Its not so much our relative success in the opening fixtures of the 2016 qualification campaign but the way we are doing it that is really pleasing. Gordon Strachan has instilled a confidence in the players not only in their abilities but the whole attitude to the game. Not long ago we were being bullied into submission by even 3rd rate European teams, submitting possession and chances to likes of Georgia and Poland. Now we are dominating them in the midfield, passing around them and harrying defenders like never before.
When is the last time we saw Scotland play the ball, on the ground, out of defence?
When was the last time we saw a Scotland team take the lead or even equalise away- to a top Euro team?
Strachan’s team is the totally opposite to a confidence sapped, ultra-defensive Levein 11. Whereas Gordon has inspired and led Levein destroyed buckled.The core of the team that wilted and underperformed under Levein is still there but they appear rejuvenated under fresh charge and eager to please both manager and country. The addition of Ikechi Anya, Robertson and Gordon Greer same to outweighed the loss of Kenny Miller and Kris Commons and the swing away from the pragmatic and dull style of play of old has combined in a reinvigoration and new found belief.
This optimism may come crashing down around our ears next month against table topping Ireland but at least we are still in the mix and have a fighters chance of qualification. I am confident we can beat Ireland at Celtic Park and in the process boost our chances and reign back the Irish into the fold. The Irish seem to be organised and dogged while carrying a fair bit of luck : much like the Scottish national team in before Strachan, but i think we will have more than enough to beat them soundly.
One month after the World Cup and the pang for decent football is beginning to kick in. After soaking up the football festival in the true home of the beautiful game I will have to exist on decidedly Scottish and substandard fare for an extended period of time. It’s much like drinking the finest Bavarian beer for a month then having to sip on pish water like Tennents or Carling. But even these beers would have been welcome at Thursday night’s UEFA Europa League qualifier between St Johnstone and Lucerne of Switzerland.
Instead we got???? Fuck all, not even a can of skoosh (although you were offered a cup of water by the kiosk attendants).
On a sweltering night all I could of think of was a cool plastic cupped pint to ease the pain of McDiarmid Park but alas these types of benefits are only enjoyed by proper football supporters on the Continent, Asia, Latin America, in fact everywhere apart from here.
Beer has been outlawed on the terraces since a cup final between Rangers and Celtic over 30 years ago. At the final whistle both sets of fans ran on to the pitch and straight into each other before being separated by Police horses and baton wielding coppers. So shocked were the politicians and journalists (and that’s who seem to hold sway in Scotland) at the time they banned all alcohol in stadiums for the normal supporter.
One of the funniest things I saw in Brazil was not in a stadium or on a football field but on the TV.
As you can imagine the TV stations had wall to wall coverage of anything remotely related to the World Cup so the much feared demonstrations outside the stadium were covered in depth.
In one particular demonstration a group youngsters (under 25) were shouting and jeering at some FIFA representatives or politicians. To be fair I’m fairly certain they had a valid point and were not causing much trouble but the police teamed up and started to push them back from the dignitaries in a heavy handed way.
There was one guy-complete with the jet black, EMO hair and a scarf covering his face-being particularly enthusiastic and verbal until that is a middle aged, plump fellow came bounding out of the crowd to accost the young lad. After the initial shock of confrontation the young lad was pushed back on his heels in realisation that it was his Dad giving him a good bollocking with a couple of slaps to boot.
The juvenile revolutionary squealed it has Dad in Portuguese, along the lines of “Dad, Dad your embarrassing me, let me riot” or something along those lines.However his protestations fell on deaf ears and any hint of rebellion quickly gave way to utter embarrassment- Live on national TV. his street credibility and all respect from his peers ruined.
The father carted his boy off home, not quite by the ear but much like a scolded teenager probably into the car and back to the family home.
As if this wasn’t bad enough the same News reporting team must of learned of the name and whereabouts of the teenager and visited him at home with his family. The family invited the journalist into the family home, sat the teenager down on the family sofa and made him apologise, not only to the hated dignitaries but also the general public and naturally his home.
