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Captain Ronaldo; the denouement.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just over a week ago this blog wrote a piece for the Guardian. It suggested that Ronaldo was not the correct choice for Portugal captain; inevitably it got panned and accused of just jumping on the "Ronaldo sucks" bandwagon. 10 days later and it seems that it was correct all along.

The words of former captain Luis Figo say it all, "in the most difficult moments the captain must always face up for the group". And what did our beloved CR7 say in the aftermath of the Spain defeat? "Talk to Carlos Queiroz".

Ronaldo wants to be the face of Portugal when it suits him. Following the 7 nil drubbing of North Korea where Ronaldo was awarded the Man Of the Match performance, he publicly and correctly handed it to Tiago who had been superb. But when the chips came down and Ronaldo retired to the shadows it was Tiago who spoke up, "that's his opinion. The captain won't talk, but the rest of the players are here to talk".

Tiago was ready and willing to take on the responsibility of Portugal's exit. And why not, Tiago had a very decent tournament, so maybe was not afraid of the personal attacks which would surely be aimed at Ronaldo. Afterall, Tiago is not at fault for the defeat as he's 'merely' a midfielder whereas Ronaldo is the hero when we win and the enemy when we lose. That is what comes with being a captain.

António Simões, legend of the 1966 Portugal team "os Magriços" spoke up demanding a "greater sense of responsibility" from the captain, and putting his finger on the pulse suggesting that "when providing statements [he] must be consistent and coherent with the stature and responsibility he has".

Of course it has been overblown, and the player himself has come out and apologised. But to this blog, apologising after an act of extreme immaturity (I refer of course to the spit) and blame-pushing comments is cheap. It's easy to say "it was in the moment", but just like Rooney's petulant "nice to see some loyal support" comment, it's not what you come to expect from a captain. Perhaps that is why Rooney is not considered for the role just yet, as he's yet to mature.

Let me make something very clear; I am not lambasting him for his outburst per se, nor am I blaming him for Portugal's exit. I am not suggesting he is anything other than a special player either. What I am saying is that he is not captain material.

At the end of the Guardian blog, there was a quote by the man himself saying that "it's not through being captain or not that I will change".

That quote is clearer than ever now.

posted by teedoubleyou


Tournament takes shape

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Now that half of the groups are complete we can begin to form a picture of the "real" World Cup, and how it could pan out.

With Uruguay and USA topping their groups a situation has been created where one of Uruguay, South Korea, the USA or Ghana will be in the Semi-Finals of this World Cup. Had we been told this fact prior to the tournament a "scoff" would've been heard echoing in the room. As it is, Uruguay seem the stronger of the 4 teams.

In Suarez, Cavani and the exceptional Forlan they have a very threatening side who will give the South Koreans a lot to think about. Portuguese based fullbacks Fucile and Maxi Pereira have looked dangerous in attack, and in Lugano they have a very intelligent (although inconsistent) centre-back.

The Koreans were very lucky against Nigeria, took an absolute pasting from Argentina and beat a very poor Greece. They are the weakest team in that group of 4, but with enough discipline and pace they can cause an upset.

Ghana vs USA is a very intriguing tie, however Ghana have found it very difficult to score goals and indeed have not managed to score a goal in open play having to rely on 2 penalties for their qualification. USA on the other hand have scored 4 goals, and had a couple ruled out along the way, and had it not been for that awful call on the 3-2 in the Slovenia game they would've assured their 1st place qualification earlier.

The most likely quarter final would seem to be Uruguay v USA, with Uruguay the stronger of the two should Forlan continue firing on all cylinders.

The other side of the draw sees Germany, England, Argentina and Mexico fight it out for a Semi-Final berth. This is of course what the World Cup is all about and all 3 fixtures leading to the semi are mouth watering. Mexico could cause an upset as up until now Argentina's opponents have been an inconsistent Nigerian side, an awful Greek side and against a decent South Korean team they conceded an awful goal. Demichelis and Gutierrez are their weakest players and haven't really been tested, and on the occasions where they have been called on they have disappointed.

