Sunday, 17 January 2010

Sunday 17 January 2010 – 145 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

The final games of the second round of the group stages take place today in Group D as Gabon take on Tunisia and Cameroon play Zambia. Having beaten Cameroon in their first game Gabon actually now look good value to progress from the group first. The defeat of Cameroon was a real shock as in some quarters it was believed that the formerly great nation were revealed for the has beens some believe they are. Going up against Gabon are Tunisia who scraped to a 1-1 draw in their opening match which also was something of a surprise as instincts pointed towards being the second strongest team in the group. As a result there is now a lot to play for in both matches in this group today. Cameroon will probably get it together and defeat Zambia while Gabon and Tunisia should supply a real tustle.

Coming back to Saturday results went as expected for once in this tournament as Egypt maintained their 100% record with a 2-0 victory over Mozambique with two second half goals while Nigeria scored their first win from a Yakubu penalty to beat Benin 1-0.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Saturday 16 January 2010 – 146 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

I’m heading up to Manchester today to visit with friends for the weekend so as a result this will probably result in a disruption in service for this blog. While in Manchester I will endeavour to gauge a vibe towards how the city’s two teams will influence the World Cup come June with all its international stars gearing up for action. That said I’ll probably just get drunk and maybe watch some football on TV, maybe play some FIFA 2010 on the Xbox as being promised.

In Africa though today sees the second set out of matches in Group C where the holders Egypt are proving an exciting proposition with some suggestion that they may prove capable of winning their third African Cup Of Nations in a row. Their somewhat surprising 3-1 defeat of Nigeria came as a real warning to the seemingly most capable teams in the form of the World Cup qualifiers. Their opponents today are Mozambique who are being pointed out for having perhaps the largest goalkeeper of the competition.

The other game sees Nigeria trying to start again as they take on Benin in a match that they should really win relatively easily as they risk an unexpected early elimination.

Yesterday the expected match of the group round occurred as the Ivory Coast went head to head with Ghana and saw the slightly more favoured Ivory Coast running out 3-1 victors. In an eventful game the Ivory Coast took the lead after 23 minutes with Gervinho doing the honours. The second half saw Eboue sent off after ten minutes but Ghana could not take advantage of having an extra man as Tiene added a second the 66th minute. Drogba got off the mark in this competition on full time as Ghana added a consolation three minutes into injury from Gyan by way of a penalty. It would appear that the Ivory Coast as expected have finally arrived.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Friday 15 January 2010 – 147 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

Today sees on paper the game of the group round stage of the competition as the two most fancied African nations go head-to-head in Group B. There is something of a sad air to the game as it is the only one being played due to Togo’s withdrawal and mathematically it is possible that it might be the Ivory Coast’s final game of the tournament.

Starting their campaign late today Ghana are the final team to play in the tournament and are currently quite a liked and fancied African proposition with Michael Essien leading the charge. Even more telling with this match however is the Ivory Coast performance in their opening match as they failed to beat (and even score against) Burkina Faso. All reports were that they appeared somewhat impotent and lacklustre, two traits they will not be able to afford to be in this match.

Yesterday Angola shrug off their peculiar collapse in their opening match to beat Malawi 2-0 with two goals early in the second half putting them in a very strong position now to progress. In the other match Algeria (as I keep repeating, England’s African World Cup opponents) pulled themselves together after their freak opening match lose to defeat Mali 1-0 who were unable to put together another late rally akin to their own opener.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Thursday 14 January 2010 – 148 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

Today is day five of the African Cup Of Nations and the beginning of the second round of group matches. After Angola’s shocking performance on the opening day against Mali there match today against Malawi is truly one that could either way especially after the Malawians scored such an impressive 3-0 victory against England’s World Cup opponents Algeria. As a result this game should be an open and exciting encounter where my gut instinct suggests Malawi will book their place in the second round.