The ashen faced lad had removed much of his black clothing and make-up (although he kept his nose ring) as he sat between Mum and Dad broken by humiliation of it all, knowing full well the worst was still come, in the form of merciless ribbing from his friends,schoolmates and general passers-by.
Hopefully he will rise above this early obstacle and become a new Che Guevara – maybe just not while his old man is around.
Over a week after the German hammering of Brazil and the sheer shock of the result is only now beginning to fade however it will take a fair few months, if not years for the Brazilians to shake off the nightmares.
In truth the Brazilians had been due a heavy beating and had pushed their luck from their opening game against Croatia when a partisan crowd and malleable referee contributed to a win when defeat was staring them in the face.
Next up was the Mexicans and while the Mexican goalkeeper, Ochoa attracted the headlines and was correctly awarded the man of the match this defected from a composed and at times dominant performance by El Tri. The Brazilians, and in particular Fred were lambasted for their display by an expectant media and support.
Cameroon were already eliminated and in disarray when they went down 4-1 to Brazil but again the scoreline flattered to deceive. Neymar pulled a couple of tricks and at times their were glances of the free flowing football of yesteryear but the defensive lapses and lack of discipline were obvious. Scolari’s tactics of “attack,attack, attack” in the hope that the opponent would become overwhelmed and despondent, while exciting and attractive also risked disaster.Regardless Brazil progressed as Group winners and awarded with a second round match against the Costa Ricans.
The Costa Ricans put up a gallant fight but were ultimately eliminated by way of penalties and a lack of experience and yet it wasn’t them that were blubbing like scolded school children in the run up to the shoot out. Julio Cesar was predictably lauded as the hero of the day despite the Ticos penalties being fired straight at him and in the hysteria of victory no-one dared ask why it was that Brazil struggled to overcome the Central Americans.
The Colombians came next and there was a real fear that the Brazilian dream may be coming to an end. Scolari and his team opted to kick Colombia off the field in what proved to be one of the most cynical and ugly matches of the tournament. Whether in utter fear or pure malice the Brazilians destroyed the game and relied on an extremely biased referee performance. Its fair to say that the hosts lost a lot of neutral support and killed of the myth of Joga Bonito once and for all.
We all know what happened against Germany in the semi final. The chickens came home to roost, they got a taste of their own medicine or their luck finally ran out. Whatever way you put it was decisive as it was emphatic and all on the hosts own doorstep.
At times it was unbelievable they way the Germans waltzed through the Brazilian midfield and defence. It wasn’t as fast as the Dutch’s counter attacks against Spain but such was the positional marking of the Brazilians speed wasn’t needed. If Argentina were playing Brazil on that night they would racked up 10 or 12 goals but the Germans seemed almost embarrassed at simplicity of their win.
The 3rd/4th place game was another simple beating against a half cocked Dutch team, by then the damage had been done and no-one was really interested any more.
Tomorrow is my 3rd live game and it may be the best of all.
Although the Costa Rica result was amazing against a poor Italy it wasn’t the best of games and the Italian fans were neither numerous or vocal.
There are thousands of Mexican fans in Recife and Olinda and most of them are leathered drunk. I personally hope the Mexicans progress as I was lucky to live in Mexico for a couple of years and they treated me very well during my stay. They may be a little abusive in their chants ( heeeeeeeey puuuuto)
But it’s all in good humour and they are definitely up for a party.
On the pitch much will depend on the form of GIovanni Dos Santos who on his day is a world beater and more than capable of turning a match into a win. Chicharito will probably not start but come on as an impact sub for Uribe Peralta. In defence El Tri have an ageing Salcido and Raphael Marquez but Ochoa, with already the goalkeeping performance against Brazil, should provide adequate cover.
Croatia are well matched up in terms of cover and in general have played well in the last two games. They were unlucky to lose against the hosts and ran riot against Cameroon. Manduzic and Olic are quality strikers and would be a worry for any team.
Realistically Croatia need to win and progress with 6 points whereas Mexico will go through with 5 ( this is on the premise that Brazil
win against the poor Cameroons).
Hopefully Mexico get their draw and go through.
