Tuesday, 28 October 2008

I'm still alive...

Yes, I realise I've been quiet lately, but I've been a little snowed under by the Open University stuff.

Also, a quick heads up for any Ipswich fans who may have found their way over here - Ipswich Town First, the Independent Supporters Trust, have a project where they are looking for fan memories of previous - see here for more details.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Game 39 steps up it's marketing

Asian Football Confederation present Mohamed Bin Hammam has stated in an interview with the BBC that he's now warning to the idea of Game 39.

Seemingly now convinced that the arrival of games such as Middlesbrough v Blackburn Rovers will improve the likelihood of local fans watching their national clubs on TV, Bin Hamman seems happy to thro his weight behind the FA's travelling circus.

"The Premier League is a brand which has a huge fan-base across Asia, and I believe it has the will and initiative to help develop and support the game there.

You cannot stop fans from wanting to watch the best games, and the Premier League is one of the best football products in the world, but the desire of broadcasters in Asia to screen Premier League matches rather than their local leagues is where the imbalance is happening.

They are willing to pay tens of millions to show Premier League games but not a few thousand to show domestic matches. "

Bin Hamman seems to forget, however, that these are extra games in the calendar - and as the whole point of Game 39 is to make as much money as possible provide the worldwide fans with more games, the PL's plan will be to squeeze more games onto TV, at the expense of other leagues and products. The "product" will cost more, leaving even less for coverage of domestic leagues - unless the Premier League plan to charge so much, that the only money left for Asian broadcasters is their own league...

Also, for the weeks leading up to the games, all the exposure is going to be on the Premier League, and away from the grass roots of the home nations.

"That might take years to change, and the Premier League can give us technical assistance and help improve the skills of our administrators, marketing and media staff."

This seems to be how Richard Scudamore and co. have sold the idea to Bin Hammam. But the Premier League's success is in spite of the administrators. The nation fell in love with football again at Italia '90. England's reaching the semi-final and Paul Gascoigne crying were long before the Premier League started. The aim of the PL was to share the income for the national game between 22, then 20, rather than 92. Sky's first TV deal came about, not because they sold the way they would produce the game, and make it look great around the world (and more professional and slick looking than it's rivals of La Liga and Serie A), nor about their planned innovations in football broadcasting, but because Ken Bates wanted to put one over David Dein. The income from Sky's subsequent deals, gave more money to the clubs, enabling them to spend more on players, which in turn gave Sky a better product to promote. Without the impetus of Italia '90, and the money fom Sky, the Premier League would not be as marketable worldwide as it is today. The Premier League marketers have the easiest job of all, given that it would be impossible to not sell that product around the world.

What the AFC needs to get people interested, isn't more people in suits, but better coaching, to make their home players better, to create a better game for it's locals. And in that respect, they would be better of speaking to UEFA, about implementing their coaching schemes. All the English football authorities have done for Asian football is parachute certain English "coaches" (such as Peter Reid, Peter Withe and Bob Houghton) into national team jobs, in exchange for votes when the next FIFA ballot comes round.

And that's not forgetting that the last thing the Premier Leeageu would want to do is to make Asian football look more attractive and more popular. Why? When you think of the League as a "brand", and the games as a "product", you tend to view other leagues as "competition". After all, should the Malaysian league (for example) start to improve, and find itself more popular at home, then Malaysian TV are going to want to spend more money on that, than the Premier League - and that's the last thing that the Premier League would want.

And it goes without saying that like everyone else in England, with half a brain, I'm against the idea, because of the fact that clubs belong to their communities/39 is a stupid number of games for a 20 team league/it's not the Premier League's game to sell/it takes the game away from those that fund it/it means anyone who goes to every game suddenly has to spend almost as much to watch one game as much as they would normally cost to see a dozen/it's a stupid idea dreamed up by morons.

But I do have an idea, which would enable the Premier Legaue to sell games across the world, without destroying the integrity of the competition.