Algeria will be looking to save their place in the tournament and will be taking heart from the manner in which their opponents Mali conceded four goals but they will also have noted how they staged one of the greatest comebacks of all time. With this in mind you feel that Mali now have a lot of heat behind them and most definitely they will be hoping to capitalise and repeat on their comeback success from the opening day. Again this should be a very open game with both teams looking to correct mistakes from their opening matches. Realistically though the Mali comeback against Angola was something of a freak of nature and it should be expected that Algeria will now get their shit together and pull through.

Yesterday saw the fifth World Cup qualifier of the tournament in action and for a fifth time the apparent team with pedigree failed to win as Cameroon went down 1-0 to Gabon much to the surprise of many. Perhaps Cameroon circa now aren’t so great after all.

In the other game Tunisia and Zambia fought out a 1-1 draw in what is not likely to be regarded one of the matches of the tournament as Zambia took the lead in the 19th minute before surrendering it five minutes before half time.

Back in England the headlines concerned Reading knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup in the own backyard of Anfield. Before the end potential World Cup stars Gerrard and Torres were already off the pitch in a move that will have caused/created Benitez his Nth headache of the season. At least now that the club is out of the competition it is one less set of matches Gerrard etc will have to partake in before South Africa.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Wednesday 13 January 2010 – 149 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

Last night the African Nations Cup provided a thrilling game as holders Egypt beat Nigeria 3-1 in Angola. Unsurprisingly reported as the match of the tournament so far, Nigeria actually took the lead in the 12th minute through Obasi Ogbuke before Moteab equalised for Egypt in the 34th minute to make the score at half time 1-1. Annoyingly being played during the hours of my work I was able to manage a quick peak on an illegal internet stream of the game which displayed a high pace and picking a perfect time for a look I managed to see Hassan smack an Egyptian screamer in the 54th minute which with replays detailed a wicked deflection. Later on Egypt sealed a 3-1 win against their World Cup qualifier opponents who are currently being regarded as something of underachievers as it is said that their team/squad is currently somewhat top heavy with an abundance of strikers but not so much quality behind them to back them up.

In the other game Benin lost a 2-0 to end up only drawing 2-2 against Mozambique. I don’t think it would be too flippant of me to suggest that these may be the only points these teams see in these finals.

Today sees Cameroon begin their campaign in the tournament as they take on Gabon in their opening Group D match. Group D represents something of a sleepy affair and now that Cameroon have the much liked and respected Paul Le Guen as manager.

The other game in the group is Zambia vs Tunisia who lack the pedigree of the Lions Indomptables although Tunisia should be fancied as the team most likely to make it out of Group D alongside Cameroon.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Tuesday 12 January 2010 – 150 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

Last night as Tevez scored a hat-trick for Manchester City against Blackburn in the Premier League thus upping the hopes of Argentina elsewhere England’s own prospects felt somewhat more optimistic and healthier as their Group C opponents Algeria went down to something of a surprise 3-0 defeat against Malawi in the African Nations Cup. The official line I heard from a friend on Twitter watching the game on Eurosport was that “Algeria don’t like it up ‘em.” Suddenly it begins to look like one of the dark horses of the World Cup no longer looks so dark or dangerous after all.

Elsewhere in the tournament another surprise/shock occurred as the Ivory Coast, despite Didier Drogba’s best efforts (including crashing into the Burkina Faso goalkeeper), were only able to scrape out a 0-0 draw against the quite unfancied Burkina Faso team.

Today sees Group C beginning as reigning champions Egypt take on World Cup qualifiers Nigeria in what could prove to be one of the games of the group round. Egypt no longer makes use of the being that is Mido but they do boast a striker named Zidan (but not of the headbutting variety I believe). Nigeria boast a solid grounding of Premiership players including Yobo, Obi and Yakubu which hopefully will see them back to their exciting best this summer (and perhaps even seeing them victorious in this tournament).

The other game sees Mozambique going up against Benin who are two teams I would struggle to find on a world map let alone the footballing map. Due to ignorance my predictions for the match comes down to a battle of nicknames as The Mambas face The Squirrels as little hope builds for a side sounding so nutty and cuddly.