Mexico 3 Croatia 3
It took a couple of days of sharpening but the knives are finally out for the under performing England stars. Harry Redknapp’s latest claim of reticence for Internationally picked stars to play for the National team has provoked media induced outrage but it is hardly surprising.
The English Premier League rockets ahead of international football in terms of kudos and wealth for the majority of football fans in the United Kingdom. Quite simply the EPL has it all and for many fans club comes first. So why should it be any different for the players?
Personally I think the World Cup is the pinnacle of all football but not everyone shares this sentiment.
As soon as one of the home nations under perform, whether it be England performing at tournaments or the other nations not even qualifying the old club vs country debate is reignited as the major cause.
And yet nothing ever happens as soon as the season kicks off a international football is put on the back burner.
In regards to England’s performance in my opinion they were unlucky not to get two draws but you cannot argue with the results. In many ways they were like a boxer trading well until the championship rounds but then getting knocked out at the end. Sure they did well in parts but they were still on their arse and counted out of the match and ultimately the tournament. Everyone knew that Luis Suarez was going to be the difference between the teams so the defence has very little excuse for their apparent dereliction of Suarez duty. Similarly in against Italy, Pirlo and Balotelli were the recognised danger men and both contributed to their goals.
Next up is Costa Rica who, on Friday’s match showing may leave England pointless and distraught. In many Los Ticos played the way England should have : built on a solid defence and fast counter attacking strikers together with a talented but limited midfield. Costa Rica do not have a Rooney or Gerrard but as a unit they are very organised and impressive.
I would have honestly liked to have seen the English go through-mainly because I would have seen them in Recife rather than Costa Rica or Italy again- but England simply did not deserve qualify for the next round.
For the first time ever the English team will be home before this and many more Scotsmen at the World Cup.
It’s not wonder everyone is half daft over here. If you stay inside the mosquitoes terrorise and torture you without mercy, attacking any skin or hint of bone with a brutally efficient zeal. When you go outside the sun is almost intolerable, especially for a fair skinned Scotsman like myself, 15 minutes and you’re beetroot skinned and sweltering uncontrollably. The rain offers some relief but it comes by the lake load and soaks you to the bones and in turn acts as a natural springboard to the birth of a trillion more mosquitoes.
The only conceivable option is to go to the pub to drink beer and get leathered with the locals.I was going to go to the fan fest for the atmosphere but fuck that, it’s about as close as a human comes to becoming a boiled and grilled hotdog.
But saying that it is still fucking brilliant.
After a day catching up with my sleep and getting my bearings Saturday was the first chance to get some proper game experience. First up was Uruguay vs Costa Rica and while i caught the majority of the first half in my hostel I missed the spectacular comeback by los Ticos. In the run up to the game I thought a lot of the media were discounting the Central Americans unfairly. They had had a strong qualifying campaign with fine results against the USA and Mexico and were always going to be more than wooden spoon certs. And so it proved to be with Costa Rica running out 3-1 winners to stun the Uruguayans. Cavani put the South Americans in front with a penalty in the first half but Costa Rica hit back after the break through Campbell, Duarte and Urena.
Before the game had even finished I had to make my way down to the fan fest and eventually to the Ivory Coast vs Japan game. I made the bus journey with a Welshman, an English man and a Swiss girl who were all eager to get to their first game and a good laugh. The fan fest was a couple of bars and food stands in front of a grand TV that had pockets of English and Italian fans waiting for their game.
ENGLAND 1 ITALY 2
The English went down to organised and efficient Italian but in my opinion were unlucky not to get a draw. As expected it was the English youngsters that really impressed with Henderson and Sterling running the wings well and Sturridge grabbing England’s equaliser after Italy had taken the lead.
The Italians sat back in the second half inviting England to come at them, soaking up the pressure and bursting on the break. In the fan fest some of the younger English fans were pissed as trouts and getting lairy, it wasn’t long before we had “your not singing any more” and the tell tale pisshead behaviour. The Italian fans duly responded with good natured banter watching their team grab the winner and hang on through some late English pressure. It teemed down with rain during the game so I scurried inside to escape the downpour so missed a bit of the match.