100 days to go until the World Cup Finals

FIFA’s official countdown to the World Cup finals clicked onto 100 days to go today and fittingly enough, the most of the finalists will be taking their first steps in preparation for the finals over the next two days in a series of International Friendly matches, scheduled to take place across the world.

Brazil travel to Dublin

There are some intriguing clashes ahead. For example Carlos Dunga takes his Brazilian side to Dublin to take on the Republic of Ireland in what promises to be a hugely interesting clash between the sides.

Despite finding his best form for club side Milan this season, Ronaldinho continues to be overlooked by Dunga for the game and there now must be real doubts as to whether the former World Player of the Year will make the final squad.

For Ireland it represents the first chance to put last Autumn’s defeat to France in the play offs behind them and prepare for the Euro 2012 qualification tournament which is due to begin in September.

Bookmakers have Brazil, predictably, as strong favourites for the clash, the South Americans are currently around 4/9 for the win, while Ireland, who have not won in four games, are a 13/2 shot, though without Ronaldinho and possibly the injured Pato, the draw at 12/5 looks a decent bet as the Irish have an excellent record on home turf.

England host Egypt at Wembley

Wednesday night however sees the majority of teams in action. England host Egypt at Wembley stadium with the furore over John Terry and the decision on who replaces the injured Ashley Cole and sulking Wayne Bridge at left back.

It should be a good chance for some of the fringe players to stake a claim to one of the few remaining places left on the plane to South Africa barring injury. England are big odds on favourites to take the tie at 3/1 and it is 4/1 the draw with an Egypt win ranked at a hefty 8-1 shot.

Maradona faces Germany away

Two matches on the night however really stand out from the rest in terms of quality. Germany will host Argentina in what promises to be a real test for both sides. The Germans qualified well from a difficult looking group and will be confident they can continue their good form under Joachim Low against Diego Maradona’s Argentina who hardly impressed in the qualifiers.

Much will be expected of Argentina now as their build up begins and this is certainly a real test for Maradona’s men in Munich. Germany’s better form sees them start as 5/4 favourites, with Messi inspired Argentina 7/4 but the draw looks most tempting at 9/4.

France take on Spain

The other stand out encounter sees France take on Spain in the Stade de France, Paris in what promises to be an interesting clash between the two neighbours.

The French have a good record against the Spanish, including knocking Spain out of the 2006 World Cup Finals, but Spain are in imperious form at the moment, while France have struggled throughout qualifying and needed a hugely controversial Thierry Henry handball assist to beat Ireland in the play offs for the World Cup Finals.

It promises to be a hugely entertaining encounter between two sides who love to play the game the purists way and with players like Frank Ribery and Fernando Torres set to return to the international fold, it should be an ideal start to their world cup preparation for both teams.

Not even the finest betting sites online can split them, with both France and Spain offered 6/4, with 9/4 the draw.

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International friendlies

Now, I want to take nothing away from Fabregas. This season, along with Wayne Rooney, he has been the best player in the Premier League without a shadow of a doubt.

Indeed if any of the PFA or Football Writers can make a justifiable case for anyone else other than these two being the only contenders for their Player of the Year, then quite frankly we need to bring in the psychologists and ensure that people understand the game properly before they play it or write about it.

International friendlies only confirm what we already knew…

This week’s round of International matches did not really gift football followers any deeper knowledge of the 32 teams who will be participating in the Summer’s finals in South Africa, indeed it was pretty much a case of expected results for most of the teams down as the bookmakers favourites for the World Cup.

Higuain shocks Germany on home soil

Arguably the biggest shock of the night came in Germany where Diego Maradona’s Argentina finally seem to be finding some form ahead of the finals. The Argentinean side emerged from the clash in Munich with a 1-0 win, thanks to Gonzalo Higuain’s goal to hand Germany a rare home defeat.

The result will be a timely boost to Argentina ahead of the finals after a disappointing qualification campaign.

Spanish stroll against the French

Another side who struggled in qualifying struggled again last night. France, however, were hosting European Champions Spain at the Stade des France, but two first half goals from David Villa and Sergio Ramos were enough to give the Spaniards a comfortable victory.

The result only really confirms what most football fans knew however, that Raymond Domenech’s France are no longer the powerhouse of world football they once were and that Spain really are the real deal and well worthy of being one of the two major tournament favourites with most betting sites online.

Robinho returns to haunt the republic

The other favourites for the tournament, Brazil, took on Ireland in London and emerged with a 2-0 victory. In the end the result was a fair reflection of the Samba stars dominance in the second period. The first half was particularly untidy with little to impress the Emirates support and only a Keith Andrews own goal just before the interval separating the sides.

However Brazil got into their stride in the second period and capped a much improved display with a lovely second, scored by Manchester City exile Robinho. Certainly on their second half performance Brazil are rightfully regarded amongst the favourites along with the Spanish.

Crouch double rescues England

It was a game of two halves as well for England at Wembley. A shabby first half performance, which saw Egypt take a deserved lead through Zidan, was countered by a much improved second half performance that saw Peter Crouch net a double and Shaun Wright Phillips a rare strike to give England a much needed 3-1 victory over a side that are, on current form, Africa’s strongest nation.

Italians struggle for goals

Not that Italy would agree with that assessment. The Azzuri could only manage a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Cameroon, a worrying result for the current World Champions who have struggled for goals throughout their qualifying period.

