Saturday, May 27, 2006

Group A


As the host nation, nothing less is expected from Klinsmann’s men from the people of Germany…….come 9th July 2006, Germany will be lifting the World Cup to become champion for the 4th time. It is obviously a big pressure for a team who were knocked out from Euro 2004 in the group stages but playing in front of their own fans and also a world cup pedigree only bettered by Brazil, Germany would be one of the favorites.

With the tussle for the no 1 jersey is finally over with Lehman having the coach’s vote, Germany can now concentrate on their defence unit. Although in Lehman they have a goalkeeper who is in a wonderful form, the defence are relatively untested and the new pairing of Mertesacker and Huth, who can’t even break into Chelsea’s first team, lacks the reliability and confidence the once famous organize German had. But with Ballack operating in the midfield and Klose and the exciting new striker Podolski upfront, Germany will absolutely be a major threat to Brazil’s dream of a 6th title.

Main Man: Ballack, the new Chelsea man performance would be the major key to Germany’s success. If he can lead the team to their 4th WC title, he would justify his nickname…The Little Kaiser and also his name in Germany’s football history just like The Kaiser himself.

Player to Watch: Podolski moved to Germany from Poland at age 2. Poland’s lost is Germany’s gain. He scored 8 goals in 12 games last year and with Klose, also originally from Poland, on fire by being the top scorer in the Bundesliga this season, their partnership would certainly bring in the goals for Germany.

Costa Rica

It is Costa Rica 3rd appearance and 2nd in a row in the WC. They finished 3rd in the CONCACAF qualifying and coming to Germany with a lot more experience behind them. With Paulo Wanchope leading the country and the attack, the Ticos would want to do better and if possible to emulate or do better than the 1990 World Cup squad, who in their 1st appearance qualified into the last 16.

Their qualification round did not start well for the Ticos but they overturn their fortune to secure their place in Germany with 3 wins in the last 4 games of the qualifying round. Other than the veteran like Martinez, Solis and Wanchope in the team, new players like Saborio will be looking to make an impact in Germany. Saprissa FC which represented CONCACAF in the FIFA Club World Championship, made out more than half of the national team would also use their experience when paying in the competition to good use in Germany.

Main Man: Wanchope is the national hero and football icon. His performance is unpredictable and inconsistent but when he is in form, he just dazzle.

Player to Watch: Saborio is an exciting young striker and the Ticos will be hoping he would not succumb to pressure and get them the goals to take through.


Poland pushed England all the way in the qualifying round but the lost to England in the last game means they could only finished 2nd. But luck was on their side and they booked the ticket to Germany by being one of the best group runner-up. Poland was one of the major football force not so long ago but was not good enough to even qualify for any major competition since 1986 until their appearance in the last WC edition.

With Celtic’s Zurawski who scored 7 goals in the qualifying round and also on fire in the Scottish league, goals can be assured with Southampton’s Rasiak lurking behind him with his 191cm figure. With Smolarek providing the fire power to the front two, it does look worrying for the Polish defence marshal by the veteran Jacek Bak. Jerzy Dudek was dropped and Celtic’s Artur Boruc will be wearing the no 1 jersey. The performance of Wigan in their 1st season in the EPL had helped their custodian Tomasz Kuszczak to be included into the team. The defence looks a bit suspect and vulnerable. Poland would hope to qualify to the last 16 this time around without the controversy that seem to affect their performance in the last WC when the players protested about bonus payment and were eliminated in the group stages.

Main Man: Zurawski is the major threat in front of goal. Poland would be hoping he would bring his performance while helping Celtic winning the SPL this season to the WC.

Player to Watch: Boruc is another Celtic man but rather than getting in the goal, his job is to stop the goals going in. In outstanding performance at Celtic, he gave the manager enough confidence to not including the Liverpool European Cup hero Dudek out of the team.


Qualified 3rd behind the South America power houses Brazil and Argentina, Ecuador came into the tournament this time as the favorite to qualify from the group stages. Once consider one of the South America’s minnows, their 2nd straight qualification showed a major improvement in the country’s football standard. With most of the players that played in the last WC still in the team, Ecuador would want to improve on their performance. Although they did beat Brazil and Argentina at home, most would say they won because of the city’s altitude.

