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World Cup 2014 Preview: Groups C & D

England weepsDespite what the Germans, Portuguese, Americans and Ghanians believe, Group D is this World Cup’s real Group of Death.   But sometimes an equally balanced group of lower-ranked nations can also make it a challenge to predict how they’ll finish.  That would be Group C.

"Er, Falcao? No lo se..."

“Er, Falcao? No lo se…”

GROUP C
The loss of Radamel Falcao is significant for Colombia… but not unexpected.  His debut season for Monaco was truncated by injury, and even in January we knew that he might not make it. His goal-scoring will be missed, but it’s not a death blow to this talented team.  AC Milan midfielder (and Manchester United target) Cristián Zapata and team captain Mario Yepes will marshal a solid backline.  Meanwhile an offence featuring James Rodríguez, Juan Cuadrado, Fredy Guarín, Carlos Bacca and Adrián Ramos is nothing to scoff at.  Throw in a tournament in their home continent, and the Colombianos could go far.  QUARTER-FINALISTS

"You think your name's long?!?"

“You think your name’s long?!?”

Greece‘s style of play is no mystery: defend, defend, defend.  But yet it is still tough to pick whether Ethniki will frustrate their way into the knockout rounds, or they will simply run out of ideas should they go down in the game.  Lots of familiar faces return, including elderly captain Giorgos Karagounis, who played a total of 14 games for Fulham this season; Kostas Mitroglu played a solitary game for the same club.  Of course, the star of the side is a defender: 25-year-old Sokratis Papastathopoulos.  But the Dortmund defender may not be sufficient to survive the pressure of a Colombia or Ivory Coast.  Even if they get everyone behind the ball and grind out three draws, it still won’t be enough.  THREE AND OUT

Last shot at love and glory for Drogba?

Last shot at love and glory for Drogba?

The Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) is the anti-Greece, a team top-heavy with offensive talent but lacking a credible back line.  Like many other nations,  it has seen its golden generation shine and fade.  Most of the old faces are there.  Kolo Touré is back, but a forgettable season with Liverpool shows the depths of his decline.  Didier Zokora’s best days are also behind him.  Sol Bamba didn’t play a single game of competitive club football this season.  Up front shows more promise.  Cheick Tioté should provide defensive cover and Yaya Touré is coming off a blinder of a season… which may not matter if he arrives in Brazil nursing an injury.   Salomon Kalou and Gervinho will play up the wings, and the sole striker position should be filled by Les Éléphants‘ talisman, Didier Drogba.  But Wilfried Bony’s satisfying first season in the Prem may earn the Swansea City man the right to play up front instead.   This is a big physical team who will be able to push back against the stifling Greeks and the technically gifted, but smaller, Japanese side.   ROUND OF 16

Okazaki scored bunches for Mainz... can he do the same for country?

Okazaki scored bunches for Mainz… can he do the same for country?

Ah yes, the enigma that is Japan.  They made it to the knockout phase in South Africa, and lost on kicks to Paraguay, but detractors say their path was weak.  Both Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki are back: Honda is fresh off his debut season in Europe, and Okazaki rewarded his new club, Mainz, with a 15 goals.  But too many questions remain on whether Japan can compete with the other nations in this group.  THREE AND OUT

Pirlo: the epitome of Italian cool... and Azzurri skill.

Pirlo: the epitome of Italian cool… and Azzurri skill.

GROUP D
Never, EVER, count Italy out… except in 2010 when they finished last in their group, drawing their first two games (in very Italian style) and then belatedly realizing that Slovenia weren’t a walk in the park.   That’s not going to happen this time.  Cesare Prandelli has built this team around Andrea Pirlo, including using Juventus-like tactics.  That includes Juve boss Antonio Conte’s favoured 3-5-2 formation, even using La Vecchia‘s three centre backs: Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci.   Daniele De Rossi will patrol the back field while PSG’s Thiago Motta will join Pirlo in the middle.  A front line could consist of new Dortmund signing Ciro Immobile, his former strike partner at Torino, Alessio Cerci, and of course, the irascible Mario Balotelli.  This isn’t your father’s Azzurri… and that’s alright.   QUARTER-FINALISTS

Whither Suarez?

