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Dr. Z’s World Cup Predictions: Group E

Dentist by day, football prognosticator by night, our own Dr. Hadi Zogheib is scouting out each group at World Cup 2010 and predicting first round scores and standings. Here’s what the good doctor expects in Group E:

Netherlands:  With all the talk about Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and England, it seems the Dutch have been overlooked.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, injuries were threatening to derail their tournament aspirations, but most of the players have recovered in time for the big show.  Goalkeeping and defence are a little questionable, but with Dirk Kuyt, Robin Van Persie, Rafael Van der Vaart, and the sensational Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, anything less than a semifinal showing will be considered a big disappointment.

Japan:  Perennial Asian powerhouse Japan will feel a little better going into the competition having played England very tough in a 2-1 loss.  Speedy and crafty, the Japanese must tighten up in defence if they hope to progress out of the group stage.  They’ll need some magic from former Celtic midfielder and free kick wizard Shunsuke Nakamura along the way.  The Japanese may also be bolstered by the fact that they have a stellar record in recent years against African countries, going 5-0-1 since 2007.

Cameroon:  And the award for tightest uniforms go to… but I digress.  The West Africans will be hoping to repeat the success of Italia ’90, and much of the pressure will fall on the captain’s shoulders.  Former great Roger Milla stirred up a little controversy recently, criticizing Samuel Eto’o for playing great for club but not country.  Perhaps he was looking to light a fire under the Inter superstar: time will tell if it worked. As a big fan of la Liga, I must also mention the play of Espanyol goalkeeper Kameni, who perhaps single handedly helped his club avoid relegation with his sensational play this season.

Denmark:  The most underrated team in the World Cup, the Danes beat out Hungary, Sweden, and mighty Portugal to win their qualification group.  Meticulously organized and solid (though not spectacular) at every position, this may be the team to pick as the darkhorse to go deep in the tournament.  That is, if the maddeningly inconsistent Nicolas Bendtner decides to play consistently for a change.

Predicted Results:

Netherlands 2-1 Denmark

Cameroon 2-0 Japan

Netherlands 3-1 Japan

Cameroon 1-1 Denmark

Denmark 2-0 Japan

Cameroon 0-2 Netherlands

Group Standings:

Netherlands  9 pts

Denmark 4 pts

Cameroon 4 pts

Japan 0 pts

Related: Dr. Z doubts the host’s chances in Group A, expects Greece’s defence-first philsophy will pay off in Group B, predicts an opening-round sweep for England in Group C, and expects a three-way dogfight in Group D.

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Best of the Prem: Liverpool to Stoke City

Brent Lanthier

Here is the next installment of the series. I know, I know, the League ended almost a month ago. But at least four of these next five gents will be front and centre over the next month.

Liverpool: Dirk Kuyt (NED)
One of the few positives in Liverpool’s disastrous season, Kuyt gets mention for sheer effort… and lack of injury.  With Alonso out the door and Torres and Gerrard spending too much time on the physio’s table, it was left to the Iain Dowie look-a-like to show some guts. Kuyt gave his all, game in and game out.

Future: The Dutchman is beloved by the Anfield faithful but he could join the potential exodus from Merseyside this summer.

World Cup-bound? Yes. Kuyt is competing with some superstars (Robben, Sneijder, Van Persie) for playing time on the Oranje. But he has a habit of scoring big goals for Holland.  Watch for him this tourney.

Manchester City: Carlos Tevez (ARG)
The first player to move between Manchester teams since Terry Cooke in 1999, Tevez must have had it in his heart to prove his old boss wrong for letting him go. The Argentine scored more goals this season than he did in his previous two with United, leaving his fellow City strikers in the dust. Welcome to Manchester, indeed.

Future: The future looks bright for City… and Tevez should be their leading light.

World Cup-bound? Yes. But the striker now admits he may end up on the bench for a team that boasts an impressive front line, including Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, and Diego Milito.

Manchester United:
Wayne Rooney (ENG)
With the departure of his team-mate and “friend” Cristiano Ronaldo, it was up to Rooney to step into the breach for United. Rooney did it as a serious contender for this season’s Golden Boot, laying waste to defenders and scoring some lovely goals. He looked on pace to snap Denis Law’s record for most goals in a single season by a United player, but an ankle injury at the beginning of April forced him out for two weeks, and he finished out the campaign without scoring again.

Future: Rooney no longer has to play feeder for the flamboyant Portuguese and that’s been reflected in his goal tally. At 24, he is already a United legend.

World Cup-bound? Yes, yes and yes again. Get in, son. (Sorry for the unbridled favouritism).

Portsmouth: Aruna Dindane (IVO)
Dindane was brought to Pompey as one of several hired guns,  but he was never going to get that much action. His contract stipulated that if he played more than 21 games, the cash-strapped Pompey would have to pay Lens an extra 4 million pounds. But Dindane has made a career of doing a lot with a little, and scored nine times in all competitions. One wonders what he could have done, if he’d been allowed to play the entire season.

Future: Dindane has signed for a team in Qatar, which is where all football elephants go to die.

World Cup-bound? Yes, and with Ivorian superstar Didier Drogba out of the team, Dindane might get a chance to shine on the world stage.

Stoke City: Matthew Etherington (ENG)
Let’s face it: Stoke are boring to watch. They played to not lose and had the worst goal scoring record away from home in the league. But reformed gambler — and Hammer — Matthew Etherington had a good season. He led his team in both goals and assists (in the league‘s Top Ten, actually), which earned him the Potters’ Player of the Year.

