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Sunday, July 02, 2006

World Cup Diary - Day Twenty Four

So looking back on my quarter final predictions, how did I do?

I said Germany to beat Argentina on penalties, could I have been more accurate? Germany are now favourites for the tournament as other big names fell at this stage.

Italy as expected cruised past the Ukraine, who were lucky to have made it this far in the first place.

France turned on the style against Brazil who despite the amazing talent on display, again failed to turn up as a team. Zidane was awesome and seems to want to go out on a very big high. Still, this was the only prediction I got wrong.

I’ve saved England until last. I had a feeling this one would go all the way and as England didn’t up their game until losing Rooney it’s perhaps no surprise Portugal were victorious.

I said before the tournament I didn’t like Svens selections up front. Unlike some it wasn’t over only taking four forwards, but rather why take Walcott, an unproven kid when your top two are suffering injuries. Andy Johnson or Jermaine Defoe would have been better options, at least giving Sven someone to turn to given the injury to Owen. Walcott was a big gamble that didn’t pay off.

Sven forced the lone striker option upon himself with this selection (perhaps he should have taken another instead of maybe Jenas). If he had played Crouch with Rooney he had not other options up front as Walcott was never going to play. Leaving Crouch on the bench at least left him the option to add a striker or change the lone striker for a different style of player.

The five man midfield was also poor. Too often Gerrard and Lampard were trying to occupy the same space, while the wide-men tended to drift in field too much forcing the fullbacks to push forward and attack. The midfield looked much more threatening when reduced to four as the players stopped tripping over each other. Owen Hargreaves in particular excelled pushing forward and getting back to make some important tackles. Part of the problem seemed to be Sven wanting to play his best players rather than best team. I don’t think Lampard and Gerrard works in the centre of midfield and going forward, hopefully one or the other will play with my preference to Lampard. I would actually like to see a midfield of Cole, Hargreaves, Gerrard and Lennon given a proper run out in the near future. Carrick, Beckham and Lampard make for a strong back-up to these and if Steve McLaren can get four of these seven to gel thinks bode well for the future.

Back to the actual game and Rooney’s red card. First, I can’t believe the ref hadn’t awarded the free kick to England as Rooney had two Portuguese players all over him like a bad rash. Then when he did blow I think he was just going to award the free kick and no card. He made no gestures that hinted he want to speak with Rooney or card him. Then Ronaldo steps in to something that didn’t concern him, Rooney gives him a slight push and the ref instantly reacts to send Rooney off, a total farce in my opinion given Figo can head butt a player and get just a yellow.

After this point the England team as a whole did themselves proud defending well, while at the same time going forward and coming close to settling the game on a number of occasions. Then came penalties, at which point you didn’t have much confidence. Lampard continued his bad form while Gerrard probably took the worst penalty he ever will take. When Carragher was told to re-take his you could sense a miss was inevitable.

Looking back, the team never really clicked, a good group of individual talent that failed to gel enough as a team. On a positive note, Aaron Lennon impressed when replacing Beckham on the right and gives us options down the right. Joe Cole overall had a good tournament too cementing his place on the problem left. Owen Hargreaves too looked more than capable in the middle of the park. Things do still look positive going forward, and while the likes of Beckham and Neville may not be around for the next world cup there is plenty of talent snapping at their heels. Hopefully Steve McClaren can find the right balance in the team for England to go all the way.

One last thought on the game, and in many ways the tournament as a whole. Thank god the pros aren’t allowed in the Olympics as the gamesmanship has at times been appalling with Portugal probably the worst example. At every whistle they protest the officials either at how bad the foul (though half the time their players seem to be tripping on a blade of grass) was or protesting their innocence for what are clear fouls. I hope FIFA act sooner rather than later on this as it could ruin the beautiful game.

Finally, predictions for the semi’s.

Germany to beat Italy and France to beat Portugal. I think both games could well need at least extra time. As for the final, Germany have grown as the tournament has gone on, same with France, however home advantage will just be enough to make the Germans champions.

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