Whither Suarez?

Here’s where things get tough. Anyone who says Luis Suárez didn’t have a season for the ages is lying or delusional.  Suárez is an influencer, a man whose temperament and skill can both influence matches in equal measure. He is also struggling with injury, desperately trying to get fit in time to play for Uruguay on South American soil. Despite being a semi-finalist in South Africa (albeit due to an extremely dodgy hand ball and subsequent missed penalty), this is a nation in decline, football-wise. Diego Godín is coming off a miracle season with Atlético Madrid, as is Cristían Rodriguez, and Maxi Pereira was outstanding in 2010.  But team captain Diego Lugano doesn’t even have a club (he was released by West Brom, for God’s sake), and Diego Forlán is plying his trade in the J-League.   Of course, Edinson Cavani is still in the side, and he is still a world class player.  But Suárez is Uruguay’s X-Factor.  HEALTHY SUÁREZ: ROUND OF 16; NO SUÁREZ: THREE AND OUT

England has nothing to lose... except three matches.

England has nothing to lose… except three matches.

England, on the other hand, have no such game changer, nor do they have many expectations… despite what they say in public.  The English press and supporters famously make hand-wringing into an art form, and this time should be no different.  But despite having a squad based entirely in the Premier League (save Celtic keeper Fraser Forster), this is not a squad of superstars.  It is a roster of talented young players assembled by Roy Hodgson who barely have the burden of reputation to contend with.  Yes, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard are there.   But some of the Prem’s most exciting youngsters will get a run out; some of them will even start.   Expect The Three Lions to play like Liverpool 2.0:  pacey and pass-y going forward, but a little bit suspect at the back.  They could do really well, or they could go home after four-and-half hours.  Much will depend on how the other teams in this group react to them.   SEE ABOVE: ROUND OF 16, OR THREE AND OUT

Sing when you're winning

Sing when you’re winning

Costa Rica: No Bryan Oviedo, Bryan Ruiz had a season to forget, and young Joel Campbell spent the year on the football equivalent of a caravan trip around Europe.   Most of the other squad members ply their trade in lesser leagues in Europe and North America.   The bookies have the Ticos dead last for odds on winning the World Cup.  THREE AND OUT

Brent P. Lanthier

Up Next: Groups E & F

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Best of the Premier League: Bolton to Liverpool

Andy Carroll! Andy Carroll! Andy Carroll! Dalglish does a mean imitation of Ruprecht...

For these next five clubs, it was a tale of two seasons.  The two Merseyside clubs — along with Fulham — started awfully before performing some second-half magic… while Chelsea and Bolton were left wondering what could have been.  Here are my picks for their Players of the Season.

Too good for Bolton...

BOLTON WANDERERS
Gary Cahill (ENG) — Despite the Owen Coyle “revolution”, Bolton are still a small club stranded in mediocrity. That is a shame, because on any other team, Gary Cahill would be a coveted old school English centre back. Cahill is being courted by the big clubs and, depending on who you believe, the Yorkshireman is heading for either Manchester or London.

Malouda: Exceptional season

CHELSEA
Florent Malouda (FRA) — Even though the focus on Chelsea has been the drama surrounding their striker “trifecta”, the man who provides service for these poachers was the team’s engine this season. A former star for Olympique Lyonnais, Malouda sat in the shadows until the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti (a man who just suffered the sting of changing loyalties). In the last two seasons, the Frenchman has scored in the double digits. Frankly (pun intended), Malouda has displaced Lampard as Chelsea’s crown jewel.

Good. Very Good. Even without his mum...

EVERTON
Leighton Baines (ENG) — One of the few players from last year’s Best Of list, Baines didn’t get many chances to score. But when he did, he often made it count. The left back played every one of the Toffees’ matches, and he led the team in assists. Ashley Cole might have been afraid for his England spot, except that Baines is afraid of being away from Merseyside for more than two hours.