Create a new team. Call it Gloucester Place FC, or something relating to the name of the Premier League HQ. Place it at the bottom of the pyramid. State in the club's constitution that the club can never have it's own home ground. In effect, they're a bastardized version of Rugby's Barbarians, only GPFC retain the same players week in, week out. With the money the PL have behing them, they can attract better players and pay better wages at non-league level, to see the club ascend the pyramid, then they can follow the Dave Whelan model by getting them from League Two to the Premier League, then bingo. 19 games that you can hold wherever in the world you want. GPFC v Liverpool in Dallas, GPFC v Arsenal in the UAE, GPFC v Chelsea in Moscow. Everybody's happy. Apart from the home-based fans. And who cares about them anymore? They've already been squeezed for everything they've got.

It's the best idea I've heard yet, in terms of letting the world see English football in the flesh. And yes, it's still a rubbish idea.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Book one - now available as two books...

And the first package of year two of my OU course has turned up.

The preparation booklet is nice and small, and I'll read that later in the week. There are two DVDs and three CDs are no problem. There is a study guide book, advising which areas you should work on each week - which would have been handy last year. The workbook is about the size of three of last years (and to be honest - it covers the same time spell). The 600 page study book is so big, they've split it into two books. But still called them both "Book 1". On top of that there's a 400 page methods book. And I almost forgot the 80 page booklet about the software you need for the course. Yes, it's big and heavy and daunting and fuck it, it's exciting.

The accompanying letter also told me not to worry if there didn't seem to be enough - the rest arrives in January. Phew, I was kind of thiking 1200 pages of material might not be enough.

I also never told you lot (I need to come up with a name for you guys out there reading this - habiteers sounds good) that I had the score for my last assignment through - and it was 80%. Go me.

League Cup fourth round: Arsenal v Wigan Athletic

The only thing I've ever used the league cup for is going to grounds I've yet to see. So far this decade, I've had the treats of:
* Belle Vue (Doncaster Rovers) - where we played shit, and lost, in possibly the coldest weather I've ever experienced in my life. My nipples were still tougher than bullets a week later.
* Meadow Lane (Notts County) - where we got held up in two major traffic jams, missed all the early goals, and from the second we walked in, both teams played shit. And we lost.
* Highbury (Arsenal) - where we played shit, but because they played their third string in the days before they had a first class youth team, it was against shit like Graham Barrett, Paolo Vernazza, Rhys Weston and Stuart Taylor.

And by capitulating against Wigan (where we played well for a whole hour, rather than our usual 20 minutes) on Wednesday, we miss out on our first ever trip to Ashburton Grove. Another reason why Jim Magilton's a tosser and should go. (He's not always a tosser - that picture there is of him strangling Andreas Möller)

And in less than four hours time, we're playing Crystal Palace at home on Sky. Now, I won't say that all Ipswich-Palace games are atrocious, but the good ones tend to happen at Selhurst Park. Unless you happen to think nine-man Palace winning 2-0 at Portman Road is likely to be exciting.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

'King El

Yes - I did write most of this last month, but I finally got round to finishing it. I don't know how often I'll review stuff, whether it will be new or old, or even if I'll do it again, but I just thought I'd throw this out there.

The Wedding Present released their seventh studio album, El Rey recently. As a huge Weddoes fan, this can only be a good thing, right? It's produced by Steve Albini, the man who produced Seamonsters, my favourire Wedding Present album, which again, can only be a good thing, right?

Well, maybe not. It's another step (almost a final one) towards the lo-fi sound of Yo La Tengo, which has been creeping into Gedge's most recent outputs, as well as the hints shown in Saturnalia, the last album before the TWP hiatus. As someone who likes Yo La Tengo and lo-fi, again, that can't be a bad thing, can it?

Well, maybe in this case. Now don't get me wrong, I've always enjoyed Gedge's vocals. I don't think you can love the Weddoes - and Cinerama - as much as I do, if you don't. The problem is, that his voice just doesn't seem to fit the music on El Rey. This is most apparent on the final track*, Swingers, when Terry de Castro's vocals enable it to become the highlight of the album. Unfortunately, at first listen, the rest of the album does come under the incorrect TWP cliche of "all the songs sound the same".

