Lakenheath Old Boys

We are all former students at Lakenheath High School and other public schools in East Anglia. We were in school in the 70s and 80s and drank deeply from the well of British culture of those decades - the pints, the telly, and of course the footie!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group E - France

Nickname: "Les Bleus" ("The Blues")
Absurd FIFA ranking: 19th! (Switzerland, Chile and even the USA are ranked higher!)

Coach: World Cup '98 winning skipper Didier Deschamps

Match Schedule:
June 15 – France v. Honduras (Porte Alegre, 3:00  p.m. EST, ABC)
June 20 – France v. Switzerland (Salvador, 3:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 25 – France v. Ecuador (Rio, 4:00 p.m., ESPN)

Prospects: After being placed in a qualifying group with reigning World and European Champions Spain and then having to negotiate a tricky play-off with Ukraine, Didier Deschamps' squad will have breathed a heavy sigh of relief when the Brasil 2014 draw was made and they were included in one of the weaker groups. Given that he's tended to play one striker up front and decided to leave Manchester City's Samir Nasri out of the squad, Deschamps seems to be setting up to be hard to beat rather than exciting. That will get France through the group stage but they'll run aground when up against more dynamic sides.

Key Player: In a conservative side, Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery is the one attacking spark plug capable of springing the unexpected. His goals will be an important augmentation to France's anemic attack.

Youngster to watch: PSG's 20 year-old right back Lucas Digne is superb going forward and tracking back.

Who Will Get the Goals: Unless Deschamps goes against type and plays Arsenal Olivier Giroud alongside him, Karim Benzema, who has been in excellent form for Real Madrid this season, will be the most reliable source of goals for Les Bleus.

Who Will Get the Cards: Newcastle's Mathieu Debuchy is fond of a tasty challenge now and again.

Funniest Name in the Squad: All French names are funny to me as a rule but my favorite is midfielder Blaise Mathuidi. Try that one in an outrageous Gallic accent.

Prediction: Top of a weak Group E only gets them a tricky Round of 16 fixture against Nigeria, probably the best African side in the tournament. They'll just about survive that on tournament guile alone but then will run into the German Mannschaft in the quarters.

Friday, May 30, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group D - Costa Rica

Rounding off our discussion of Group D and England's opponents this summer - it's Costa Rica!

Nickname: "Los Ticos"

Absurd FIFA ranking - 34th

Coach: Colombian boss Jorge Luis Pinto

Game Schedule:
June 14 – Costa Rica v. Uruguay (Fortaleza, 3:00 p.m. EST, ABC)
June 20 – Costa Rica v. Italy (Recife, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 24 – Costa Rica v. England (Natal, 4:00 p.m., ESPN2)

Prospects: Costa Rica fairly breezed through CONCACAF qualifying this time around, finishing second to the USA. Pinto has changed their traditional Central American counter attacking style to one that relies on three defenders at the back to anchor attacks. This meant that the Ticos had the stingiest defense in CONCACAF qualifying. Given their difficulty scoring with regularity, they'll need to continue this in Brazil this summer. 

Key Player: PSV's elusive forward Bryan Ruiz can be hit or miss, as he was throughout his erratic tenure at Fulham. He's the key to the Ticos unlocking defenses.

Youngster to watch: 21 year-old Olympiacos striker Joel Campbell provided much of the dynamism for the Ticos attack during qualifiers.

Who Will Get the Goals: Attacking midfielder chipped in several vital free kick goals during qualifiers.

Who Will Get the Cards: Defensive midfielder Junior Diaz has learned all the wrong lessons at Mainz.

Prediction: Bottom of Group D with a bullet.

England v. Peru Live!

Join me this afternoon for England's first tune-up for Brasil 2014 as the boys take on Uruguay stand-ins Peru at Wemberley. The match starts at 3pm EST and I'm not sure of the telly coverage so I may be on a dodgy link or two. Come on, England!

World Cup Preview - Group D - Uruguay

Nickname: "La Celeste (Sky Blues)"

Absurd FIFA ranking - 6th

Coach: Veteran gaffer Oscar Tabarez

Game Schedule:
June 14 – Uruguay v. Costa Rica (Fortaleza, 3:00 p.m. EST, ABC)
June 19 – Uruguay v. England (Sao Paulo, 3:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 24 – Uruguay vs. Italy (Natal, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)

Prospects: After their spectacular win in the 2011 Copa America, Uruguay underperformed in the Brasil '14 qualifiers, almost missing out entirely with a fifth place finish, which meant having to play-off against Jordan. As with many of the established sides in this World Cup, Uruguay have an aging first team (the average age is on the wrong side of 30). Their creaky defense put a lot of pressure on the front three to score more than opponents. This tactic might have worked against the likes of Peru but not against stingier European defenses.

Key Player: Uruguay's fortunes this summer rise and fall on the fitness of Liverpool's Luis Suarez, who injured himself in training two weeks ago and went under the knife. He's scheduled to return for the match against England but we've seen how that goes before, haven't we?

Youngster to watch: Southampton's 23 year-old midfielder Gaston Ramirez had a terrific Premiership season and deserves a call-up to the first team.

Who Will Get the Goals: Without Suarez, La Celeste will rely heavily on PSG striker Edinson Cavani's goals and may even press 35 year-old Diego Forlan (now in exile in Japan) back into service.

