It's Up For Grabs Now
Saturday, December 31, 2005
Since the 14th December, in conjunction with the Armchair Football mailing list - do join it if you haven't already, it's great - you, the visitor, have been nominating the greatest TV football treat of 2005. From all of 30 votes, including the climax of Cameroon-Egypt on Eurosport getting an undeserved no votes at all, your top three were:
3rd Pires' fluffed penalty
"What's he done?" It was right that on 22nd October John Motson should have been sent to Highbury to witness Robert Pires and Thierry Henry collectively manage the single silliest penalty miss surely in televised football history. Motson clearly couldn't work out what they were doing until the second replay, but Henry knew from the way post match interviewer Ivan Gaskell's simple "what happened?" sent him into fits of laughter.
2nd Bowyer v Dyer
16th April saw two moments at St James' Park that would be replayed endlessly over the following months, Steven Taylor's comedy collapse well on its way to becoming the new Wayne Hatswell Own Goal, but also Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer's fight. Sky's Football First surely spoilt the mood by being first to legally screen an event the whole nation should have been allowed to enjoy together on Match of The Day, where Hansen saw Dyer as "trying to restrain Bowyer" even though he was at the time enacting the same position as when Homer tries to 'restrain' Bart. "I'm sure a lot of people will find the fight funny" Gary eventually concluded, although as the Newcastle Fanzone representative said on that week's Monday Night Football "if you think it's entertaining you're just like Bowyer." That counted a lot of people in.
1st Mark E Smith reads the results
It was never in doubt, was it? It seemed some sort of bizarre practical joke when the music website Playlouder broke the story in September, but on 19th November the iconoclastic Fall frontman really did read the classifieds on the BBC's interactive Score service. In a move which surely helped swing the vote, the full experience is currently preserved at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/s.bending/mes_results191105.rm
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Apparently FIFA decided to go ahead with their own draw plans despite our effort for them, although Christian Karembeu suggested a similar guest booking policy to our own. So what are we to make of the actual draw?
GROUP A: Fix! Well, none of Germany's opponents are entirely comfortable - Ecuador qualified only behind Brazil and Argentina but won all their games at altitude, Poland only lost to England in qualifying and Costa Rica have struggled.
GROUP B: Hmm. On paper England shouldn't have to worry about qualification by the time they play Sweden, but Paraguay are no mugs having accelerated as the qualifying group went on. Drawing Trinidad & Tobago is almost as bad as drawing Australia in terms of supposed localised grudge match status.
GROUP C: Ah, the group of death. Argentina v Holland will probably have been a better game if it wasn't last, but the Ivory Coast got through the toughest qualifying group and have strength all over the place, while Serbia & Montenegro finished an unbeaten top of Spain's group and conceded only one goal in that time. If either of the big names take their eye off the ball, always a threat in their cases, they could be going home early again.
GROUP D: Mexico are surely the most likely seeds to fall at the first, without great international class and Jared Borgetti, the qualifying period's top scorer, can't get a regular place at Bolton. Portugal should top the group, while Iran have decent strikers but aren't immensely strong while Angola put Nigeria out and are worth keeping an eye on.
GROUP E: Italy make the final every 12 years, the last time in 1994 when Roberto Baggio virtually single-handedly hauled them through. This time there's the weight of recent history to contend with, Marcello Lippi chopping and changing every other game and great players not generally making for a great squad. This Czech squad is reckoned to be their best ever and they have strength in depth - they were Europe's top scorers - but have failed when the pressure was on before. Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah will aid Ghana but they're not hugely consistent, while there's a feeling in some quarters of the US sporting press that not matching 2002's quarter final place will be a letdown but the team is arguably not as strong.
GROUP F: What more to say about Brazil? Well, they've got a more than decent draw, and the devil inside us wonders if the finals record win of Hungary 10 El Salvador 1 in 1982 might be at risk when they play Australia. Croatia qualified relatively well and have a good defence but not a lot elsewhere, while Japan have gone backwards since 2002's impressive displays.