*Unless you downloaded it from iTunes, where a cover of Take That's Back For Good is the final track.

There's no smoke without fire.

Okay, so I fell of the fag wagon. Well, not so much fell, more stumbled. Slowly. It does leave me wondering how I ever managed to smoke 20-30 a day mind. They make my head hurt for starters. Any more than two a day, and I start buzzing. I had four yesterday. I'd clearly be useless if it ever came to crack. That said, where a small packet of tobacco used to last me 2-3 days, I've had the same one open for nine, and I'm halfway through. In some ways, I'm punishing myself by smoking the rest, because I'm really not enjoying them. Not the taste or the sensation. I used to love smoking as well.

And there we go. One thing I decided I wouldn't do, was talk about the old habit. But then I was going to update the new habit a little more often.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Introducing... Campo and Volzy

The first in a series of catch-up posts. Since I last posted anything of note, we've brought in more players - Ben Thatcher, Iván Campo and Moritz Volz. I'll gloss over the former, as I don't like the idea of cheerimg anyone with that surname. Campo was a cult hero at Bolton, for his hairstyle as much as his ability. Primarily a defensive midfielder, he can also play in defence. I'm guessing that's where Jim Magilton will deploy him, as we already have a surfeit of midfielders. But then, that was the case before we signed David Norris...

And today, the club announced the loan signing of West London-based German cycling legend Moritz Volz. Also, a cult hero at Fulham, Volzy is a right back, who can play elsewhere in defence and also in midfield. David Wright with a personality then. Volzy's signing, and Ben Thatcher being given the 33 shirt, suggest that Thatcher is cover, and is aware of it. Not a bad thing. As long as Volzy and Campo can adjust to the quieter Suffolk life, I think they'll both be successes. And Volzy has already suggested swapping his folding pushbike for a tractor. He might be better off swapping his website's theme tune.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Test message

Opera and Blogger have updated. All looks good. Just trying it out, and if so, I'll be back to rock and roll.

Thursday, 7 August 2008


I've just noticed that since my last post, my hit count has doubled. Watch it stagnate now that I've actually posted something.

And yes, it is easier to post something new than edit it.


Okay, I know I've been a bit neglectful, but blogger's still shite with Opera, and I've been . I'll post a few things over the weekend, especially as it's almost the start of the season.

One bit of news I have had, though, is that I've passed my first year at the Open University - with a higher mark than expected. So, I've either had a few assignments re-marked higher than orginally - or I've blown my previous best score out of the water. Especially as the mark for the year is higher than what I was led to believe was my highest mark for the rest of the year.

Go Me!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Unintentional Googlebomb

For those of you that don't know, a googlebomb is an attempt to influence a link's position on google by the number of people that link to it in a specific way. One of the more famous examples is a large number of sites linking http://www.albinoblacksheep.com/text/victories.html to the search phrase "French military victories".

Sometimes, a site may not have many links from the outside world. One of these sites is one belonging to DJ and Fulham's PA man David Hamilton. Because this post on the rather excellent Todger Talk linked to the official website of Diddy Fucking David Hamilton like I've just done, it's changed the name of his link on google. Like so. Oops.

Does it work to say Betfair are cunts?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Shite here, Wright now

Blogger is still shit with Opera, so this post comes courtesy of Internet Explorer. If the brains at blogger haven't fixed this, I'm taking this off to wordpress.

Anyway, since we last spoke last week, Ipswich have made two signings. A striker and a goalkeeper. The suggestions were that Jim Magilton has been looking for a big strong hold up forward, and a smaller, pacier goalscorer. So it's a suprise that Kevin Lisbie has turned up, and that we've paid good money for him. I know he scored 17 league goals for a relegated Colchester side last season, but he didn't score that many for Charlton in the previous 12 years. He's only managed to score against that collective that we call a defence once in nine games, which is less than prolific types such as Danny Dichio, Devon White and Paul Furlong have managed in one. Like most Ipswich fans, I remember his laughable dive whilst on loan at Norwich, which only the referee bought, causing the popular Sito to be unfairly sent off. Not impressed.