Elsewhere there are a number of FA Cup replays occurring tonight including Birmingham and Portsmouth.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Monday 11 January 2010 – 151 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

The competition did indeed get off to a great start last night as Angola almost did themselves proud by taking a 4-0 lead against Mali well into the final moments of the game. However when Mali pulled a goal back in the 79th minute they suddenly got wings and proceeded to claw back the entire game in what otherwise might be considered one of the greatest comebacks in football history. Sure two of the goals came deep into injury time but to bring the game back to 4-4 when it stood at 4-0 with just over ten minutes to go surely lends Mali some kind of sudden credence. That or corruption is written all over this result.

As a result of such an exciting opening match it is somewhat disheartening to discover that only Eurosport appears to be lending much in the way of coverage to the early part of the tournament (I am assured some BBC coverage later on). What happened to matches being on the BBC though? Of late night highlights packages on BBC2? Of live matches on BBC3 and the “Red Button”? Damn terrestrial channels.

Elsewhere this is day two of the tournament and with the games begin proper. Or rather they would do had Togo not pulled out as today they were originally supposed to be kicking off the much fancied Ghana.

The two games taking place today are the second match from Group A featuring England’s World Cup opponents Algeria taking on Malawi and Ivory Coast v Burkina Faso in Group B.

A quick guide to Premier League based players competing in the tournament are:

ARSENAL: Alexandre Song (Arsenal), Emmanuel Eboue (Ivory Coast)
ASTON VILLA: Moustapha Salifou (Togo)
BOLTON: Danny Shittu (Nigeria)
BURNLEY: Andre Bikey (Cameroon)
CHELSEA: Michael Essien (Ghana), Salomon Kalou, Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), John Obi Mikel (Nigeria)
EVERTON: Joseph Yobo, Yakubu (Nigeria)
FULHAM: Dickson Etuhu (Nigeria)
HULL: Daniel Cousin (Gabon), Olofinjana (Nigeria)
MANCHESTER CITY: Adebayor (Togo), Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast)
PORTSMOUTH: Nadir Belhadj, Hassan Yebda (Nigeria), Dindane (Ivory Coast)
WIGAN: Richard Kinson (Ghana)

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Sunday 10 January 2009 – 152 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

Today begins the 27th African Cup Of Nations this year hosted from Angola. Firstly it has to be said what kind of Yoda grammar makes the African Nations Cup the African Cup Of Nations? What are they on about?

Even though World Cup hosts South Africa are not involved in the tournament and reigning African champions Egypt have not qualified for the World Cup this tournament does still include five nations that will be participating in the show come June.

Sadly the competition has already started off on a bad foot become a ball has even been kicked with the attack on the Togo team bus that resulted in three members of their party being killed and the nation’s ultimate decision to pull out of the tournament.

Despite the incident the tournament is carrying on.

The groups for Angola 2010 are as follows:


Burkina Faso
Togo (until they withdrew from the competition)



At the risk of sounding patronising there has always been something more exciting about African teams due to their occasional naivety and generally more cavalier approach to playing. Until recently traditionally you could rely on African teams being tactically green as they would display a feisty appetite for playing in the most direct manner, often resulting in gapping vulnerability in their play. This combination however often could/would tend to result in more open and entertaining matches with many memorable moments. In recent years however something of a star attitude has entered into their game and with it a grander football knowledge gained from playing on large scales and with it a more capable talent for coping with the traditional giants of football.

It should be an exciting tournament.

Today the competition kicks off with Angola playing Mali in the opening match.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Saturday 9 January 2010 – 153 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

The final group is Group H that is headed up by many peoples’ favourites Spain. Having now under performed in the past two tournaments (at least) this just might be their tournament and year. Such expectations are helped by the reality of their group not being so testing on face value with Switzerland, Honduras and Chile making up the numbers.

Of the other teams in the group it is Chile that I would most expect to proceed from the group having got through their South American qualification in quite a strong manner.

Devoid of any real stars or presence there is a slight chance that Switzerland might pull something out of the bag but this is far from a certainty, something you feel is more down to teams under performing than any real certain element to Switzerland’s play.

Making up the numbers is Honduras, a country most people will be hard pushed to spot on a map.

