Saturday, June 03, 2006

Group together: E

Czech Republic

How they got here: Finished a close second to Holland in their group before beating Norway in the playoff
Best player left at home: Vladimir Smicer has been ruled out injured
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Ajax's Tomas Galasek is surely only a matter of time away
Likelihood of camp divisions: Medium
Where it could all go wrong: The Czechs always look more impressive in qualifying than in competition
UK media prefix: Unpredictable
Googlism says: "pavel nedved is the only football player in the top ten; the others are all ice hockey players"
We reckon: Number two in the world! There's one to take to the bookies, and while they won't win the thing they'll never have a better chance of their best performance since reaching the 1962 final

Ghana

How they got here: Won their group ahead of South Africa despite losing to Burkina Faso in their opening game
Best player left at home: Ten players from the African Cup Of Nations squad have been changed, most notably striker Ibrahim Salou
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Sami Kuffour, who complained about "magic rituals" affecting the national squad not long ago, would seem to fit the bill
Likelihood of camp divisions: Decent
Where it could all go wrong: With their status as continual overachievers of the African game well set, it's surprising to be reminded that these are their first finals, and come at a time of transition and poor form
UK media prefix: Game
Googlism says: "michael essien is obviously excited"
We reckon: Eight defeats in twelve games this year just when they didn't want them tells its own story

Italy

How they got here: Topped their group by five points
Best player left at home: Christian Panucci's international wilderness of some years continues, while Cristiano Lucarelli was squeezed out
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Simone Perrotta seems the type, unless he's too expensive now
Likelihood of camp divisions: Depends on how the betting circle goes
Where it could all go wrong: Yeah, shut up about how it didn't affect the 1982 squad now. Marcello Lippi's problem is more that Italy just haven't impressed many of late
UK media prefix: Organised
Googlism says: "marcello lippi is also a man of the center"
We reckon: Should get out of the group, but who knows after that

USA

How they got here: Breezed past weak opposition and qualified well in advance, just as they do every time
Best player left at home: Experienced defender Frankie Hejduk and new Charlton signing (work permit permitting) Cory Gibbs are both injured, while Freddy Adu is not deemed ready yet
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Surely Landon Donovan is overdue his European move by now?
Likelihood of camp divisions: Lowish
Where it could all go wrong: Expectations after 2002's headline making antics, lack of experience against the big guns, more "end zone interception turnover!!!!!" emailed 'commentary' 'humour'
UK media prefix: Surprising
Googlism says: "brian mcbride is simply one of the hottest men i have ever seen in my life"
We reckon: They won't play Iran, no. They might not play anyone at all apart from the three above

Friday, June 02, 2006

Group together: D

Angola

How they got here: Having nearly been put out by Chad in prelimiary qualifying, they sprang the biggest surprise in the whole of the African sector, finishing ahead of Nigeria
Best player left at home: Regulars Gilberto and Maurito are injured
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Unlikely to be one
Likelihood of camp divisions: They're getting offered too much in incentives for that
Where it could all go wrong: How can something go wrong when nobody expects anything?
UK media prefix: Inexperienced
Googlism says: Doesn't know enough about anyone, apparently
We reckon: Little chance, as even they surely admit, although they might go home without the indignity of zero points

Iran

How they got here: Qualified comfortably in a very weak group
Best player left at home: None, as far as we can tell
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Ali Daei, 77, used to be linked with them every summer
Likelihood of camp divisions: Low. International divisions, high
Where it could all go wrong: Don't have the greatest experience on bigger stages and this squad probably isn't as strong as their 1998 selection
UK media prefix: Game
Googlism says: "ali daei is above all a great character and a symbol of national fidelity"
We reckon: Despite Daei's talismanic presence it's not going to look much better on the stats sheets than the last few times they've got through

Mexico

How they got here: With ease from a weak group, as per
Best player left at home: Cuauhtemoc Blanco and coach Ricardo La Volpe have long been at loggerheads and has barely played under him over the last year or so
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Plenty of home-based full backs for them to have a go at
Likelihood of camp divisions: La Volpe doesn't give in easily and has brought in a lot of naturalised players
Where it could all go wrong: Not exactly full of striking potential or first class players
UK media prefix: Industrious
Googlism says: "rafael marquez is met with chants of "nana na na""
We reckon: Number four in the world, which seems generous of a side unlikely to make it past the second round despite any number of helping hands from the luck of the draw

Portugal

How they got here: Piece of piss. Nine wins and 35 goals from 12 games, seven at home against Russia
Best player left at home: Ricardo Quaresma has had an impressive season at Porto but has been left out in favour of Luis Boa Morte, while Jorge Andrade is injured
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: We have suspicions you'll be hearing a lot of Tiago Mendes and Simao Sabrosa in this regard
Likelihood of camp divisions: Average
Where it could all go wrong: Too many 'golden generations' have failed to deliver on the biggest stages
UK media prefix: Enthralling
Googlism says: "cristiano ronaldo is not the only player to have been named after a politician"
We reckon: Well, evidently it'll take quite something for them not to win the group. Beyond that a last eight berth is surely theirs at least

Adwatch

The first in what promises to be a series of posts dissecting the plethora of adverts that shamelessly shoehorn in references to football in order to capitalise on "World Cup fever" (copyright The Sun)...