Less suprising is the signing of Richard Wright as our new goalkeeper. He meets one of the criteria of new signings (ex-teammate of Magilton), and is brought in as experience, as Shane Supple isn't deemed to have played enough games to be quite trusted yet. Wright has made just over 100 appearances since he left us seven years ago, which is an average of just over a dozen a season. Not ideal for someone who had missed just 11 games in five seasons. Hopefully he won't be too rusty, especially as we don't have a left back anymore, as Matt Richards has joined Brighton on loan. Again. Why we don't just pay him off and let him join them permanently, I don't know. Still, we're talking to Ben Thatcher, and trialing a mystery Honduran international (the mystery being how it took six days for his pre-arranged flight to land in the UK).

Optimism is not at a high.

Sunday, 13 July 2008


Right. Where was I? Oh, yes there'll be another post soon, as soon as Opera stops being shite with the Blogger template. And I've written that three times now.

I've also found myself distracted by a couple of things since I last posted (insert your own Carry On imagery and Sid James laugh here). Apart from Big Brother (and why do people always vote out the interesting tossers out?), I've been going through some old video tapes to see if there's anything worth copying to DVD. And out of about 60 tapes, I've found about two hours worth. And I've found some awful shite that I'm wondering why on earth I taped it in the first place. Christ, I could almost make a list of things I've taped that I would never have any intention of watching:

* The Brit Awards from the year that Zoe Ball and Frank Skinner presented it (badly) and Travis were Best Band.
* An episode of RI:SE presented by Ian Lee and Edith Bowman.
* Bakersield P.D. - Probably the only program I didn't watch on Paramount c.1998
* An hours worth of Telewest's home screen from 1993 - 8 tiny screens showing various channels round the edge of a quarter size screen showing Beavis & Butthead on MTV. With Telewest's own muzak for sound.
* A Prince's Trust concert on 'The Power Station' - BSB's own music channel. (For those of you that aren't Stuart Maconie, BSB were those people with the Squarial)

Okay, so maybe 'could almost' is wrong. I've also found:

* A random episode of Have I News For You on two tapes.
* Three quarters of a Johnny Vegas game show on BBC Choice.
* Sky's Top 100 Goals of 1991. Well, okay, I've only got the last 30 or so. But they only showed about 10 games that year (For those of you that aren't Stuart Maconie, this was before Sky had the football market cornered, and all they had was the FA Cup and Serie A).
* The first ten minutes of what was shaping up to be a really good Episode from Futurama).

I also found a really random Public Information Film, which caused me to root through a few more on the web, and I also found one of the most notorious of all on my own hard drive.

So, as well as some final thoughts about Euro 2008, that Wedding Present review, and a look at Pablo and Charisteas (which still may or may not happen), I'll be talking about those scary PIFs as well, as soon as Opera stops being a pain in the arse.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Hi, honey, I'm home!

Or rather, to paraphrase the late, great Smash Hits (and when I was a teenager, Smash Hits really was great), I'm back, BACK!, BACK!!!

The knee's back to about 60%, and I can walk a bit, and sit down without it hurting too much now, thanks for asking. There will be a few things coming up over the weekend. I was doing an album review before my hiatus, and I was just thinking about maybe writing something about Ipswich cult hero, and crowd polariser Pablo Couñago. And I'll wrap up my thoughts about Euro 2008, maybe even come up with a team of the tournament, after Sunday's performance, it really should be full of Spaniards, shouldn't it?

And talking about European Championship finals, we're allegedly in talks with the scorer of the winner at Euro 2004 - Angelos Charisteas from Nurnbürg, and I'll say why that would be a "good thing", so you can marvel at it when I'm proved right. Or we can hush it up if he ends up being shit, and smuggled in a van off to Le Havre or Vitesse Arnhem in the January.

And get me, I'm using tildes and umlauts now.