Sadly the main news in football today comes from Africa as it is reported that the Togo football team came under fire on their way to Angola. With the tournament kicking off tomorrow the incident has served as a timely reminder of just what a volatile area of the world this could prove to be.

At the end of the day the tragedy is that three people died during the attack, which at the end of any day will always be more important than football. With the news story breaking immediately within a couple of hours the Togo side (including Adebayor of Manchester City) sadly announce that they have withdrawn from the tournament. Personally I found this announcement a surprise and that the powers that be actually allowed the squad to make this decision but without doubt it serves as a sensible choice as the players and officials have experienced what is perhaps the worst moment of their lives.

Sometimes football is not worth it after all.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Friday 8 January 2010 – 154 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

The group generally regarded as this tournament’s group of death is Group G. This is Brazil’s group but also home to Portugal, the Ivory Coast and North Korea.

As ever Brazil are most people’s default favourite to win the competition, the champion of the casual supporter and the nation to back if you want a slumdog millionaire rags to riches experience. Perhaps these people would also prefer that their games take place on a beach.

I’m sorry but I can’t fucking stand Brazil. Here is a footballing nation that quite frankly larges it far too much but regularly fails to deliver on their promises. It is perhaps wickedly fortuitous that Brazil are grouped with the nation that handed them their native tongue. If you are Brazilian its gotta hurt that you have to speak Portuguese and not a language of your own making.

That said I have to say that I am far from a fan of Portugal as memories of their defeating England at Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006 still cut deep, particularly the infamous World Cup encounter that featured Ronaldo’s infamous wink as he served to get Wayne Rooney sent off. In my opinion the English footballing nation should never have forgiven him for this, these his true colours that once again came into play when he acted like a common prostitute going to Real Madrid. An ageing side now and perhaps past their best Portugal are far from a one player team though and their final group match against Brazil on 25 June should prove to me one of the most anticipated (and potentially best) games of the group round.

Perhaps the really exciting element of this group comes in the form of the Ivory Coast. In the Ivory Coast there is actually such a thing as Drogba Village and away from the language bitch fight between the “footballing superpowers” noted above there is an actual hope that the Ivory Coast just might be able to cut through the nonsense and tear the group apart. There is a risk that the Ivory Coast may be a one player team and with that the more cynical of tactics may be to take that part out but given room to breathe the Ivory Coast’s participation in this tournament should be an exciting one. They open against Portugal on 15 June.

Making up the numbers is North Korea who you feel may be fortunate to get through (out of) the group/tournament without conceding into double figures. With a poor reputation as nation off the back of Team America: World Police these are shady figures not renowned for their shooting ability on the pitch.

This group is very much a villains affair comprising of teams and individuals looking for redemption akin to Harvey Keitel’s character in the Bad Lieutenant.

Perhaps the real big question surrounding Portugal is whether they will have Quim in the squad.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Thursday 7 January 2010 – 155 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

Group F is one of those groups that could provide a few interesting moments but equally it is a group that could be viewed as something of a cakewalk for Italy to coast through on autopilot. Joining Italy in the group is Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand who are a set of nations/teams with no real world cup pedigree behind them. If there is to be a group of sleep in this competition quite possibly it will be this one.

In theory current champions should not experience too much trouble despatching what appears to be something of a lukewarm group. In a couple of recent tournaments England have had the privilege of facing and defeating Paraguay, experiencing no real trouble in the process. It feels a long time now since they were manned by Chilavert, the Henry Rollins lookalike that was one of the most charismatic goalkeepers in recent history and one of the highest scoring shotstoppers also. That said Paraguay did finish ahead of Argentina in the gruelling 18 match CONMEBOL qualification group.

What lies beneath Slovakia remains to be seen but their road to South Africa was an impressive one as they took out both their neighbours the Czech Republic and Poland in addition to our own Northern Ireland. Interesting to note however is that despite topping their group they suffered two defeats on the way, both from England’s Group C opponents Slovenia. They should however get the better of Paraguay.

As a footballing nation unsurprisingly little is none about New Zealand as their most famous imports of recent history have been Xena and Flight Of The Conchords. Their performance in last years Confederations Cup doesn’t serve to install much confidence either. Neither does the reality of Rory Fallon being their most famous player.