Who Will Get the Cards: The Uruguay back-line is full of rugged veterans; my pick is 33 year-old skipper Diego Lugano, who's fond of the tug-back.

Prediction: Just edged out by England is the last round of group games. England will play Costa Rica and Uruguay will face Italy.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group D - England

Two weeks to go before the beginning of Brasil 2014 - time to talk about Engerlund:

Nickname: "The Three Lions"
Absurd FIFA ranking: 11th

Coach: Cosmopolitan journeyman Roy Hodgson

Match Schedule:

June 14 – England v. Italy (Manaus, 6:00 p.m. EST, ESPN)
June 19 – England v. Uruguay (Sao Paulo, 3:00  p.m., ESPN)
June 24 – England v. Costa Rica (Belo Horizonte, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)

Prospects: England begin this World Cup campaign with one of the most youthful squads around, skipper Steven Gerrard the only remnant of the "Golden Generation." They also have a relatively simple path to the quarter-finals, thanks to a friendly draw. After what promises to be a hard-fought, grim draw against slow-starters Italy in the swampy environs of Manaus, England face an off-form Uruguay and then Costa Rica in the final group match. The Round of 16 match-up then comes from the weakest group in the tournament. Roy Hodgson will likely turn to the speed of Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, who made Liverpool so much fun to watch. England also have loads of weapons from set-pieces, including Gary Cahill's heading ability and Leighton Baines' free kicks. All that said, England love to press the self-destruct button just when things are going well.

Key Player: The weight of the nation lays heavily on Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, who can either be brilliant or rubbish depending on his mood. This should be Roon's tournament to make a statement.

Youngster to watch: Happily, there a lot to choose from in this category. Along with aforementioned Sterling, 20 year old Ross Barkley has been in sparkling form for Everton.

Who Will Get the Goals: There could be lots of goals all over the squad, but Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge was the top scoring English player in the Premiership this season.

Who Will Get the Cards: The red mist often clouds Arsenal's Jack Wilshere's judgment when it comes to tackling.

Funniest Name in the Squad: Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster - try to say that three times quickly.

Prediction: Second in Group D to Italy, followed by a relatively simple match-up against Colombia in the Round of 16 will stoke the expectations of the Fleet Street hacks. England's glorious exit to Brazil in a Fourth of July epic quarter final will be one of the highlights of the tournament.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group D - Italy

Nickname: "Gli Azurri" ("The Blues")

Absurd FIFA ranking: 9th

Coach: Former pro Cesare Prandelli

Match Schedule:

June 14 – Italy v. England (Manaus, 6:00 p.m. EST, ESPN)
June 20 – Italy v. Costa Rica (Pernambuco, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 24 – Italy v. Uruguay (Natal, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)

Prospects: Italy have one of the most formidable tournament mentalities in world football, entering each major tournament with a relatively unfancied side and somehow muddling their way into the latter stages through last minute dodgy free kick calls and penalty shoot-out victories. This year is no exception, with an aging core including one of the most seasoned backlines in the business and only one or two bright young sparks up front. Still - you can never count them out; Italy will be there or there-abouts, no doubt.

Key Player: Juve playmaker Andrea Pirlo may be 35 but everything good about the Azurri still goes through him.

Youngster to watch: As someone who doesn't regularly watch Serie A, I'm looking forward to getting a peek at 21 year old Milan winger Stephan El Shaarawy.

Who Will Get the Goals: Italy have never been high scorers (which is why 70s star Luigi Riva is still their top scorer with a paltry 35), preferring to do just as much as necessary up front. Milan's mercurial Mario Balotelli is still the best scores of goals.

Who Will Get the Cards: Juve's Georgio Chiellini is in the grand tradition of Italian hatchet men.

Prediction: After Italy and England grind out an uninspiring draw in the opener in the swamps of Manaus, Italy will end up top of Group D, got on to knock out either Colombia or Ivory Coast in the Round of 16, before bowing out to the Dutch in the Quarters.

Monday, May 26, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group C - Japan

Nickname: "

(Samurai Blue)"

FIFA ranking: 41st

Coach: Italian Serie A veteran Alberto Zaccheroni

Game Schedule:
June 14 – Japan vs. Ivory Coast (Recife, 9 p.m. EST, ESPN)
June 19 – Japan vs. Greece (Natal, 6:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 24 – Japan vs. Colombia (Culaba, 4:00 p.m., ESPN)

Prospects: Japan continue to toil in the shadow of their more successful neighbors South Korea, all while being unreasonably optimistic about their hopes in international tournaments, based on easy qualification in the Asian confederation. Back on earth, however, Japan will struggle mightily to get out of even the easiest of groups in this summer's tournament. As always they have midfielders such as Yasuhito Endo who will run all day long; their fatal weakness, however, is that their strikers act as if scoring goals brings shame upon their opponents' families.

Key Player: Milan's Keisuke Honda is the only current Japanese player who approaches international quality. He's got a range of passing as well as much needed guile.

Youngster to watch: I'd like to have a look at 23 year old attacking midfielder Hotaru Yamaguchi. He's still toiling away in Japan but may get a big money move to Europe if he shines in Brazil.

Who Will Get the Goals: J League 32 year old striker Ryoichi Maeda is a relatively recent recruit to Zaccheroni's set up but has rewarded him with 10 goals.