Kellogg's

In return for the tokens on special packs of cereal, Kellogg's are giving away "foot-bowls". See what they've done there? Yes, these bowls are shaped like footballs - though obviously only half-footballs, as you wouldn't be able to fill them with cereal otherwise.

The advert shows a father and son chomping on their cereal in front of a match. I can't help thinking that surely this concept would have been much more suited to the last World Cup in Japan and South Korea, where the kick-off times meant that us Brits often were watching games in the morning. But given that this year's tournament is taking place in Germany, the kick-offs are all in the afternoon and evening. And who eats cereal then? More to the point, who wears pyjamas then? Only the mentally unstable and terminally ill. They haven't really thought this one through, have they?

Sue Johnston does the voiceover. Perhaps they tried to get her 'Brookside' / 'Royle Family' husband Ricky Tomlinson, who as someone who has played England manager Mike Bassett (allegedly - I still think it was Fat Sam Allardyce) would have been at least marginally relevant, but when he turned them down they decided to go for the next closest thing?

(You can watch the ad here. It seems to be some sort of site where you can rate adverts - suffice to say I won't be ticking the "Classic. I'll download a copy" box for this one.)

"The name's Boxhill..."

England Our Boys take on Jamaica at Old Trafford tomorrow in our final warm-up game before the World Cup kicks off, and I've just discovered that the President of the Jamaican Football Federation is called Crenston Boxhill. Anyone fancy taking a bet that he'll be watching the game tomorrow from the comfort of a hammock, whilst chugging on a large rum and chuffing on an enormous bifter?

It reminds me of the concept of a "West Indian cricketer name" to which I and my fellow contributor Skif were first alerted by Phill last year. You've heard of your porn star name - well, this works along similar lines. Just take the surname of the US President in office when you were born and combine it with the name of the last British seaside resort you visited - and hey presto!

Mine's Carter Fishguard (it was the rather better-sounding Carter Craster last year) - what's yours?

Ah, my inaugural post on Finals Fantasy appears to be about cricket - whoops.

The World Cup interview trail

Thanks to Football Commentator for flagging this one up.

Starting from April 14th, 56 days before the tournament, Calcutta based Pratyush Khaitan set himself the challenge of finding and interviewing a supporter of each of the 32 participating nations. The results are linkable from his Sportolysis site, although he appears to still be requiring an Ivory Coast interviewee. If you know anyone suitable, do let him know.

A tremendous effort and a recommended read.

The Football Commentator himself has also been interviewing fans across the world about their domestic leagues. That work in progress is indexed here.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Group together: C

Argentina

How they got here: First South American side to qualify, eventually finishing second
Best player left at home: Former captain and boy wonder Javier Zanetti
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez are perhaps out of their budgetary restraints. Javier Mascherano? Probably been linked already
Likelihood of camp divisions: Probably less than in recent finals
Where it could all go wrong: There's a lot of half-fit players in the squad and Jose Pekerman has yet to find his best XI
UK media prefix: Swarthy
Googlism says: "juan roman riquelme is also a great person"
We reckon: Short odds, but they've hardly set tournaments ablaze since 1986 and for all their style will need a lot of players to play consistently well throughout the tournament to mount a serious challenge

Holland

How they got here: Were given quite a tricky group, and pissed it. Beat the Czechs twice too
Best player left at home: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, scorer of more than 50 goals in all competitions this season, and Hamburg's Nigel De Jong
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Mark van Bommel. It's inevitable
Likelihood of camp divisions: Come on, it's Holland!
Where it could all go wrong: See above. Also question marks about experience
UK media prefix: Dashing
Googlism says: "ruud van nistelrooy is on the cover of tom waits' 'used songs'?"
We reckon: Almost have more reputation weighing them down then England have, and in this group an early exit might just be on the cards