Italia it is yours to lose.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Wednesday 6 January 2010 – 156 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

Initially when the groups were first drawn it was Group E that I was initially most excited by and the one that I felt most resembled a group of death. Of course this was an opinion born more out of legacy and tradition that actual current performance because here was a set of teams and countries that have in the past provided much in the way of World Cup entertainment.

Headed by the Netherlands (or Holland depending on what day it is and who you ask) the prospect of seeing them going up against Denmark is a fixture that conjures up vision of magnificent feast of football, not least when considering the great Dutch team of the seventies and the great Danish team of the eighties.

The group is rounded out by Japan and Cameroon, the former of which co-hosted an amazing event back in 2002 while the latter provided me personally with one of my fondest memories when on the opening day of the 1990 World Cup in Italy they beat the still villainous Argentina team still with Maradona et al. Alas in recent years Cameroon have gained something of a reputation for becoming a nation of kickers. And sadly despite most recently appearing on our radars by beating Scotland 2-0 it would appear very much that Japan will be to make up the numbers.

Elsewhere this evening I head to the Barbican for a screening of The Road including a Q&A with director John Hillcoat. My understanding is that the book by Cormac McCarthy serves as a good metaphor for the Republic Of Ireland’s qualification campaign as Robbie Keane walks to various parts of Europe pushing a shopping trolley (the team bus) as his son (the youthful lineup) follows and learns from him. The movie version however better represents Group E with Viggo Mortensen starring as Denmark’s charge to the final including their despatching of Sweden. The World Cup link is cemented by having Charlize Theron again assisting in the post-apocalyptic draw.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Tuesday 5 January 2010 – 157 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

The German group is one that will always be of great interest to any self respecting England supporter as invariably they will tend to be in the competition at least as long as we are, if not longer.

On face value it would appear that the Germans have been lent an easy route out of the group stage ghetto. Realistically even though they house a great number of Premiership players (including Millwall’s own discovery Tim Cahill) Australia are only likely to cause minimal trouble for any real seasoned footballing nation that will cross their path. Likewise with Serbia you can never really tell with Eastern European nations as they tend to go through waves of performing above their station before sloping back to apparent mediocrity when the juice runs out.

As ever Germany possess a huge presence when it comes to any tournament even though they are currently past their best as a footballing superpower. It is interesting to note that Germany has never actually won the world cup as a unified nation and for some reason when they were known West Germany there was something of a more intimidating air to their side. Currently managed by Joachim Low it is possible to envisage them being part of the last four but as to them being actual winners of the tournament it doesn’t really look likely.

In Ghana is a footballing nation that more knowledgeable people than I are expecting big things from, indeed it has even be murmured that they could be the first African nation to win the World Cup one day. It should be pretty revealing when they play the Ivory Coast at the African Cup Of Nations on 15 January.

As ever Australia will be fun to watch and support as they will have a number of familiar faces in their lineup but it is difficult to see either them or Serbia progressing past the group stage unfortunately. Famous last words.

This group is of particular note to English people as the runner up of the group will be the team to play winner of Group C, which everyone is expecting to be England.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Monday 4 January 2010 – 158 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

On Saturday 5 December the day after the World Cup The Sun churlishly ran with the headline:


To describe Group C as being “easy” for England is all but tempting fate for a bad world cup ahead of us. If anything I can’t help but find it incredibly annoying that we have to face the USA as quite frankly I suspect they will give it everything to beat just because that is their mentality as a nation. Already I have heard catcalls in certain corners from American journalists regarding the dentistry and mannerisms of our female population.

With Capello running the scene it is hard to see England failing to qualify from this group. I do genuinely think that the Americans are going to give us a good game but realistically are Slovenia or Algeria going to cause us any great problems? At the end of the day our biggest opponents are going to be ourselves, our mental conditioning and whether egos and passion are going to be properly contained.

