Friday, June 30, 2006

Ésta es inmotalidad

Maradona thinks about playing the long ball and goes "Naaa..."

"Harimau mati meninggalkan belang..."

As was the case with this small, stout senor. Exactly at this stage of the competition 20 years ago. And this was against a respectable, decent enough England team!

I'm sure as hell hoping for more of the same as we move into the quarter-finals tonight. If that is too much to ask for - and I think it probably is - then something really memorable would suffice.

20 years ago the world was at the tip of Maradona's toes; he receives the ball in his own half and with the poise of a ballet dancer (and seemingly without needing to move more than a few feet) he turns to lose two Englishmen (and a lethargic third giving chase), accelerates past another two, rounds off the on-rushing Peter Shilton, shrugs off a last-ditch chop-down by Terry Butcher and one man in the near post, and with the flick of a boot writes himself into the annals of football immortality.

Whose name do the Gods of football call this year?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

So glad to be wrong

Never was I happier about being wrong on so many counts.

I was wrong about France. One spoonful of humble pie.

I was wrong about Brazil and Ronaldo (bless you, fatso!). Two spoonfuls of humble pie.

I was wrong about Mexico going further than Portugal.
And about Holland and Marco van Basten. And about the Czech Republic. And about England playing Germany and losing (I wish I was right here, though).

But I'm very happy about the quarter-final line-ups. 6 world champions in the final 8 - although 1 of them have a team where nobody was born when they last won the blessed thing!

Oh, what the heck... leave the whole damn pie!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Fresco fiasco!

Can you bloody believe this? I'm not even going to say a damn thing about it.

Please Portugal... please help us!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Will 'they' do it?

The 48 group games have been played, and while I've enjoyed most of them - and a high number of them have been hugely entertaining - my all out favourite has got to be the Argentina v Serbia game, with that wonder team goal.

"They've done it!" screamed the commentator... and it was 'they' indeed. Cambiasso may have finished the move, but if ever there was a prize for the greatest ever team goal, and the most ingenious passing, it will have to go to this one.

Diego thanked his hombres for a good workout in Gelsenkirchen

A quick check from the SoccerNet stat files revealed that this match was incidentally the top rated match so far, at a score of 8.9. Croatia v Australia (2-2, at 8.7) and Czech Republic v Ghana (0-2, at 8.6) were close behind.
England v Paraguay was a yawning 45th, with 4.5.
Did you know...
Sanderos, Gerrard, Materrazi, Ljungberg, Koller and even le' lankster Crouch may have scored some of the more popular headed goals, but it is Ecuador's Carlos Tenorio who heads (sic) the list of headed goals by 2. Watch out England!

Its suprising that the two best rated goalkeepers are Korea's Lee Woon-Jae and Trinidad's Shaka Hislop, both with a joint rating of 8.1.

"Come on, mon... show me some lurve"

Ironically, both teams are not in the last 16. Of those teams who qualified only Buffon, van der Sar, Abbondanzieri, Ghana's Richard Kingston, Casilas and Dida rated above 7.0.

I can't argue with Deco, Juninho, Riquelme and Xabi Alonso in the top 5 spots as best rated players, but Man Utd / Korea's Park Ji-Sung at number 1 (8.4)???

Against this, Gerrard is joint 14th (with Fabregas, at 7.3), while tournament leader Ronaldinho is joint 20th (with Cambiasso, Ljungberg, Castillo, Frings and Aaron Lennon, all with 7.1)

Singapore's Shamsul Maidin is the best rated official at 7.5 (wow!), with Italian Roberto Rosetti in at 2nd with 7.0, and Mexican Armando Archundia, Australian Mark Alexander Shield, and Japan's Toru Kamikawa joint 3rd with 6.5.

The well coiffeured Marco Rodriguez from Mexico with his can of Brylcream comes in at 18th with 4.5.

Michael Corleone said "Keep your cards close, but keep your whistle closer"

I'm not going to bother with predictions for the 2nd round, as fellow football kaki Spiller and Daniel have already done a great job with theirs, and I really have little to add.