However few would bet against Marcelo Lippi having his team prepared perfectly for the finals and as such it would be foolhardy to discount them on the basis of a single disappointing result.

Holland, Serbia and Urugay all impress

There were some eye catching results on the night for other teams tipped to do well in the finals. Ivory Coast had a shocking result, going down 2-0 to South Korea at home, while Algeria didn’t fare much better, losing 3-0 at home to a Serbia side that looks set to give Germany, Ghana and Australia a real run for money in their very tough looking group.

Uruguay travelled to Switzerland and emerged with a classy 3-1 victory, that despite going a goal down to the home side. Holland defeated the United States 2-1, Dirk Kuyt and Klaas Jan Huntelaar scoring the goals for the home side and Portugal laboured to a 2-0 victory over China.

To conclude…

So, it is very much a case of as you were. Brazil and Spain look the strongest two teams by some quite considerable distance. Holland, England and Argentina look the best of the teams trying to close the gap on them, the French and Germans flattered to deceive, the Italians are starting slowly like they always do,

Portugal won but it was hardly convincing and some of the top African teams flattered to deceive with only Cameroon and Senegal (who beat Greece 2-0 in Athens, but haven’t even qualified for the finals) getting results that they would be truly proud of.

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I’ve seen some odd things in football in my time. I watched Torben Piechnik falling over a lot and being spectacularly inept at Anfield during Graeme Souness’ time at the club.

I was at Prenton Park on that incredible night when bottom of the Championship table Tranmere Rovers gave Premier League Southampton a 3-0 head start and came back to win the game 4-3 in the second half.

I’ve seen Tranmere play in a major cup final at Wembley (and, predictably, lose) and I’ve even seen Liverpool hammer Fulham 10-0 at Anfield and last night I saw something else to add to that list.

While watching Arsenal demolish FC Porto, I saw Nicklas Bendtner actually play as fantastically as he believes he is capable of and I also saw an Arsenal performance of customary style, verve and clinical finishing that was on a par with their 6-1 demolition of Everton on the opening day of the season.

And strangest of all, I saw them do all of that without a certain Mr Cesc Fabregas pulling the strings from midfield.

Fabregas and Rooeny: The class acts of the Premier League

Observations on an amazing sporting weekend

Well, I’m not usually a betting man to be honest. I have the odd flutter now and then, but nothing serious (as my win against losses record will testify) but this weekend, I stuck a few quid into a new account, got the best betting bonus I’ve had in a long time and then took this mother of all free bets and wasted it backing Aston Villa to win the Carling Cup! Doh!

It all started so promisingly too, especially when Vidic pulled down Agbonlahor. Quite why referee Phil Dowd didn’t send off the Serbian is anyone’s guess, by all interpretations of the law, the Serbian, one Dowd had deemed his tackle a foul, should have been sent off. 1-0 up and 11 against 10 would have been a very different game.

Dowd’s mistake however wasn’t the reason Villa lost. The reason was Michael Owen and his hamstring. Had the United man not pulled a hamstring late in the first half, Wayne Rooney may have been resting on the bench most of game, instead of celebrating scoring the winning goal and inspiring a fine and deserved United victory, but once again it came with the visible ‘assistance’ of poor officiating which worked in their favour.

While the Carling Cup Final was drama enough, that was nothing compared to what happened elsewhere at the weekend. In a stand-off that even Sergio Leone would have killed for, John Terry met Wayne Bridge in “handshake-gate” and nothing happened! Bridge avoided him! We’ve had replays and analysis of the event and I can concur that about 98% of the country, despite the press going ballistic about the incident, really doesn’t give a flying monkey’s testicle about it.

Even more amusing was what followed at the Bridge as Chelsea were outclassed, outthought and eventually outmanned by Manchester City, who triumphed 4-2. The only down side for the Sky Blues was the fact that the result handed city rivals United a timely boost in their quest for the league title. Ballack and Belletti both saw red and Craig Bellamy, that paragon of virtue and saintliness, followed up his timely double with a withering dismissal of John Terry’s character post game, stating; “Everybody in football knows what the guy is like. But that is off the field.”

Terry meanwhile stated “People in glasshouses should not throw stones”. Presumably because if he does something like this again, that is what he will be living in once his wife has finished in the divorce settlement.
Honestly, you could not see the pitch at Stamford Bridge on Saturday due to the number of dummies that had been spat out upon it.

On a more serious note, I wish Aaron Ramsey a speedy recovery from his terrible injury sustained at Stoke City, though I take issue with Arsene Wenger’s laughable assertion that somehow his players are being routinely targeted and maimed by fellow professionals. While I had sympathy with Eduardo over his tackle, to my eye, Ramsey was a victim not of Shawcross’s wilful intent to hurt, but simply his own speed of thought.

Shawcross tackle was one footed and at great pace. That caused a horrific injury and as sad as that is, it does happen in football. It has in the past and it will again in the future. To then turn this into some “everyone is out to get us” ramble, beggars belief really. Arsenal are not the only team to have players out through broken legs. Djibril Cisse and Stephen Warnock both broke their legs twice apiece while at Liverpool in the space of a few years. I didn’t hear Gerard Houllier complaining of some anti-Liverpool vendetta then.

So it was a good weekend and it would have been even better if Dowd had sent Vidic off and given me a better chance of winning some money…

Ah well, there’s always next time.

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