Sunday, July 11, 2010

The referee's a ....

So it's World Cup Final day; the octopus has spoken (figuratively) and Spain are therefore destined to become World Champions for the first now we don't have to worry about the outcome of the match, let's focus on the England team appearing today...for the first time since 1974, an English team of referees and linesmen will officiate the world's biggest sporting event.   Here's the interview they had a few days ago with

Howard Webb will become the first Englishman to step out at a FIFA World Cup™ Final since 1974 when he leads the Netherlands and Spain out in Soccer City. He sat down with his assistant referees, Mike Mullarkey and Darren Cann, and to discuss the challenge ahead and reflect on the importance of teamwork. How does it feel to follow in the footsteps of Jack Taylor, the last English referee of a FIFA World Cup Final 36 years ago?

Howard Webb: It is a really special honour. Jack is someone we look up to, he is a refereeing icon and has been a big supporter over the years so to be able to follow him is wonderful. I've just spoken to him on the phone, he has come over for the game so hopefully we'll have a chance to meet. Only 19 men have refereed this game so we feel very privileged to join this exclusive band.

Did you have any inkling you would get the Final before the appointment was made?

Our games went really smoothly, Darren and Mike did unbelievable work for me, and because of the way those games went we thought, 'we've got the chance of a latter stage game'. Other things need to fall into place, like your national team not progressing. We didn't want them to get knocked out but when they did, we realised it increased our chance. To hear our names actually mentioned at the meeting on Thursday was an unbelievable moment for us – we held hands tightly under the table. But the hard work is still to come.

The focus is on you, Howard, but it's clear you're very much a team.

One thing this tournament has demonstrated quite clearly is the importance of teamwork. The three officials taking charge of every game know that one mistake can cost the entire team and mean the end of your ambitions and we rely on each other. The experience we've been through, at the European Championship two years ago [where they went home early] and in domestic and Champions League football, and the World Cup experience here has made us into a really tight unit.

How do you prepare for refereeing a game that several billion people will be watching?

It is a huge game and the pinnacle of our careers but we need to prepare as normally as possible. The game will still last 90 minutes or maybe two hours, we'll still have 22 players and one ball. We will eat at the same time as normal, have some good rest like before a Champions League game, but what we will do is visit the stadium. We have been to Soccer City but only as spectators so we would like to walk the field of play the day before and visualise some situations that might happen. These guys will have a look on their touchline, on the surface and visualise themselves running the line. I'll walk the diagonal that I'll mainly patrol. We did this before the Champions League final and it just makes you comfortable in your surroundings.

What kind of team talk do you have before a game?

Darren Cann: Howard will give us our normal pre-match instructions usually on the morning of the game so we are fully focused. We are aware of the size of the game but have to almost treat it as though it's not the World Cup Final. If you thought about the many thousands of people at the game and billions watching on television you wouldn't be able to perform effectively.

Mike Mullarkey: We'll talk before the game about being the best we can be and having no regrets when we come off. With the radios, we give each other constant encouragement and support, saying things like 'great flag signal'. Although we are not involved in the immediate play all of the time, we are still involved in the game.

It's been an amazing 14 months – FA Cup final in May 2009, UEFA Champions League final in May and now the FIFA World Cup Final. How do you explain what you have achieved as group?

Refereeing is ups and downs and you need to keep your self-belief when things have not gone so well. It is also testament to our teamwork. You need good fortune as well. There are some really talented guys who've not been lucky here. The Champions League this year was the first chance we've had for some years because of the progress of English teams in the past. The fact the opportunity came around was good fortune but you have to take your opportunities when they come.

Will the experience of the Champions League final help you?

In terms of mental preparation, yes. The build-up was similar in terms of media attention and the messages you get from home. We will draw strength from having done that game so close to this one – it takes away some of the unknown factors. The fact we were able to perform under that sort of scrutiny, and that people were talking afterwards about the teams and not us, tells us we can do it again.

Are your families here?

My father came over for the first three weeks of the tournament, but actually went home last Tuesday. Like Mike's father, he had to fly back out on Thursday night.

Darren Cann: My father obviously had more confidence. He took a chance we might get to the final and he stayed. All three fathers will be sitting next to each other.

Finally, Howard, your wife told an interviewer that you can't control your kids, is this true?