But I will leave you with the commentary from that brilliant Cambiasso goal, which you can also watch here.
Was the commentator stunned, or just in awe?

...(caught by) Maxi Rodriguez...

Maxi Rodriguez again. Here's Sorin.

Maxi Rodriguez to Sorin. To Mascherano. To Riquelme. Cambiasso. Mascherano.

Maxi Rodriguez forcing it wide. Here's Sorin. Cambiasso. This is where Argentina can be very patient indeed. I've watched their youth teams do this, just play the ball endlessly around the egde of the opponent's penalty area, then suddenly break with devastating consequences.

Saviola... Cambiasso... CAMBIASSO! They've done it! They've done it... and scored a fantastic goal!

How many passes did they put together there? You'll need a calculator.
The inter-passing here was just devastating.
Have you ever seen a better crafted goal at the World Cup finals. This will be shown in training manuals all around the world.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Stalemates are stale, mate

I suppose Matt Belanda was right in his prediction of 0-0 for the last group C game between Argentina and Holland. Personally I thought it was a bit of a snoooozathon.

I guess we can't always expect things to go like this (below), but let's look at it again, anyway:

Beautiful, innit?

It was great seeing Diego lead the cheers for his boys in those Argentina games. This piece of behaviour on the German
autobahn however, was puzzling.

Hey Diego, apa bikin daa...?

In Germany, you aren't allowed to do this when driving

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sky-blue, or Oranje?

*DISH* *BISH* hosted some crazy hombres (including brother-in-law Dev, who is an unfortunate England fan... albeit a fair, knowledgeable one) over for dinner and two mega Group C matches last Friday.

Also in attendance was my friend and ever patriotic Dutchman Matt Belanda, who enjoyed the Singapore mee and satay, but didn't look quite so amused with Argentina's 6-0 (read it again: SIX - NIL) mauling of Serbia and Montenegro, and was visibly twitching as almost the entire Ivorian team held siege on the Dutch goal for almost the entire 2nd half of that game.

Somebody should have told these dudes where the TV was

Matt guest-blogs this entry with Keropok, in anticipation of that final game which decides the honours for Group C on 21st June (3am, 22nd June in Malaysia):

Keropok predicts 2-0 for Argentina
17 of the 23 players in the squad are graduates from the youth side, helmed by current manager Jose Pekerman. They've played together for a number of years, and all instruments in the orchestra know their exact cue.

Speak nothing yet of the team oozing talent from every pore. Even goalgetters Crespo and Saviola's place in the starting line-up are under threat.

The defence looks rock-solid, and not once did they ever look like conceding a goal. Even goalkeeper Abbondanzieri, touted as a Barthez-like fumbler, looks confident and decisive between the sticks. With names like Ayala, Heinze, Sorin and Burdisso in front of him, which goalkeeper wouldn't?

There is so, so much talent in attack that the likes of Messi and Tevez – blindingly brilliant footballers in their own right – are being used as 'impact players', behind Saviola and Crespo, who by themselves are tearing lesser defenses apart.

Riquelme's performance was impeccable. So many times against the Serbians, and even the Ivorians in game 1, he was able to evade 3 or 4 opposition players without seeming to move more than a few feet. His passes opened up acres of space for his colleagues on so many occasions.

The Serbians threw a number of players to crowd him out, and all it did what free up space for others like Maxi Rodriguez and Cambiasso to channel supply to the forward line. The no-nonsense Mascherano is growing in stature as he thwarted Serbian attack even before they could trouble the defense behind him. He is the pivot in this fully-functional Argentine team, and seems to know the job of a defensive midfielder extremely well.

The Dutch seemed to have a 'hole' in their team play; their defense, attack and the wings looks to be working well, but there is nobody in the centre of the park to win key battles and co-ordinate key attacking moves. It is here that the battle could be lost to the Argentines.

The French team in '86 was perhaps the last time we saw such great passing at this stage. Platini, Tigana, Fernandez and Giresse were perfect passers of the ball, and a number of the French goals from that tournament came from about a dozen moves being strung together before the ball eventually bulged the net.

