Football

It’s coming home. I think. Maybe.

Due to popular demand, I am opening a World Cup thread so readers can give us their predictions and we can all visit the archive in 4 weeks time to see that I was right.

Winners: England

“He thinks tactics are little white mints,” said Martin Buchan of Ally MCleod. Contrary to popular belief, I think Sven is a fine tactician……for an Italy, or a Portugal, or an Argentina. What he has consistently failed to understand is that in the latter stages of major competitions, when the big boys come out to play, England can only win by playing their natural game. A tactical battle with the likes of Argentina or Brazil will ordinarily only end one way. Not because we don’t have great players, but because these great players are at their best playing the high tempo, positive game that they’ve been brought up on. I’m not by any stretch suggesting a gun-ho approach, but neither do I want to see what I saw in 2004 against Portugal. Forget Campbell’s ‘goal’, we were outplayed, but given the game-plan that is hardly surprising.

We still give away the ball too much at this level, even with genuine world-class players in almost every position. But what will work in our favour this time around is the fact Sven is going, so come the knockout phase, expect the shackles to come off and see England have a right go at Argentina in the quarters and whoever in the semis. We can only compete against these top teams if we keep the tempo high and press the ball all over the park. When we do that, we have players who can hurt teams, even the best teams. And if England win their group, they will play all future games at 8pm, meaning there should be no concerns with the heat. We will never have a better opportunity to win the World Cup outside these shores.

One to eleven, we are as good as anybody. This time around, Sven need not concern himself with what the tired and emotional hacks have in store for him should we stumble. So give the guys their heads, Sven, and we have a great chance.

Surprise Package: France
Not that much of a ‘surprise’ you might think, but no-one seems to be talking about them as serious contenders this time around. That will suit them and with Cisse’s enforced withdrawal and the likely call-up for Ludovic Guily, they’ve just got stronger.

And they have Thierry Henry.

Outsiders to do well: Czech Republic
Yeah, I know, not exactly ‘outsiders’ in the Angola sense of the word, but never talked about as potential winners. I think they could push Italy all the way in group E, with the runners-up in this group almost certainly playing Brazil in round two. Which brings me to…..

Radical Prediction: Brazil dumped out in round 2.
Yes, Italy or the Czechs to send the samba boys home early. And take your ‘carnival’ with you.

Top scorer: David Villa (Spain)
The perennial underachievers will sail through their group, beat Switzerland in the second round and then the conquerors of Brazil in the quarters. By this time, Villa will have grabbed a hatful.

Most over-used phrase: “German efficiency”.

Player of the tournament:
Tomas Rosicky of Czech Republic (and Arsenal) to do well, as will Liverpool’s Xavi Alonso. Henry will show his class, Ronaldinho will mesmerize us from time to time, but this is Stevie Gerrard’s tournament boys and girls.

Enjoy. I know I will.

Update: Incredibly, France are to replace the stricken Cisse with Lyon’s Sidney Govou rather than Barcelona’s Ludovic Giuly, who, of course, ought to have been in the original squad.

Harry’s predictions:

Winners: Brazil beat Holland in the final, which if it involves those two teams could be a classic.

England? Brownie says they have “Genuine world-class players in almost every position”. Really? Not in goal. In defence John Terry is the only one who would be close to that category. The midfield is perhaps the strongest in the tournament – if Gerrard stays fit. Up-front. Rooney and Owen would have been a strong pairing but neither of them are fully fit. The manager is a lame duck who has already been sacked. Every World Cup the English, especially those who only get interested in the game at big events, convince themselves they can win the tournament. It’s hype. How long ago was that game against Northern Ireland?

Surprise Package: Holland – Marco van Basten has opted for building a real team rather than assembling a collection of individuals and hoping they will gel together. There are some top quality players in his squad and they play attractive football. Hope they do well.

Outsiders to do well: Switzerland. They won’t win it but they could be a lot more interesting than most people reckon. A young team, a proper team that have been together as a group for a good while – which as Turkey and South Korea proved four years ago and Greece two years ago, can count for a lot in a tournament. Also I reckon Ukraine could pull of a surprise or two.

Radical prediction: The referees might actually allow some tackles to take place.

Top scorer: Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Player of the tournament: Kaka. Doesn’t enjoy the same high profile as Ronaldinho but – well, just watch him.

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