Some Final World Cup Thoughts

12 07 2010

Usually upon the ending of a major sporting event we experience a small sense of loss that no longer will we be able to watch meaningful, exciting and intense sporting drama repeatedly, even if that happens to be between two sporting nations in whom we had no previous interest. It is the certainly the case when the Olympics finish with its endless disciplines and its wonderful stories; with the unique British and Irish Lions when they tour; with World Cups in most sports including earlier this year the hockey; and even such events as the Ryder Cup and all the tennis Opens.

With the completion of this years Football World Cup in South Africa last night, the time has come to look back at the tournament and work out why, despite many exciting moments and several hugely enjoyable and tense games, we are missing this sense of loss. We have been accused previously to this of being anti-football and, therefore, a football world cup would be unlikely to move us as much as the equivalent in cricket or rugby for example. While there is probably an argument for this, we are certainly not anti the ‘beautiful game’ and have always in the past enjoyed both the big and small occasions.

To try and figure out why this is so we have picked out some teams, people and moments below – both good and bad -that stood out for us in this world cup. Firstly the good:

Spain

Quite simply the best and most attractive team in the competition. In the past it has been their final opponents, the Dutch, who have espoused the best traditions of ‘total football’ yet in this tournament, and especially considering the men in orange’s thuggery during the final, it is Spain who have taken on that mantle. Their passing was beautiful to watch and the skill demonstrated on the ball by all of their team but especially Iniesta, Villa and Xavi was outstanding. Deserved winners and now both European and World Champions. Well played!

Diego Forlan

Awarded the Golden Ball for the best player of the tournament, Forlan’s work ethic and no little skill impressed all tournament long. English fans who remembered his loose and ineffective performances for Manchester United 8 years ago may well have been surprised to see this deluxe model performing at the highest level so effectively but in reality they shouldn’t. It was mainly down to his efforts and certainly his goals that Uruguay finished fourth.

David Villa

Cristiano who? Villa was simply brilliant all tournament long.

Asamoah Gyan

Will unfortunately be remembered for his penalty miss in the dying seconds of extra time in Ghana’s quarter final defeat to Uruguay; yet in our opinion he should be remembered more for his performances until this point including the huge guts he showed immediately after this aforementioned miss when he stepped up to take the first penalty of the shoot out.

Slovakia

Sterling efforts from an unsung team which included putting the holders, Italy, out.

New Zealand

Hardly renowned for their footballing ability, and only just qualifying for the world cup, the All Whites were expected to be cannon fodder for the bigger teams in the group. Yet in the end they were only a whisker away from qualifying for the latter stages and unbeaten throughout. They even got the rugby authorities worried that football might make inroads into the rugby watching public, which in a country as rugby mad as New Zealand is quite something.

Now for the bad:

Holland

Had we not witnessed the final we may have put Holland in the good section being fairly pro Dutch normally here at the Compulsive Hooker. Unfortunately with the first half of last nights game in mind we have moved them down to the bad (although truth be told perhaps they should be in a ‘Neither’ section. Despite having a brilliant game against Brazil and dispatching Uruguay efficiently in the semi final by playing, whilst not ‘total football, proper football at least, they descended into a disruptive style that brought Vinnie Jones days at Wimbledon to mind. Mark Van Bommel in particular was guilty of this and could quite honestly have been sent off twice. We would like to exclude Robben from this as he continued his exciting and elusive form into the final, although in truth Holland could and perhaps should of won in normal time with Robben failing to score his two one on ones with the Spanish goal keeper.

England

Angry, unfocused and betraying a technical ability more akin to New Zealand than the super power they aspire to be. Wayne Rooney merits a special mention as his touch in particular was appalling and totally uncharacteristic of him. As an England fan this is perhaps the other reason we didn’t get more into the tournament. Inevitably your interest grows as the competition progresses to the latter stages but without your team competing there is always a lessening in the passion.

France

Even more angry and dissenting than England towards their coach, the French campaign descended into farce almost immediately.