Cambiasso's goal (the 2nd one against the Serbians) was a throwback to those days. Their other goals were great too, and they're only going to keep getting better and better.

Matt predicts a 1-1 draw
Ever since the '74 and '78 finals with the likes of Cruijff and Neeskens, the Dutch have always faced the biggest enemy in themselves by quarreling during big tournaments and so far no one manager has been able to win the respect of the players.

When you put together big egos from clubs such as Chelsea, ManUtd, Arsenal, PSV, Feyenoord, Ajax and Barcelona only a legend like Cruijff or Marco van Basten would be able to gain the respect of the players, and that's exactly what we got!

The Oranje haven't been extremely convincing in the first two matches against Serbia and Ivory Coast, but did the job. During their last match the Oranje team actually set a new world record of not conceding a goal for over 950 minutes of FIFA world cup match football. Coincidentally, van Basten is the first coach ever to lead the Dutch through World Cup qualification without a single defeat.

For those who claim that the Dutch are the best team never to have won the World Cup, the above seems like a good recipe for success.

Totaal Voetbal principle lives in all Dutch players, coming from a country with the highest number of registered football players and clubs per capita and four of their coaches leading different nations in this world cup. If you ask me, it's all down to the coach's decisions on who should play and who should stay on the bench.

Dirk Kuyt, Landzaat and Babel are all waiting for action, van Nistelrooij found the net and regained his confidence, Robben and van Persie are on the top of their games and van der Sar has yet to put his stamp on this tournament.

The team has survived the first two matches and has gotten used to each other and there’s plenty of talent on the bench ready for action. My prediction is that they will draw against the Argentines as they're two good teams and are not really playing for survival.

I do however predict this: Holland will beat Argentina in the semis 2-1, as they did in the q-finals in '98!

P/S: STOP PRESS! Upon proper scrutiny and callout from fellow blogger Spiller (thanks dude) it appears that if both Argentina and Holland win their respective elimination games, they would meet in the finals, and not in the semis, as said here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Please Sir... please use some lube

I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan. And they have a very apt piece of lyric from their legendary Dark Side Of The Moon album, which a journalist covering the game in Nuremburg could perhaps use for his review of England’s latest game:

“Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way”

How true. How true.
Stevie always enjoyed a good tickle from tall men
So, England have had a great 10 minutes in the World Cup, two Englishmen have joined Paraguay’s Gamarra on the scorer sheet, and after Germany and Ecuador, they’re the 3rd team to check into the round of 16.

But for 80 minutes, they had very little to show for it. 80 minutes of quiet desperation. The English way.

Now, to be fair to England, the vultures had been circling for quite a while, and conditions were set for detractors to swoop down to feed on the entrails of the forlorn Owen, the hapless Eriksson, the unfortunate Lampard (after his misses), and the team in general.

Surprisingly, though, a quick check on the BBC boards an hour after the game showed many English fans themselves (let’s forget counting the ‘sheep’ for a minute) were rightly
uncharitable to the team:

"And England exhales... Have a feeling that that performance won't have inspired total confidence in England supporters?"

And again:

"Unimpressed with what was supposed to be a World Cup favorite. They absolutely struggled to beat freakin' Trinidad. Trinidad!

I would be very afraid of getting humiliated in the next round."

And yet again:

"Boring, boring, boring.

They will be defeated by Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Ivory Coast, the Czechs. No chance whatsoever! Even Equador will be quite a hurdle."

I have been a big critic of Eriksson, Beckham and a number of other players in this team. But what’s fair is fair, and the substitutions were absolutely right, and very impressive.

Lennon and Downing provided pace and incision on the flanks, and while Rooney didn’t exactly Popeye his way to goal, his presence did spur the other players on.

But the commentator did say there was some sort of ‘conference’ going on at the England bench prior the substitutions, and my gut tells me the other English wallahs pressured Eriksson to making those changes; for a minute, I thought we’d see the entry of Owen Hargreaves!

But was it Sven who made those changes? Unlikely, if you ask me...