Feel free to photoshop a horned helmet...

FULHAM
Brede Hangeland (FUL) — I once tried to go drink for drink with a Scandinavian, a former Toronto Maple Leafs defencemen. I thought I was holding my own… but paid for it the next morning. The advice I received? “Don’t f#ck with a Viking.” Fair enough. Fulham’s star centre back was second in scoring for the Cottagers this season, while helping them keep a better goals-against than Liverpool, Everton and Spurs. Skal.

Kuyt punches through into the league's elite

LIVERPOOL
Dirk Kuyt (NED) — Runrunrunrunrunrunrunrun kick runrunrunrunrun tackle runrunrunrunrurnrunrun score. With 13 goals and seven assists, Dirk Kuyt was simply awesome on a team that needed a Liverpool legend to save it.  A hat trick against United sealed the Dutchman’s place in Liverpool lore.

Monday: Manchester City to Sunderland.

Brent Lanthier

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Predicting the Unpredictable

Our Ferg has a less-hardy constitution than the Ol' Gaffer here...

At The Rails would like to welcome fantasy football columnist Scott Ferguson back to the fold after a prolonged hiatus.  Pneumonia? Really, Ferg?!? Pfffffttttt…

In what has been an unpredictable season in the English Premier League,  one has to open one’s mind to new ideas.

For example, can you really fathom that Newcastle’s Andrew Carroll is the highest- scoring striker in the league in terms of fantasy points? Or that Chelsea defenders, who one carried a justifiable high price… now haven’t kept a clean sheet in five weeks? Or that high priced talent like Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney would both miss penalty kicks on the same weekend?

When you can’t rely on the reliable, it’s time to think out of the box and then pray it will all work out. Here’s four players to consider who may not normally be on your radar…

For Your Consideration

Yaya shakes up fantasy pools...

Yaya Toure – He’s always been a consistently solid player,  but now Yaya is showing his offensive side with two goals and two assists in his last four games. As a midfielder he also picks up a bonus point for every Manchester City clean sheet… of which there are many. His low price makes him worth a look even if he’s more slow and steady than exciting and explosive.

Ji-Sung Park – Yes that goal that beat Arsenal was skill and not luck. Okay maybe a bit of both. Okay… maybe it was lucky. But everyone’s favourite South Korean player is really standing out for Manchester United this season. He’s started every Premier League game since Oct. 30th, so he’s becoming a safer purchase despite his low price. Since becoming a regular starter seven games ago, he has four goals, an assist… and United had five clean sheets… in case you have any doubts.

Nedum Onuoha – Sunderland are defending better than usual, racking up two clean sheets in their last two games. Not only did defender Onuoha pick up the clean sheet points and the playing time points, he also received two bonus points in each game. He’s becoming a key part of their back four though he’s only owned by 7% of fantasy managers. I guess the question is whether any of us think Sunderland can keep this up!

Joe Hart – Okay so he probably is on your radar. But only 30% of fantasy managers have picked him up… likely because he’s pricey. But in my opinion, he’s worth it. No one else is keeping clean sheets like Manchester City so pay the money and just start him every week.

Proceed with Caution
There are a few key questions that need answering. For example, with the Tevez transfer controversy, will his head be in the game or thinking about the future? Also, what about Florent Malouda? He was on fire to begin the season but has turned very cold. Does the return of Frank Lampard to the Chelsea lineup mean less time on the ball for Malouda? Or less time on the pitch even? He has a high price so it could be time to sell.

Talk to you next week, and even though it’s getting cold out there, in the paraphrased words of my presumed distant relative Sir Alex, don’t be caught in public wearing a snood. 

Scott Ferguson

 (Ed. Note: Look for several United players to suddenly develop pneumonia…)

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Winning Strategies

We’re a few weeks into the season now and you are either feeling good about the start of your team’s season… or perhaps you feel a bit like West Ham, searching for answers on how it all went so wrong so quickly.

