With the World Cup less than a month away the excitement is palpable. We at The False Nine have put together our own predictions for how the tournament will pan out with an almost universal consensus that Spain will complete an unprecedented quadruple and retain their crown…
TFN’s Piers Barber on the Premier League players who will be fighting desperately to make it into their national squads before the season is out.
The Spanish contingent
Spain, current defending World champions and winners of the last two European Championships, are extremely strong contenders for the title of Best Team To Have Ever Played Anywhere In The World Ever, or something like that. Their embarrassment of midfield riches has meant they are once again one of the favourites to walk away with football’s biggest prize in Brazil, yet their strength in depth has also laid on a substantial challenge for some of the nation’s most talented players to even make it on to the plane to South America. Juan Mata, who scored in the Euro 2012 final, felt his place in the national squad under such threat that he recently initiated a move from Chelsea to Manchester United in a quest to secure some playing time in the lead up to the tournament. Jesus Navas at Manchester City and Santi Cazorla at Arsenal, meanwhile, will have to ensure they are on top form throughout the rest of the season if they hope to figure in Brazil.
The suffering Man United players
It’s been a calamitous start to 2014 for Manchester United, who have lost five of their nine games since the turn of the year. Their dramatic post-Alex Ferguson slump has not only put the Old Trafford club in serious danger of failing to qualify for European football next year, but has also threatened to jeopardise several of their highest profile players’ international careers. Marouane Fellaini, for instance, desperately needs to find some form if he is to make the starting line-up for highly fancied Belgium, whilst Nani – who, through a combination of bad form and injury, has barely figured throughout 2013/14 – must also improve if he is to feature for Portugal. Elsewhere, whilst an excellent season last year put Michael Carrick in contention for a starting berth for England in Brazil, a dire first half to the current campaign has cast even his spot on the plane in substantial doubt. Continue reading →
In the first of a two part special, Tim Stillman of Vital Arsenal and Arseblog takes a look at how some of the Seleção have fared when they returned to Brazil…
Much has been written in the past around the ability of Brazilian players to adapt to life in the Premier League. It’s difficult to pontificate on the subject without lapsing into cliché – a challenge Rob Brown met manfully at the outset of this series. Rob was correct to point out cultural differences between the two countries. The punctuality of the Premier League training regime is at odds for a country for whom ‘antes tarda do que nunca‘ (‘better late than never’) is an ingrained cliché. I attended a graduation ball in Minas Gerais back in July and I was already yawning by the time we arrived at the event shortly before 1am.
Football is more of an art than a science in Brazil and its national league, Brasileirão, bears those traits for better and for worse. The league is temperamental to say the least. Not simply because of the amount of yellow and red cards you can expect to see, but the league table is capable of turning itself upside down from season to season. Most clubs are basket cases financially, which prevents any one team from dominating. Teams are generally very evenly matched; one or two astute signings can see you leap up the table. Cruzeiro, who have ostensibly fought relegation in the last 3 seasons, currently lead Serie A by 12 points.
The appointment of Marcelo de Oliveira Santos as coach and canny additions such as Dede and Everton Ribeiro has been enough to catapult them to champions elect. Yet it’s likely that Cruzeiro’s promising players will be picked off soon enough and they will have to start again. Meanwhile, Fluminense (1st in 2012) and Vasco da Gama (5th) are all in a relegation battle in 2013 due to tumultuous club politics. Again, without wishing to stereotype, the Brazilian game tends to be honed ‘na rua’ (‘in the street’) which isn’t necessarily conducive to the tactical rigidity often required in the Premier League.
Consequently, Brasileirão contains a fair sample of players who have tried their hand in the Premier League. It’s far too simplistic to say that Brazilians don’t “do” tactics, this is a nation with five World Cups after all. In truth, Brazil’s last two World Cup triumphs, in 1994 and 2002, weren’t achieved with anything close to the flair of the 1970 squad, who still leave a deep imprint on the popular perception of Seleção. Brazil has always been renowned for the flair that they have given the game. “Futebol art” and “jogo bonito” are football clichés applied to the nation. Yet Brazil are not as renowned as they ought to be for the quality of their “volantes” the Brazilian term for defensive midfielders. “O volante” literally means “the steering wheel.” Continue reading →
Matt Davies complete his previews of the weekend’s World Cup Qualifiers with a focus on the fixtures taking place today in Africa…
Zimbabwe v Mozambique
Nothing to play for in this one, with neither team impressing at all in this one. Egypt won this group months ago and both of these teams sit at the bottom of the group. Not much to say, a draw in the previous game seems like a repeat result. Draw.
Togo v Congo DR
What should have been the toughest group in qualification hasn’t been as tight as most expected. Primarily, this is down to Togo and their poor goal scoring record without Adebayor and poor decision making by playing an ineligible player in their only victory against Cameroon. Congo DR were highly fancied to go to Rio but haven’t taken advantage of mistakes by other teams having scored only two goals in this campaign. Away win.
Matt Davies continues his extensive rundown of the weekend’s World Cup Qualifiers…
All times are GMT.
Israel v Azerbaijan – 18:45
Israel are chasing Portugal and Russia in Group F, and should keep the pressure on with a victory here against an Azerbaijan side that lack quality. Israel have options in the squad with youth coming through and if they can keep their heads in the remaining fixtures they could benefit from a slip up. Home win.
Central African Republic v Ethiopia
Ehiopia are in a great position in Group A where a win would guarentee them a place in the African playoffs. The squad are primarily domestic based and they’ve impressed on a continental scale by qualifying for the AFCON in 2013. CAR are already eliminated and haven’t looked good during this campaign. Away win. Continue reading →