Well, here’s looking to the rest of the media reports to come through in the next few hours / days. Surely, they now predict a blazing trail of glory to the finals in Berlin and beyond. Surely now England will burn a path through to ultimate victory. Surely “it’s coming home!”

Let the
masturbation begin!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Argies are barging, Czechs are bouncing, Italians are loafing... GAME ON!

I would love to have added the words “Brazilians are waxing” to the above title... but after yesterday’s performance against an inspired Croatia (who, if they took their chances well, could have snatched a point), I think they're vulnerable in a few spots. Some in-grown hairs, if you follow the analogy...

In fact, the words “if they took their chances well...” may just turn out to be the most repeated phrase at this World Cup.

But after 5 days and 14 matches (I'm not going to
factor in the chances of the Group H teams – sorry Spain and Ukraine) here is how I see the main players in this tournament:

1. Argentina got their opening match jitters out of the way, and are looking pretty rock-solid. They need to work out how they would use Messi, Tevez and Aimar in the mix of an otherwise unyielding first 11. The thing about having too many good cooks is that they could seriously f*** up the soup. Pekerman needs to find the sweet spot. 8/10

2. The Czech Republic are looking firm all round, and I think displayed the best form of all teams in their opening game. I couldn't find anywhere they could have done better. Nedved seemed to grow as the game wore on, and Rosicky could just go on to wallop in a few more in this tournament. With Peter Cech between the sticks, the opposition will find them difficult to break down.

3. Italy, if they play things well, could go all the way to the last four, at the very least. Nesta and Cannavaro look very miserly in defense, and hardly gave anything away to the Ghanaians. Luca Toni, Pirlo, and even the volatile Totti have a menace about them. However, they are susceptible to attacks from the flanks, and don't really look like they have someone who could boss a midfield (so necessary to win the World Cup with a midfield lynchpin). 7/10

4. Germany would feel they have underperformed if they don't at least reach the last 4. Center-backs Metzelder and Mertesacker notwithstanding, the team look inspired everywhere else, but they must reinforce the center of defense. I think we'd see this problem sorted with Ballack in against Poland... we'll see. Otherwise, a solid bet for the semi-finals at least. 7/10

5. Brazil seriously need to fix the left of defense if they wish to avoid any set-backs. I don't know how you could put cover for a fullback, but Roberto Carlos isn't exactly the most defensive minded, and Juan doesn't look like he could thwart a quick attack. Lucio is also error prone, and Dida too often flaps at crosses.

Their attack looks potent, and I'm sure will grow in fluency (unlike the game against Croatia). No need to say anything more here. 7/10

N.B.: Cafu, however, is not 36! He simply cannot be 36. How can a man who defends so impeccably and links up to the attack so effortlessly – all through the 90 mins – be 36? Somebody tell me this is not true.

5. Mexico look very exciting. I like Marquez and his work for Barcelona and in the Mexican team make him a big asset. The team hustles their opponents no end and close them down quickly when not in possession. Pardon the non-PC-correctness, but they're almost like street urchins who know which pocket to pick, and pick it quick they do. Inconvenient to play against, they could go far. 6.5/10

6. Holland seem to be flying on one wing – the left with Robben. Van Persie will probably be better suited in a more central role, with Kuyt managing the right. MVB needs to ditch van Nistelrooy, or at least bench him and keep him hungry. Midfield sorely needs a fulcrum (same problem with Italians). 6/10

7. Croatia were unlucky not to get anything in their first game. Against a team like Brazil that's saying a lot indeed. But they must put away their chances; at least 4 very clear chances were not taken. They'
re really quick on the break though, which could punish slower defenses. 6/10

8. France don't look like they're interested. Failing that, they don't look like they're up to it. There was no link between defense and attack, and it was almost as if there were two teams out there. I disagree with Shebby Singh – you can play two defensive midfielders like Makalele and Viera (see Ze Roberto and Emerson) and still create a flowing structure, but Les Blues flopped. Early exit, monsieurs... 4/10

9. Portugal's biggest asset is Luis Felipe Scolari, and he can't play for them. Because he's Brazilian. And too old. And he's the manager.