GROUP G: France's big problem is the squad is ageing together, not exactly helped with the hosannahs that greeted Zidane, Thuram and Makelele coming back from international retirement. They should qualify from here, though, especially as they beat Switzerland twice in qualifying. South Korea famously made the semis last time out and have regenerated the squad since but will be going some to go that far again. Togo have a giantkilling reputation but not much else.
GROUP H: This is one of the better Spanish sides to go to a World Cup, but the weight of history is against them and they had to rely on the play-offs to get this far. Ukraine, the first Europeans to qualify, have drawn parallels with Croatia in 1998, exciting newcomers with a strong forward line, and should follow Spain through. Tunisia will be the biggest barrier, African Cup of Nations holders and a good, solid unit. The Saudis beat the South Koreans to the top of their qualifying group but haven't had a lot of international class opposition.
The BBC website has already come up with not just a full schedule, and if you're still willing to watch Iran v Angola on day eleven you're clearly suffering from an advanced form of World Cup fever, but also a Predictor.
Clearly some countries' methods are still less developed than our own. Finding out about being sacked on the radio? What's wrong with Teletext like any British manager?
You'll also see the boss in question "was hit by a missile thrown by one of the club's own supporters", which you'd think might grant him a couple of weeks' compassionate leeway.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Let's do something sensible now. Back in September we reported on the Premiership Global Fans Survey, the results of which are, um, fascinating. 19% of fans apparently have their clothes and hair influenced by footballers. You despair sometimes, don't you?
Of course, this is geared towards flash, nouveau Premiership fans. Those who support Football League clubs are more earthy, less prone to naming their children after those of players (11%). Luckily, there's now a poll for them too, where we can get figures on who started supporting their club because it's "good value for money in comparison to other sports or leisure pursuits" and who, when asked "Who runs the league competition your club plays in?", would answer "The FA Premier League". It's a long one, more based on what fans actually think than what they do, which could make for some juicy results unless the Football League suppress them, although what "Who is the main title sponsor of the Football League?" is meant to prove is beyond us. Oh, and for some reason we couldn't seem to finish it without getting an error message about entries not filled in properly, which nearly caused us to change quite a few of our answers about customer satisfaction, we can tell you.
The Unofficial 2006 World Cup Finals Draw
Welcome to this unusual setting for the IUFGN Pretend World Cup Draw, a largely pointless exercise which thus is in keeping with the rest of the site, an attempt to second guess what FIFA might draw out on Friday in Leipzig and one that's probably going to be better than the actual run. Only events can decide that, but there's no Sepp Blatter, that's for sure. Our entertainment for the evening, international cabaret artiste Jethro and singing sensation Kelly Marie, have departed, and now it's over to It's Up For Grabs Now to fulfil the draw...
With Germany allocated Group A and Brazil Group F, for some reason, we must start with drawing the other six top seeds. So:
Group B Italy
Group C England
Group D Spain
Group E Mexico
Group G France
Group H Argentina
So for those of you watching at home, England will be playing on Saturday evening - a boon for those of you taking advantage of the new 24 hour licencing laws, heh heh -then it's an early afternoon knockoffs on Friday 16th and Wednesday 21st June.
Huge names from the world of football are de rigeur at such ceremonies, and to draw out the second set of teams we're very pleased to welcome Romeo Zondervan. Romeo, would you do the honours?
Group A Czech Republic
Group B Portugal
Group C Ukraine
Group D Sweden
Group E Netherlands
Group F Croatia
Group G Switzerland
Group H Poland
The all-European pot throws up some intriguing matchups, not least England against Andriy Shevchenko's Ukraine. The final of Euro 96 will be replayed in group A, while Italy and Portugal wouldn't be anyone's idea of a walkover. Now, because there are too many damn Europeans in the tournament these days, Serbia & Montenegro have been put in their own special pot to ensure there are no more than two continental sides in any one group. We welcome Guy Whittingham to the stage to find out which of the South American seeds' group the former Yugoslavia will be taking part in... and it's Argentina's Group H!