Mexico are an excellent team going forward, Salcido is a very dangerous fullback and could pin back Argentina's defence. Giovani is looking superb at front, as is Chicharito aka Javi Hernandez of Man Utd. However as good as Mexico have looked, Uruguay were the better side when these 2 met earlier this week and Argentina are a significantly better attacking unit. Looks like a great game.

Finally we come to England v Germany. On paper the Germans have to be the favourites, they are faster more organised and in Ozil have one of the most exciting players in the tournament. Klose will be back for this one after seeing red against Serbia, he will be rested and wanting to prove a point. Together with Podolski they have one of the most dangerous tournament-based attacking pair. At the back however they are shaky, and had it not been for prolifigacy in front of goal Ghana may have changed the outcome of this group.

As it stands, England improved immeasurably against Slovenia and their confidence will be their greatest asset. Should Rooney find his form then they are a significantly tougher opponent, as it stands though England's midfield will be where the battle is won or lost. Khedira looks an excellent player, and 25 year old Schweinsteiger is a very strong presence and should cause England's immobile midfield a lot of problems.

The quarter-final is likely to be Germany v Argentina, however that is too tough to call.

Nevertheless the tournament is starting to take shape, and a very exciting shape it is. Can't wait to see how the other half of the draw works out.

posted by teedoubleyou


Punditry: fewer puns and more knowledge please.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The quality of punditry on British television has long been the subject of great debate. Lawro is widely regarded as the worst thing to have happened to punditry since records began, and the rage directed in the direction of Jamie Redknapp seems never ending, but the depths to which the quality has dropped in this World Cup is galling.

Alan Hansen is regularly praised to high heaven by viewers of MotD for his unreserved criticism of defending and generally "telling it like it is", and in his defence his tactical analysis whilst being a little shallow is often spot on. On ITV, Hansen's contemporary Andy Townsend is without doubt significantly worse. Those of us who have had to sit through Champions League games and listen to the blindingly obvious being pointed out by the former Ireland international knew full well what to expect from the ITV team.

But the other night something occurred which genuinely took me aback. During the post-match "analysis" of the Italy v Paraguay game being televised by the BBC, the discussion fell to the impact performance of Italy's 2nd half substitute striker Di Natale. The scorer of 29 goals in Serie A, making him the top goal scorer. He came 7 clear of Milito despite playing for a significantly weaker team, and at 32 it's not as if he's an unknown either. This though wasn't enough for the MotD team and Clarence Seedorf had to reach for a piece of paper to find his name. When scanning the team-sheet it became apparent that Clarence had picked up the Dutch team-sheet (that it took him about 5 seconds to notice is another surprise) prompting laughter from Lineker and Hansen and general hilarity ensued. Di Natale's name never came up.

There are things that should roll off the tongue when being on a pundit on the national coverage of the biggest tournament in football; the top goal scorer in England, Spain, Italy and at a push Germany and France. Incidentally all bar 2 of those players are at the World Cup.

The more you watch, the more it becomes apparent that little to no research is done by the pundits -- I don't doubt that there are producers for the show who know their onions, yet how can Shearer et al get away without knowing theirs? If I turned up to a meeting and was unable to answer a very straightforward question on a subject which is my forte then I would be taken to one side and given a very stern talking to. I'm not expecting them to have Football Manager-esque levels of knowledge, but I do expect them to know that Hamsik is a massive talent and that he plays for Napoli.

If you were to read a newspaper article reviewing last night's Spain game, yet the journalist in question wrote something along the lines of "..and late in the 2nd half that chap with the ginger beard rattled the post with a long range effort" and couldn't remember who he played for or his name you would be outraged and stop reading the article there and then. So why is it acceptable for national television pundits to not know the ins and outs of their craft? Do we forgive them because it's live and the journalists have time to do some reading? Anyone who agrees with that needs to listen to the superb Guardian Football Weekly podcast (or the The Game podcast for those who are a little less liberal), where off the cuff discussion of the leagues covering Europe is a regular, and where research is done prior to each recording with pieces of paper at hand to backup arguments with stats and importantly, players' names.

Compare it to the cricket commentary, the tennis or even the F1 and the football falls far far behind.

