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Euro 2012 Match 7: England vs France pre-game predictions

No Lampard, no Beckham and no Zidane.  Will this matchup live up to the one in Euro 2004 when Lampard scored first, Becks missed a penalty that would have put the match beyond doubt and then England were defeated courtesy of a late double by Zidane?  I doubt it.  France comes into the tournament on a long unbeaten streak, but they haven’t hit the heights in the lead in to Euro 2012 and England seems incapable of scoring more than one goal in any match with the lineup and tactics Hodgson is employing.

Why England will win

  1. Hodgson has instilled his traditional game plan of being solid defensively with two banks of four and speed utilized to break on the counter and grab a goal against the run of play.  It’s pragmatic and he certainly has the speed in the lineup.
  2. England’s injuries, new coach and absence of talismanic Rooney has reduced expectations and the accompanying pressure that has seemed to paralyze past England squads.  Not much is expected of this England squad and that could be the key to unlocking the potential of the squad – with a lot of luck.
  3. England finally has a top goalkeeper in Joe Hart.  It’s been ten years since David Seaman played in goal (and if you don’t consider him a top keeper, you have to go back to 1983 for Ray Clemence).  Since then the “Golden Generation” has had to play with the likes of Scott Carson, Rob Green, Ben Foster, Chris Kirkland, Paul Robinson, David James and Richard Wright in goal.
  4. They have game changers in the speedy Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.  If Welbeck is fit, his partnership with Young will be dangerous.
  5. Group stage games aren’t decided on penalties.

Why France will win

  1. England’s injuries mean that there is no real continuity in defense.  It is tough to play a coordinated defensive strategy that Hodgson’s system requires when you haven’t had enough time to familiarize yourself with it given Roy’s recent hiring and you have had to change the central defenders following Rio’s withdrawal and Cahill’s injury.
  2. Rooney is not playing, Welbeck is just returning from an ankle injury and Defoe has just suffered a personal tragedy.  England has no depth to spare at the moment.
  3. France has game changers across the park in Ribery, Benzema, Nasri, Ben Arfa and Giroud.
  4. Blanc is a great coach and has the team mindful of their duty to perform at a higher level after their disastrous outing at the World Cup.  They are solid defensively, have a long unbeaten streak and the only question mark is the potential absence of Yann M’Vila.

Pre-match prediction: France 1 England 1

I wonder if England can score in this match.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the only way they get one is on a dead ball.  Ashely Young delivers great corners and free kicks.  Terry or Lescott to score for England and Benzema to get one for France.  A draw would be a great result for England who can get through as long as they don’t lose this match.

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World Cup 2010: Pre-Cup prediction on who will win

No time to really sort this out.  There are less than 8 hours to go to kickoff.  And the crystal ball is looking murky.  So, lets do the whys and why nots for the favorites IMO.  I will update this after the first round, but let me not shy away from it right now.

Brazil:  They win because they are solid in the defensive half of the field and have depth.  Julio Cesar, 2 great right backs (they should play Dani Alves at left back just to get him on the field as he will be behind Maicon at right back),  Lucio, Juan and Luisao to play the middle, Melo at holding and Kaka, Robinho and Fabiano up front.  Also, they are the only ones who have won outside of their continent (apart from Argentina in Mexico which sort of doesn’t count as a really different continent) – in fact, they have won in North America (1994), Europe (1958) and Asia (2002).  Seems to make sense that they should win in Africa.  They won’t win because there is magic missing up front.  Efficiency is great, but you need some magic.  Kaka has not been fit all season.  Hard to get there at the World Cup.  Plus, its a hard road through Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea to start the tournament.  They should win the group but that’s a work out unlike for Spain and England.

Spain:  They win because they have the most talented passers and total football team.  Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Xabi – what a foursome of passers in midfield.  Then you have Silva, Pedro and Jesus Navas (the biggest key for Spain after Torres IMO because the Achilles heel for Spain is a lack of real speed) on the wings (though Iniesta could play down the left as well).  Finally, Iker in goal and Torres and Villa up front.  That’s a squad.  Why they don’t win – I don’t think their defense is good enough.  I know I identified it as an issue in the Euros and they made me eat my words (though I did pick them to win pre tournament), but I just don’t get comfort in Capdevilla at left back and Ramos goes AWOL every so often at right back.  Also, Cesc, Iniesta and Torres are coming off injuries that caused them to miss the end of the season and Xavi is carrying a calf injury according to Pep Guardiola.  Also, the USA showed how you beat Spain.  Send them to the wings and overpower the strikers when they are forced to cross the ball – press Xavi at the same time.  Navas’ speed on the wing helps and Torres seems to be coming along.  They also have a relatively easy group to work Cesc, Torres and Iniesta back into playing shape before the knockout round.  However, I am still uneasy.  A big miss is going to be Marcos Senna at holding mid.  So, I want to say Spain but I just hesitate.

