I trundled along to the cup semi-final (St Johnstone vs Aberdeen) on Sunday apathetic and lacking any real desire to watch the match. Although St Johnstone are my home team and I do like them to do well, but my my feelings were mixed at best. It was the first time I had returned to Ibrox since Rangers public hounding and inevitable banishment to the lower divisions. It was strange to go there and not see my team play and my mood wasn’t helped with the various shouts from fans regarding their new status. A bit like watching another couple shag in your bed.
It was a dreadful day. The biting wind leathered your face and the incessant drizzle began to soak throw my thin hoodie. A cup of coffee didn’t really help but I took my place in amongst the usual hollering farmers backed by their squeaky sons. Half way through the first half a couple of fans came up to a nearby steward to remonstrate and complain about other fans blocking their view. It was a fair enough point especially as the other fans were bulky, middle aged skin eds. It sparked a lively debate between the fans with the blocked claiming unfair and the belligerents pleading their rights to a view also. At one point it looked like there may be a bit of a tumble but fortunately the security was able to coax the skins down on their arses wit the Police looked on from afar, ready to pounce. Shortly after Aberdeen took a deserved lead and Saints looked dead in the water and facing another semi-final heartache.
I made my decision to leave even before the half time whistle. The Liverpool game had started and I wanted to watch the game in some sort of comfort. Fickle fan, yes but they are not my team. As I was the only fan making my way home early the subway was empty and only 10 minutes from Partick station. When I reached my pal’s house the Liverpool vs City game was just underway as it had be delayed due to the Hillsborough memorial. Meanwhile St Johnstone clawed their way back into the game and recorded an historical win to seal their first ever Scottish Cup final. Despite this I still stood by my hasty decision.
Best strike of 2010 by a mile. If there was no net it would have walloped on of those vuvuzela -ers in the back row,
25 years since that awful day in Sheffield when 96 fans never came back from a football match. I was only 13 on that day but a dyed in the wool Reds fanatic. I remember watching the news in disbelief and calling on my Mum to witness the awful events on the TV. At first it didn’t look so bad but as the death toll gradually increased it became clear that we had a terrible disaster.
Some people may claim that Liverpool fans have clung on to this disaster and almost become defined by it, but who wouldn’t? Certainly not the family and loved ones who have suffered then been lied to and blamed for this national disgrace. The investigations are still ongoing and still there will be lies uncovered and new claims of corruption and downright criminality laid before the Police and politicians.
And this is what is so galling for the families: The lies that were perpetuated by the odious, Sun newspaper, through Police leaks and insider information, unbelievably trying to blame the victims, many children, for the disaster, claiming they were hooligans or casuals steaming drunk. The Police choosing not to admit their own negligence and failings but again blaming the fans, standing back and refusing to accept culpability in any way. The government of the time headed by Margaret Thatcher who relished in her destruction of the working class trade union movements and her open hatred of football supporters and the north. We all know she was architect of the cover up in the ensuing years.
Like many of these disasters the truth will never totally known and the families will go on reliving that hellish day a quarter of a century. The years will pass into decades and beyond but the 96 and all those who suffered should and shall be never forgotten.
Scotland moved up to 22 in the World Rankings today. That’s a move of 15 places from 37 in the last month or so, 3 places in front of Bosnia and Algeria and 6 places ahead of Ecuador (all of which have qualified for Brazil). The last time we reached such exalted status “wee” Broon was in charge and we were on our way to France 98.
It really makes a mockery of the whole FIFA system as in reality the top 24 teams will all be competing in the World Cup in June. A true reflection would have Scotland at 40-50, and that is being kind. Granted their seems to be a nice wee dose of optimism with Strachan following our end of group purple patch but I’m fairly certain it doesn’t merit a position in the relatively lofty heights of 22nd in the World. But will we take it?? Dam right, especially if it in imbibes the players with some sort of faux delusion of greatness and spurs us on to an historic win in Dortmund versus De Germans.
It is not inconceivable that wee further progress with a win in the coming friendly with Nigeria, move into the top 20 and beyond. It’s a pity this has no bearing on our Euro 2016 seeding with the draw already being made.
On what of the other pretenders??
Naturally the Spanish hold top spot as both World Cup and Euro Champ holders, followed by the Germans and Portuguese. Next their is the South American block of Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil. The remaining top 10 is made up of Switzerland (yes), Italy and Greece (again, yes). England hover around at 11 with Holland, Chile, USA etc in and around the top 20.
It’s difficult to measure this against World Cup chances. Brazil are rightly the favourites for the trophy with the benefit of home crowds but i feel they will come up short especially if they lose Neymar or Oscar . Similarly Portugal would be captain-less and severley lacking without Ronaldo. You could probably go through all the main teams and pick out main players that would be missed with maybe the expectation of Belgium,although losing Hazard would be tough to contend with.