She phoned me yesterday and said she was asked who wears the trousers at home – to be fair she is more of a disciplinarian at home, probably because I am away so much and when I go home I treat the kids and am very soft with them. She is the one who has to take control.

Source: Fifa

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sick as a parrot...literally!

So the third/fourth place play-off is on today, and did you know that the last 7 of these games have averaged more than 4 goals a game!? Maybe it is worth watching? And besides my pet octopus told me this morning that we're going to get a 5-4 thriller.

Now I don't know Miroslav Klose, but I bet he's distraught to miss out today. The 32-year-old international football German goal fiend needs only one goal to draw level with Ronaldo on 15 World Cup goals and become the joint leading all time scorer in World Cup final, and this was probably his last chance. Right now, he’s level on 14 with Gerd Muller, one ahead of Just Fontaine and two ahead of some dude called Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele.  But he has a bad back and a case of the flu, so he starts on the bench...let's see if he gets the chance...Germany get a penalty, will they sub him on??

Uruguay make two changes to the side beaten by the Netherlands as captain Diego Lugano recovers from a knee injury to replace Mauricio Victorino and, having served his suspensio, Luis Suarez comes in for Walter Gargano.  Diego Forlan will be trying to score a few to have a chance of getting his hands on the Golden Boot.

Germany ring the changes following their defeat at the hands of Spain as Miroslav Klose, who needs one goal to equal Ronaldo's all-time World Cup record of 15, drops to the bench alongside first-choice keeper Manuel Neuer, captain Philipp Lahm, Lukas Podolski and Piotr Trochowski.  Hans-Jorg Butt will play his first match for the German national team since 1 June 2003, ending a wait of seven years and 39 days.  Any chance of a Robert Green moment??

C'mon Uruguay!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Even in Arizona...

Eyes around the world were on Germany's octopus oracle Paul on Friday as he made his biggest prediction yet in the World Cup: Spain will beat the Netherlands in the final on Sunday.

The most surprising thing is that this even made the news here in Arizona... Read the article from our local news website...

Paul the Predicting Octopus

It's Golden Balls time - and I'm not talking Beckham

At every World Cup since 1982, FIFA has put together a shortlist from which accredited journalists choose the best player of the tournament.

The previous winners are:
1982 Spain: Paolo Rossi (Italy)
1986 Mexico: Diego Maradona (Argentina)
1990 Italy: Salvatore Schillaci (Italy)
1994 USA: Romario (Brazil)
1998 France: Ronaldo (Brazil
2002 Korea/Japan: Oliver Kahn (Germany)
2006 Germany: Zinedine Zidane (France)

This year's nominees for the adidas Golden Ball trophy are:
Diego Forlan (URU), Asamoah Gyan (GHA), Andres Iniesta (ESP), Lionel Messi (ARG), Mesut Oezil (GER), Arjen Robben (NED), Bastian Schweinsteiger (GER), Wesley Sneijder (NED), David Villa (ESP), Xavi (ESP)

I'm not sure what Messi is doing on that list; like the other 'world stars' Ronaldo and Rooney, I was underwhelmed by his performances, other than a few flashes of brilliance. But to make him one of the top 10 players of the tournament is bowing to his reputation not the reality of the tournanment I've been watching!  I think his spot should have gone to Thomas Mueller of Germany - 4 goals in 5 games (he was suspended for the semifinal defeat) for a young midfielder is more impressive than Lionel Messi's contribution.

My top 3:

Bronze - Thomas Mueller - Germany. His drive, energy and goals were the driving force behind Germany's surprise progess - his absence in the semifinal due to a poor refereeing decision in the QF was noticable as the German team lacked the spark of previous games.  

Silver - Diego Forlan - Uruguay - It was a shame Sir Alex let him leave Man Utd a few years ago; without doubt his country's MVP at the World Cup, Forlan was the main reason Uruguay surpassed all expectations. After some truly dreadful free-kicks by other long range 'specialists' at the tournament, Forlan has shown the world how to strike and get the best out of the Jubulani ball.

Gold - David Villa - Spain - I used to be a striker, so maybe I'm biased, but goals win games and Villa has scored 5 of Spain's 7 goals in the competition so far. 3 of his goals came in 1-0 wins, which has made him a match-winner on three occasions. Villa is also going head to head with Wesley Sneijder for the Golden Boot as the World Cup's top scorer, after winning a similar accolade in the Euro 2008 final. 