Ivory Coast

How they got here: Sneaked in as group winners while continental giants Cameroon and Egypt were tying each other in knots
Best player left at home: St Etienne regular Siaka Tiene
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Most of them, probably. We'd take a flyer on Marc Zoro, Messina's attempted walk-off defender, and possibly Lens' reliable striker Aruna Dindane
Likelihood of camp divisions: Low
Where it could all go wrong: Inexperience, the old favourite, and also questions over their ability at the sharp end of affairs
UK media prefix: Indomitable (possibly)
Googlism says: "kolo toure is red"
We reckon: The best African qualifiers have run into rotten luck in the draw. If they can avoid a first round choke they could do just as well as Senegal did last time

Serbia & Montenegro

How they got here: One of the most impressive qualifiers, unbeaten top of a group including Spain, Belgium and Bosnia-Herzegovina
Best player left at home: Mirko Vucinic, Lecce striker who was rivalling Kezman for a place until picking up an injury
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Dejan Stankovic seems the type, or alternately taller than Crouch striker Nikola Zigic
Likelihood of camp divisions: Surely higher since coach Ilija Petkovic picked his own son Dusan as Vucinic's replacement. See, that's why Cloughie never became England manager after all
Where it could all go wrong: Questions over midfield strength and consistency
UK media prefix: Rugged
Googlism says: "mateja kezman is de irritatie"
We reckon: No fireworks but consistent. Whether that'll be enough in this company is another matter altogether

Terrestrial choices

When the BBC regained the rights to Premiership highlights, they went into hubris overload. ‘You love Match of the Day don’t you, aren’t we brilliant with our coverage,’ that kind of thing. Up to that point they were probably right but even the excuse of excitement of having a ratings and kudos winner back on BBC1 could not mask the sniffy superiority that, for me, was a bit of turn off.

It’s like Wogan on Eurovision. It seems recently he’s become more self-aware of his status as “the only reason people watch.” To my mind this has affected the performance, and where once the acerbic wit was charming and funny, it now comes across a little condescending.

You would think then, when it comes to football coverage, ITV would up their game to take away Auntie’s bask-friendly grandeur. However, when they allow the smug-a-thon between McCoist and Townsend to drift onto the pitch, they miss the trick on almost every level. They even ruined Des Lynam, the cads, although Ol’ Smoothy seems happy enough now, nodding off while Geoffrey Durham does close-up magic going into the ad-bumper conundrum.

So, with the BBC’s hoity-toityness in mind, I guess I should be quite happy that their World Cup finals trailer appears to serve only to highlight the cliché-proneness of their pundits and chunterers. Self-deprecation at last from the Corporation, you might think, although I imagine they see Hansen and Pearce et al’s metaphors and similes as examples of Coleridge-esque lyricality.

So, when it comes to England’s latter stage games, if they get there, and the final, who will you choose for your coverage when it’s split? The full-of-itself BBC, or the ‘bless them, they’re trying’ ITV crew? I’ve always been one for the underdog, but…

Judging by ITV’s ‘World Cup Heaven & Hell’ series currently on as build up, it doesn’t bode well. Come the finals themselves though, perhaps they’ll have some tricks up their sleeve to nicely tortoise the BBC’s overconfident hare.

I’m hoping for some innovation, maybe a snick-o-meter mic attached to every English metatarsal or perhaps a facility on Digital to mute individual pundits, maybe with an optional child-lock for the duration of the finals. My finger is hovering over the Pleat button as we speak.

Whatever's your poison, I hope you enjoy the tournament folks.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Group together: B

England

How they got here: By taking Poland on the line to win their group
Best player left at home: Which is worse, Shaun Wright-Phillips' omission from the squad or Ian Wright's resultant carping about it being a personal decision by Sven?
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Er...
Likelihood of camp divisions: None. Really, when are there ever?
Where it could all go wrong: Wayne Rooney ruled out and reshaped midfield behind Michael Owen fails to work
UK media prefix: Our boys
Googlism says: "sven goran eriksson is tipped to enter the charts at number one"
We reckon: They've got enough to get to the quarter-finals given the draw, certainly. What then is cast to the fates, as usual

Paraguay

How they got here: Slipping into the final CSF qualification place
Best player left at home: None obvious
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Nelson Haedo Valdez, young Werder Bremen striker whose arrival in the national first eleven transformed their ailing campaign
Likelihood of camp divisions: Not with a playsafe squad such as this
Where it could all go wrong: A defence almost willing opponents on to be exposed
UK media prefix: Doughty
Googlism says: "roque santa cruz is lying in front of his bench because of an undefined injury"
We reckon: Said to be better than the last two teams they sent over, still suspect but could surprise

Sweden

How they got here: As a best runner-up after a tooth and nail group battle with Croatia
Best player left at home: Previously first choice keeper Eddie Gustafsson, after being dropped by his club
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, if Juve don't want him any more
Likelihood of camp divisions: Decent, given there was an actual set of fisticuffs during training in 2002
Where it could all go wrong: Not a great deal of back-up, England record or no England record
UK media prefix: Dark horses
Googlism says: "freddie ljungberg is sponsering jayne ludlow"
We reckon: So England have an easy group, do they? With Sweden's forward going potential and stereotypical organisational skill?

