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Go Time for Groups C & D

All the teams in Groups C & D are still in play, including a certain team in white…

Wayne Rooney's unreliable England team-mates bring out the worst in striker

Group C
Slovenia: 4 pts., +1 GD, 3 GS
U.S.A.: 2 pts., 0 GD, 3 GS
England: 2 pts., 0 GD, 1 GS
Algeria: 1 pt., -1 GD, 0 GS

Little, lowly Slovenia goes through with a win or a draw. They can still go through on a loss if the U.S. ties or loses.

The U.S. goes through if they win, or if they draw and England draws — without scoring too many goals — or loses.

England needs to win. If they draw, they need to score a lot of goals, and hope the Americans draw 0-0… or better yet, lose.

Algeria will go through on a win and an England loss.

Prediction: Slovenia-England draw England hang on for a win, U.S. beat Algeria. The U.S. wins the group on goals, with the Three Lions coming second. I might regret this one after the game but…

Germany's Lukas Podolski reacts after missing a chance on goal during a 2010 World Cup Group D match at Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth.

Group D:
Ghana: 4 pts., +1 GD, 2 GS
Germany: 3 pts., +3 GD, 4 GS
Serbia: 3 pts., 0 GD, 1 GS
Australia: 1 pt., -4 GD, 1 GS

Ghana can go through with a win. A draw will get them through if Serbia loses or draws. Ghana can still get through on a loss if Serbia loses in a game that keeps Australia’s goal difference less than the Africans.

Germany goes through on a win, or a draw and a Serbian loss. A loss knocks them out. Achtung!

Serbia goes through on a win. They can go through on a draw if Ghana wins, or if Germany wins but Serbia scores more goals than Ghana.

Australia need to win and hope the Germans lose. If they Germany wins or draws, then Australia has to make up the massive goal difference. Good luck with that.

Prediction: Germany beats Ghana. Serbia beats Australia. Germany goes first on goal difference.

Sunday’s games: U.S.A vs. Serbia, Germany vs. England.

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Best of the Prem: Starting XI

Brent Lanthier

After one of the closest seasons in years, the EPL produced some breakout superstars, as well as some familiar faces who are almost guaranteed to perform.  Here is my dream team for 2009-10.


Brent’s choice for Player of the Year. Sorry, Wayne…

GK: Joe Hart (Birmingham City)
Despite facing the third most shots in the League, Hart still had the second best save percentage, and starting every game in his loan to Birmingham. At 23, he is simply a better keeper than Shay Given, which says a lot. Look for Man City to tighten up at the back as Hart returns to Lancashire.

On the bench: Brad Friedel (Aston Villa), Petr Cech (Chelsea)

LB: Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
France’s newly crowned capitaine, Evra is a left-back who is a pure defender. Fierce and fiery, the Senegalese-born defender has disrupted the attack of many a right winger this season, and turned play around quickly on the counter-attack.

On the bench: Leighton Baines (Everton)

CB: Richard Dunne (Aston Villa)
One of Martin O’Neill’s most important pieces of business last year was the purchase of Manchester City’s former captain, Richard Dunne. The mighty Irishman is simply scary, but he’s also a leader on the pitch and proved invaluable in Villa’s drive for European football.

CB: John Terry (Chelsea)
Despite all of Captain Schtupping’s off-field problems, Terry eventually regained his composure to captain Chelsea to the rare double. Despite the unfortunate game against Everton, despite the sending off against Tottenham, and despite the poor showing against Inter Milan, Terry is still the bedrock of one of the best defences in the Premier League.

On the bench: Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jody Craddock (Wolverhampton)

RB: Carlos Cuellar (Aston Villa)
The Spanish defender is a centre-half-cum-right-back, a common occurance in a league that seems to have little regard for the position. Picked up by Villa from Glasgow Rangers, Cuellar is the only member of Martin O’Neill’s preferred starting XI to not have been capped by his country. Villa will likely buy a natural RB after South Africa, but Cuellar has done an admirable job out of position.

On the bench: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)

LW: Florent Malouda (Chelsea)
This Frenchman experienced a rebirth under Carlo Ancelotti. He was utilized as defensive midfielder — and even a left back — under Avram Grant and Big Phil Scolari. But this season, he had 14 goals and 10 assists, and was an important part of Chelsea’s double-winning season.

On the bench: Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

CM: Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Twenty-two goals and 14 assists, Lampard is the complete player, year in and year out. He’s the engine of HMS Chelsea.

CM: Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
Arsenal’s captain and best player at only 23 years old, the Gunners suffered when he got injured. Arsene Wenger needs to hang on to the Catalan in order to maintain his club’s Champions League spot.