Italy

Not bad as such, mainly just distinctly average and the Italian public, accustomed as they are to possessing some of the worlds best players, must be worried about the current crop of players.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Simply the most irritating player in the world. Obviously one of the finest players in the world, he tarnished his reputation at this world cup. Semingly unwilling to go the extra mile for Portugal and compounding this error with his conviction that he alone could win the game for them by indulging in 45 yard pots at goal rather than crossing or passing as any one else would.

Vuvuzelas

Quite simply the worst thing to happen to sport for quite some time. See below for more…

The Atmosphere

We were talking to a die hard football fan the other day who was expressing a dissatisfaction with the atmosphere generated in the pubs and other public areas where he had watched the football. Normally in venues such as these the atmosphere is electric as supporters wish their team on. Yet in this world cup watching it in your local pub had lost something and we felt compelled to agree.

His theory was that the dreaded Vuvuzela’s were drowning out the crowd noise, the singing and cheering that is so vital to creating an atmosphere. Again we felt inclined to agree and we would be interested to hear you, the reader’s, thoughts on this… Analysing it closely we felt that this above all – not the football, not the players, and certainly not our lesser interest in football compared to rugby for example – has solved our dilemma as to why we aren’t more disappointed that the tournament has finally finished.

So hardly a definitive list of good and bad and there are surely things we have failed to mention that we should have done. What are your thoughts? Did it live up to your expectations?





Dancing to a Spanish Rhythm

8 07 2010

It is usually said that semi finals are the best games to watch in any cup competition as both sides have everything to gain from winning. Indeed the best match in any sport we have seen was in this context – the France versus New Zealand rugby semi final of the 1999 Rugby World Cup had everything and showed what can be achieved in these situations.

By contrast last nights match between Spain and Germany was a pretty dull affair, rarely moving above the pedestrian and certainly not having any of the cut and thrust that you usually associate with these teams although it should probably be emphasised that this was the Germans fault rather than the Spanish. Germany, who prior to this match had played with an unparalleled sharpness and incisiveness, retreated into their shell and played with bodies behind the ball, stifling Spain and the match.

Spain, on the other hand, passed the ball around and looked dangerous up until the final third of the pitch where the massed ranks of Germans were waiting. To be fair to Spain they did improve in the second half as they took more direct routes through the German defence, yet, at no point was this a classic. Undoubtedly the men in red deserved to win but, as with much, of this World Cup we were left feeling a little shortchanged.

Despite this feeling we couldn’t help but marvel at the Spanish passing and sheer footballing ability. Even when they were in the tightest of corners a couple of deft touches would see them with enough room to work their pass to the next player who would swiftly move it on to space where yet another assault could begin. Iniesta in particular has impressed us with how close the ball stays to his feet when on the move.

The referee deserves some praise in our eyes too. There have been ref’s through out this tournament who are only too willing to blow up for the dives, histrionics and alleged infringements on show; the worst case being in the Portugal Brazil game in the group stages where seemingly every challenge was blown up and a card awarded. Last nights ref let the game flow and frequently told players lying on the ground gesticulating to get up and get on with it. What flow the game had was in no little way down to him.

Looking ahead to the final now; we believe there will be heartbreak for the Dutch as Spain should eventually outclass them. It will be extremely surprising if Holland retreat into the sort of football Germany did as they have some brilliant and dangerous players in their own right; yet the Spanish machine is looking ominously well oiled and with a little more room to play in the final third should score too many goals for the combative Dutch.





A Truly Worrying Sporting Development

5 07 2010

We are currently sitting watching the Australia Pakistan game and have noticed a dreaded and worrying development in the method of support that the crowd use. Inevitably and unfortunately it is this piece of noise polluting plastic:

The worst thing to happen to sport probably ever...

We haven’t mentioned them yet in our writing as we hoped if we ignored them they might go away. Sadly it appears not. We also haven’t heard them in any other sporting occasion than the world cup so this apparent spread is a truly disturbing phenomenon!

They have been one of the reasons (probably even the main reason) we haven’t enjoyed the football world cup so much – there drone proving to be more irritating than even Cristiano Ronaldo’s behaviour. We have no truck with the people calling them a traditional sporting spectators instrument (absolute rubbish) and sincerely hope that places like Lords will never allow them in.