Delgado is their main goal poacher with his 5 goals in the qualification helped Ecuador through. The veteran Ayovi and Tenorio are the main men in midfield while the exciting new player Luis Valencia would be a major torn with his pace and overwhelming force of play. Hurtado and Espinoza are the key men at the centre of defence but fast pace attack would crack them if the overlapping full back De La Cruz forgets his defensive duty.

Main Man: Edison Mendez would trouble opponents with his passing ability and also the powerful shots will trouble goalkeepers.

Player to Watch: Nicknamed “Tsunami”, this young midfielder will be creating havoc with his pace down the left and also his no fear attitude. He scored 3 goals in 7 qualification matches for Ecuador.


I don’t expect any surprises in this group. With home support and what seems to be an easy group, Germany would definitely top the group and qualify to the last 16. Poland and Ecuador would be fighting for the runner up spot but I believe the Polish team would have the upper hand. Costa Rica, well, the team just lacks quality players to really challenge for a spot in the last 16.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

List of Rules During the World Cup

1. From 9 June to 9 July 2006, you should read the sport pages so you are aware of what's going on regarding the World Cup and will be able to join in conversations.

If you fail to do this, you'll be looked at in a bad way or be
totally ignored. DO NOT complain about not receiving any attention.

2. During the World Cup the television is mine at all times - without any exceptions.

3. I don't mind if you have to pass by in front of the TV during a game - as long as you do it crawling on the floor and without distracting me.

If you decide to stand naked in front of the TV, make sure you put clothes on right after because if you catch a cold, I won't have time to take you to the doctor or look after you during the World Cup month.

4. During the games I will be blind, deaf and mute - unless I require a
refill of my drink or something to eat.

You are out of your mind if you expect me to listen to you, open the door, answer the telephone, or pick up the baby that just fell from the second won't happen.

5. It would be a good idea for you to keep at least two six packs in the fridge at all times, as well as plenty of things to nibble on.

And please do not make any funny faces to my friends when they come over to watch the games. In return, you will be allowed to use the TV between 12am and 6am, unless they replay a good game that I missed during the day.

6. Please, please, please if you see me upset because one of my teams is losing, DO NOT say "get over it, its only a game" or "don't worry, they'll win next time".

If you say these things, you will only make me angrier and I will love you less. Remember, you will never ever know more about football than me and your so called "words of encouragement" will only lead to a break-up or divorce.

7. You are welcome to sit with me to watch one game and you can talk to me during half-time but only when the adverts are on, and only if the score is pleasing me.

In addition, please note I am saying "one" game, hence do not use the World Cup as a nice cheesy excuse to "spend time together".

8. The replays of the goals are very important. I don't care if I have seen them or I haven't seen them, I want to see them again. Many times.

9. Tell your friends NOT to have any babies, or any other child related parties or gatherings that requires my attendance because:
a) I will not go,
b) I will not go, and
c) I will not go.

10. But, if a friend of mine invites us to his house on a Sunday to watch a game, we will be there in a flash.

11. The daily World Cup highlights show on TV every night is just as
important as the games themselves. Do not even think about saying "but you have already seen this...why don't you change the channel to something we can all watch?" The reply will be: "Refer to Rule #2 of this list".

12. And finally, please save your expressions such as "Thank God the World Cup is only every 4 years".

I am immune to these words, because after this comes the Champions League, Italian League, Spanish League, Premier League, etc etc.

Thank you for your cooperation.


Men of the World

Monday, May 22, 2006

World Cup Is Here!!!!!!

I am just glad that I won’t have to wait for too long for my dose of football like the past 4 years. 3 months of no football in the weekend, 3 months of not talking about last weekend matches, 3 months of not feeling happy or sad about a result…..3 months of getting to know the weekend again…3 months of agony..3 months of football starvation. But not this year….no no….in less then a month, every single football fans in the world will be focusing their attention to Germany……The World Cup is here…. WOOHOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After almost 2 years of grueling qualifying rounds, 32 teams from all over the world will be vying for that dream to be the World Cup champion. The usual suspects in world football like the current World Cup holders Brazil, Argentina, Italy, England, Holland and the host Germany alongside WC debutants like Togo, Ivory Coast, Angola, Trinidad & Tobago and Ukraine will be competing in this month long football extravaganza with billions of football fans around the world watching every game religiously and of course one of them would be yours truly. A month where every other sports will mean nothing at all, well, unless you are not a fan that is.