Who Will Get the Cards: Stuttgart right back Atsudo Uchida has learned all of the wrong lessons during his time in the Bundesliga.

Prediction: Unless their Group C opponents come up with a bad case of the stomach flu, Japan will finish bottom of the group.

World Cup Preview - Group C - Greece

Continuing our discussion of the extremely weak Group C, today's focus is on Greece:

Nickname: “Galanolefki” (“Blue and whites”)
Absurd FIFA ranking: 10th

Coach: Portugeezer Fernando Santos

Match Schedule:
June 14 – Greece v. Colombia (Belo Horizonte, 12:00 p.m. EST, ABC)
June 19 – Greece v. Japan (Natal, 6:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 24 – Greece v. Ivory Coast (Fortaleza, 4:00 p.m., ESPN2)

Prospects: A decade after their surprise win at Euro 2004 in Portugal, Greece are continuing the Otto Rehhagel mold of keeping it extra tight at the back and hoping to nick a goal off a set piece under Portuguese manager Fernando Santos. They qualified through a hard-fought win against Romania over two playoff legs in UEFA qualifying back in the fall.

Key Player: Skipper Georgios Karagounis, one of the surviving 2004 champions, is 36 years old now, but he’s still the heart and soul of a tight defensive midfield unit.

Youngster to watch: There is very little youthful spark in Santos' set-up, unless 20 year old third-string keeper Stefanos Kopanis gets a chance. 
Who Will Get the Goals: Not a lot of goals in this side; Fulham's Kostas Mitroglou was the lone forward throughout their qualifying campaign.
Who Will Get the Cards: Roma central defender Vasilis Torisidis was frequently suspended during the qualifiers.
Prediction: Battling with Japan for the bottom of Group C.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group C - Ivory Coast

Nickname: “Les Elephants”

FIFA ranking: 21st

Coach: Sabri Lamouchi

Game Schedule:
June 14 – Ivory Coast vs. Japan (Pernambuco, 9:00. EST, ESPN)
June 19 – Ivory Coast vs. Colombia (Brasilia, 4:00 p.m., ESPN2)
June 24 – Ivory Coast vs. Greece (Fortaleza, 4:00 p.m., ESPN2)

Prospects: Every time the World Cup spins around, soccer watchers predict big things for African sides such as The Ivory Coast. It's true that they have one of the most talented teams assembled by an African nation with bags of European experience. Yet, the squad looks mighty thin beyond the first team and tournament experience at the latter stages always seems to favor the European and South American sides.

Key Player: Manchester City's Yaya Toure is the most dynamic all-round midfield talent on the planet; he'd walk into any of the 32 World Cup teams.

Youngster to watch: I have to give a shout-out to former Leeds United star Max Gradel - now at St. Etienne and still only 24.

Who Will Get the Goals: Les Elephants are overly reliant on 36 year old Galatasaray striker Didier Drogba to supply the finishes; he made need some support from rejuvenated Roma winger Gervinho.

Who Will Get the Cards: Liverpool's Kolo Toure has never been a true center back and he's gotten a bit creaky at this point.

Funniest Name in the Squad: Eintract Frankfurt defender Constant Djakpa

Prediction: The closing match between Ivory Coast and Colombia should decide this group, and I'm sticking with me guns in picking the Elephants. But that merely gets them a Round of 16 match with World Cup standbys Italy. Another Round of 16 exit.

You don't want to miss this.

Now that we're through watching Monkey-boy scramble a goal, and Skippy completely lose his s**t because he finally netted a penalty under pressure, thereby ensuring that UEFA's premium spectacle didn't again get decided on penalties, my mind has turned completely to the World Cup coming up. I was looking to see if Baddiel and Skinner or Alan Davies might be set to record some podcasts through the event when I found the Bugle's Andy Zaltzman's WC Group guides. Here's a taste of his analysis of Cameroon from Group A and his recollection of one of my favorite memories from any World Cup. "In the dying minutes of their opening match against reigning champions Argentina, as they defended a 1-0 lead, Benjamin Massing executed one of the great World Cup fouls, launching himself at Claudio Caniggia like a combination of an Exocet missile, JPR Williams and a hungry lion taking down an extremely tasty-looking zebra. He missed the ball by approximately 25 yards. Caniggia went into orbit. Boot dislodged, danger averted, mission accomplished. If any football foul has been a work of art, this was it. The referee was so impressed that he showed Massing a red card. And then a yellow card. Suggesting that the foul was worth one-and-a-half sendings off. A conservative estimate." Find the rest of his group guides HERE

Saturday, May 24, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group C - Colombia

On to what looks on paper to be the weakest group in the tournament - Group C:

Nickname: "Los Cafeteros (The Coffee Growers)"

Absurd FIFA Ranking - 5th

Coach: Argentine veteran Jose Pekerman

Game Schedule:
June 14 – Colombia v. Greece (Belo Horizonte, 12:00 p.m. EST, ABC)
June 18 – Colombia v. Ivory Coast (Brasilia, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 23 – Colombia v. Japan (Culaba, 4:00 p.m., ESPN)

Prospects: Much as in 1994, Colombia come into Brasil 2014 with impossibly heightened expectations, having finished second to Argentina in CONMEBOL qualifying and having been assigned the absurd FIFA ranking of 5th in the world. All of Colombia will expect them to sweep through the weakest group in this summer's tournament with South American flair, scoring hatfuls. Much of this is down to the sparkling form of Monaco's deadly striker Radamel Falcao. However, this is a team that has been playing together for some time and may just gel at the right time this summer and spring a few surprises.