Imagine trying to concentrate with Shaun Tait bowling at you in a crucial Ashes session only to be distracted by what sounds like a huge swarm of bees attacking you.

It’s just simply not cricket.





Ghana’s Heartbreak and Dutch Courage

3 07 2010

What a day of football it was yesterday! Up until this point we hadn’t been moved a great deal by the World Cup in South Africa with relatively few of the games providing the levels of drama or entertaining football we had hoped and expected. It could be said in fact that the competition was passing us by somewhat. However, with Holland beating the might of Brazil and unbelievable levels of drama in the Uruguay and Ghana match, the whole tournament has suddenly come alive.

At the beginning of the World Cup few people would have bet on a Uruguay Holland semi final and for both teams this represents by far their best shot at glory for years. Uruguay of course have won two world cups although this was back in the 1930’s and dim in the memory. For Holland, their sole piece of silverware was won at the 1988 European Championships. It is not so much the victors but the manner of their victories that is interesting however and both are results that will surely be talked about for many years.

For Holland, their win was a testament to their fighting nature, having come back from a goal down and clearly being the worse side in the first half. Brazil, unfortunately, would have won few friends as the match progressed though as, once the going got tough, they seemed to fall apart in a ragged show of indisciplined football. With only Uruguay to come between Holland and a place in the final, a match that the Dutch should be favourites for, they must start believing that, just perhaps, this could be an orange year!

It is the other quarter final that offers the most talking points though. In case anyone missed it this is a synopsis of what happened. With the scores tied at 1-1 in the dying minutes of extra time, Ghana’s Adiyiah headed the ball goal bound only to see Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan outfield player, punch the ball away. Rightly of course, the referee sent Suarez off but then, with the last kick of the match, Asamoah Gyan blasted the ball over the bar. After that it seemed an inevitability when Ghana lost the match on penalties 4-2. Gyan himself showed incredible resolve and character to take the first kick but sadly two weak kicks from two other players sealed Ghana’s fate.

Following the winning kick, Suarez was lifted up onto another players shoulders and was accepting the Uruguayan fans applause and, whilst we appreciate how happy they were, it seemed a bit rich to us. Ghana have no one apart from themselves to blame but considering the manner of their defeat, helped as it was by an appalling bit of gamesmanship, the Uruguayans could have showed more empathy.

The incident last night reinforced what we and many others have believed for years. The ball was only stopped from entering the net due to it being illegally handled and, especially when it occurs in such context as a world cup quarter final, a red card given to the offender does not seem enough.  Therefore FIFA should change the rules so that the referee has the power to award the goal if he believes it is going in. There are parallels in other sports. In rugby for example, when the attacking sides scrum is only being thwarted from scoring a push over try due to foul play by the defensive teams scrum, the referee has the option of awarding a penalty try as well as carding the offending players, thereby punishing the team on the scorecard as well as in personnel.

It might be argued that it would be difficult to police by the referee alone without the use of video technology, yet by dint of how serious the offence is, players wouldn’t ever be tempted to handle it unless the ball was practically crossing the goal line anyway, which in turn means that it would probably be a relatively simple thing to officiate on. What are your thoughts?

Ghana can go home with their heads held high knowing that on another day, such is the lottery of penalties, it might have been them going to face the Dutch. The Compulsive Hookers allegiance has been transferred to the men in orange and we would love to see them upset the more established footballing powers.





World Cup 2010 – Some Thoughts at the Quarter Final Stage

30 06 2010

As we are now into the latter stages of the World Cup in South Africa, we thought we would put together a few thoughts on what we have witnessed so far. We have seen most of the games but not all, so if we have missed something please let us know by commenting below:

Team Most Likely To Win: A difficult choice as Brazil appeared to have clicked back to their measured but brilliant best with their win over Chile, Germany were as efficient as only Germans can be against England and Spain and Argentina have both played some good football although there are perhaps some concerns over Spain’s big match prowess. When pressed to make a choice we have to plump for Germany as we just have a sneaky suspicion that this will be their year.