I would be interested to know your thoughts...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Goals per game update...

With just 2 games to go, the 2010 World Cup is on course to be one of the lowest scoring World Cup tournaments in history. And with Spain, the '1-0 Kings',  in the Final we could be relying on Germany and Uruguay scoring a bundle to keep 2010 out of last place.

3 goals would see the tournament match the lowest ever gpm ratio of Italia 90, while just 2 would see South Africa become the most goal shy World Cup ever.  To leap frog Germany 2006 in the table, the 4 remaining teams need to muster 9 goals between them in the Final and the 3/4th place game.

It's interesting that, barring a 20 goal miracle over the weekend, the last 3 World Cups will rank in the 4 lowest  scoring World Cup tournaments ever. Has international football become more defensive?  Have the differences in quality between the 'big and small' nations evened out?  Other than North Korea, there wasn't really a terrible team in this World Cup. Yes England, France and Italy underperformed, but I mean there were no 'minnows' just along for the experience. Look at the performances of Australia and New Zealand for example. Both had opportunities to get out of their groups...  

When it's all said and done, we'll revisit that discussion, but for now here's the stats table!

Average goals-per-match for each World Cup tournament:
5.385 : Switzerland 1954
4.667 : France 1938
4.118 : Italy 1934
4.000 : Brazil 1950
3.889 : Uruguay 1930
3.600 : Sweden 1958
2.969 : Mexico 1970
2.808 : Spain 1982
2.781 : Chile 1962
2.781 : England 1966
2.712 : United States 1994
2.684 : Argentina 1978
2.672 : France 1998
2.553 : West Germany 1974
2.538 : Mexico 1986
2.516 : Korea/Japan 2002
2.297 : Germany 2006
2.242 : South Africa 2010
2.212 : Italy 1990

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Spain v Germany - The rematch of Euro 2008

The second semi-final is a rematch of the Euro 2008 final between Spain and Germany.

As England didn't qualify for that tournament I honestly didnt pay too much attention, so it was good to watch these brief highlights. I don't think the Spanish will be as dominant in today's game as they were 2 years ago... 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Germans - With just a touch of English!

The German national team coach Joachim Low has revealed that he picked the best bits of English, Spanish and Italian football to create Germany's impressive new style of free flowing counter attack football. I couldn't tell you which bit was the English influence as the Germans have yet to look inept, old, sluggish and passionless...maybe that all happened in the defeat to Serbia earlier in the competition - I didn't see that game.

Low said "I've seen a lot of international football, I have soaked it all up and taken away many aspects. In England the tempo is incredible and something to be emulated. In Spain, there is the free-flowing style, technique and skill and you can see that's something that is second nature to them, even to their youth teams."

"In Spain the game is not just played or worked at, but celebrated. It impresses me how easy it looks even though, of course, it isn't easy at all. I like combination passing football and that is what I work towards. Italy won the World Cup in 2006 with perfect defensive play but the game has moved on in the last four years. The teams in the final four have solid defences but you have to have a more than that, a more versatile style of play," Low added.

Interesting that tempo was the thing he highlighted from England - you might be able to win a world cup with good defence - Italy did - and you certainly can with free-flowing style, good technique and skill - just ask many a Brazil team in years gone by - but I don't think you could ever win a World Cup with good 'tempo'! Perhaps that is another reason why it could be another 44 years before England wins another World Cup!  

On Germany's chances of gaining revenge for their Euro 2008 final defeat to Spain in Wednesday's World Cup semi-final and then going on to meet the Dutch in the World Cup Final, Low said: "In 2008, there is no doubt that Spain were the best team at the tournament. They were also very good in the final. But now the situation is different. We too have a good team and we have every reason to believe that we can succeed."

What price a repeat then of the 1974 World Cup Final between Germany and Holland?  I can't make my mind up on picking a winner - sometimes I think that Germany can't possibly play as well again, but then I also think that Spain have yet to hit top gear and yet they are in the semi-final. Spain were my pre-tournament pick, so I'm going to stick with them...which has pretty much just guaranteed a German victory!  Although Paul the psychic octopus has also picked Spain, so maybe I'm onto something??