Unfortunately for you, firing the manager early on to get the attention of your lacklustre players is not an option. So the only way to get your mates — who have clearly been more lucky than clever — to shut up is to grin and bear it and fight your way back to the top!

Here are some proven winning strategies that you can apply whether you are at the top of the table or in danger of being relegated.

1. Steady as she goes with the Captain
You don’t see Steven Gerrard passing around the captain’s armband each week and neither should you. You’ve likely selected one of the highest-priced players to captain your squad like Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Fernando Torres, Gerrard, Cesc Fabregas, or Carlos Tevez.

If you have done that, it means you’ve locked up more than ten percent of your available money into one player. That alone makes it worthwhile  to keep them as your captain. I’m not saying keep them forever but all of those players are proven performers…  and the week you transfer them out of your squad is the week they likely get a hat trick.

2. Watch the fixture list
This goes without saying: check to see who is playing who each week. One day you may feel like starting Matthew Upson or Robert Green from West Ham… just not this week when Chelsea is coming to town (I know, I’m picking on West Ham, but so is everyone else who plays them). On the other hand, it’s a good week to get your Fulham defenders out there as they are home to Wolves.

You especially need to watch the fixture list when it comes to choosing your starting goalie and defenders. Those players who have home games will serve you well.

This is also why it’s important to make sure your bench is filled with players who start, and not just cheap throwaway players. Having low priced starters on the bench gives you more flexibility in choosing your line-up.

With offensive midfielders and strikers, home field advantages appears to be less pronounced. The good ones bulge the twine regularly on the road as well as at their home ground.

Brunt: A Matter of Time?

3. You are your own scouting department
Sure you have me to tell you what to do, but there really is no better substitute than watching your players in action.

Taking in the full 90 minutes or the highlights, or reading a description of the game on the web, you’ll get a sense of who is ready to go on a hot streak and whose numbers may be deceiving.

For example — and I’ve yet to be proven right about this — I’ve been watching West Brom’s Chris Brunt ring balls off the woodwork. It’s only a matter of time before he puts a few into the net.

4. Don’t pay for transfers
Yes, I know you watched Asamoah Gyan at the World Cup… and now that he’s on Sunderland you need him on your team. But at the same time, you may be an Arsenal fan who has really missed Alexander Hleb and you want him as well. Don’t pay the four points to pick up both. It’s never worth it.

Trust me, when you look back at the end of the season and see how many points you spent on transfers, it can be the difference between a top five finish and being mid-table. If you need to add more than one player in a week because of injuries, then play your wild card. You get another wild card to use during the January transfer window so don’t be shy about using it.

Whatever you do, don’t pay for extra transfers now. Wait a week until you have another free transfer at your disposal.

5. Read the tabloids (or at least, more than just the box scores)
You need to know about any external pressures or distractions facing your squad. You might not care that Wayne Rooney is getting a red card from his wife for scoring away from home, but you need to know how it will affect his game this weekend.  Sure, he scored in Switzerland for England, but I think the Everton fans are going to give him a much rougher time which may rattle him a bit. Mea culpa here though: despite this, I do plan to keep Wayne on my team this week.

What about Cesc Fabregas and his badly-wanted non-transfer to Barcelona? I believed him when he said he was ready to give Arsenal his full effort, but we have yet to really see it on the pitch.

Foster may have something to prove

On the more positive side, players like Birmingham’s Ben Foster have something to prove after not fitting in with Manchester United’s plans and he has shown some strong work in goal so far this season.

Admittedly, this is not an exact science. But you want to look for players with extra motivation and shy away from those with off the field drama.

FERGIE’S FIVE TO WATCH:

Captain: I’m sounding like a broken record here, but it’s hard to have a better start to the season than Didier Drogba. This week he has another favourable match up with Chelsea visiting struggling West Ham (okay, next week I promise to lay off West Ham).