Argentina:  They win because they probably have one of the best forward pools in the history of the World Cup.  Messi and Higuain led La Liga in scoring, Tevez was near the top in the EPL as was Milito.  And then there is Aguero and Di Maria.  Did I mention Messi?!  Decent first round group to warm up with.  Mascherano at holding is solid.  And I’ve always liked Veron’s touch though he is a bit slow.  Wish Diego had brought Zanetti and Cambiasso.  That’s a big mistake.  They don’t win because their defense is too slow and old.  Heinze, DiMichelis and Samuel are just not up to snuff.  And Brazil and Inter showed you how to stop Messi.  And then you have the craziness of Maradona.

Holland: The win because Robben and Sneijder are two of the five most in form players in the world (I’d put Messi, Ronaldo and Milito in that bracket as well) at the end of the club season.  Then there’s Robin van Persie who is fresh after missing most of the season.  Rafael vdv is in decent form as well.  Kuyt provides work rate and balance up front.  They don’t win because their defense and keeping is not up to snuff.  And they tend to run out of steam as tournaments progress.

England: They win because they are the second best team from top to bottom in terms of depth (after Brazil).  They have Rooney and great veterans in the spine of the team – James, Terry (too bad Rio’s out, but King and Upson are good), Gerrard, Lampard.  They have speed on the wings (Fabio should have included Walcott instead of SWP).  Great coach.  They haven’t lost a World Cup game in a while if you exclude penalty kick knockouts.  They don’t win because too much depends on Rooney, Glen Johnson is a terrible defensive right back and the holding midfielder position isn’t settled.  Also, the weight of expectations will become very heavy the further we get in the tournament.

These are the only real favorites in my opinion.  A dark horse is Portugal, but with Nani out, their chances dropped significantly.  Never count out Germany (but Ballack is a big miss and they seem a big young) or Italy (this is one of the worst teams they have fielded though) or one of the African countries.  I would have put Ivory Coast as the top African team, but even if Drogba plays (as it seems to indicate in the latest news), its hard to have a brand new coach and expect to win the World Cup.

Two big factors and then I’ll make my pre Cup prediction.

The ball: with the movement in the ball, free kicks and corners are going to be very important.  That makes Ronaldo, Dani Alves, Sneijder, Lampard and Xavi very dangerous.  It could be the difference between winning and losing the Cup.

History: No European team has won the World Cup outside of Europe.  Argentina and Brazil have won outside of their  continent.  Yes, it is winter in South Africa so the heat is not going to be as big a factor as it has been for tournaments outside of Europe in the past.

My pick: Brazil if they win their group.  Holland if Brazil doesn’t win their group.

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Man U v Inter – prognosis

Smells a bit funky for Man U. If they get out 2-1 down, that’s a good day. If O’Shea or Evans can play with Rio in the middle they have a shot. If Evra has to play with Rio with Fabio at left back, it will be a disaster given how small they are and how big in the air Adriano and Ibra are. Inter played great against Milan. However, here is the ray of light for Man U – Inter couldn’t deal with Pato’s speed. The back four are not that good defensively. If they couldn’t handle Pato and the old Milan team, they will get taken apart by Ronaldo and Rooney’s pace. Key for United is to get a goal, but I think it will be 2-1 to Inter in the first leg with United torching them in the second leg to go through. If United had Vidic, it would be easy to say they would easily handle Inter’s forwards. But that is not the case.

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Stay or Go – What Should Cristiano Ronaldo Do?

I debated how to phrase the headline – as a definitive statement on what he should do or as a question. While it looks like a question, it is actually a rhetorical statement. The answer is so obvious that it doesn’t make any sense for me to drag out a pros and cons before coming down on one side. RONALDO – DON’T LISTEN TO YOUR MAMA: STAY WITH MANCHESTER UNITED. She’s right about Real Madrid being a dream – it’s a bad dream otherwise called a nightmare. He looks way better in red, doesn’t he?!

Why you should stay, you ask. Let me expound – in numbered, bulleted fashion no less.

