes. The rest of the first half saw both teams making chances with Emile Heskey going close for Villa whilst Ji-Sung Park and Berbatov were involved for United who had to see their goalscorer Owen go off the field with a pulled hamstring after 40 minutes, allowing Wayne Rooney to come on in his place.

After the break Rooney made his intentions clear with a shot from distance just a minute into the second half but the resulting shot failed to trouble Friedel on that occasion. Further flowing football from Park and Berbatov followed as United started to up the ante on their opponents with further chances for Michael Carrick and Rooney before the hour mark. After 68 minutes Vidic was shown the yellow card after a foul on Ashley Young which had many Villa fans annoyed as he could’ve and, arguably, should’ve been sent off for the earlier foul which led to the penalty goal. But United didn’t let the booking for Vidic affect them and on 74 minutes the Red Devils took the lead after some great inter-play between Berbatov and Valencia brought a cross from the latter on to the head of Rooney, who stood centre to goal and headed the ball into the top right-hand corner. Four minutes later Rooney had a chance to seal it but his header, again from a Valencia cross, hit the near post on this occasion. United’s only scare in the last ten minutes came from a Villa free-kick from Stuart Downing which whipped in to the box only for the ball to come off Heskey’s head followed by Vidic’s shoulder. As stoppage time was played both teams had a chance with Valencia hitting the sidenetting for United and Agbonlahor’s header in the very last minute going harmlessly wide. The final whistle sounded and Manchester United had retained the cup to ensure that they have a chance to emulate their Premier League and Carling Cup double from last season. Despite the disappointment Aston Villa still have a Champions League place to fight for as well as an FA Cup quarter-final against second tier side Reading FC to look forward to.