The great thing about the World Cup is…even non-football fans became fans, just like Sherie. Well, I don’t blame them. The euphoria that the World Cup brings can never be matched by any other sports in the world. The passion, the adrenaline, the suspense, the suspense, the elation and every single emotion that a football maniacs like me feel every single week during a football season will be shared by people like Sherie. For the record, Sherie supports Brazil and her favourite player is Ronaldinho for obvious reason (definitely not his looks)…he just amazes her with his brilliance on the pitch back in WC 2002 and he still does till now. At least she appreciates the beauty of football and not how good he looks in shorts. Well, she still does but at least she recognizes talent and skills lah.

Me, I am an England man but I do have a soft spot for Brazil because the men in my family are Brazil supporters. My first WC experience was Mexico 86 and I can still remember how devastated my late grandpa and dad when Brazil were knocked out by France in the penalty shoot out….although I was peeking from a slightly open door to catch the game on a double decker bed. I was 11 so staying up late for a game on a school night was not something my parents would have allowed me to do .

I am football crazy, or a football nerd as Sherie like to refer me as, and I think anyone who knows me would confess to that but the World Cup brings another level of craziness in me. It will be the single most important thing in my life for one month. For that one month, every football match is doesn’t even matter if it is Costa Rica V Ecuador. It’s the World Cup and it only comes once in 4 years. It is not the same like any other football matches I’ve seen for the past 8 months (except United matches of course). This is the pinnacle of world football…to determine who the world champion is. It is a big deal and that will ALWAYS….ALWAYS be my argument. I hope my other half will understand, but somehow deep down inside I know she will (Ya Allah, semoga Kau bukakan dan lembutkan hati Sherie untuk memahami kegilaanku semasa Piala Dunia nanti, Amin!).

Maybe being an insomniac does have its advantage. I would have no problem staying up for the early morning kick off. I am so thankful, as others who are not blessed with owning ASTRO, I can still catch most of the game on the 6 free channels. The only task now is determining which game I will be watching if it is playing on the same time. Hmmm…. it is gonna be hard but someone have to do it. I mean, it would be waste of the government money if nobody watch the live coverage kan?

Well, as I would be analyzing each group and trying to predict which team will be going through to the next round just like the past WC, I might as well share it with anyone who cares to read it. Anyway, would Brazil stroll again to their 6th World Cup or would there be a team that will do a “Greece”? I hope it would help “football fan when it is the World Cup” to get to know the teams and players in the World Cup and the chances of the teams in Germany 2006 according to an unprofessional and uncertified football pundit like me. Maybe if I am accurate enough, someone from ESPN terstumble with my blog would be impress and offer me a job. Ahhh….that would be like a dream come true.

Next posting….. we will be analyzing Group A with the host nation Germany will be up against Poland, Costa Rica and Ecuador.

The Fantastico

Arsenal just needed to defend their goal to add to the impressive 10 straight clean sheets en route to their first European Cup final. Arsenal was only 5 minutes short for a total of 1000 minutes without conceding a goal in Europe. Arsenal was just 15 minutes away from capturing the pinnacle of European football. But in a space of 5 minutes, two goals were scored and everything that they had achieved before was just not good enough to make sure the European Cup stays in England.

A game hyped by the prospect of watching arguably two of the best players in the world in the shape of Ronaldinho and Henry was justified not just by them but the overall performance of both teams. Great defending and attacking play can be seen all over the pitch but the game was decided by three great substitutions by Rijkaard. Innuesta, Larson and Balletti were introduced in the 2nd half and all three made an impact on the team performance. Innuesta was a constant threat with his runs and was putting the Arsenal defense under a lot of pressure. Larson created both goals while Balletti was at the end of a superb pass from Larson to score the winning goal and ensure Barca’s 2nd European Cup. Eto’o scored the equalizer after collecting another superb pass from Larson.