On the bench: James Milner (Aston Villa), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

RW: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
This Ecuadorian had a bit of a slow start, but he came round once the season began to pick up.  The mirror image of Ryan Giggs on the right side, Valencia is a playmaker, spraying the ball with lethal accuracy, while picking up a smattering of goals along the way.  Wayne Rooney has said that Valencia is the reason why he scored so many goals this year. Shades of a posh former United player….

On the bench: Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool)

F: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
What else can be said about the Scouser in Manc clothing? He runs at defenders, he never gives up, he finds ways to score. One of the best players in the world.

F: Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
His World Cup-ending injury is a loss to football fans everywhere. This year’s Golden Boot winner simply wills his way into the box. His humanitarian efforts alone would make him easy to cheer for, if he didn’t pout so much, or engage in so many false theatrics.

On the bench: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)

That’s it for the Prem until next month. We’ll see how the trades play out over the summer. Enjoy the World Cup!

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England’s Pain: Germany ’06

Kevin Hoggard

My married friends relish telling me that having a child is the best thing that can ever happen to you. My reply is that the World Cup is the best thing that ever happens to you. Unfortunately for England fans, the World Cup is like having a child, except when you cradle it in your arms for the first time and you brush back the blanket… and catch your first glimpse of ginger hair. You’ll still love it… but there’s always that tinge of regret. I can imagine it’s how my parents felt.

The more the years progress, the more I have used alcohol to dull the pain of misspent patriotism. During Germany 2006, I would reach new levels of debauchery. There would be professions of love, incidents with a lamp shade, people locked out of pubs, and friends waking up in boxers in their driveway. I’m waiting for maturity to kick in but it’s taking its sweet time.

In 2006, I was back in England, staying at a friend’s place. My wife (at the time) was in Costa Rica, staying at her aunt’s house and acquiring my crazy Latina cat. They are both still biting and scratching me to this day.

Steve and I developed a routine for England games. Dressing smartly was the first order of the day: always look good. Then we would convene in the living room, open the windows and put the Killers on the stereo. The song would build slowly as we stood side by side, nervously shifting our weight from one foot to the other. “I’ve got Soul but I’m not a soldier” would be softly spoken at the start but as the song progressed it would grow in intensity and so did we. By the end, primal screams of “COME ON ENGLAND!” would echo around the lazy suburban neighbourhood. The song would end, the stereo would be switched off, the windows were closed, and the march down to the pub would begin. It was our day, we were pumped, and nobody could defeat us. But The Killers are false prophets.

We chose our first pub badly. We thought a cool chic place would be good for the opener against Paraguay. It was not. I stood out like a sore thumb. My swearing and general abuse of alcohol was so out of place that my friends started to become embarrassed by me. A third-minute own goal won us the game. England was comfortable, unlike the rest of the bar’s patrons.

After the game, I drank until The Men in Black zapped me and erased 4 hours of my life that has forever remained a mystery. I awoke the next day and gingerly made my way down to the kitchen to put the kettle on.

“Enjoy yourself last night?”

Leaning against the doorjamb behind me, Steve posed a question. A look of puzzlement crossed my face.

“The lamp?”

“I have no clue what you are talking about fella. After 10pm, everything is a blank.”

“You don’t remember the lamp?”

“What in God’s name are you talking about?”

“Last night I get in and find my lampshade sitting in the middle of my bedroom door.”

“Strange,” I replied.

“Indeed. In your inebriated state you must have found it amusing to go into my room,” — I had never, so much as once, been in Steve’s bedroom during my stay — “Then you teetered on the edge of my bed, unscrewed the light bulb, unscrewed the plastic casing, removed the lampshade, screwed the plastic casing back, screwed the light bulb back in, and then carefully placed the lampshade in my doorway.”

Apparently I’m a comedy genius, even in unconsciousness!

We moved locations for our second game. The Phantom and Firkin was our destination and it was jammed with degenerates who made our behaviour look positively upper class. We were home. England eased past Trinidad and Tobago 2-0. With six points and no pressure, we were unsure what to do. Drink was the answer.

Our final game mattered. Lose to Sweden and we would most likely face Germany in the next round. Win or draw and our game would be easier. Michael Owen twisted his knee in the first minute and his tournament was done. Joe Cole scored a 35-yard volley that screamed into the top corner. Beer flew everywhere. We were soaked but happy.

Sweden equalized but Stevie G put us ahead… only for Henrik Larsson to grab a last minute goal. It didn’t matter. We smelt of lager and we were ready to take on the world.

Steve drank himself into a state where his legs betrayed the relay signals sent by his brain, meaning I had to carry him home. We tumbled several times as his weight dragged me down into bushes and grassy knolls. Up we got and onwards we travelled. Steve told me several times I had saved his life and that he loved me – like a man loves a man after a case of beer. I did save his life because I literally turned down several offers to pimp him out into prostitution. He’s a good-looking boy.