Key Player: Fiorentina's Juan Guadrado springs many of Colombia's quick breaks and links well with the strikers.

Mile Jedinak will be key to this, and he was absolutely crucial in Crystal Palaces late season renaissance under Tony Pulis.
Mile Jedinak will be key to this, and he was absolutely crucial in Crystal Palaces late season renaissance under Tony Pulis.

Youngster to watch: 22 year old James Rodriguez is a big part of Falcao's success at Monaco. He might be worth a look.

Who Will Get the Goals: It's all about Falcao for Los Cafeteros; he's scored 51 goals in 20 appearances.

Who Will Get the Cards: At 38, skipper Mario Yepes is the oldest defender in the tournament. I'd start him on a yellow card.

Prediction: Top of Group C after three wins; knocked out on penalties by, of all teams, England in the Round of 16.

Friday, May 23, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group B - Australia

Nickname: “The Socceroos”

Absurd FIFA Ranking - 59th

Coach: Angelos "Ange" Postecoglou

Game Schedule:
June 13 – Australia vs. Chile (Culaba, 6:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2)
June 18 – Australia vs. Netherlands (Porto Alegre, 12 p.m., ESPN)
June 23 – Australia vs. Spain (Curitiba, 12:00 p.m., ESPN2)

Prospects: Like the U.S., Australia are starting to become World Cup perennials, but that doesn't mean that they're any closer to making any real impact on the tournament. Since the replacement of Holger Osieck with successful Aussie club manager Postecoglou, the Socceroos have undergone a rebuilding phase. Gone are the stalwarts from the 2010 World Cup campaign, including goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and the central defensive pairing of Lucas Neill and Brett Emerton. That said, the Aussies, as always, will rely on a gritty, hardworking character. This will be their key to survival in a very tough group.

Key Player: Defensive midfielder Mile Jedinak was key to Crystal Palace's late renaissance in the Premiership under Tony Pulis. He'll have to be at his very best to stymie the attacking forces of Spain and the Netherlands.
Mile Jedinak will be key to this, and he was absolutely crucial in Crystal Palaces late season renaissance under Tony Pulis.
Mile Jedinak will be key to this, and he was absolutely crucial in Crystal Palaces late season renaissance under Tony Pulis.

Youngster to watch: With Schwarzer's retirement, 22 year old Club Brugge keeper Mathew Ryan is now Australia's #1 choice in goal. If he doesn't get completely shelled in Brasil 2014, he may get a big money move after the summer.

Who Will Get the Goals: Everton's Tim Cahill has been converted from an attacking midfielder to the Socceroos only out and out striker in Postecoglou's new system. Always deadly in the air, Cahill will likely to get his head on any set pieces the Socceroos earn.

Who Will Get the Cards: Take your pick of the back four - mine is Western Sydney Wanderers center back Matthew Spiranovic - all of them are well out of their depth at this level.

Funniest Name in the Squad - Midfielder Tommy Oar; he might be the object of some cheap rowing jokes. 

Prediction: A glorious flame-out; bottom of Group B.

World Cup Preview - Group B - Chile

Nickname: “La Roja (The Red One)”

Absurd FIFA ranking: 13th

Coach: Argentine supremo Jorge Sampaoli

Game Schedule:
June 13 – Chile vs. Australia (Culaba, 6:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2)
June 18 – Chile vs. Spain (Port Elizabeth, 3:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 25 – Chile vs. Netherlands (Sao Paulo, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)

Prospects: After the second successive strong CONMEBOL qualification campaign in a row, Chile has emerged as a dark horse in the Group of Death Light. Chile will keep the two heavyweight favorites Spain and The Netherlands looking over their shoulders; any slip-ups and La Roja could easily send one of them home early. Their success is largely based on a prolific attack, spearheaded by Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez. Add to that a strong defensive spine with plenty of World Cup tournament experience and Chile could turn some heads.

Key Player: Juve's Artur Vidal is the complete, box-to-box midfielder. He keeps the Chilean engine humming.

Youngster to watch: I'd like to have a look at FC Twente's 23 year old speedy right back/winger Felipe Gutierrez.

Who Will Get the Goals: The combination of Barcelona winger Alexis Sanchez and Valencia striker  Eduardo Vargas should do the business for La Roja.

Who Will Get the Cards: Cardiff City clogger Gary Medel.

Prediction: Chile could easily knock out one of the tournament favorites and I hesitate to make this prediction, but I see Chile just falling short at the last group match against The Netherlands.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group B - The Netherlands

Nickname: “Clockwork Oranje"

Absurd FIFA ranking: 15th

Coach: ManYoo manager in waiting

Match Schedule:

June 13 – Netherlands v. Spain (Salvador, 3 p.m. EST, ESPN)
June 18 – Netherlands v. Australia (Porto Alegre, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 23 – Netherlands v. Chile (Sao Paulo, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)

Prospects: The inventors of "Total Football" are typically one of the favorites among neutrals; however, they won very few fans with their disgraceful performance in the 2010 World Cup final against Spain. Which Holland will show up? If the qualifying stage is any way to judge, where the Dutch won nine matches on the trot, Van Gaal's set-up will be very different from Bert van Marwijk's. The likes of Nigel de Jong and John Heitinga have been consigned to the dustbin of history, with younger talents coming through. The Dutch will still be well drilled, which will likely take them through a competitive group and into the latter stages where games against heavyweights such as  Belgium and Italy lurk.