I don't expect this to change any time soon. Or perhaps ever. I have come to accept that the punditry on British television is not aimed at the savvy viewer, but I find it very hard to contain my frustration at a job that frankly a lot of people could do better at.

posted by teedoubleyou


Queiroz heavily criticised.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The day after the night before; a decent amount of sleep and hindsight should allow for more accurate reflection on yesterday's game.

It was without doubt a poor performance from Portugal against a team "with explosive players" according to Sporting's Paulo Sergio. Jorge Jesus expected us to win, "Portugal are a much better team. African teams are kilometres away from the Europeans". It proved that perhaps they're closer than we think.

Fabio Coentrao was expected to feature in the attacks, Jorge Jesus the Benfica title winning manager pointing out that "our fullbacks did not get involved in the offensive play, we need to review our positioning". With two defensive midfielders a greater amount of defensive support was expected, too often the fullbacks were left unprotected having to work too hard.

Jesus was rightly critical of the attacking midfield. "Deco and Danny had no fixed positions and couldn't organise [the game]. They were out of the game." Great things were expected from Danny, and prior to the match Queiroz highlighted the importance of holding the ball, "He who dominates the ball, dominates the game" he yelled at his team as they marched onto the field. Yet his tactical decision to force Deco onto the right wing backfired, and the player himself was heavily critical of his manager in the post-match interview "Everyone knows I'm not a winger and have always played in the centre". He went on to criticise the manager, "the manner in which we approached the 2nd half wasn't the best; we wanted to play a more direct passing game but that didn't materialise".

Yet again it appears that apart from not being able to score goals, it was the manager's tactical decisions that cost Portugal the 3 points. "In the 1st half we were controlling the game... if we improved a few aspects we would've won. But the manager decides."

A damning indictment, which coupled with the rumours of a rift with Nani points to problems in the Portuguese camp. Has Queiroz lost the dressing room? Did he ever have it?

Only time will tell of the internal issues surrounding Portugal, and as both Sporting and Benfica managers pointed out, it's imperative to "change as North Korea can surprise".

posted by teedoubleyou


Elephants stand strong

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Elephants stand strong

It's hard not to wrote a reactionary piece based on Portugal's dire
nil all draw to Ivory Coast so I will do my best to hold some sort of
impartiality when judging where Portugal go next.

Queiroz played a very narrow 4-3-3, ostensibly a 4-5-1 with Liedson
leading the line with Danny and Ronaldo supporting. Behind them the
trio of Mendes, Meireles and Deco would supposedly boss the midfield.
This of course never materialised.

I predicted Danny would be the star today, yet he was totally
anonymous mislaying passes everywhere though not as bad as team
captain Ronaldo who completed a mere 59% of his passes, the lowest for
both sides.

Coentrao and Ferreira were being pegged back all game, Ferreira the
subject of Gervinho's excellent attacking play preventing either
player from assisting in the offensive play. As a result Portugal were
far too narrow, and were forced into a scruffy midfield battle.

Queiroz brought on Simão which seemed like a good move, yet he then
replaced both Deco and Meireles for carbon copy players Tiago and
Ruben Amorim. Portugal were stogy and lacked invention.

Hugo Almeida perhaps deserved a look in when Portugal were on top in
the final 20, but perhaps Queiroz was more concerned with the points.

Regardless it's easy to see where to improve, and Nani's absence is
greater than expected but points to where Portugal should be looking.
I can't see them playing any worse and at least that's something.

posted by teedoubleyou


Full backs, the key to winning?

Monday, June 14, 2010

When recently listening to a Guardian podcast a theory emerged which I
had hitherto never given much time. The idea was that the team with
the best full back combination would win the world cup.

As football has evolved the fullback has become one of the most
important players on the pitch. Dani Alves, Ashley Cole, Maicon, Evra,
et al are regarded with high esteem and all regularly linked with
transfers to Real Madrid.

I can only remember as far back as '94 when Jorginho and Branco
tore up and down the wings to great effect, then '98 when Thuram
rescued France's cause against Croatia partnered by Lizarazu.

The theory is a solid one, and while obviously a little simplistic
it's worth considering for the forthcoming tournament.