I do have to take my hats off to Arsenal though. Playing for almost 70 minutes with 10 men after Lehman was showed the red card in the 18th minute of the game, they actually went ahead when Campbell scored from a free kick by Henry. After a lot of pressure especially in the 2nd half in the heavy rain at Stade de France, fatigue took over them and surrendered two goals in the space of 5 minutes to seal their faith. No arguments about the sending off of Lehman but a few debated that Eto’o was offiside when he collected the pass but to me, Eto’o sheer pace push him through the defense.

Well, Barca capped an astonishing week for Spain sports. Seville wining the UEFA Cup, Pedrosa winning his first MotoGP in Beijing, Alonso became the first Spaniard to win the Spanish GP and Nadal put his name in the tennis record book for winning his 53rd straight win on clay……and the only thing that can outdo this astonishing and wonderful week of sport for the people of Spain is Spain being crowned as the World Cup champion come this July. Well, I think after the performance of Spanish teams in both European competitions…..they might be a real threat come this summer in Germany.

Well, that’s all for club football for now. Next…the World Cup and it is just 3 weeks away. Will be coming up with my own thoughts and predictions for the World Cup next…so we’ll see if I am a good football analyst as I think I am.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Season in Review

I know that my season review came a week late but been busy with stuffs and my health was not in tip top condition. After 10 months of football, both the beautiful and bad sides of it, the season came to a close with a very good game in the FA Cup with Liverpool winning it on penalty…. A second consecutive penalty shoot up after last season Arsenal win against United. Let’s just summarize the season as per below.


- Shearer and Henry became the new record goal scorer for their respective clubs. Henry also became the first Arsenal player to score 200 goals for Arsenal.

- Sunderland became the new lowest points holder in a season beating their old record of 19 points. They only manage to collect 15 points this season.


- Alan Curbishley said goodbye to Charlton after 15 years in charge at The Valley. He took charged for the last time in the game against Manchester United at Old Trafford with a 4-0 defeat

- Alan Shearer said goodbye to football and his adoring Newcastle fans. Although he had to say goodbye earlier due to an ankle injury, he will always be his local team hero forever…(and always the one who snubbed United)

- Denis Bergkamp last season with The Gunners. I am not sure if he is retiring though.

- Souness and McCarthy said goodbye to their clubs, Newcastle and Southampton respectively and the only managerial casualty of the season. Newcastle fortune turn for the best after that and even qualifying for an European competition next season (Intertoto Cup if I am not mistaken..another entry route for the UEFA Cup…correct me if I am wrong), Sunderland continue to slide down.

- West Bromwich, after last season incredible last day escape, was not able to save themselves this season. Birmingham City joins West Brom and Sunderland to the Championship League next season.

- Highbury, Arsenal’s home since 1913 will be replace by a new stadium…..aiyo…I forgot the stadium name…Ashburn Grove or something…. but the main thing is Highbury no more…and on the last game on the pitch, Henry scored a hatrick for a fitting goodbye.

- Steve McClaren said goodbye to Boro and took the team to their first European Cup Final…the UEFA Cup but beaten 4-0 by Seville. He will be taking over from Sven to be the next England manager…. Good luck to him.

- Keano quit United which came as a surprise not just to the supporters of the club but all football fans. The United captain said goodbye after almost 15 years with the club and the real reason of him quitting United is still in doubt. He was said to have left United in mutual consent.


- West Ham and Wigan were taunted as relegation candidate even before the season starts but at the end of the season, both clubs finished in the middle of the league which is quite an achievement. West Ham finished 9th while Wigan just below West Ham. Both teams even qualify for the final of both domestic Cups. Although they lost but for clubs who were not given a lot of chances, they had surpasses their own supporters’ expectations.

- Martin Jol just missed out on the last day to bring Spurs to that elusive 4th spot to qualify for next season Champions League. Spurs had been struggling on the wrong half of the table for the last 2 decades and this season was quite a surprise seeing them at a dizzying height of 5th at the end of the season. Although finishing 4th would be a dream but they had actually achieved what they have targeted for the season….to qualify to European competition via EUFA Cup. Expect Spurs young team to pressure for that Champions League spot next season.