We finished the night by sitting out on his back patio downing a final beer. It was still toasty. The effort to get him upstairs was too much, so I left him muttering quietly to himself, entrusting his fate to God and Stella Artois. He awoke at 5a.m., lying in his driveway in just his boxers, his neighbour tipping his cap to him as he left for work. The Men in Black had done their job again.

Our first place finish had earned us a match against Ecuador. The pub was heaving again. Intimidating bouncers lined the entrance, their knuckles creating sparks as their rings scraped the ground while they paced. There was always violence waiting to erupt. A wrong word, a spilt pint and you’d find yourself eating pavement, thanks to our evolutionary-challenged guardians.

England played poorly but they did the job. We survived an early scare when Ecuador hit the bar but Beckham became the only Englishman to score in three different World Cup Finals. It was a trademark free kick. What else could it have been?

So it was the last eight again. All the classic teams were there; Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Germany, France, Portugal –our opponents – plus the surprise package of Ukraine.

As we had progressed, our entourage grew. We were joined by wives and girlfriends and friends who didn’t even like football. The World Cup had brought us all together. Texts pinged back and forth as people asked us to reserve spots and order pints. One of our party was locked out when the pub closed its doors: it was over maximum capacity by a couple of hundred people. The distraught face of our stranded friend was pushed up against the window, pleading for entry. He would later sneak in the back way, to much rejoicing. The bar was about eight deep and getting a pint was longer and more hazardous than Frodo’s quest to Mordor.

What can you say about the Portuguese? I personally find their team despicable. During their exit from Euro 2000, their players assaulted the linesman and referee. Three players received bans of five months or more. Their previous match against the U.S.A. had resulted in four red cards. And of course, they have the most punchable man in football – Cristiano Ronaldo. With the tension already palpable in the pub, losing to them just didn’t seem like an option.

The game was so familiar to England fans. We lost Beckham to an injury just before half time and, on 62 minutes, we lost Rooney. Two Portuguese players harangued him, hacking at him as he tried to break free. His frustration boiled over and he stamped on Carvalho’s nuts. Ronaldo – Rooney’s teammate at United – led the rest of his team in calling for Rooney to be sent off. How they played together at United the next season, I’ll never quite fathom. But our hearts sank with the dismissal. Here we go again. The inglorious bastards were about to beat us.

But the sending-off galvanized us and we fought with the ferocity of the three English lions on our chests. There were so many English fans at the match, it felt like a home game and they roared our players on. Owen Hargreaves was magnificent. He was England’s MVP for the tournament and he led by example that day.

Like a prisoner on death row, we delayed our execution. But our exit, like theirs, was inevitable. Penalties!

We all watched with bile rising in our throats. Portugal scored. Lampard had his penalty saved… but Viana hit the post and Hargreaves cemented his place in our hearts by bringing us level. Petit then missed and Gerrard had a chance to put us ahead. Ricardo saved. Postiga scored and Carragher levelled it, but then the referee ordered him to retake it. We knew he’d miss the second time. Ricardo saved again. So it all came down to the most hated man in football. Steve just couldn’t watch. He turned away, shaking his head, hands on his knees, looking ready to throw up if we were defeated by this arrogant son of a bitch. I held his hair back as Ronaldo knocked us out.

The pub cleared out quicker than if a bomb threat had been called in. We retreated to the outdoor picnic tables. All the lads were silent. All the girls chatted about non-football related matters as if nothing had just happened. We all had a case of Football Tourettes. Every so often one of us would blurt out “Fucking Portuguese” or “FUCK RONALDO!” Our group slowly broke up and silently we returned to our lives.

The final was famous for Zidane’s head-butt. But what was better for me was the bet my friend Steve had with our Italian friend, Ronnie. Before the tournament, Italy was in complete disarray and Ronnie told us they would win the tournament. Steve sprayed his pint out onto the lawn as he laughed. He took a beat and then said, “If Italy wins the World Cup I will run naked down the high street”.

Steve, we’re still waiting for you to pay up.

Kev remains ever-hopeful that his beloved Three Lions will end their 44-year drought.  England’s campaign kicks off Saturday against the USA in Rustenburg.

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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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Best of the Prem: Burnley to Hull City

Brent Lanthier

Don’t get yer knickers in a bunch, we’ve got more World Cup coverage coming! But you should probably keep the Premier League in the back of your mind, since the backroom machinations are still ongoing. Several clubs can’t wait for the tournament to end to start their wheeling and dealing.

Burnley: Wade Elliott (ENG)
Burnley’s Player of the Year, At The Rails has already sung the praises of Wade Elliott. He created width down the right while adding some grit to the Clarets: he led the team in both fouls and yellow cards. A team leader on last season’s version of Blackpool.

Future: While Burnley descends back into the Championship, Elliott will likely remain behind with one of the Prem’s lesser lights. Reports say his former boss Owen Coyle will offer Burnley 750,000 pounds to bring the winger to Bolton.