So I’ve created my own table (deliberately not including odds as its too difficult and fairly boring).
My Rankings based on World Cup chances :
1 ) GERMANY – although no European team has won the trophy in the Americas I feel that the Germans are favourites to win the trophy. Thanks mainly to a core of Bayern Munich and Dortmund stars but also with a couple of EPL favs and strong coach in Joachim Löw. They always make it to the latter stage, often to the semis and barring disaster or some sort of mitigated implosion will be in the final shake up.
2 ) ARGENTINA – With little Leo rampaging at will through hapless defences supported by Di Maria, Arguero and Lavezzi the Atgies have the best forward line and scoring potential to worry any defence. Victory in their neighbours back year would be doubly sweet as well.
3 ) COLOMBIA – Making their first World Cup since France 1998 the Colombians are sweating over superstar and talisman Radamel Falcoa who is still recovering from injury and has a 50/50 chance of playing in Brazil. Still, with Jackson Martinez and Teofilo Gutierrez in attacking cover and James Rodriguez in midfield they should pass into the last 4 at least.
4 ) URUGUAY - Luis Suarez is the worlds in form goalscorer bagging goals every week for Liverpool. It is his chance to shine this summer on the biggest stage. Diego Forlan will be keen to impress in his last tournament and the brilliant Edison Cavani eager to bag some goals.
5 ) HOLLAND – SPAIN – PORTUGAL - I don’t honestly see any of these teams winning the World Cup but expect them to challenge in the last 8, depending on the draw. I feel the Spanish are reaching the end of an era and their players ageing, also other national managers wising up on how to combat the tiki taka football. Similarly, the Dutch may have Robben and Van Persie but will miss Strootman in the midfield. If Ronaldo can drag Portugal to the quarter finals without picking up suspension or injury it will be a victory in itself.
5 ) BRAZIL - Even with home crowds cheering their every move I can’t see the Samba Stars winning the trophy and once they start faltering these fans will be on their backs immediately. They are putting too much faith in Neymar who is not a match winning difference of a player.
Remember when you passionately cared about the World Cup mascot? Me neither.
But I suppose its some sort of tradition from way back, give the kids something to cheer about.
To be fair I like the Mexican one, the Italian one was rotten and i think the Spanish was an orange??
Now we have Fuleco the Armadillo. He is supposed to represent some sort of football spirit mixed with the virtues of Brazil and conservation etc.
He looks pretty cute holding the ball like that, inviting you for a wee game of keep up but I have been informed this is a clever ruse. He actually leathers the ball off your face, momentarily stunning and incapacitating you while he rifles through your pockets and gnaws at your facial features.
If you see him prowling the Brazilian streets its best to back away slowly and empty your valuables as a method of distraction. Either that or volley him into the undergrowth before he builds any malevolent intentions.
I don’t trust him
As far as shocks go it couldn’t have been bigger or better. On paper the holders had little to fear against the Africans especially when the Indomitable Lions lost Andre Biyik to a straight red in the 61st minute. Luckily little brother Oman managed save Andres blushes by rising to meet a deflected cross. Pumpido made a rickets of a save and Cameroon held on to win an historic victory.
Roger Milla didn’t even get on.
Many may not admit it but it would terribly boring to see the Spanish win another trophy on the trot, even if they are the most pleasing on the eye. The slick inter-passing and pressing game of Barcelona may have the purists salivating but after a while it gets a bit too much and you find yourself yearning for a bit of kick and rush or high crosses into the box.
Iniesta and Xavi have ruled the roost for so long that football as a game needs a bit of change.
That’s not to say we want a total capitulation alike France in 2002 but if they were to win a 4th tournament in a row it would just be too predictable and boring.
Inevitably the team is ageing and many national mangers seem to have figured out a way to combat Barcelona ergo Spain. Whether Vincent Del Bosque can in turn reconfigure and counter this remains to be seen.
They have an abundance of quality players in Navas, Negredo and Silva at Manchester City, Alonso, Isco and Ramos at Real Madrid and Martinez and Thiago at Bayern Munich. There is Mata at Manchester United, Azpilicueta at Chelsea and a slew of world beaters at Barcelona. The only problem Del Bosque has is deciding which attackers to leave at home with Soldado, Llorente, Michu, Torres and recent call up, Diego Costa all vying for places.
Realistically Spain will be there or there abouts when it comes to the latter stages unless that is they falter alike they did against Switzerland in 2010. This time around the group seems a lot tighter and they may not get a second chance against Chile or Holland.