Favourites Spain employ the oft eccentric yet highly skilled Sergio
Ramos and Arbeloa, a much less exciting player who can cross a ball
yet is more of a workhorse - yet they're not a side who traditionally
play through the wings preferring instead to ferry the ball through
it's outrageously gifted midfield. Ramos does find himself in advanced
areas quite regularly for both club and country and has been known to
possess a very decent finish.

Brazil of course have both Alves and Maicon, the former having a
sensational 60% win percentage when playing for the seleção. Looking
to the left back Michel Bastos of Lyon and you again find a very
adventurous player yet it would be a shame if one of Maicon or Alves
were forced to miss out.

The main surprise is Argentina. Maradona has infamously named a side
which will contain no fullbacks. He plans on playing with 4
centrebacks and relying on wingers Di Maria and Newcastle's Jonas
Gutierrez to provide width a creativity. Jonathan Wilson recently
suggested that perhaps there is genius in Maradona's methods as his
lineup will provide problems which other teams have forgotten how to
solve. With keeping 4 at the back they garuntee defensive solidity but
may find themselves relying too heavily on little Leo Messi.

The Dutch pairing of Van der Wiel and Van Bronkhorst are perhaps the
most unusual. The former a very young and inexperienced converted
centre back and the other the antethesis of that; 36 years old and
converted midfielder. They have both however had excellent warm up
games and seem to suit the style of the Dutch with Robben and Sneijder
providing the brilliance for Van Persie.

And what of Portugal? Bosingwa has been out since October forcing
Queiroz to call up part time footballer Paulo Ferreira; a conservative
player who often looks defensively suspect. On the left it seems that
youngster Fabio Coentrao will get the start. Coentrao is a left winger
who was played out of position by Benfica to great effect, and he has
been linked to Mourinho's Madrid as a result. He's a very attacking
minded player but could find himself unstuck against very attacking
(read Brazil) sides.


And finally to the Germans, a side I had written off last week but who
last night really tore it up. Lahm was magnificent providing the best
full back performance so far this tournament. Badstuber was solid yet
had very little to do against a poor Australian side. How he does
against Ghana is a greater test but I can't see Germany dropping
points in this group.

posted by teedoubleyou


From Russia with love.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Danny Alves.

We've all heard of him right? Diminutive Brazilian fullback? Wrong. How about Russian based Portuguese attacking midfielder? No?

When Queiroz made the decision for his final 23, the inclusion of Danny wouldn't have surprised those in the know; the subject of a €30 million move from Dynamo Moscow to Zenit St. Petersburg in 2008, Danny has shone on the Russian stage. When Zenit played Manchester United in the Supercup in 2008 he scored a fantastic goal, picking up the ball in midfield before finding some space and weaving his way through into the United penalty area before calmly slotting away an excellent near post finish.

So why are we only hearing this now?

In recent years the Russian league has boomed; in 2005 Dynamo Moscow owner Fedorychev spent big and brought in a few players from the Portuguese league; Derlei, Costinha, Seitaridis, Maniche and Danny. All of those players became unsettled in Russia bar Danny.
In his debut season for Dynamo he was voted the club's player of the season, and since then has gone from strength to strength.

Born in Venezuela, he moved to Portugal at a young age eventually making his way to Sporting before being loaned out to Maritimo. His career in Portugal never took off, and as such Sporting let him go to Dynamo. After his sensational performances, then manager of Zenit Dick Advocaat paid his €30 million buyout clause to bring the player to Russia's 2nd largest city.

With Deco nearing the end of his career the timing could not be more perfect. Just as in 2004 when Rui Costa played his last game for Portugal and Deco stepped into the frame, it feels as if this World Cup is the time for Danny to announce himself on the world stage.

Similar to Rui Costa in his rugged latin looks, he enjoys running at defenders and arriving late in the box to put away those crucial goals. He may not have much of left foot, but his agility has clearly made up for this. Where he differs to his predecessors is in his desire to be involved in the final third. Whereas Deco shies away from entering the area, Danny enjoys getting involved and supporting the strikers, a blessing for an international side with a frankly disappointing goal scoring record.

Quieroz is nobody's fool, although whether he has the downright stones to play Danny is another matter. What is true is that this Danny Alves has a bright future ahead of him, and the legacy of Portugal's number 10 will continue.

posted by teedoubleyou


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