Bargain Bin: I’m sure he’ll slow down eventually, but there’s no better bargain right now than Newcastle’s Andrew Carroll. His squad are home versus Blackpool so we may see him put a few more in the back of the net.

Also, Alexander Hleb is available for a good price as he returns to the Premier League. I presume he’ll get a lot of minutes with Birmingham but you may want to hold off a game or two before adding him just to see how he fits into the squad.

In Form: It really hurts me to write nice things about Chelsea players but honestly: who is playing better than Florent Malouda? He has scored in every game this season.

X-Factor: Will Louis Saha of Everton finally get on the score sheet? Normally I wouldn’t pick a striker to take advantage of Manchester United coming to town. But don’t forget that United is his old club, so there could be some extra motivation this week. And if he doesn’t show up this week it might be time for a transfer out of your team.

Scott Ferguson

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Premonitions for the Premier League

Will it be two in a row for the boys from Stamford Bridge?

By Kevin Hoggard & Brent Lanthier

It seems like only yesterday that Chelsea beat out United on the last day of the season, while Arsenal sputtered through the last six weeks without Fabregas, and Spurs squeaked into the Champions League… pushing out the other so-called “Big Four” team all the way into seventh place.  

Not much should change at the top this year. For the last seven seasons, the Blues and the Red Devils have swapped Premier League honours. Can we call them the Big Two now? The newest Manchester millionaires — City — may beg to differ.  

Here then are our picks for top eight:

Kevin’s picks Brent’s picks
1. Chelsea 1. Chelsea
2. Manchester United 2. Manchester United
3. Manchester City 3. Manchester City
4. Arsenal 4. Tottenham Hotspur
5. Everton 5. Arsenal
6. Tottenham Hotspur 6. Liverpool
7. Liverpool 7. Everton
8. Aston Villa 8. Aston Villa

Chelsea – Kevin, Brent: Champions  

Kevin: Liverpool, ManU and Arsenal just haven’t strengthened their squads to challenge Chelsea over a long season.  The Blues are old, they’ve lost Ballack… but Essien is back to full fitness. Drogba is one of the best strikers in the world in Drogba.  Lampard still puts out 20 goals a season. What other big clubs are getting that output from a midfielder? An experienced and settled squad who just know how to get the job done.  

Brent: Essien’s return will more than compensate for Michael Ballack… but the real story with Chelsea is goals. 103 of them, actually.  It was a veteran squad that broke the Premier League record for goals in a season… and it was a veteran squad who shelled West Brom this weekend. Potential problem: what to do with the squad’s stable of foreign stars under new League quotas.  

Manchester United – Kevin, Brent: Runners-Up  

Kevin: Ferguson has failed to fill a glowering hole in the centre of midfield. Scholes and Fletcher are good… but they’re far from world-class, and beyond them the cupboard is a bit bare.  The defence is creaky with perma-crock Ferdinand and lumbering Vidic (what’s the over-under on his red card count this season?).  Strength in attack with Rooney, Nani, Valencia… with Berbatov and new signing Hernandez in to give some relief.  

Brent: Scholes and Giggs showed this weekend that they’re not ready to hang up their boots just yet.  But Giggs came off the bench, and Scholes certainly won’t start every game. Which Rooney will show up this season? Valencia should shower him with crosses… and Berbatov looks like he has something to prove.  Defense is worrisome.  Last year, they were the league’s stingiest.  But Rio is hurt, Vidic is undisciplined and got caught looking several times last season.  Good… but not good enough.  

Not this year, Roberto

Manchester City – Kevin, Brent:3rd   

Kevin: The title is a step too far for Man City at this early stage. You can’t buy a complete squad and expect them to be cohesive. Another couple of years before they are truly challengers for the title but it will come, barring any financial meltdown. You can’t spend this much money and be disappointed forever. Although Amsterdam 2001 springs to mind… but I blame that on the beer.  