  1. You are the king at United. This is your team, no matter the love for Rooney or Scholes or Giggs or Rio. Your team. At Real, Raul is king. And after him, it will be Casillas – and he’s only 27 and a goalie, so he will be around a long time. Oh, and he also just captained Spain to their first title in 44 years.
  2. You can be a United legend. While you didn’t come up the ranks at United like Scholes or Giggs, you came here at 18. That’s almost the same thing. To be a true legend at the club, if you join them early and stay for a long time, you are a legend. It will not be the same if you join Real Madrid. Are Zidane or Figo or Roberto Carlos or any of the other galacticos a legend? Yes, you are younger than they were, but if you think you will play at Real for 10 years, you are crazy. You won’t last long enough there. Why, you ask? Next point…
  3. You are the flavor of the election. Today, Calderon wants you to win his election. Once you are in the team, don’t you think the next guy contesting election is going to want his own galactico – maybe Bojan Krkic or the next freakishly talented Brazilian? At United, you will always be on a pedestal, much as Giggs and Scholes still are. Real is notoriously unstable because of the shenanigans that go on around the elections (Barca too). That’s why they keep changing coaches as well. Who is going to be your coach once Schuster doesn’t win the Champions League next season?
  4. You play on the best team in England and in Europe. It is a young team too. Other than Arsenal, there is no other young, world class team like it in the world. And Arsenal hasn’t won squat in four years. This team is the best team in the best league in the world. So, you are the player of the year in the best team in the world (and United will prove that by winning the World Club Cup later this year – BTW, you won’t play in that or the European Super Cup this year if you leave United) in the best league in the world – and a team that is poised to challenge (if not dominate) for a few years to come. And you want to trade that for a dream? Talk to Kobe for some pointers, son.
  5. Let’s talk about the platform a bit. First, the club. At United, Rooney and Tevez and the rest of the guys will do the tracking back that you don’t always have to do. You take the penalties and free kicks. No egos from guys like Rooney or Tevez or Rio or whoever. You really think that happens at Real? From players like Raul and Guti and Ruud and Robben? Forget what they say now. Wait till you are there. Ruud is going to take penalty kicks (especially after your recent two high profile misses, it is not a foregone conclusion that you get to push him aside for those) and Wesley Sneijder is going to take a fair number of free kicks. Then, the same thing will happen to you that happened to Torres. Defenders will not let you beat them with your pace as they won’t play up as much, won’t give you as much space and the midfield will be more compact as well so it is going to be harder for you to do your usual damage. The leagues are just different. The slower pace of La Liga is going to be to your disadvantage. Also, at United, you interchange with total freedom. Rooney, Tevez and whoever is playing attacking mid or opposite wing (Giggs or Nani) move around freely and let you move around freely. You come inside, switch wings, go crossfield, drop back, whatever. At Real, you will play like you do at Portugal. Except Real have players with even more ego and reputation. You will play more on the wing and have to serve balls to Ruud and Raul. Your goals will drop and so will your reputation. Trust me – we got a precursor at Euro 2008.
  6. The fans love you at United. Yes, they will love you at Real as long as you are doing well. Can you imagine white hankies waving at United? United fans embraced you after World Cup 2006 even though you were mischievous in your contribution to getting Rooney and England booted. The country even forgave you – somehow I don’t see that happening with a Portugese man in Spain.
  7. The blame will be on you if Real don’t win the Champions League within the next two years.
  8. Messi plays in La Liga. You don’t want to play in the same league as him since he will now be the showpiece at Barca and will come out of it as the player of the year in La Liga. Stop with the “I am a competitor; that’s a challenge I would relish” line. I am not saying he is better than you – just that he will come off better given his team situation relative to yours.
  9. Quieroz is at United and will probably be the next coach of United.
  10. Spain has just won Euro 2008. Casillas, Xavi, Cesc and Torres are going to be ahead of you in Spanish minds for a while – and God help you if they win the World Cup too. It’s more likely they win than England.
  11. You signed a contract. You are just one year in. I bet you United gives you more money, but at the level you are, does some more money mean more than winning and being the best?
  12. Karma is a mother. Loyalty seems to be an ugly word and yes, United and Fergie have thrown players out (see Becks and Ruud) after they were loyal to him and the club. However, this is ridiculous. The man protected you. The club and the fans embraced you. And you repay them like this?
  13. You are 23 years old. In two or three years you will enter your prime. Most United fans will not begrudge you your desire to move if you do so at that point. It would also be perfect reasoning as you can say it is contemporaneous with Fergie leaving. IF, that is, you decide it makes sense to move then. It makes no sense to do so now. Can you imagine how much of a bigger deal you would get if you solidified your United fan base and then moved after you had won a couple of World Player of the Year awards. It would be a much bigger move than doing so now.
  14. You will be joining a league where the rest of the teams have no real stars. Even Barca would have lost Ronaldinho, Deco, Eto’o and Gio Dos Santos. Contrast that with all the good players coming to the Premier League at Spurs, Everton, Portsmouth, Liverpool and Arsenal.

To be fair, let’s talk about some reasons to go:

The weather is better. Your girlfriend is Spanish. Playing for Los Blancos is a bit mythical. Fergie’s going to quit soon. It’s not going to be easy to top, let alone match, this season – on a personal and team level. The competition in England for the Premier League is going to be even more fierce. You will probably make more money from the image rights deal in Spain. You probably speak Spanish better than English. It’s your dream. Your mama wants you to go there.

The only thing that I have left to say is – if it’s your dream that’s great. Who says you have to wake up today to realize it – “wait a couple of years and then figure out if you want to live the dream or simply dream the dream while living the life you already have” CH12, July 1, 2008…

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