Key Player: Bayern's Arjen Robben is the wild card among the Dutch attackers who has the ability to unlock the better defenses in the knock-out stages. And somehow defenders haven't learned to track him out wide right.

Youngster to watch: 24-year old Feyenoord center back Daryl Janmaat is poised for a big money move to the Premiership if he shines in Brazil this summer.

Who Will Get the Goals: Robin van Persie is coming off an indifferent year at Manchester United but still has the obvious quality to be one of the favorites to pick up the Golden Boot this summer.

Who Will Get the Cards: Aston Villa center back Ron Vlaar is a weak cog in the Clockwork Oranje.

Prediction: Losing finalists...again - top of the group after some thrilling play against Spain in the opener, an easy win over a faltering Mexico in the Round of 16, followed by tight wins over Italy and Belgium in the latter stages.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group B - Spain

Nickname: “La Furia Roja (The Red Fury)”

Absurd FIFA ranking: 1st

Coach: The mustachioed wonder Vicente del Bosque

Game Schedule:
June 13 – Spain vs. Netherlands (Salvador, 3 p.m. EST, ESPN)
June 18 – Spain vs. Chile (Rio, 3:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 23 – Spain vs. Australia (Curitiba, 12:00 p.m., ESPN2)

Prospects: The current World and European champions would ordinarily be considered favorites to recapture their throne. However, the 3-0 demolition at the hands of the 2014 hosts Brazil in last summer's Confederations Cup showed that La Roja's tiki taka possession style is not only deadly to watch but full of vulnerabilities. The main weakness continues up top, where - unless Brazilian born Atletico striker Diego Costa recovers from injury - Del Bosque may well decide to revert to his "striker-less" formation with Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta as false forwards. It's a tough road in Brazil this summer with a competitive group and real danger for whoever comes out of Group B in second slot. Spain will have to be at their very best to get to the latter stages.

Key Player: Real Madrid schemer Xavi Alonso makes the Spanish system work by mopping out any messes at the back and allowing the more flair players to do what they do best.

Youngster to watch: 25 year old Barca left back Jordi Alba is as dynamic romping forward as he is  tackling back.

Who Will Get the Goals: Goals will likely be shared around the side, with perhaps Barca's David Villa edging out the others.

Who Will Get the Cards: Real Madrid center back Sergio Ramos often finds himself out of position and doesn't mind tugging a shirt when he gets into trouble. He's a yellow card waiting to happen.

Prediction: Narrowly beating out Chile in the group stage before being knocked out in a 4-3 thriller by Brazil in the Round of 16.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group A - Mexico

Nickname: “El Tri”

Absurd FIFA ranking - 19th

Coach: El Tri veteran Miguel Herrera

Game Schedule:
June 13 – Mexico vs. Cameroon (12:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2)
June 17 – Mexico vs. Brazil (3:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 23 – Mexico vs. Croatia (4:00 p.m., ESPN)

Prospects: Mexico had an almighty struggle during the qualifying rounds this time around and nearly missed out on the tournament altogether for the first time in eons. Only a playoff win over the Kiwis allowed them safe passage. However, toward the end of qualifying, Mexico began to exhibit the signs of a sleeping giant again. They certainly have the talent in depth to be able to get out of Group A; however, the main question is whether gaffer Herrera will be able to get the best out of a temperamental bunch.

Key Player: Bayer Leverkusen's Andres Guardado has now dropped back into the left back channel but there is no disguising his attacking threat on the overlap and from set pieces. He may pop up with vital goals for Mexico this summer.

Youngster to watch: 24 year old defensive midfield Carlos Pena may just provide the defensive cover to be able to see El Tri through their treacherous last match against Croatia.

Who Will Get the Goals: Javier "Chicarito" Hernandez has been out of form and riding the bench for Manchester United all season, but he's a different player when he pulls on the green shirt. This tournament may present him with the opportunity to turn it on again.

Who Will Get the Cards: Thuggish center back Rafael Marquez has lost more than a step, which means he'll be even more likely to put the boot in when necessary.

Prediction: Narrowly edging out Croatia in the group stage before bowing out gracefully to finalists the Netherlands in the Round of 16.

World Cup Preview - Group A - Cameroon

Today's Group A team under the microscope - Cameroon

Nickname: “Les Lions Indomptables (The Indomitable Lions)”

Absurd FIFA ranking: 50th

Coach: German disciplinarian Volker Finke

Game Schedule:
June 13 – Cameroon v. Mexico (Natal, 12:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2)
June 18 – Cameroon v. Croatia (Fortaleza, 6:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 23 – Cameroon v. Brazil (Brasilia, 4:00 p.m., ESPN2)

Prospects: Gone are the days in which African sides could spring surprises at World Cup tournaments, as Cameroon memorably did on their to the quarter-finals at Italia '90. Cameroon's stars such as Barcelona's Alex Song are now known quantities. Cameroon had a strong run in African confederation qualifying, topping their group and dispatching a strong Tunisia side along the way. However, their lack of firepower up front and their erratic back four play will make them more vulnerable in Brazil this summer.