Friday, 27 June 2008


Apologies for the lack of updates over the last few days, but my knee has ballooned, so I'm not spending as much time as normal in front of the PC. Normal service should hopefully be resumed by the end of the weekend.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Euro 2008 Review: Just five games left

And elsewhere, the Euro 2008 blog gets as random and as haphazard as I expected it would, but all in all the football has been superb. Turkey reached the semi-final last night having led their games for a total of two minutes, but it's better to lead for just the last two minutes that just the first 88. And they'll face Germany in the semi final, with their embarrassment of riches up front, and their, well, guaranteed at least one embarrassment a game at the back. Turkey look to be aiming for the Greece approach, but aren't as organised at the back, and look to score through Ardan or Nihat's creativity, rather than through set pieces. I told you to look out for that pair. Okay, Nihat's a given and should be well known from when Bayer Leverkusen played Manchester United in the Champions League, but Ardan was an unknown quantity in these shores. Just forget everything else I said about Turkey. Especially the bit about them finishing bottom of Group A. Mertesacker and Metzelder are good for at least a mistake each per game, and Joachim Löw's use of Marcell Jansen as a late sub against Portugal, despite his performance against Croatia suggests he has a chance of playing. His performance was blamed on a shoulder injury.

In the meantime, we've got two more quarter-finals, and Italy eliminated France to strike fear into the hearts of Spain. Raymond Domenech's horoscope suggested that the end of their tournament would be the best time to propose to his girlfriend on live TV. The French Russell Grant clearly doubles up as the French Jeremy Beadle. The only people unhappier than the French, were the Spanish, as their record against the Italians is poor, and appears to have reached the point of being a psychological barrier, rather than a sporting one. The Spanish view of Italian football is one of anti-football rife with cheating, fouling and play-acting, something which has mainly been absent this tournament. No goals, penalties, important free kicks or sendings off have been caused by play-acting - although Jan Koller's face-holding antics after Volkan Demirel pushed him in the chest may have helped increase the ban to two games, especially considering Bastian Schweinsteiger was only banned for one game for a similar push to the chest.

The other quarter final sees the Netherlands face Russia. Russia seemed like a team reborn after Andre Arshavin was available for the Swedish game. Inspiration as well as being at the heart of the two best team goals in the tournamen revitalised Guus Hiddink's men, after the misfortune of the Spain match, and the misfiring against the Greeks. The Dutch on the other hand look excellent going forward and frail at the back. Just like Germany. In some respects a Dutch-German final would be a fantastic spectacle and one likely to feature a lot of goals, but I would be suprised if both made it. After fancying a Croatia-Portugal final in the top half (I know I didn't say it on here, but I'm hardly going to pretend I got it wrong just for the sake of it, am I?), I'll give the kiss of death to the Italians and the Russians. The latter after penalties. And as Tom Dunmore of Pitch Invasion points out, any Total Football we see tonight, is more likely to come from the Russians.

One In, Aul In

And the headings get worse. Both a statement of fact and a promise for the future. The Gareth McAuley saga is finally over, and hopefully this means that now he and David Norris are on board, and given the 'no comment' about Shola Ameobi, maybe our attempts at conducting transfer business via the press are over.

Well. Almost.

“We have made an enquiry about Shola [Ameobi] but not a bid." - Jim Magilton, 14th June
“If I could get [José Emilio] Guerra I would. We have made an enquiry to Barcelona about him and we will see what happens." - Magilton, 14th June

Magilton has almost stated that he's still after "back four players" - likely to be another centre half and a left back, with maybe more cover at full back, "strengthening the midfield" - rumoured to be after a left midfielder, although a right midfielder seems more urgent, given we don't have a natural one, and a striker. No mention of a keeper, so either Nick Colgan's staying as backup to Shane Supple, or he's staying open-minded about the level of keeper he's looking for. All of which leaves next season's team looking like this.