We now welcome to the stage Brett Angell, who will dip into the pot containing the five African countries, Australia and the two remaining South American sides. So:
Group A Ivory Coast
Group B Tunisia
Group C Australia
Group D Ghana
Group E Paraguay
Group F Togo
Group G Ecuador
Group H Angola
It's happened! Hoist out the Photoshop clip art of convict uniforms and get Shane Warne on the phone for comment, it's the Poms against the Aussies once more! The last time these two met Australia won 3-0 at Upton Park against a full strength team, and if Sven lets his men do that again he'll surely be out on his ear. Meanwhile the fancied dark horses Ivory Coast get a real challenge in what's shaping up as this year's Group Of Death.
And finally, no big pretend FIFA occasion would be complete without the man they all call Marco Gabbiadini, who dips into the final pot - of seven, remember - to complete next year's line-up:
Group A Saudi Arabia
Group B USA
Group C Costa Rica
Group D Japan
Group E South Korea
Group F Trinidad & Tobago
Group G Iran
Plenty to talk about to round up - Germany are reunited with the Saudis, who they beat 8-0 three years ago, Paulo Wanchope's Costa Rica complete England's group and South Korea will have to beat Holland to continue the success story that started in 2002.
Following randomisation of the three non-seeded teams to determine the order of fixtures, here's those groups in full:
Group A Germany, Czech Republic, Ivory Coast, Saudi Arabia
Group B Italy, Tunisia, Portugal, USA
Group C England, Costa Rica, Ukraine, Australia
Group D Spain, Sweden, Japan, Ghana
Group E Mexico, South Korea, Netherlands, Paraguay
Group F Brazil, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Croatia
Group G France, Iran, Switzerland, Ecuador
Group H Argentina, Serbia & Montenegro, Angola, Poland
So the tournament, in this world, begins on 9th June 2006 with Germany v Czech Republic, while England haven't done too badly but may have to beat Australia to win through to the knockout phase where they'll meet someone from group D. Game of the first phase? How about Italy v Portugal (Thursday 15th June, 5pm) or Mexico v Holland (Saturday 17th June, 5pm). Group of death? We'd put forward Germany's own group, although Brazil and France appear to have positively got groups of life. Whatever, it's bound to be in our minds an exhibition of the beautiful game at the highest level, and may the best team imagineer a win!
Phrases that, for the sake of your own sanity, you never wished to read: "All the things you expect from your team, are now captured in an exclusive new Cologne"
Monday, December 05, 2005
"I spoke to Paul on Sunday and that was a result of 37 separate incidents I have had to deal with since appointing him as manager." In 39 days? What sort of hit ratio must he have reached at times?
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Well, to be honest, we can't say it was an unqualified success, but we got a chart out of it. What we did was ask various football bloggers of a worldly nature to name their top ten players in the world at the moment, scored them accordingly and came up with these results. Special thanks to Cheer Up Alan Shearer, Du Nord, Soccer Thoughts, Black And White And Read All Over and Round And White, some of whom are quoted liberally below.