Key Player: Stade Rennais playmaker Jean Makoun is the creative spark in a largely defensive midfield set-up for the Lions.

Youngster to watch: 18 year old winger Fabrice Olinga has been lighting it up in Belgium this season; it would be nice to see him get some starts off the bench. He seems poised for a move to a bigger club.

Who Will Get the Goals: Finke typically plays Chelsea striker Samuel Eto'o up front alone; they'll be overly reliant on his goals.

Who Will Get the Cards: Alex Song will have to take them for the team.

Funniest Name in the Squad: Third-string goalkeeper Sammy N'Djock.

Prediction: Bottom of Group A

Van Gaal Officially Named United's New Gaffer

 We all saw this coming, but it's now official.  LVG will take over at OT once the Dutch are eliminated from the WC. There are pros and cons for appointing him. I guess he is seen as a transitionary figure that will shake away the cobwebs of SAF. He is his own man, a strict disciplinarian who should have United playing attacking football. Giggsy will be his assistant and should learn from this experienced manager if and when he succeeds LVG. Surely, he can't be any worse than " Dithering Dave."

Monday, May 19, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group A - Croatia

Continuing our discussion of Group A, next up is Croatia:

Nickname: "Vatreni" ("The Blazers")
Absurd FIFA ranking: 20th

Coach: Former national team hardman Niko Kovacs (his brother is his assistant)

Match Schedule:

June 12 – Croatia v. Brazil (Sao Paulo, 4:00 p.m. EST, ESPN)
June 18 – Croatia v. Cameroon (Manaus, 6  p.m., ESPN)
June 23 – Croatia v. Mexico (Recife, 4 p.m., ESPN)

Prospects: Despite a recent renaissance and a top seeded spot in UEFA qualifying, Croatia finished second behind Belgium in a relatively weak group and were forced to defeat minnows Iceland over two qualifying legs in order to join the elite 32 this summer. So, although the Croatian squad is full of skilful and familiar players to those of us who watch the European leagues, it is hard to see their aging squad making much of an impression in this summer's tournament. Croatia are on a hiding to nothing in the Brasil '14 opener against hosts Brazil, so they'll have to rebound quickly against Cameroon and Mexico in order to even get out of what promises to be a competitive group.

Key Player: Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric makes this side tick; he'll have to be at his best in Brazil if Croatia is to progress beyond the group stage.

Youngster to watch: None; it's hard to see anyone under the age of 25 lining up for Croatia this summer.

Who Will Get the Goals: Bayern striker Mario Mandzukic is the obvious target man up front.

Who Will Get the Cards: Rugged skipper Darijo Srna is fond of the rash challenge.

Prediction: Just edged out in the final group match by a resurgent Mexican team.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group A - Brazil

Now that we've settled most of the business of the English domestic season, I'm starting my previews of all 32 teams in this summer's Brasil 2014 World Cup, starting with the venerable hosts themselves:

Nickname: “A Selecao”

Absurd FIFA ranking: 4th

Coach: Felipe "Big Phil" Scolari

Game Schedule:
June 12 – Brazil vs. Croatia (Sao Paulo, 4:00 p.m. EST, ESPN)
June 17 – Brazil vs. Mexico (Fortaleza, 3:00 p.m., ESPN)
June 23 – Brazil vs. Cameroon (Brasilia, 4:00 p.m., ESPN2)

Prospects: Brazil are our perennial second (or perhaps, third favorite) team, as those of us of a certain vintage still remember fondly the 1970 and 1982 sides that transcended mere football. Last year's Confederation's Cup win, which saw a young and thrilling team really turn it on inspired many of us to dream the "jogo bonito" dreams again. However, drab technician and former Chelski boss "Big Phil" Scolari has poured a bucket of cold water on those fantasies with his squad choice, which is light on the attacking flair (Fred? Jo?) and heavy on the defensive midfield stolidity. I still expect this year's hosts to banish the 1950 nightmares and triumph in the Maracana on July 13th, but it will likely not be as pretty as we'd like.

Key Player: Real Madrid's left back Marcelo is one of those rare players in world football who is as good at going forward as he is tracking back. Gooner and I marveled at his engine during a Brazilian demolition of the US side back in the summer of 2012.

Youngster to watch: Oscar is an established star at Chelski now, but Scolari will give him a chance to play a true #10 role.

Who Will Get the Goals: Neymar has been lighting it up for Barca all season and he's my pick for Golden Boot this time around - he'll certainly get plenty of chances in front of goal.

Who Will Get the Cards: Bayern's stopper Luiz Gustavo is known to leave the boot in.

Funniest Name in the Squad: Hulk - expect lots of Marvel-inspired tributes in the stands, especially if Brazil's stocky outside right catches fire in the tournament.

Prediction: Champions!