GK: Shane Supple or New signing
RB: David Wright or Alex Bruce
CB: Gareth McAuley
CB: New signing or Richard Naylor or Alex Bruce
LB: New signing or David Wright
RM: Square peg. Probably David Norris or Jon Walters or Danny Haynes
CM: Owen Garvan
CM: Velice Sumulikoski or Tommy Miller
LM: New signing or Alan Quinn
CF: New signing
CF: Jon Walters or Danny Haynes or Alan Lee or Pablo Couñago

Clear as crystal then.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Which way now?

While I'm here, and waiting for my Open University mark to arrive any day now. (Who am I kidding, they tell me it'll be here by August) I'm looking at where I go next. "Exploring psychology" or "Welfare, crime and society". The latter sounds more interesting and is a new course, but forces me down the 'Criminology with Psychologial studies" route. The former still gives me the choice. So that's a decision, isn't it? Well, maybe.

Anyone for Pim?

And the first new signing of the year is in. Pim Balkestein arrives from SC Heerenveen on a Bosman. Only as he's 21, we have to pay a tribunal fee. Balkestein hasn't set the Eredivisie alight, given that he's yet to make his debut. He was also so desperate to sign for Ipswich/leave the Friesland club* that he paid his own air fare for his trial towards the end of last season. Certain fans of The Veen think he deserved a chance and that it's another lost opportunity for their youngsters. Wonder if he met Billy Clarke, Michael Synnott or Sammy Moore during his trial.

Suggestions that this was a Jordan Rhodes style signing were later quashed when it was Simon Hunt, rather than Balkestein's father who was appointed Town's new European Scout. Hunt was European scout when we signed Ulrich Le Pen, Amir Karic, Nabil Abidallah and Guillermo Graaven. £2.5million and nine games between them. I say games, I mean substitute appearances. They probably didn't play 90 minutes between them. Whoo-hoo.

*Delete as appropriate

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Euro 2008 Review: First Round, Part One

Okay, as titles go it's effective rather than pretty. Not bad if this was to be all about Romania. I'm not going into too much detail, but let's have a look at the highs and lows of the first eight games:

The Good
* The entertainment factor. So far, only Romania v France and Greece v Sweden have disappointed. And they were down to teams who have to sacrifice style to level the playing field.
* The quality of the counter-attacks. Especially those of the Dutch. Less than thiry seconds between a save at one end, and a goal at the other. Spain and the Czechs got in on the act too.
* The lack of playacting. In most of the games at least. Not a single goal has come from a player conning a referee. Mind you, only one penalty so far (and that was cast-iron), and most of the free-kicks have been rubbish.

The Bad
* The injuries to Alexander Frei and Chistian Wilhelmsson. The former was the main hope of the co-hosts, and the latter was the best thing about Sweden v Greece. His performance, not the injury.
* The punditry. van Nistelrooy's goal was legitimate, according to directives from FIFA. The BBC even read the directive out (rule 11.4.1 of the refereeing code: "An opposing player cannot be offside when one of the last two defenders has left the field of play"), while accusing UEFA of closing ranks to protect the referee, because he got the decision wrong. Which he didn't. Gordon Strachan and Martin O'Neill questioned this. Shouldn't they know the rules as part of their day jobs? As rules go it's not the greatest, but it's to stop players stepping out of play to avoid being offside/playing someone onside. There could be a little room for manoeuvre for situations such as Panucci's mind. Ah well, bang goes the 'not much detail' bit.
* ITV. Once again, they prove they are shit at sport. Unless the nation is now known as Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, in which case I apologise.
* The Spanish and Dutch defences. A lackluster Russian attack, and goals from breakaways made those results looks a lot better than the winning Nations deserved. Both looked shaky at the back. Spain will get probably get away with it until the quarter finals, but the Dutch won't be so lucky.

The bit where I highlight things I've got right so far
* Lucas Podolski being Germany's one to watch. Although if I'd known that Joachim Löw was going to play him at left midfield, I might have chosen someone else....
* David Villa's goalscoring record is even better than it was last week.
* Like I say, Cesc Fabregas can do everything. Including head the ball.