The Top 20 Players In The World Today
20 David Beckham
Common belief has it that he's more a model than a footballer these days, but his application makes him a Real favourite whatever and he's arguably still the world's best crosser
Not turned it on just yet in Spain, but brimming with tricks and potential. Liked balancing the ball on his head while running, which we need to see as soon as possible
18 Ruud van Nistelrooy
An old-fashioned unreconstructed goal machine, his scoring run at Man Utd is genuinely enviable and he might well be the best close range finisher in Europe
Last year's Confederations Cup player of the tournament, he doesn't seem to be great to get along with, but there are few more worrying sights for a defender when he's running straight at you
16 Gianluigi Buffon
Italian keepers now have the reputation that English keepers had a couple of decades ago, that they're naturally going to be the greatest group of stoppers in the world. Buffon's agility and astuteness makes him the best of them
15 Carlos Tevez
We've sat through a lot of Next Maradonas over the years - where are you now, Ariel Ortega? - but they say there's a special something about Tevez. The subject last year of South America's biggest ever internal transfer, he's become that rarity, a popular Argentinian in Brazil, gallantly declaring he's not yet interested in playing in Europe. This is why Argentina are being seriously talked about again
Overweight, not got his mind on the job, unfit, a liability to his club... and still arguably only injury really stopped him making it three top La Liga scorer honours out of three last season
13 Petr Cech
You wouldn't have thought Buffon would be beaten for the world's best keeper honours this time last year, but that's a measure of Cech's progress at Chelsea, setting a Premiership clean sheet record and making commanding a defence look easy
12 Juninho Pernambucano
Essien and Le Guen have gone but Lyon are still a nautical mile clear in the French Premiere Division largely through Juninho's free kick genius and passing skill. Still somehow not a regular in his national team
11 Paolo Maldini
In a couple of years we'll have to get used to someone else playing at left back for AC Milan and Italy, and it'll be difficult. Even at 37 and more than 800 games down for Milan Maldini retains the will to succeed and incredible footballing brain
10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic
"Maradona! Zidane!" Two ridiculously good backheel flicks in Juventus' last two Serie A games sum him up - capable of the unexpected, wonderful on the ball and a prolific scorer
9 Alessandro Nesta
"Assured, accomplished and never hurried." Few make the art of defending look as easy as Nesta, his positional ability and perfectly timed tackles means he's best placed to pick up the baton of Italy's national defensive fulcrum when Paolo retires
8 Zinedine Zidane
They say he's not as good as he used to be, but he used to be the world's most naturally gifted player so it's still a long way down to go. You'll still have to go a long way to find someone with his natural touch
7 Samuel Eto'o
Almost the unsung hero of Barcelona's championship season last year, he makes pace, finishing and drive look effortless
6 John Terry
Could he be the best header of a ball in the world? Dominant in the air at both ends, Terry also has the tackling skills, commitment and reading of the game that fully earned him last season's Champions League player of the tournament award
5 Andriy Shevchenko
Six goals in this season's five Champions League games to date tells its own story, 2004's European Footballer Of The Year is as deadly a striker as you'll find, "a dream striker, and a nightmare for opposing defenders", and will make Ukraine next summer's dark horses
4 Wayne Rooney
If ever a single player can be said to lift a side, Rooney's recent performances for a fading Man Utd exert the theory perfectly. You don't see physical presence and passion, for want of a better word, allied to sheer spectacular skill too often
3 Thierry Henry
Some say he's the world's most natural striker - shoots accurately from anywhere, always in for the slightest chance, an abundance of flair, ridiculously quick, twice Golden Shoe winner and now Arsenal's top scorer ever, and certainly not all those 192 were easily taken. He "scores every imaginable type of goal but who also creates nearly as many for his teammates", you pointed out
2 Frank Lampard
The cliche is top English players become so good because they're more willing to work harder. If that's the case Lampard must be the most restless of them all, having blossomed at Chelsea into an all-action, fully aware of the game and possessing a venomous shot, plus now the Premiership consecutive appearances record. Jose Mourinho and Matthias Sammer both reckon he's the best player in the world
Never really going to be a surprise, was it? The former Ronaldo de Assis Moreira's recent performance in El Classico set in stone everything that's said about him, in this case including "does things with a football I can't even comprehend, never mind attempt to do" - quick, creative, inventive (he's been filmed passing with a twitch of his back!), owner of a deadly shot and a full selection of passing ranges. Barcelona wouldn't be half the team without him. Every participant in this poll put him top, "the Pele of our day" one claiming, which just about seals it.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger wrote one of our favourite football books ever, as you'll see if you look just to the right. Surely he has more productive things to do then his own World Cup advance draw?
We don't, by the way. See our own draw on the 8th.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Is this the least dignified thing you've ever seen?
That - the ball, not Kaiser Franz - is Pille The Erudite Ball, the World Cup co-mascot. Erudite, yes, because it talks, and indeed was interviewed on Sky Sports News the other week, where he made more sense then Matt Lorenzo.
It's said by Arsenal haterz (hey, we're modern) that Highbury doesn't exactly suffer from an overabundance of atmosphere. Clearly they're going to put a stop to all that nonsense effectively. We hope Quincy Owusu-Abeyie gets more games while this initiative is underway.