Saturday, May 17, 2014


It used to be my favorite day of the year! Waking up early waiting for Cup Final Grandstand to begin. Reporters at each hotel, watching the teams getting on the bus heading to Wembley,It's A Cup Final Knockout,  teams arriving at the Twin Towers, taking a walk on the pitch, Abide With Me, the match, the lap of honor. I can remember every Cup Final as if it was yesterday from 1972 all the way up until 1985!! Great memories indeed!!
So, this year's version is another David vs Goliath… Will Arsenal finally win a trophy for the first time since (LUCKILY) beating United on penalties in 2005? Will Hull City win the Cup in their first Final?
I hope Fox don't suck… hope they watched NBC

Join me


Friday, May 16, 2014

England World Cup Warm-ups

Just a quick message to mention the three friendlies that England will play in preparation for the upcoming World Cup campaign:

Friday, May 30th - England v. Peru (Wembley)
Wednesday, June 4th - England v. Ecuador (Miami Sunlife Stadium)
Saturday, June 7th - England v. Honduras (Miami Sunlife Stadium)

So, it appears that Woy is more concerned about England's fixtures against Uruguay and Costa Rica than he is with the opener against Italy. Your thoughts, gentlemen?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Men in Blazers Predictions for Brasil 2014

I'll be starting my usual team profiles for the upcoming World Cup after we get beyond the FA Cup on Saturday, leading up to an announcement of the 2014 World Cup Predictions Game. Meanwhile, thanks to Red Devil FCK1, we can enjoy a series of predictions by Roger Bennett (who I've seen on MSNBC's "Morning Joe") and Michael Davies (aka, "Men in Blazers"). So far they've done "Ingerland" and "The Von Trapps" (USA), along with perennial favorites Brazil and Spain. I've embedded the one for England and you can see all the others here:

Roll on June 12th!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Premiership Plus Predictions Game - Week 38 Update

The Premiership season is behind us, chaps. As things stand, it's certainly advantage West Ham Rising and What's Up Wheaton Simon, who were the only two in our clan prescient enough to tip Manchester City for the title. Right now, West Ham is on top with 33 points but there are still 18 potential points to be assigned: 2 for the winner of the Championship playoff final, 2 for the FA Cup Final losers (no one predicted either Arsenal or the Blades as FA Cup winners), 6 points for either Benfica or Sevilla for the Europa League and 8 points for some of us if Real Madrid win the Champions League. So, it's still mathematically possible for Simon to pip WHR. We'll just have to see what happens but regardless, the Shield is going to DC this next year. Here are the current standings:

1. West Ham Rising - 33 points
2. What's Up Wheaton Simon - 24 pts
3. The Red Dragon - 23 pts
4. Matt - 21 pts
- United We Stand - 21 pts
6. Man Utd Rules - 19 pts
7. Chelskilad - 18 pts
8. Yellows - 18 pts
9. The Red Devil FCK1 - 15 pts
10. Sporting Real Salt Lake United Football Club Juniors FC - 14 pts
- Swansong - 14 pts
12. Gooner71 - 13 pts
13. Someone Said - 12 pts
14. Blue Devil - 11 pts

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sherwood Walks the Plank

It must feel like Christmas to the Gooners this week. First, they enjoyed their annual "St. Totteringham's Day" celebrations, as Spurs again failed to qualify for the Champions League. Then Cashley Cole was excluded from Woy Hodgson's plans for Brazil 2014 yesterday. Today, Gooners will wake up to the news that Tim Sherwood has been sacked. Mauricio Pochettino, who has turned Southhampton around in the past year, is the favorite to replace him. Care to gloat, Gooner?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Match the Slogan to the WC Participant

The suits have been working overtime on slogans for their country's teams in Brazil. Match the slogan to the team. I've redacted the name of the country where they include the country in the slogan. Desert warriors in Brazil Not just a team, we are a country (Redacted) : hopping our way into history! Expect the impossible! Dragons in heart, dragons on the field! Brace yourselves! The 6th is coming! A lion remains a lion Chi Chi Chi!, Le Le Le! Go (redacted) Here travels a nation, not just a team! My passion is football, my strength is my people, my pride is (redacted) Elephants charging towards Brazil! With fire in our hearts, for (redacted) all as one! One commitment, one passion, only one heart, this is for you Ecuador! The dream of one team, the heartbeat of millions!! Impossible is not a (redacted) word One nation, one team, one dream! Black Stars: here to illuminate Brazil Heroes play like (redacted) We are one country, one nation, five stars on the heart Honour of Persia Let's paint the Fifa World Cup dream blue Samurai, the time has come to fight! Enjoy it, Reds! Always united, always Aztecas Real men wear orange Only together we can win The past is history, the future is victory No one can catch us Inside our hearts, the passion of a champion Final stop: 07-13-14 Maracana! Three million dreams … let's go (redacted) United by team, driven by passion

"You can go do one, Ca$hley"

Woy's set out Ca$hley's beach-chair for him, and has decided that Theo can't get fit in the next 30 days, but he's given Frank Lampard a place instead of the gold-watch I'd been hoping for. Here's Woy's provisional squad with alternates. Goalkeepers Joe Hart (Man City), Ben Foster (West Brom), Fraser Forster (Celtic). Defenders Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Chris Smalling (Man Utd), Phil Jones (Man Utd), Leighton Baines (Everton), Luke Shaw (Southampton). Midfielders Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), James Milner (Man City), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Ross Barkley (Everton), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal). Forwards Wayne Rooney (Man Utd), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Danny Welbeck (Man Utd), Rickie Lambert (Southampton) Stand-bys John Ruddy (Norwich), Jon Flanagan (Liverpool), John Stones (Everton), Michael Carrick (Man Utd), Tom Cleverley (Man Utd), Andy Carroll (West Ham), Jermain Defoe (Toronto)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Long and Winding Road has come to an end