Future: Etherington is frustrated he isn’t earning as much as some of his team mates. But after his rebirth at the Britannia, Stoke fans are praying he stays.

World Cup-bound? No. While he may have had an outside chance, the odds were that an England appearance was never in the cards for this left winger.

Up Next: Part IV, Sunderland to Wolverhampton — and then Part V: my Starting XI.  That’s a lot of Roman numerals…

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Liverpool FC Walk Through The Storm

“Once decline becomes precipitous, even money may not prevent the decline spiralling into permanency.”
 – David Bick, Square 1 Consulting
The consultant-speak belies how bad the situation is for Liverpool. The season has been nothing short of disasterous. In a campaign that started with a loss to Spurs — and basically ended with a dreadful performance at home against Chelsea — last year’s would-be champions fell from grace with alacrity.
The players simply weren’t good enough. With the exception of workhorse Dirk Kuyt, every squad member can shoulder part of the blame:
– Gerrard’s season was summed up in his “conspiracy” pass to Drogba,  
– Midfield bulldog Mascherano played with a heady mix of anger and stupidity, while his partner Lucas was a pale replacement for the sorely missed Xavi Alonso,
– Jamie Carragher showed signs of rapid decline,  while the man he was protecting — Pepe Reina — made simple saves look tricky at the beginning of the season,
– Rieira and Babel — for all of their chirping — didn’t come close to earning their wages,
– Defensive backs  Johnston and Insua looked like strokes of brilliance by the manager, until injury felled both at inopportune times.
And nothing further needs to be written about the absence of Fernando Torres — who seems to be afraid of what the Premier League is doing to his body.
Regardless of individual performances, Rafael Benitez remains the lightning rod for the team’s troubles. Many will forever asterisk the Champions League win as a squad assembled by Gerard Houllier and dragged to victory by Stevie G. 
The doubters will point to Benitez’ endless tinkering in his first seasons and the revolving door on the training ground. Keane, Pennant, Voronin, Arbeloa, Bellamy, Crouch and countless others — all players who came and went. That’s not to mention the 20 million pound purchase of Alberto Aquilani — known in Italy as “The Crystal Kid”. But the punters are missing the pattern of waste and wandering ambitions that have guided the team for two decades.
Rafa inherited a team that was still revelling in its former glories: a club that could boast to being England’s all-time best, both at home and abroad. Like a fat, aging Lothario — LFC could count on its fans to point to past conquests. The faithful beat their chests as they sing the club’s famous theme, along with odes to Rome and Wembley and Paris and Istanbul.
But the fat and the decline were there for all to see. The Souness/Spice Boy years in the Nineties. The neglect of the youth system in favour of the latest fad player from abroad (Diouf/Diao/Diarra anyone?).  The self-righteous talk of the “Liverpool Way”, even as board members plotted against each other.
And then came the Americans.  George Gillett and Tom Hicks arrived in Merseyside promising a yellow brick road to the title, while secretly planning how to flip the club like a renovated townhouse. The problem was that neither counted on a U.S.-made global recession — or a slowly developing hatred for each other.
Now the club sits mire in unprecedented debt. Its plans to build a bigger stadium still sit on an architect’s table — and much-needed revenue from the expanded capacity sits unrealized. As Man U, Arsenal and Chelsea build their global brands — along with their counterparts in Spain and Italy — Liverpool has failed to adjust to the new reality. LFC  is still trying figure out what it is.
But time is running out. The Reds will not see Champions League football next season. Thanks to Gillett and Hicks, the team now owes 10 million pounds more in annual debt payments then it makes in operating profit. The manager realizes what this means for the transfer window and is likely to looking for greener (and warmer) pastures. So are key players like Gerrard and Torres and Mascherano, who all see the writing on the wall.
The decline has begun. The spiral is forming.  And time is ticking.
It’s time to be afraid of the dark.

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Race against time for Dutch

Hadi Zogheib

Take a quick glance at the World Cup qualification tables from the European zone and the record of the Netherlands in Group 9 immediately jumps out. Eight wins, no losses, not even a draw. Seventeen goals for and only two against. Not too shabby, eh? With just weeks to go before kickoff in South Africa, it’s easy to see why the Dutch have powered up to number four in the world rankings, behind only European champions Spain, five-time world champions Brazil and, curiously, Portugal. 

But not everything is looking rosy for the Oranje, especially if you look at the struggles of their wonderful attacking talent. In recent months, many of the players Holland will rely on to lift the trophy in Johannesburg have been struggling for form, fitness or both. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has barely seen first team action for AC Milan. Dirk Kuyt has had a season to forget with Liverpool. Robin Van Persie has only just recovered from a horrific injury in a friendly versus Italy and will be short of match fitness come June. And Rafael Van der Vaart just damaged his left thigh muscle in Real Madrid’s match at Zaragoza on Saturday.

Adding to Holland’s woes, midfielder Wesley Sneijder looked anything but match fit in this week’s Champions League semi-final battle with Barcelona, having to be substituted early in the second half after a largely ineffective performance in the first 45 minutes.

The only good news for the Dutch is that time is on their side. All the above players still have time to heal and improve their fitness before the World Cup commences. In the meantime, Dutch football fans are holding their breath and hoping for the best.

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