If Deco can't fix the Portuguese' lack of zing in their overall game when he comes on next, it's an early flight back to Lisbon, hombres. I don't see them pipping Mexico to top spot, and I can't see them coping with either Holland or Argentina in the round of 16, if they make it. 3/10

10. England. Sigh.

Owen Hargreaves. Sven Goran Erickson. Michael Owen. Stewart Downing.

'Nuff said. Not even going to bother rating them.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Yes, I said it here!

Since this is primarily a football blog, I thought I ought to post something from the World Cup feast of the past few days, before I kena gasak by more folks.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opening match and Germany looked very good against an equally impressive Costa Rica. With the Ecuadorians beating Poland, this group is still somewhat open, but only in a sense that the other three will be likely be fighting for the 2nd spot.

Germany shouldn't have a worry in the remaining two matches, central defenders notwithstanding. And they didn't even have Ballack on!

I will save my *dish* *bish* on England for later. But let me say that Trinidad & Tobago look to have bigger ambitions – and capabilities – in Germany than the English press seem to make of them. A slip up on Friday morning and Owen, Beckham et al may just find themselves doing the early shopping in Frankfurt.

Sweden need to buck up, and soon. Ibrahimovic seemed to be fighting a lone battle out front, as Larsson inexplicably had a poor game. Ljungberg kept going for personal glory with 90% of the chances that came his way. Either that or he thought his team-mates weren't good enough. Arsenal-ish show-boating no doubt. And then some...

My pick Argentina had a solid performance all round,
as I thought they would, and Pekermen fielded the right team, as I thought he would. They still have plenty on the bench. Not even a sniff (yet!) of Messi and Tevez. Aimar only had about 3 minutes. Many capable flers on the bench, and they’re all pretty hungry. Crespo and Saviola were incisive in attack. Riquelme, Mascherano and Heinze flexed their muscles big-time. It's all going to plan, and looking bloody good.

Didier enjoyed the zero-gravity ride in Hamburg
I caught the Holland v S&M game with a Dutch friend (thanks Matt Belanda!) and even he thought the boys in Orange seriously need to step up their game (and Matt Belanda is a big-time Holland sympathizer, even when times are not too good for them). Good personnel all round bar the hapless van Nistelrooy, and Robben was dynamite, but they seriously lack a mid-field lynchpin. Could Clarence Seedorf have done it?

The Mexicans were very, very good against Iran (another surprisingly sound performance, btw), hustling, bustling, and totally bossing the 2nd half. Portugal need to improve beyond their 1-0 victory against Angola if they're looking to pip these hombres to top spot in Group C.

Now to England. What the *#&@ is Ericsson's problem? I seriously think this Swede is out to sabotage England's plans – what else could you make of his team selection and substitutions? Is this man as stupid as he seems?

And his ideas of Rooney "having a part in the T&T game" is having a profoundly worrying effect on Man Utd fans. Better watch it Sven... or we’ll be remembering Nuremburg for something else.

I said it
here that his preference for automatic starters like Beckham and Owen were going to be England's undoing, and that capitulation looks all the more impending. Expect it to happen against Sweden.

I also said his not fielding a holding midfielder was going to stretch Lampard and Gerrard. Both wilted in the German heat as they spread themselves too thin.

And what the fifi is he thinking with
Owen Hargreaves???

Plus England do not look to have the same depth of resources on the bench as say Argentina, Brazil, Germany or even Holland.

I have never been an England fan, but you can't help but feel that for a team boasting the talents of Lampard, Gerrard, Joe Cole, Terry, Lennon and Carrick (both unused – tsk tsk), Rooney (soon to be used – tsk tsk) and friends, they ought to be doing better.

As it is, they would have been troubled against a team slightly better than Paraguay. And Owen was the only player thus far to have a worse game than van Nistelrooy.

It's a laugh, amigos! Remember: look to that 2nd round exit against Germany. You read it here first.

Friday, June 09, 2006


It's here! 5-odd hours and counting.

'02 in Japan and Korea was disappointing by World Cup standards; not as good as France '98, but certainly way better than USA '04.