Brent: Not cohesive, but check out the parts of the sum. City poached other supposed “big clubs”, offering untold riches to those who came to Manchester proper.  But who will see the pitch on a regular basis… and who will see the back of Mancini’s fine Italian coif? Besides, the manager used three holding midfielders on Saturday and three forwards, begging the question: who will feeding the ball to the attack? Shades of Maradona… which worked out well for Argentina, didn’t it?  

Arsenal – Kevin: 4th; Brent: 5th  

Kevin: It’s hard not to like Arsenal unless you’re a yiddo.  Their fluid attacking football is the closest thing English football has to Barcelona.  But Arsenal’s downfall is Wenger’s reluctance to open the purse strings and buy some bloody players.  He needs a decent goal keeper and a quality center-back to partner Vermaelen before they can challenge for the title. Arsenal are being fiscally sensible and and paying off debts from the new Emirates. But Arsenal fans must be tearing their hair out, knowing that until the debt is paid, they’re forever the bridesmaid and never the bride.  

Brent: Arsenal looked ordinary this weekend at Anfield. Almunia is, well, Almunia… and they lacked the flowing football they’re known for.  Their two best players — Fabregas and Van Persie — are perpetually hurt… and Fabregas doesn’t even want to be there.  Arsenal were in the title hunt last season until Fabregas picked up an injury in the last six weeks, and I don’t see his replacement yet. Wenger’s only edge may be in the new league quota rules, due to his long-standing policy of scouting young players. But I don’t think they will be playing in the Champions League next season.  

"Why won't anyone sign?!?"

Everton – Kevin: 5th; Brent: 7th  

Kevin: David Moyes might be the best manager in the Premiership.   Despite dealing with a lot of injuries and poor early form, Everton still managed to finish two points behind Liverpool.  With more luck this year, I think Everton can push on.   They have a solid settled side that are just hard to beat, and with Cahill fit they have a match winner on any given day.  

Brent: The Prem’s third-longest lasting manager, Moyes can wring the best out of his players.  After an awful start to last season, Everton were among the best after Christmas: only Chelsea and Man U had better records. But they are still a small squad and can’t seem to sign anyone.  They will fatigue and drop off, as better teams push for the finish line.  

Tottenham Hotspur – Kevin: 6th; Brent: 4th  

Kevin: I like this Spurs team a lot. They have flair, creativity and one of the best goalkeepers in the Premiership.  If they get past the Young Boys (and that’s never easy: ask my uncle!),  they’ll be fighting on four fronts and I think it will be a stretch too far.  They have a big squad — thanks to their massive spending in the last few years — but I think inexperience will tell and the Champions League will affect their league results.  

Brent: No one expects Spurs to win the Champions League.  But everyone on this North London team expects to be back in it next year. ‘Arry hasn’t signed anybody (except for Sandro?!?) but Tottenham has a solid and offensive-minded starting eleven.  If they can get some super-sub performances from Keane, Pavlyuchenko, dos Santos and Palacios — along with regular displays from Defoe, Crouch, Bale, Lennon and Huddlestone — look out. Let the kids play in the cups… these boys have gotten a taste and they like it.  

Liverpool – Kevin: 7th; Brent: 6th  

Kevin: I’m going to stick my neck out here and predict another season of struggle for Liverpool.  Unless the Chinese take-over is imminent and Roy has oodles of Yen to spend, I just can’t see them being better than last year.  I know the Scouse fans are optimistic but I just don’t like their side.  They are a Torres injury away from trouble.  He is the class act in a workmanlike team.  

Brent: Liverpool were not that bad last season.  Their defence was top-notch: only Chelsea and Man U allowed fewer goals. But off the pitch, the team was in turmoil and on the pitch, they relied too much on Torres and Gerrard.  Worse, the team only scored 15 times away from Anfield.  Hodgson has done some nifty little bits of business, bringing in Joe Cole and a cast of others. But this is not a squad of title winners… and other teams are catching up. Liverpool pride will return this season… Liverpool’s form might not.  