For United, it was another disappointing season although we did win the League Cup (Mickey Mouse Cup) to not finish the season empty handed again. Although we did improve on our league position but we are still struggling to match Chelsea. We the limitless budget from Abrahamovich, Chelsea looked unstoppable this season and took charge of the league while the other teams are playing catch up. While the other team including United are looking for players that are in their budget, it seems that Chelsea are not even bothered about the budget. The only thing that Mourinho has to do now is to name who he wants…and he will get him. As of today, Ballack who had been rumored to be joining Chelsea since he indicated his intention to leave Bayern, is a Chelsea player. Next on the book for the Blues is Shevchenko. If he does sign for Chelsea, it is gonna be an even harder task for other teams to challenge for the title next season. Chelsea now looks more like a fantasy football team rather than a real football team and you wonder if anyone ever gonna challenge them with the kind of money and budget they have.

The shock early exit from the Champions’ League was the biggest blow for United, the first time in 10 years United had failed to qualify to the knock out stage and did not even finish 3rd in the group to play in the UEFA Cup. Couple with Keano exit, it was a good year to end 2005. Luckily, United picked up after that and finished the league creditably behind Chelsea. United even put a bit of pressure on Chelsea before succumbing to Chelsea relentless form that gave them another title and left others to wonder if they ever gonna challenge for the title.

Park Ji Sung is a good buy for United and showed he was bought not just for selling replicas in Asia. His pace and determination on the pitch helped United and also gave United other options in the team when Giggs or Ronaldo are out. The best buy without a doubt for me is Edwin Van der Sar who was an incredible form through out the season. He was the main reason for some of the games that United didn’t even deserve to win with his saves.

Rooney’s influence in the team seemed to be increasing in the team. With him in the team, there is a different aura about the team and the way the team plays. He is just 20 years old but everyone is looking for him to supply that magic that can turn a game into United favour. When he was holding his feet in the game against Chelsea, the whole of England and football fans around the world feared for the worst. With the metatarsal injury, his involvement in the World Cup looked bleak although Coach Sven refused to rule him out yet. Alan Smith deserved a mention….well…for his horrific injury in the FA Cup quarter final match against Liverpool. I still cringed remembering it.

So, what does the next season hold for United? Well, one sure thing, we might not see Van the Man in a red United jersey again next season. He was pushed back into the pecking order with Saha form in the 2nd half of the season. When he stormed out of Old Trafford in the last game of the season against Charlton for not being included in the team, it was clear that he won’t be part of the United squad next season. There were talks of him joining Spurs with Defoe coming in for him and the latest I heard is he is gonna be part of the deal to take Diarra from Lyon to United. For any transfer news, I think we just have to wait till the World Cup ends.

For next season, I think the main thing for United is….how can we stop Chelsea winning the title for the third time. What can we add to the team to challenge a team where money is not a concern? What would Fergie do to challenge for the title? Would bringing in the likes of Diarra or anyone else challenge a team with Lampard, Ballack, Robben, Drogba and possibly Shevchenko for the title? Would selling Van and depending on Saha and Rooney with the help of Rossi be good enough? Well, I guess we just have to wait till the season starts again in August…but till then, we have the World Cup to entertain us.

P/S: Did I leave anything out ?? Well, do share.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Last Day Dram

Just needed a win against Boro and United would have secured that 2nd place. But the United players thought…hmmm…. supporters all over the world know who the champion is so there is no excitement there. They also know the three teams relegated to the Championship next season so there is no last day survival, nail biting heart breaking games. Why don’t we make it exciting? Why don’t we make the last day of the season a bit more interesting for all the football supporters? Why don’t we set up this tense nerve wrecking end of the season game for that automatic 2nd spot place for next season Champions League with our bitter rival? A game that we need to win to make sure of the place. A game that if we loose, we have to depend on our rival result to determining our place. We could made it easier but no……we just have to make it exciting….so why don’t we draw with Boro after that defeat at the Bridge and set up an exciting and tense game to end our season.

Well….that’s Manchester United. Not for the faint hearted……trust me.