Favourite Team: A toss up between that group of predominantly non-league footballers, the All Whites, Bafana Bafana and Slovakia perhaps as well due to their win over Italy. Probably the All Whites if push came to shove.

Most Disappointing Teams: A three way tie between Italy, France and England. Each of them hyped up in their own countries but by no one else.

Best Single Players Performance: The Kiwi goalie’s extraordinary shot stopping against Italy in their one all draw would get our vote. We’re sure there are others so let us know below.

Best Goal: Not sure about this one but Maicon’s goal for Brazil against North Korea was pretty special. We saw highlights for a pretty spectacular volley from a Dutch player early in the tournament which looked brilliant. Who was this player, can anyone tell us?

Most Irritating Player: Cristiano Ronaldo – no shadow of a doubt. We would hate to be playing on the same Portugese side as him only to watch him blaze 40 yard free kicks either high and wide or comfortably into the goalies arms. His repeated falling over at the slightest touch doesn’t help our affections towards him either.

Most Disappointing Player: Wayne Rooney – his touch seemed to desert him and never looked threatening.

Best Player: David Villa – doing everything Ronaldo was supposed to do himself.

Best Game: Probably England vs Germany (although obviously not from an Englishman’s perspective). Was high drama in a world cup strangely lacking it.

Most Entertaining Manager: Has to be Maradona for his press conferences and his flamboyant sideline celebrations. Would be akin in passion to Ian Wright managing the England team.

Overall Thoughts: To us this seems to be a slightly strange and disappointing experience so far and we can’t work out why. What does everyone else think – has it been underwhelming or is it just us here at the Compulsive Hooker? Now we’re into the business end of the competition hopefully this feeling will dissipate quickly.





World Cup Woes

28 06 2010

Well at least we won in the cricket!

Sadly there is not much else that can be said from yesterday’s day of sport. The debacle that was England’s 4-1 loss to Germany last night in South Africa made sure of that! Whilst from a neutrals point of view (and a Germans!) it was probably quite a good game to watch, for an Englishman however, marking as it did the end of our involvement in this years world cup, it was pretty painful.

The extraordinary ease with which the English defence was regularly cut open astonished us and, much as we are not a fan of his here at the Compulsive Hooker, Rio Ferdinand was undoubtedly missed. The person we felt most sorry for was David James on the night as time and time again he was left exposed by poor play from his back line and with finishers as good as Klose around, these chances are never going to be wasted.

To tell the truth though England simply weren’t good enough and once again have proved to be a second division nation of footballers on the world stage. It is mystifying why this should be the case as, in Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney and Terry, there is a backbone of quality players as good as any around, yet in an England shirt they fail to gel. Rooney’s performance once again typified his struggles and demonstrated a touch which would not have looked out of place in a Sunday village side. Whatever the reason behind it; we have rarely, if ever, seen a player look so woefully out of form.

It is also true that the game may have gone differently had Lampard’s ‘goal’ been awarded as it should have been – two all would have made Germany play very differently than they did after remaining a goal up. Able to sit back and then hit England on the break, life was made very difficult for the English yet, as mentioned above, the Germans fully deserved their victory and if they play like this in the latter stages must stand a reasonable chance of going all the way.

This will no doubt be analysed to death over the next few weeks and into the new season so we are going to leave it there. Disappointing but ultimately unsurprising; the England players can now run back to their cushy club roles and pretend it never happened, deluding themselves that, ‘had that goal gone been awarded we could have won the whole thing’….

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Oh and one final thing; when you are 3 goals down and only 20 minutes left it would be clear to most managers that you need some players on who might score a goal. So naturally Fabio Capello substituted Jermain Defoe for Emile Heskey. A proven goal scorer for someone who has 7 goals in 62 appearances.

Brilliant.





Of False Dawns and Team England

25 06 2010

False Dawns?