Let's ignore the bits about Patrice Evra being France's one to watch (not picked) and the same with Andrei Arshavin - with a little more research, I'd have realised he was suspended for two games. Poland's Kuba Blaszczykowski also withdrew two days after I previewed Group B.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Now available in widescreen

I've been playing about a bit with the settings, so if it looks funny, or the sidebar disappears, let me know.

Monday, 9 June 2008


Shola Ameobi. £4million. The club have issued a statement saying 'No comment'. So either Jim Magilton's learned to keep his mouth shut, or club spokesman Terry Baxter's as speechless as I am.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Euro 2008 Preview: The Group of Deja Vu

Finally, it's time to look at Group D. And a group that looks familiar. Mainly because three of the teams were in Group A together in Euro 2004. This time it's Sweden, who join Spain, Russia and holders Greece.

And we'll start with the holders. Four years on from Euro 2004, and the holders Greece come into the tournament as one of the outsiders, and are available for 50/1. The coach is still Otto Rehhagel, the two mainstays of the defence in Portugal - right back Giourkas Seitaridis and centre-half Traianos Dellas - are still there. Goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis, midfielders Angelos Basinas, Stelios Giannakopoulos, Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis and forward Angelos Charisteas are still in the squad, and they are complimented by younger squad members, but no-one really fancies them. In some ways, the win in Portugal was seen as a fluke - a win for organisation and nullification over style and technique, and the failure to qualify for the World Cup in 2006, in what looked an easier group than most seemed to emphasise the point. The system still looks like it may work though, as it's one designed to frustrate and counter-attack, and the best way to play against it, is not to attack - and in that respect, Greece probably couldn't have chosen a better group, as Spain and Sweden both look stronger going forward, leaving Greece in a position to shut up shop, and nick a goal from a corner. Greece won't retain their title this time, but they won't disgrace themselves either.

One to watch: Giourkas Seitaridis was arguably the player of the tournament in Portugal. A right back who defends, and also started most of Greece's counter-attacks.

One for the future: 22 year old Vasilis Torosidis is a wing back in the Setiaridis mould, and has also attracted interest from the Premiership.

Greece's first opponents are Sweden.
And they arrive with an ageing squad, spearheaded by 36 year old Henrik Larsson, and nine other players in their thirties. As such, they could well find that some of their players don't make the distance after a long season. It also doesn't bode too well for future campaigns. Defensively, only Mikael Dorsin, Fredrik Stoor and Andreas Granqvist are under 30, and have just 20 caps between them, so experience is a problem, should they be needed against pacier opposition. The midfield is slightly younger, as while Christian Wilhelmsson and Kim Kallstrom have been part of the squad for a long time (over fifty caps each), both are in their mid-twenties. Up front are their best hopes - Larsson and Allback have always produced at this level, Zlatan Ibrahimovic shouldn't need any introduction and Johan Elmander has a goal almost every three games. But, the rest of the squad only give the impression that the Swedes will be back home before the postcards.

One to watch: Like I say, Zlatan Ibrahimovic needs no introduction, in terms of either his genius or his petulance.

One for the future: Sebastian Larsson showed glimpses last season as to why Arsene Wenger may have been hasty in letting him go so early.

Then we come to one of life's great underachievers - Spain. In some respects they're the Spanish England. Always hyped up, always have one or two players who could just inspire them to great things, always find themselves going home early. Always, *always* have people suggesting that this time, they actually will do well, because they have [insert latest star player] so they can't fail this time, can they? And this year's star player of choice is Fernandio Torres, who has been one of the best three players in the Premiership. But he was in Germany and Portugal, and just as highly rated then, it's just he's at closer quarters now. After all, he was worth Rafa Benitez spent £25m on him for a reason. But, Torres isn't the only one of the top three Premiership players in the Spanish squad, because they have Cesc Fabregas, and with Carles Puyol in defence and Iker Casillas in goal, all of a sudden they have a very strong spine, and I'm almost getting sucked in. It just seems that the squad is a little short on experience. They are the only side to bring an outfield player with no caps (defender Fernando Navarro), and they have eight players with just nine caps between them. Given that seven of those are outfield, and there is a very settled core of 13 outfield players - a couple of players get injured or suspended, and all of a sudden it's deep end time for Dani Guiza or Raul Albiol. They do have enough to get out of the group, but then they face a refugee from the group of death.