So, it all started in back in August with the Moyes Era starting at Old Trafford. Would it make a difference? Would United just keep on winning even without SAF? Well, we all know that was an emphatic NO! With the absence of United as a factor, it was all shaping up to an exciting finish with three clubs with a chance of winning the title. Sadly, that hasn't panned out either. It is pretty much all done and dusted at both ends of the table. It is a shame because NBC deserves to be able to show the drama of the end of the season. They have been BRILLIANT! Excellent coverage everywhere, going to games that aren't finished, being at the stadium before kick off to soak up the atmosphere, staying at the end to show the reactions!! AGAIN…. well done!

I may not be around for the whole of the last day, Matt's team won three games yesterday and play today in a tourney



Friday, May 09, 2014

Checking in on the Championship Playoffs

Who will join Leicester and Burnley in the Premiership next season. Four teams will compete over the next week for that honor. Yesterday, Derby put a crimp in Brighton's style with a 1-2 win over the Seagulls. They'll play again on Saturday. Today, it's the turn of Wigan and QPR. Tune in from 2:45pm EST to see what happens.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

A Liar's Autobiography

Calling all Python fans! I recently came across this relatively new documentary film about the life of the late, great Graham Chapman. It's well worth a look. Check out the trailer here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

One Step Closer to the Title?

Moneybags Citeh can today take one more step closer to the title by polishing off Villa at the Etihad. In truth, Villa have very little other than pride to play for. But you never know in this funny old game, do you. In the other Premiership match this afternoon, Sunderland can gain safety and all but doom Norwich today by winning at the Stadium of Light against West Brom. The Baggies aren't entirely safe either, so that one could be tasty. Join me for all the action from 2:45pm onward.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Giggsy's Last Stand?

Join me this afternoon to celebrate the career of Ryan Giggs. The Manchester United player-manager has named himself on the bench today, so it will likely be the last time he appears as a player (and as a manager) at Old Trafford. Although there will be plenty of nostalgia today, there is real business at hand, if one considers Europa League qualification real business, that is. I'll be on hand this afternoon to watch it all with you.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Footie Trivia Question of the Week

It's Monday and the sun's out, chaps - you know what that means. Time to put your thinking caps on again. Here we go:

"There are six players who have turned out for the Manchester United in Premiership who have then gone on to score against United for another club after leaving Old Trafford. Name them and their clubs!"

Good luck, everyone!

Sunday, May 04, 2014

A Sunday Double Header in Sunny London with not Much at Stake

It's A Sunday double header starting with Arsenal vs West Brom. The Gunners have clinched a CL spot while the Baggies hare all but safe as I expect the Canaries to lose the second match at SB and be all but down. It's a fairly Sunday in the Prem or is it? There is the second leg of the Conference semifinal playoffs  as Cambridge United attempt to overturn a one goal deficit vs Halifax and Gateshead host Grimsby with the scores level.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The End of the Road in the Championship

It's the last day in the Championship this morning. A number of things have already been sorted out. Leicester are champions, Burnley will go up second and Derby, QPR and Wigan are all in the playoffs. That leaves one playoff left for Reading, Brighton and, theoretically, Blackburn.

At the wrong end of the table, Yeovil and Barnsley are already down to League 1 before today. They'll be joined by Birmingham, Doncaster, Millwall or, theoretically, Blackpool. Join me from 7:15am onward for promises to be a fascinating morning.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Premiership Plus Predictions Game - Week 36 Update

If it's Friday afternoon, it's time for our weekly check-in on the PPP standings. It was all change in the Premiership last weekend, as Chelski's negative tactics unsettled Liverpool, possibly ending their title hopes. If, as everyone is predicting now, Citeh go on to use their matches in hand to lift the trophy, our modest shield may well be heading to Georgetown, as West Ham Rising was the only person prescient enough to pick Citeh. However, there are two other tournaments that have to settled in the coming weeks. With the Champions League presenting an all-Madrid classico, we've down to only those who chose Real (Blue Devil, Red Devil and Sporting who have the possibility of snagging those eight points. Add to that the Europa League Final, which will see Benfica (MUR) vs. Sevilla (Simon), with six points at stake. It's still all up for grabs as we head into the last few weeks. Here are the current standings:

1. The Red Dragon - 28 points
2. United We Stand - 23 pts
- West Ham Rising - 23 pts
4. Matt - 22 pts
5. Sporting Real Salt Lake United Football Club Juniors FC- 21 pts
6. Man United Rules - 20 pts
7. Chelskilad - 18 pts
- The Red Devil FCK1 - 18 pts
- Yellows - 18 pts
10. Swansong - 17 pts
- What's Up Wheaton Simon - 17 pts
12. Gooner71 - 16 pts
- Someone Said - 16 pts
14. Blue Devil - 12 pts

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Long and Winding Road Nears its End

The Europa League - the most unlovable of all European footie tournaments - nears its completion today with the second legs of the semis. Both home sides are up against it after the first legs last week. Juve will look to overturn a 2-1 deficit when they host Benfica today while Valencia have a 2-0 disadvantage to turn around. Tune in here to follow all of the action this afternoon.