Wednesday, July 05, 2006

World Cup: Quarter Finals

Oh woe is me. England are out! We wuz robbed! Etc etc etc...

Of 4 quarters only I only screwed up my prediction on 1 of them (England). Germany have again proved that no matter how bad things are in friendlies, they turn it on for the big games. They are a tournament team and I wasn't surprised when they went through against Argentina. It was cruel for them, but they clearly peaked to early having struggled to break down Mexico in their second round match. The scenes after the match were appalling and any players involved in the fight should be severely reprimanded.

The Italians victory over Ukraine was not very surprising given that they were playing probably the weakest team in the last 8. At 1-0, Ukraine had a number of chances to pull it back and a final score of 3-0 flattered the winners. Italy haven't played well in this tournament, but they are still there.

The best game of the last 8 was undoubtedly France v Brazil. I'd been saying since before the tournament kicked off that Brazil were not the team of legends the sycophantic pundits would have you believe. They had been completely unconvincing throughout the tournament and were deservedly beaten by a French side that has turned the clock back 8 years to that memorable WC win at the Stade de France.

Bye bye England

And so, to England. It will now be 44 years of hurt when we next compete in the World Cup. Of course England deserved to beat Portugal. We were the better side for the majority of the match and played with 10 men for an hour. But, while it is fun to blame a pantomime villain like Christiano Ronaldo for his blatant efforts to get Wayne Rooney sent off, this only detracts from the real truth that England were poor in this tournament. We followed up winning one of the easiest groups with a lack luster second round win over Ecuador (probably the weakest team in the last 16). Despite a quarter final against a weakened Portugal team (probably the 2nd weakest team in the last 8) we still failed to progress.

If we are going to lay blame, then it has to be at the feet of the manager. His lack of tactical flexibility resulted in us having no strikers playing in what was to become his final match in charge. His determination to fit all the best players into the starting 11 was naive. Sometimes you have to drop players like Beckham or Lampard in order to foster a better team ethic. Look at Portugal, a very mediocre team on paper and yet they are into the semi-finals of the World Cup having beaten two of the old european powerhouses (Holland and England). They are the opposite of England. A weak team with a truly supreme manager in Scolari. England are a team of World Class players (and egos) with a truly inept manager.

I am still unsure whether McClaren can escape the confines of 5 years working for Sven, but if he can then I sincerely hope that he unshackles these great players and let's them do what they do for their clubs. The Gerrards, Rooneys, Owens, Terrys and Coles of this World are not meant to be stifled by completely negative tactics.

England are just like Spain, perennial underachievers. Back int he 1980s and 1990s, we had a relatively mediocre team, but our managers were able to get the side to punch above their weight (hence a quarter final in 1986, a semi in 1990 and a semi in the Euro Championships in 1996). Now we finally have a team of players that can win trophies, we just need a manager that can bring the best out of them.

Semi finals

Germany v Italy
Germany have been fantastic and while you can never write off the Italians, I just feel it could be the Germans year. I said it before the tournament despite all the criticisms of Klinsmann, they are a tournament team and have looked very strong coming forward. The Italians have, so far, been disappointing, but they are in the semis and one good performance could still see them through.

Portugal v France
Nobody saw France coming; not even the French team themselves! They have been supreme in the knockout phase, beating Spain deservedly in the second round and undeserving favourites Brazil in the last 8. Portugal have been like Italy, not very impressive but their team spirit seems to have carried them through. I don't feel they deserve to be in the final based on their performances, but they can't be written off. With a manager like Scolari, you never know.

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