Mexico '86 shall still be the standard, for me. It was my first World Cup, and watching reruns on ASTRO just confirmed how awesome it was, and how many truly great players graced that scene: Platini, Linekar, Butragueno, Scifo, Burruchaga, Francescoli, Barnes, Careca, Tigana, Rummenigge, (a bit of) Zico, Olsen, Paz, Laudrup, Matthaus, etc.

And of course that great, great man, Diego Maradona (and those hebat goals!).

2002 - for all people say about it - was a showpiece of Ronaldo making up for '98, and the promise of the magical Ronaldinho.

And to think that it showed that Nicky Butt was a highly under-rated player (would you believe it now?). Besides that, no truly memorable moments whatsoever.

What. So. Ever.

There's so much promise this time round. Bring on 2006.

P.S. I don't wanna say nothin', but just you watch out for the Czech Republic. The not-so-surprising surprise package of 2006?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

That's amore!

My heart is racing. My palms are sweaty. I have a strange craving for beer nuts.

When I turn on the television, I barely resist the temptation to switch to the ASTRO World Cup channels, where they're showing past qualifying matches and two-hour-long recaps on World Cups past.

My wife is starting to get very annoyed. I keep telling her "It's only once in four years, sweetie," but deep down I know I'm going to have to come up with something better.

I mean, what do I say when the annual football seasons commence in late August!

I said here that I still remember the day I sat in front of television one night /early morning in 1986, a starry-eyed 10-year-old, mouth agape, eyes as wide as saucers, when Argentina trounced (the then) West Germany 3-2 to lift the trophy for the 2nd time. I fell in love with football that day.

Well, it's here once again. And I'm looking forward to just 5 things:

1. One or two ridiculously glorious goals
Think Maradona vs England in 1986.
Think Baggio vs Bulgaria in 1994.
Think Cameroon's Roger Milla vs Columbia in 1990.

Think goals so obscene we head to bed dreaming of it!

2. Not-as-many stupid linesman decisions
World Cup's have been destroyed when overzealous 'assistant referees' reacted rashly to borderline off-sides fouls or off-the-ball sequences.

I know there will always be complaints, but all the people can't be wrong all the time!

3. Out with unsportsman-like behaviour
I have always been intrigued how the ruffians who play rugby often conduct themselves with more decorum that the wallahs without mouth guards, entrusted with a world audience of close to 1 billion.

No goading the referee to producing cards.
No play-acting.
No cynical, career-threatening fouls.
And no racism!

4. Some (but not too many) over-the-top goal celebrations
Remember Brian Laudrup and his "sleeping Buddha"? Or Bebeto and his "cradle rock"? Or the exhuberant Cameroon flers in 1990?

5. The music
The school bands from England. The samba drums and timbales from Brazil. The sombrero-donned mariachi trumpeters from the Latin countries. Turn volume up for maximum enjoyment!

They're all in Germany, and rearing to go.

It's here once again, baby... Blow that whistle. Let's get on with it!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Ten reasons why Holland will do well in Germany

10. Marco van Basten
This man has no respect for reputations – which is really a good thing when it comes to the Dutch national team. So out go the trouble-makers – Makaay, Kluivert and that kecoh Davids.

Seedorf, while not viewed as a classic trouble-maker, was simply not good enough; he may have grown comfortable and accustomed to his role at AC Milan, but was clearly out of rhytym with MVB’s management and football style, and the mix of the team in general.

9. Dirk Kuyt
It appears that the only blondes with brains are those in orange jerseys!

Kuyt has a pure footballing brain, and every decision he makes on the field seems to make very clear sense. He is blessed with an uncanny sense of knowing the quickest route to goal, and the speed and ability to get there quickly.

Passing? Tick.
Tick. Tick.
Tick. Tick. Tick.

If he’s headed to Liverpool the coming EPL season, it will be a super buy indeed. Perhaps Chelsea with their "retirement home" squad of Shevchenko, Ballack and co aren’t so frightening after all.

