Let the Dancing Begin – Samba or Flamenco?
June 15, 2010

Four days in and the 2010 World Cup hasn’t caught fire yet. To be brutally honest, in the main, it’s been downright dull. With the exception of Argentina, flattering to deceive against Nigeria, and our old friends the Germans, running in four against the pretty inept Socceroos, there has been very little to write home about.

Yesterday, one of the favourites, Holland were well off the pace and a million miles away from the ‘total football’ of yester year, whilst current holders, Italy, put in a characteristically dour display against Paraguay.       

The tournament is in desperate need of some dancing feet and spectacular goals. Let’s hope that Kaka and the samba boys of Brazil ignite the competition this evening in their game against North Korea.

North Korea have hardly been regulars when it comes to World Cup finals (twice in 44 years) but they will forever remain in football folklore for their spirited performances in reaching the 1966 quarter finals.  

The smiling faces and twinkling skills of the little Koreans (they were all about 5 feet nothing!) won the hearts of North East England. Totally unexpectedly they removed Italy from the tournament, with a 1-0 group stage win at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park, courtesy of a goal from Pak Do Ik (right). It’s one of those names that remains with you, and it’s certainly one the Italian journalists never forgot. For years after they referred to him as ‘il dentista’ (the dentist) for the pain he had inflicted on the national psyche!    

And, as if that wasn’t enough, North Korea then set about Portugal in the quarter-final. Playing,  in front of 50,000, at Everton’s Goodison Park, they took an amazing 3-0 lead, in the first 24 minutes, before eventually succumbing 5-3 to the ‘golden boot’ of the legendary Eusebio, who collected 4 goals!  If tonight’s game is anything like that it certainly will set the 2010 tournament alive. And of course all of those memories will come flooding back again when North Korea meet Portugal in Cape Town next week!  

Tomorrow the rhythm of the samba will be replaces by the foot tapping flamenco of Spain, as Fernando Torres (if he’s fit) and the European Champions take a bow against Switzerland in Durban. In 2006 the Swiss, better known for their mountains and cuckoo clocks than their footballers, set the dubious record of being the first team ever to be eliminated from the group stages without conceding a goal (harsh but true!). I don’t expect them to be a push-over but if Spain play as we know they can it could be fiesta time!

While the heart still says ‘England’, over the coming couple of nights we could be watching the dancing feet of the eventual tournament winners but will it be  the samba or flamenco?

England let it slip but no need for panic!
June 13, 2010

Get over it – I’m sure Fabio and the boys will! Despite the harbingers of gloom in this morning’s media castigating Robert Green for his costly goalkeeping slip, we did negotiate a potential banana skin and showed enough to suggest we can grow into this tournament.

As far as England World Cup openers go, and I’ve seen a few, believe me this wasn’t too bad and I still remain confident that we will top the group and be there or there about in the final shake up!

In 1966 we hardly got off to a flyer, with a goalless draw against Uruguay at Wembley and remember, last time around, the eventual 2006 winners , Italy (not the best team in the tournament, in my book) drew 1-1 in their group game against a USA side which was arguably not as strong as the one we saw last night.     

Yes, I was surprised that Green started in the keeper’s jersey, but clearly Fabio must have got wind of my Fantasy Football team selection and the posting I made earlier this week,  suggesting ‘Calamity James’ might eventually come good for England in this tournament. I need to transfer in a replacement now! Any suggestions – the Nigerian keeper, Enyeama, looked pretty handy yesterday?

What is it with England goalkeeping? For years it was the only position in which we had strength in depth but recently it has become a bit of an Achilles heel – Seaman, Robinson, Carson and of course ‘Calamity’ all producing howlers in big games. However, eternally the optimist, I would love to see Fabio give Green the chance to redeem himself and it’s a funny enough game for him to turn national hero in that penalty shoot-out that’s bound to come our way later in the competition (you heard it here first!).

If the glass is half full: there were fine performances from Gerrard, who really stepped up to the mark as captain, Heskey, whose ability to hold up the ball and link up play,  more than justified his selection, and Glen Johnson as an attacking full back.

If the glass is half empty: Rooney worked hard as usual but never got into a clear-cut scoring position, Lennon and Wright-Phillips still need to put in better quality crosses and  King (due to fitness) and Carragher (due to lack of mobility) are not the answer at centre back. For me, the latter is more of a worry than the goalkeeping position.

Is Fabio brave enough to throw in a rookie, Forest old-boy, Michael Dawson? I guess Matthew Upson will get his chance first, in the Algeria game, next Friday, when I expect us to win comfortably!       

Incidentally my Fantasy Football jinx also seems to have put the kiss of death on Lionel Messi’s chances of winning the Golden Boot – he created and missed at least five goal scoring opportunities as Argentina had to settle for 1-0 against Nigeria.

 Mind you, in true football parlance it’s ‘early doors’!