Trinidad & Tobago

How they got here: Via a two-legged playoff against Bahrain, having come fourth in CONCACAF. World game and that, but surely there's limits to how far down we must go to find finals qualifiers
Best player left at home: Who knows? One Silvio Spann has pulled out of the squad through injury
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Yorke won't come back to that big a Premiership club, surely
Likelihood of camp divisions: Unlikely
Where it could all go wrong: Oh, in all sorts of ways, not least journalists rewriting their Jamaica pieces from eight years ago replacing 'reggae' with 'soca'
UK media prefix: Colourful
Googlism says: "dwight yorke is always displaying the ivory? probably not"
We reckon: Leo Beenhakker talks a good game, certainly better than his team will play

The South American Pat Jennings

As referred to yesterday, and bearing in mind while you watch this that keeper Tomasz Kuszczak of West Brom was preferred in the squad to Jerzy Dudek, here's Colombia's keeper scoring from further out than Higuita ever did:

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Group together: A

Costa Rica

How they got here: Third in CONCACAF, just ahead of Trinidad & Tobago
Best player left at home: Er...
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Walter Centeno, experienced playmaker key to Saprissa's rise on the continent
Likelihood of camp divisions: As decent as ever
Where it could all go wrong: It probably already looks like doing so given they lost to a Catalan XI last week
UK media prefix: Exciting
Googlism says: "paolo wanchope is enjoying his 'i'm impossible to tackle' phase"
We reckon: Will be tricky opponents who will get goals. Whether they'll do anything more remains to be seen

Ecuador

How they got here: Looked tight at the end, but finished third behind the inevitable two in South America mostly on their home form
Best player left at home: Franklin Salas, young striker known as The Wizard ruled out with a knee injury
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Edison Mendez, who's evolved in the last four years from holding midfielder to vicious playmaker
Likelihood of camp divisions: There might not be much camp left to divide given two officials have already been denied visas on people smuggling charges
Where it could all go wrong: When they play a game at sea level
UK media prefix: Naive
Googlism says: "agustin delgado is taking pain"
We reckon: Flattering to deceive a speciality

Germany

How they got here: By hosting it, the cheeky mares
Best player left at home: But they're all at h...oh, right. Dietmar Hamann retired from international football in a huff after being left out
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: All of them, with a source claiming Jurgen recommended White Hart Lane
Likelihood of camp divisions: Very low, you'd think, but parts of the DFB have publicly fallen out with Klinsmann
Where it could all go wrong: Creaky defence, unsure attack, no great strength in depth
UK media prefix: Efficient, and plenty more besides but let's not get into that
Googlism says: "jurgen klinsmann is remarkably jovial about this bet"
We reckon: Never write off the Germans, obviously, so they should make it to the last eight. Beyond that, we'll see

Poland

How they got here: Lost points in only two of their twelve qualifying games. To England on both occasions, yes
Best players left at home: Top scorer in qualifying Tomasz Frankowski, former captain Tomasz Klos, regular full back Tomasz Rzasa, Emmanuel Olisadebe and Jerzy Dudek. And you thought Sven was dicing it a little
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Grzegorz Rasiak! Or Maciej Zurawski from Celtic
Likelihood of camp divisions: Dark horses for it
Where it could all go wrong: The squad is exposed as lacking in depth, especially after a couple of pullouts. That said, all their bad luck could have come at once tonight when Colombia's Luis Enrique Martinez scored direct from a kickout
UK media prefix: Dour
Googlism says: Doesn't seem to recognise any of the squad's names
We reckon: Could do anything, to be truthful, especially in an unpredictable group

Monday, May 29, 2006

Willkommen

And hello to you from Finals Fantasy, the World Cup blog technically a spinoff from It's Up For Grabs Now but really a collaborative work with a number of other people, some or all of whom will hopefully be contributing over the next few days. We'll be previewing the tournament and making wry commentary on the stories, events, tie-ins and such tat as we go, and when the thing actually gets underway we'll be making an undertaking to cover every last game as we see it - those who caught our Euro 2004 blog Lisbonic Plague or subscribe to our TV review mailout Armchair Football will pretty much be ahead of the game. Tomorrow, we commence previewing the 32 teams involved. Stay with us, why don't you.