World Cup

Why Tom Cleverley (and others) SHOULD be in Hodgson’s squad

March 5th, 2014 by Michael Cox

tom cleverley england squad debateThe announcement of Roy Hodgson’s 30-man squad for tonight’s friendly with Denmark was greeted with a predictable chorus of complaints, despite the fact it appears a reasonable selection – a mix of promising youngsters and established stars, and, more importantly, a balance between club form and past international performance.

That balance is frequently misunderstood when it comes to international squad selection. Peculiarly, no-one ever remembers the performances of individuals in past England matches, which is obviously a decent barometer of how they might perform in future England matches – in the same system, with the same team-mates, under the same manager, with the same level of pressure and expectation.

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World Cup 2014 Rejects Squad

November 20th, 2013 by Michael Cox

world cup 2014 rejects xiOne of the tragedies of the World Cup is that, occasionally, the best players never get the opportunity to play on football’s greatest stage. The likes of George Weah, Abedi Pele, George Best, Ryan Giggs and Jari Litmanen, for example, were unable to drag their countries to the World Cup.

But what if the World Cup featured a bonus squad, comprised of players who didn’t qualify – with no more than one player per country? It might look something like this…

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10 Youngsters Who Could Make a Big Impact at the 2014 World Cup

October 10th, 2013 by Michael Cox

With some crucial international matches taking place over the next week, and the World Cup just nine months away, here’s a look at ten youngsters who could have a big impact in Brazil next summer – all players are 20 or under.

Paul Pogba, France and Juventus – 20

paul pogba franceOver the past couple of years, Antonio Conte has been able to depend upon the best midfield trio in Italy – Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo. But it sums up Pogba’s quality that Conte has sometimes attempted to change his system in order to include a fourth midfielder – and there’s now speculation that Pirlo might be allowed to depart next summer, such is the Frenchman’s quality.

A star of France’s victorious U20 World Cup campaign alongside the similarly talented Geoffrey Kondogbia, Pogba made his senior debut back in March against Georgia. Although he was sent off four days later against Spain, his performances in both games were highly impressive, and he scored on his return to the side against Belarus last month.

Didier Deschamps has options in the centre of the pitch, but Pogba should force his way into the side.

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Five things England need to do for World Cup 2014

May 29th, 2013 by Michael Cox

1. Retain the ball better

england need to retain ball betterEngland have always thrived when playing a more direct form of football than the tiki-taka favoured by Spain recently, and even before the Bundesliga’s dominance of the European Cup this season, a German style of football seemed a better template for England than the Spanish style of football.

Still, a consistent problem for England at major international tournaments is tiredness. This was particularly obvious when England were eliminated by Italy at Euro 2012 last year – Roy Hodgson’s side may have scraped a 0-0 draw, but they were outplayed in the central midfield zone, with Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard exhausted at an early stage because they spent so long defending.

There’s a belief that the more a side retains possession, the less they have to run. That’s statistically uncertain, but constantly chasing the ball is certainly mentally draining – England must become less reactive and impose their own football on the game.

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Five Potential World Cup Upsets

March 21st, 2013 by Michael Cox

2014 brazil world cup qualifiersAnother round of international football is upon us, with a busy Friday of fixtures. The vast inequalities between countries at the qualification stage means there’s a lot of odds-on favourites – here are five who might find things trickier than expected.

Israel v Portugal

Portugal haven’t missed a major tournament since World Cup 1998, but their recent qualification record has been underwhelming. For both World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 they were forced into a play-off against Bosnia after finishing runners-up in their group, and it’s not impossible that something similar with happen again. “Coming first place in qualifying is now complicated,” midfielder Joao Mourinho admitted this week. “But second place is open.”

Moutinho is doubtful for the game in Israel, which is the primary reason to think Portugal could struggle – the Porto midfielder has become the heartbeat of this side, dictating play from the centre of the pitch, but also storming forward to connect midfield and attack, and providing Cristiano Ronaldo with forward passes from his left-of-centre position. But having departed at half-time of Porto’s disappointing 2-0 defeat to Malaga last weekend, he might not play.

Portugal have other options in the centre of the pitch – Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso would be joined by Carlos Martins or Paulo Machado, but these two lack Moutinho’s ability to dominate matches. Moutinho has been training with the side this week, but his inclusion is far from certain – if he misses out, laying Portugal at 1.58 becomes tempting.

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Poland v England Preview – Poland’s 1973 Headache Now Of Migraine Proportions

October 16th, 2012 by Paul Wilson

Poland head into tonight’s game with two of their first choice goalkeepers sidelined with injury; Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski are both ruled out, ahead of the England match at Poland’s National Stadium.

It’s a mini crisis for Head Coach, Waldemar Fornalik, but he is certain that third-choice keeper Lukasz Skorupski of Gornik Zabrze is more than capable of keeping out Rooney, Defoe and Welbeck.

It’s nearly forty years since Poland last beat England!

The Poles proved too much for England on that night, winning the game 2-0 on home soil. The return match which England needed to win to qualify for the 1974 World Cup is now etched into the annals of English footballing history…

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England 5-0 San Marino: Clichéwatch

October 13th, 2012 by Adam Hurrey

Much of the lead-up to England’s World Cup qualifier against San Marino at Wembley last night focused on how a game against such lowly adversaries should be approached. The usual pleasantries about respecting their opposition and getting the job done were offered up, but it wasn’t just the players who faced ninety minutes of going through the motions – the media coverage too was forced to dredge up tried-and-tested clichés about part-time footballers, creative ways of contextualising the population of San Marino and, of course, that goal by Davide Gualtieri in 1993.

A resurgent ITV, who had an impressive Euro 2012 and whose coverage is finally threatening to derail the BBC gravy-trainers, were my focus last night and, with plenty of clichés to embrace, they were unlikely to disappoint.

Once the customarily chaotic opening montage, designed for people with attention deficit disorder, was out of the way, Adrian Chiles set aside Sammarinese novelty to take care of Any Other Business with Gareth Southgate, Lee Dixon and Roy Keane. Southgate’s long-heralded articulacy has lately been fleshed out with the sort of earnestness that only a mid-level FA position can provide, and he launched straight into a tetchy tirade about “social media”, teetering dangerously on the cusp of sounding like a grandparent talking about “games consoles”.

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