Aston Villa – Kevin: 8th; Brent: 8th  

Kevin: Martin O’Neill transformed Villa into perennial contenders for Europe.  They have finished 6th for the last three seasons.  But O’Neill has gone, the coffers are bare at Villa Park and Milner has to be sold before acquisitions are made. The team has a huge wage bill and must trim their ranks, but they can’t unload those players to create some wiggle room.  I think this will be Villa’s worst season in a while.  

Brent: Saturday’s 3-0 victory over West Ham must seem like a cruel joke to Villans. Wantaway Milner scored the final goal, showing why he would (will?) be missed in the Midlands.  But Villa is not known for its goal-scoring and their huge wage bill doesn’t make up for their shallow squad.  They are playing without a manager… with his replacement rumoured to be the biggest court jester in all of football.  It might be generous to pick Villa at eighth, when all is said and done.

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It could happen…

Kevin Hoggard

10 Things that I hope will happen in the Premiership this year:

1.       Roy Hodgson’s new cuddly approach will involve having a sleepover for his squad.  All the players will get dropped off by their mothers and they’ll all share one big bed.  Gerrard will suck his thumb and fight with Torres over his teddy bear while Woy reads them a bed time story about one night in Istanbul.  Dirk Kuyt will run around the room for 90 minutes without actually achieving anything.

Granddad Woy shows the lads what the CL trophy looks like…

2.       That all players have to grow facial hair, of their own choosing, until they score a goal.  Note to Fat Frank: “Deflected goals do not count.”

3.       Rory Delap has an operation to make his shoulders double-jointed.  He will now be able to launch a throw into the area from any position on the pitch.  A sign in the Stoke tunnel will read you must be 6’4” to go on the pitch.

4.       Penalty kicks will no longer decide cup matches.  The match will now be decided by a cage match involving four players from each team.  Players will have suitable monikers and be required to wear skin tight lycra.  John Terry, or ‘The Terry-nator’, will be a figure of hate as numerous WAGs grab the microphone and tell of how they’ve cheated on their man with the Chelsea captain.

5.       A two-week winter break is introduced and the top 10 managers in the Premier League will go into the Big Brother house and battle it out for the public’s vote.  Big Sam will spend every waking minute in the diary room complaining about everything.  Harry Redknapp will constantly tell people that the food in the cupboard is down to the bare bones.  Alex Ferguson will be found in his bedroom with every bottle of alcohol stacked in the corner, whispering the words “My Precious” and clawing at anybody coming within range.

6.       Rio will roofie Wayne Rooney two hours before the game.  Whilst asleep Rio will paint Rooney’s face green and wake him up 5 minutes before kick-off and he will run onto the pitch in complete ignorance to the sniggers of his team mates.  Donkey will be in the technical area shouting out instructions.

7.       Shaun Wright-Phillips will run out of the tunnel at the Eastlands only to have a sharp steel girder drop down and take his head off.  He will continue to run around for 90 minutes and nobody will notice the difference.

8.       Arsene Wenger is affected by the same truth wish that Jim Carrey had in Liar Liar.  When asked after the game if he saw an incident, Arsene will reply “Yes of course I saw it.  Why wouldn’t I?  I was watching the game.”  “So do you think Bendtner took a dive?”  “Definitely!  I’ve seen it on the monitor and nobody touched him.”  Arsene will look bemused as if he can’t believe he just said that out loud and, on parting, he will turn to the camera and say “And before you ask, Walcott really isn’t very good.”  Arsene will leave shaking his head.

9.       The British Government will kidnap Lionel Messi and put him into a village, like in The Prisoner.  He will be kept there by a big bouncing Jabulani ball.  The only other residents of the village will be 300 fertile young women.  2028 will be the start of 16 years of dominance by a pint sized England team and David James will still be in goal.  England shirts will be sold for $10 as they all have the same name on the back and are purchased in a massive job lot from China.

10) Shakira is given an honorary season ticket for Blackburn.  Her love affair with football finishes by the end of August 2010. 

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