8. A hungry Ruud van Nistelrooy
If there is a man with more to prove than van Basten, it is Ruud.

Disposed with unease from Old Trafford – perhaps permanently – he knows more than anyone else on the team how little reputation counts for in this squad. There are eager, capable and available options on the bench, and if he doesn’t put away his chances well, Ruud could end up with little time on the field in Germany.

7. Marco van Basten
If there is a man with more to prove than van Nistelrooy, it is Marco.

I was surprised to find out from the Soccernet fact files that he has never won a World Cup match; his only tournament was the disappointing Italia ’90, which ended poorly for the Dutch. Three draws in the group stages, and a 2nd round defeat to West Germany means that van Basten will be eager as hell to rack up the wins and move his team into the deeper rounds of the tournament.

6. World Cup 2002
They were not in JPN / KOR, and the few Dutch wallahs I know tell me that really sucked. Big time!

There is a phrase about absence, and the heart becoming fonder, or something like that... I can’t remember it now...

5. Form, patience
Notwithstanding the bruiser of a
not-so-friendly friendly match against Australia the past weekend, this squad is hitting a really rich vein of form.

I saw them play Mexico a week ago, and despite going down 1-0 at half-time, they came back with a zing-zang-zonger, and packed the Mexican gringos off with relative ease with two quick goals in the 2nd half.

4. Team morale
Observers have commented that they have never seen morale in the Dutch camp this high. It was a big handicap in the past, for Dutch teams boasting far more big names than this one.

And it was encouraging that when MVB assumed the role he made morale a big mandate. And top-o-the-props to him, he’s put his money where his mouth is.

MVB says “We've abandoned the petty fines for coming late or leaving mobiles on, as this is not the kind of money that will hurt any modern player. As a punishment he now has to tell a joke in front of the group. That works very well. No one has sinned so far.”

3. Da playa’s
Robben, van Persie, Sneijder, Ooijder, van Bommel, Cocu, Kromkamp are only some of the delectable talents expected to hit the field against Serbia & Montenegro come June 11th.

Holland also have depth of talent on the bench, with the likes of Heitinga, Hasselink, and the exuberant Ryan Babel (who scored the cool winner against Mexico).

Babel looks to be a real firecracker, and along with the rest of the Ajax team members in this squad, are sure to bring his club closer to the glory days they used to enjoy in the early ‘90s.

He may be young, and may look too much like the rascal Patrick Kluivert for my liking, but I think MVB has got a great ace up his sleeve for whenever he needs a cracker-jack substitute. Expect him to come in handy in the tiring extra time stages in the deep end of the tournament. Remember, you read it here first.

Er... Theo who?

2. Ruud Gullit
He is not a part of this squad.

As much as I liked watching him play during his misai days, the further away Gullit is from the Dutch team, the better for all involved.

1. Marco van Basten
When asked by the Dutch FA who should take over from Dick Advocaat after Euro 2004, the legendary Johan Cruyff immediately mentioned “van Basten”.

Like Gullit, Rijkaard and Koeman (Ronald, not Erwin), MVB was part of the prodigious Dutch team that was expected to win all before them. That they only walked away with the European Cup in 1988 was a disappointment to not only the Dutch people, but football fans throughout.

MVB knows that he has a great squad going for him this year, and having assembled a squad of solid, able performers, he also looks to have built an astute, but thoroughly workable team strategy.

Like group-mates Argentina, the big thing going for them is the absence of expectation. Released from the pressure that continued success demands, this Dutch team have been producing the form that could well take them through to the semi-finals, at the very least. Assuming they both win their 2nd round matches, both these teams could end up meeting again at this point.

What a match that will be!

Friday, June 02, 2006

This Lennon fler is good

I know much has been said about England’s Owen Hargreaves and how he is moving the earth for Bayern Munich, how he is a big asset to England, yada yada yada...

I watched him play in England’s team B embarrassment-of-a-match against Belarus, and his performance confirmed my prior rating of him: He is rubbish!


But, oh boy... did you see Aaron Lennon in action? The Belarus flers were putting 4 or 5 different guys on him, and none of them could contain this dude. Plenty positives for Spurs. Some positives for England.