England completed another easy win over Australia yesterday at Cardiff, knocking off the required 240 runs with four wickets in hand and the best part of five overs to spare giving them a 2-0 lead in the five match series. Similarly to the first game there were few wobbles and, truth be told, England never looked like losing. Only some fine fast bowling towards the end from Doug Bollinger ensured England did not complete the win by a larger margin.

There were again some notable positives to come out of this game with Strauss scoring fifty at a good rate, Collingwood playing himself back into form and then, after Morgan had all but guided them home, some clever cricket from Bresnan and Swann. With 32 left to win and these two at the crease they showed admirable nous and not a little skill in their ability to drop the ball and run before Swann relieved what little pressure there was with a couple of driven boundaries. The England of old may have folded at 211-6 but not this current team – which brings us nicely to the question – is this yet another false dawn or actually a genuinely talented limited overs side which could conceivably challenge for the world cup next year?

England teams across the various sports competed in by our national teams have a habit of raising the sporting public’s hopes only to dash them again somewhere down the line. In cricket we witnessed this after the Ashes of 2005 with England subsequently beaten 5-0 away from home. In Rugby (it must be said only since 2003) after any victory, or sometimes not even a victory, but a simply a more positive performance you start thinking ‘perhaps from today we’ll be good’ only to then play diabolically against Italy or some such team. Even in Football, where we are supposed to be witnessing a ‘golden generation’ of English players, a great qualifying campaign is then dragged down in some ordinary performances at the world cup itself bringing what had previously been hopeful fans down with a bump.

Perhaps it is as much the fans fault as the English players in that there is too much expectation heaped upon the players of these games? This means that, perhaps, unless whichever national team we are supporting become a side similarly dominant to the Aussie cricketers of the last 15 years or the West Indies before that we will never be happy? For our part at the Compulsive Hooker we would like to see; the English rugby team regularly beat southern hemisphere opposition, the footballers live up to their superstar status by reaching the semi finals of the world cup (at the very least) and the cricketers beat Australia away from home in a test series… Not much to ask then!

Whilst it is possible that we are witnessing another false dawn with this one day side, we feel that finally England have a side capable of regularly scoring enough runs and a bowling attack clever and varied enough to limit most teams to an inferior total. Broad is one who typifies this, yesterday living up to Michael Vaughan’s billing of him as a ‘clever cricketer’, by reining in the Australians after a profligate start by Jimmy Anderson. There are still one or two in this side who are a little short of the highest quality – Bresnan, Yardy, Wright – yet until a better replacement comes along this lot are unlikely to let anyone down. Indeed Wright has played crucial parts in both games so far with a good innings in the first match and some important wickets in both.

The other factor that has probably been overlooked up until now (certainly by us at the Compulsive Hooker) is that a winning one day side is only ever going to assist your test team in becoming dominant in their own right but a losing one will certainly drag the test team down. For so long England have regarded ODI cricket as the poor neighbour of tests and, whilst this in our opinion remains true to a certain extent, it is probably impossible to become the dominant team in world cricket whilst only half (or a third these days with the inclusion of 20/20) of your national set up is firing. Winning habits in one form helps breed winning habits in the others in spite of the various changes of personnel.

Therefore, and in short, we are going to go on record and suggest that this isn’t a false dawn and, providing England build on this, there is a rosy future ahead for England’s limited overs teams!

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KP Signs for Team England?

News came out a few days ago that Kevin Pietersen is looking for a new county after claiming that the commute from Chelsea to Hampshire simply doesn’t work for him. We would normally have some sympathy for this although clearly it is his choice to live in Chelsea and his commute has probably only be necessary maybe 20 times over the past five years! Clearly he is looking to join one of the London counties in Surrey or Middlesex but the natural question is then; what could these counties realistically expect to get out of this? He is likely to be away with England for the best part of the year and we would bet that his record for Hampshire when he has played has been no more than mediocre. It is possible that, with the majority of his wages paid for by the ECB, one of these two counties may take him on as a commercial proposition – i.e. to sell as many shirts as possible and make some much needed cash – but we’re not sure this would work.

Therefore the question is; does KP even need a county? There is so much international cricket these days that it is perhaps not totally inconceivable… What does everyone think?








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