World Cup-bound? No, but at least it would have been nice to see him get a taste. Alas, playing on a relegation-bound club shut him out of Don Fabio’s plans immediately.

Chelsea: Frank Lampard (ENG)
This is going to bring the wrath of my fellow ATR writers: Fat Frank should have been the league’s Player of the Year.  After a shaky start, he was the real leader of Chelsea when Captain Schtupping was busy…. um, getting busy. The axis around which the entire team rotates, Lampard had 22 goals (as a central midfielder!) and led the league with 14 assists. Rooney had a stunning season but Frank was the complete player.

Future: Stamford Bridge, Fulham Road, London, SW6 1HS.

World Cup-bound? Yes but where to play him? And who with? Barry or Gerrard?

Everton: Leighton Baines (ENG)
Last Monday’s performance notwithstanding, Baines was a model of consistency this season.  He started more games than any other Everton player and proved to be a force on the left side, defending and attacking with equal measure.  He also led in time of possession for the Toffees.

Future: A Scouser who grew up in Wigan’s system, he seems to finally be home.  Let’s hope his England experience will leave him with something to prove next season.

 World Cup-bound? No.  Apparently Baines is painfully shy… and now the whole world knows. Ugh.

Fulham: Mark Schwarzer (AUS)
The Cottagers allowed one more goal than Manchester City this season, and Schwarzer was a big part of that. The big Aussie faced a barrage of shots this season in the League, not to mention the club’s improbable run to the Europa Cup final. In fact, the last two seasons have been improbable for tiny Fulham. Guess when Schwarzer showed up?

Future: Schwarzer has one more year on his contract. But there are rumours Arsene Wenger wants to bring him to the Emirates… because Almunia is sh!te.

World Cup-bound? Yes. Pim Verbeek has built his team around Schwarzer and a strong back-four.  Many a punter has picked the Socceroos as their dark horse this tournament.

Hull City: Stephen Hunt (IRE)
Is he a bad luck charm or is he just unlucky? Hunt has been relegated from the Premier League twice… but it’s not been his fault.  The Irishman led the Tigers in scoring, even though he was injured for the last two months of the season. An intense midfielder, he was voted Player of the Year by the Hull faithful.

Future: Hull will be selling and he doesn’t appear to want to go back anyway.

World Cup-bound? Ask Thierry Henry.

Up Next: Liverpool to Stoke City

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Dr. Z’s World Cup Predictions: Group C

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 says about Group C:

England:  Their rabid fans will expect no less than first place from this mediocre group, and Don Fabio’s men should deliver.  World class all over the pitch (except in goal), England will nevertheless be heavily reliant on Wayne Rooney to pop in a goal or ten.  The Lampard/Gerard cohesiveness question has arisen once again with Gareth Barry’s questionable fitness, but as long as Super Wayne is healthy, expect to see the Men of St. George’s Cross advance deep into the tournament.

Slovenia:  The smallest country, population-wise in the World Cup party, the Slovenians are just happy to be there.  However, any team from Europe is capable of a surprise (just ask mighty Russia, who Slovenia beat in a playoff to get to South Africa).  The men in green will rely heavily on Udinese goalkeeper Samir Handanovic to keep them competitive.

Algeria:  Coming off an unconvincing 3-0 loss against the Irish in a recent friendly , the Algerians look to be the weakest team in the group based on talent alone.  However, any team that can defeat African champions Egypt in a playoff deserves to be respected.  They may not be technically gifted, but the Algerians are as scrappy as they come.

USA:  As Ian Harrison wrote in a previous entry, the Yanks are not just in South Africa to make up the numbers. Excellent goalkeeping from Tim Howard and a solid midfield led by Clint Dempsey will help the Americans give any opponent a run for their money.  Edson Buddle has been tearing up MLS this season with the LA Galaxy, and has earned his call-up, but it will most likely be Jozy Altidore who coach Bob Bradley relyies on to lead the line.

Results:

England 2-1 USA

Algeria 1-0 Slovenia

England 3-1 Algeria

Slovenia 0-2 USA

Slovenia 1-2 England

Algeria 0-0 USA

Group Standings:

England 9 pts

USA 4 pts

Algeria 4 pts

Slovenia 0 pts

Related: Dr. Z doubts the host’s chances in Group A, and expects Greece’s defence-first philsophy will pay off in Group B.

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Nike’s ‘Write the Future’ video

This is a marvelous video, especially the Homer Simpson cameo and the Rooney beard. And, with a soundtrack featuring Hocus Pocus by Focus, I’m even willing to forget the Ronaldo idolatry (don’t get me started on the Portuguese). Too bad for Nike that Ronaldinho is getting the summer off for extra samba lessons, and won’t be dancing around in South Africa. Even so, it’s still a great ad.

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