The dark horses of the group just may be Slovenia who despatched the much fancied Russian team in the play offs. Very little is known about the Slovenians although they did finish above the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Poland in Group 3. On a bad day you fear that this is just the kind of team that could provide a banana skin for England to slip up on.

As for Algeria all eyes will be on their performance in the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations where they are grouped against host nation Angola.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Sunday 3 January 2010 – 159 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

Group B features Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea (Korean Republic) and Greece which actually reads as a subtly exciting prospect considering it is a group of current underachievers and who possess a history of overachiever and creating upsets in the past. There truly is potential pedigree in this group and whereas it is pretty unlikely any of the nations are likely to win the World Cup (Argentina? Maybe? Nah!) there is plenty within to cause nuisance in the later stages once they have stopping thumping the shit out of each other in their three group games.

By rights Argentina shouldn’t be at the finals, quite frankly they are lucky to be here but it is without doubt that the competition is a better and more colourful for having Maradona in tow than it would be without. After some classically disgraceful and undignified scenes at press conferences post qualification realistically it should hopefully be a joy to have the bad man of football in attendance as we all look to him for his latest trick and hardest insult.

Elsewhere the group does not necessarily appear to pose much in the way of opposition to Argentina even though Greece has some pedigree having won Euro 2004 (although I did refer to this at the time as the worst thing to happen to international football ever). It is difficult to imagine what Greece really can bring to the table.

Personally my natural inclination is to have higher expectations of Nigeria even though I hardly feel there is a consistent bone in the body of that federation. With Nigeria playing in the Africa Cup Of Nations from Angola that begins on 10 January I think that tournament will lend a better degree of insight into the potential held by the African nations involved.

The group is rounded out by South Korea who turned many heads and pulled off a great job in 2002 by both doing a fine job of co-hosting the tournament and then surprisingly almost everybody by first defeating Portugal then Italy then Spain and reaching the semi finals of the tournament. It would be lovely for them to make waves again but this year it just does not look feasible.

This group runs the risk of being a group of sleep.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Saturday 2 January 2010 – 160 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

Today we will have a quick first view of the Group A which consists of the hosts South Africa who have been drawn against and with Mexico, Uruguay and France. While the opening game of South Africa v Mexico hardly sets pulses running there is a subtle underlying degree of uncertainty to this group and to be honest all four teams are generally on something of an even footing.

This is the group that the Republic Of Ireland could have been in. With that in mind there is a certain portion of the footballing world that is happy to see Thierry Henry as the Pantomime villain of this tournament before it has even begun. A few years ago you would have viewed this group as not posing too much of a problem for France but with their recent dissention within the ranks and having to resort to cheating to qualify nothing can be certain from what they do.

As ever you can’t help but fancy the hosting nation to upset and turn over a few teams with that in mind when they indeed play France they should be subject to more than their usual amount of support.

Filling out the group are Uruguay and Mexico and as ever with teams from America there is always an element of the dark horse about them, the ability within to also potentially turn anybody over on a given day. The reality is that these teams did not really overly impress in qualification so with their workman like performances in mind you can’t help but feel these two will represent tough (if not glamorous) nuts to crack.

This should turn out to be a sleeper group in the best manner.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Friday 1 January 2010 – 161 DAYS TO THE WORLD CUP

Welcome to the JGRAM countdown to the World Cup in South Africa this summer. It kicks off on the 11th of June and in the meantime here is my way of containing and expressing my excitement for the event.

Are England going to win the World Cup? Personally I doubt it but in contrast who the hell is going to win it? In the current climate I truly do not think that there is one dominating footballing nation at this time so in earnest despite my own personal reservations England possess as much chance as anybody of winning (although the thought of the sight of John Terry raising the World Cup above his head does make me feel slightly queasy).

Soon enough all the official avenues of the World Cup build up will roar into action but for now I hope to offer the first and most fantastically tatty musings on what should be the highlight of the summer. For me the only way that this tournament could be made any better would be if they reintroduced the second group stage as per the Spain 82 World Cup. More games = more fun in my book. Anyway to start off:

A quick reminder of the groups are:

South Africa

South Korea




New Zealand

North Korea
Ivory Coast