For many Group B has claimed the title of “the Group of Death.
It certainly looks like that for the Ozzies.
Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
At first look it seems it will be a straight fight for the top spot for the two 2010 finalists : Spain and Holland but that is to severely underestimate Chile.
Chile had a very impressive qualifying campaign. Despite starting poorly they rallied to claim some impressive away wins which contributed to a 3rd place finish in the CONMEBOL table, ahead of both Ecuador and Uruguay.
In recent years they have garnered a lot of respect for their style of play, thanks mainly to a high pressing game (favoured by successful ex-coach Marco “Loco” Bielsa) that was introduced by Jorge Sampaoli. Although “La Roja” do not have the strength in depth of bigger South American nations they can count upon two fantastic forwards in Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona) and and Eduardo Vargas (Valencia). Added to this they have various layers dotted around Seria A and the EPL but their real strength comes from home based players which regularly compete with Universidad Catolica, Colo Colo and O’Higgins in latter stages of the Libertadores and Sudamerica.
For many Chile are this tournament’s dark horses if not for triumph but to reach at least the quarter finals. They will certainly need to be on form to beat either the Dutch or Spanish but it is not beyond them to take 1st spot in the group.
For those Scots who are left, again, to watch the greatest football tournament on earth at home you may be pondering on what football team to support.
Of course there are the obvious and tired choices of “anyone playing England” ie. Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica but if you can put away comic and historical grudges there are a few teams to choose from.
I don’t anyone will begrudge Brazil support, especially if they turn on the samba style. For good reason they are the neutral’s favourite. There is also Argentina with Messi, Arguero, Tevez etc and the technically supreme Spanish (although admit it, they are boring us now).
I don’t mind the English doing well especially as they have so many Liverpool players however i can’t see them getting out of the group. The Belgians and Croatians both qualified from our qualifying group and in a roundabout way their success may reflect well upon us.
There are also a slew of minnows to go for. Costa Rica, Honduras and Algeria will all be imbued with a Scottish underdog style.
But for those who want to support a team in dark blue we have the French, who obviously trying to garner some sort of Caledonian zeal and fight have opted to play in Scottish style away shirt. It may look more like our rugby shirt but it will do, especially with a skull full of cheap ale, sitting in front of the box.
Baddiel and Skinner may have droned on about “Football coming home” years ago but in reality Brazil is the country synonymous with the beautiful game and especially the World Cup. England may have put down the origins of the game (by a gang of toffs and elitist Victorians) but it was the South Americans that gave the game skill, rhythm and beauty and it was the working class hordes that embraced and emancipated the sport.
It is no coincidence that football has left behind the likes of cricket, tennis and rugby in world popularity. Whereas the old establishment and class related sports have hung on to a degree of snobbery and exclusivity, football attracted and welcomed all, thanks in main to its inclusivity and simplicity. So in many ways Brazil is the sporting and social home of football and is truly coming home in June 2014.
Many like to argue whether or not the Copa Mundial is competing at the highest level of football, feeling that it has maybe been superseded in recent decades by the Champions League, however what is not in doubt is the fact that more people will be watching the tournament this summer than any other sports event in history. You can forget the Olympic games and its show of wealth and nationalism through niches sports, or the American only Superbowls or World Series, the World cup is tops. Although it is hard to argue that the wealthiest of nations generally participate in the WC (China, India and the Arab states being noticeable absentees) other poorer countries regularly attend and compete in Fifa’s grandest tournament. The unique qualifying system provides a degree of fairness to poorer nations and levels the playing field.
This summer when FIFA bring their grand exercise in corporate greed to the Brazil everybody will be watching, even those who hate the game. Even the Yanks and the Ozzies have fallen in love with football and its popularity is gaining on their old historical games.
5 African nations, 4 Asian, 4 Central American, 6 South American and 13 European nations will make up the 32 best teams in the world with only Oceania failing to win any representation (largely because they are all gash, apart from New Zealand). There are a couple of surprising non-qualifiers: Sweden, Denmark, Paraguay and sleeping giant Scotland but in the main all the best teams have qualified and all the best players will be on show (minus Ibra, Strootman, Eriksson, and Lewandowski).
Despite being a huge World economy Brazil still has some desperate poverty so it is not surprisingly to see the Brazilians protesting and rioting on their streets. Although Brazil is fanatical football country it will smart to see such lavish spending while much of their surroundings is desperate and dangerous. It seems as if this “bread and circuses” ploy has failed to win over the Brazilian public and much more public disobedience and opposition will follow in next few months (personally I hope that it will be restricted to the metropolises in the south, not for any fear of my safety but I imagine it will wreck travelling arrangements pre and post-match…selfish, I know).