Don’t bet on SGE playing him, though. God forbid he change anything from his ‘trusted’ 4-4-2!!!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

That small senor did it in 1986

I became a permanent football fan somewhere around the age of 10, when one night I watched a small Argentinian score a goal with his hand, then out-run 5 English players - including the goalkeeper - to score the most outrageous goal in football history (yes, that was my first World Cup match).

A few days later that same man out-foxed 6 Belgians to score another mega goal, and take his team into the finals. The following Sunday I stayed up to watch that small man single-handedly win Mexico '86 for his team.

I think this year could just be Argentina’s time once again (don’t remind me of 2002); please senors, allow me to explain why Argentina will be this year’s very, very dark horse.

The big thing going for Pekermen’s boys this time round is mainly the absence of expectation. Former manager Marcelo Bielsa’s announcement in 2002 that the AFA ought to clear room for the trophy in their cabinet has proven itself a grave error and put incredible, unnecessary pressure on an otherwise capable team; it eventually led to their premature ejaculation from JPN/ KOR.

Then there is this formidable team. Crespo, Messi, Tevez and Julio Cruz make a cunning and thoroughly dangerous strike-force.

Directing the orchestra from just behind the front two is the thoroughly influential Riquelme, who – if he’s really in the mood – can turn a match on with the flick of a switch. Pekerman is likely to also play Javier Mascherano – a future MU player? – with Riquelme, likely in the “Makalele role”.

Gabriel Heinze is back! HEINZZZ.....ZAY!!! Even his name sounds something like “Thou shall not pass!”This time he is likely to be played as center-back, with full-backs Sorin and Deportivo’s Coloccini – two dudes never shy of foraying forward.

Team apart, Pekerman is a wily tactician. He can change the shape of the team within minutes, to accommodate the need of the hour. He helmed the team that won the Youth World Cup in Malaysia in 1997, from which a number of talents form this senior team.

A tough group C sees them as top seed with Serbia & Montenegro, Ivory Coast and Holland – another group of death following 2002. I rate the underrated Holland to go through with Argentina, and with both these teams playing each other last, S&M and IC could well be playing their own match to see who comes in 3rd in the group, instead of fighting for a place in the last 16.

The 2nd round, however could be a bit trickier, with either Mexico or Portugal waiting in the wings, as winners / runners-up of group B. Both teams would prove a tough challenge for the Argentineans, and the neutrals would hope for a Portugal vs Argentina fixture, pitting Scolari – another sly dude – against the astute Pekerman.

Should Argentina sail through this, the momentum will be prefect for the juggernaut to plough through the q-finals, probably facing Italy, Germany, or likely even Brazil. I’m strangely encouraged by this scary prospect because:

1. Argentina is often likely to self-destruct against unfancied teams, so I would be wary if they met Croatia, Ghana, Guus Hiddink's Australia, or even the USA (coming off the win against England, even Dennis Bergkemp and Holland was the underdog in their 1998 q-final face off). The bigger teams, however, bring out the best in them ;

2. In the qualifying rounds, Argentina were second to only Brazil, and that too on goal difference. In their game in Buenos Aires, they beat the Brazilians 3-1, and convincingly too;

3. A team that wins the World Cup must beat the big names! ... we can’t all hide like the English, can we?; and

4. No space for sentimentality! Only Roberto Ayala, Sorin, Crespo and Aimar survive from the 2002 squad, while even former captain Javier Zanetti and goalkeeper German Lux were axed from the team headed to Germany. Contrast that with England and... Darius Vassell???

5. They are probably the best “team” among the leading contenders. Devoid of big star names, they are drawing each other closer and closer and are emerging a very strong unit. It’s on the cards, brothers – prepare to watch magic in blue and white again! Pasti jalan, brudder...

P.S. *DISH* *BISH* needs guest bloggers for the World Cup. From any aspect -- World Cup widows, Angola fans, or even why you think Guus Hiddink has got another trick up his sleeve (For South Korea '02, read Australia '06). LET'S DO IT FELLAS!