One to watch: Fernando Torres will get all the plaudits from the lazier types, but David Villa has a much better scoring record at this level.

One for the future: I happen to think that Cesc Fabregas is the best player in the world right now. He can tackle, pass, shoot, and do everything a world class footballer needs to do. And he's still only 21. How frightening is that?

And finally... as they say, Russia. Probably the most least known team to arrive, as 22 of them play in their national league, with only Ivan Saenko playing abroad, for Nurnburg. But they do have five players who form the heart of the Zenit St. Petersburg team that have swept all before them as they won the UEFA Cup last month, and adding to this they have goals from Dmitiri Sychev and a highly skilled defender in Sergei Ignashevich. They do have one of the best international coaches at the helm, and he has made a lot of changes from the side that last featured on this stage. In fact they have the youngest side on view, with only Serhei Semak over the age of thirty, and again like Spain, feature a number of players with only a handful of caps. But, with the emergence of the Russian sides in club football, Russia are in a position to suprise, but if anything, they look like a team being built for the South African World Cup.

One to watch: Andrei Arshavin is the creator, and hold up man. Comfortable up front and out wide, he has also been linked with numerous clubs in western Europe.

One for the future: Igor Akinfeev should have cemented his place as number one goalkeeper. 22 years old, and has been first choice for CSKA Moscow for seven years.

The lowdown

On paper, Spain should breeze this group, but you have to remember that, even more importantly that the fact they don't play on paper, they are Spain. I do expect them to squeeze through with Greece just behind them.

Overall, I'm tipping the quarter finals to be Portugal v Germany, Croatia v Switzerland, Italy v Greece and Spain v Romania - with the four group winners progressing to the semi finals, and Italy pipping Croatia in the final.

We're just over an hour away now. Let's get started.

Euro 2008 Preview: Mort, mort, mort (How do you like it?)

Less than seven and half hours to go, and two groups left to preview. Been a bit busy finishing off that last assignment, but the Open University is finished until I get my results next month.

So, onto the football, and onto the big one. Group C. The well-cliched Group of Death. Every tournament has one. And as soon as Greece won Euro 2004, to join Austria and Switzerland as top seeds, it was obvious that the other seed would be in that group of death. And the nations in danger of being seeding top seemed to notice this, as Germany (losing 0-3 to the Czechs, 0-0 v Wales), Croatia (2-0 defeat in Macedonia) and the Netherlands (losing 2-1 to Belarus) all eased up towards the end of the campaign, once qualification was complete. Saving themselves from suspensions, or trying to avoid the Group of Death? Only they know.

If it was the latter, it certainly backfired for the Netherlands, as their final matchday defeat in Belarus, not only have me a nice start in a 14/1 double with a German-Welsh draw, it also failed to stop them being the top seed out of the qualifiers. And, as if to conform to the Dutch stereotype, there has been the odd falling out prior to the tournament. Clarence Seedorf withdrawing from being available for selection, after falling out with coach Marco van Basten. van Basten and Ruud van Nistelrooy have kissed and made up, after the latter said he would never play for the Oranje again while van Basten was in charge. Mark van Bommel has stayed by his word, and does not feature. On paper, the first team looks strong, Edwin van der Sar, Wesley Snijder, van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben have all featured strongly in Manchestrer United or Real Madrid's title winning teamns, but strength in depth appears to be a problem. van der Sar has become a little injury prone in the last few seasons, but the backup has little in the way of international experience. The defence is far from the strongest here, but players like Ooijer, Melchiot and Boulahrouz don't strike fear into the best strikers in Europe, while Kuyt and Vennegoor of Hesselink are weak replacements for van Persie, should his injuries return during the tournament.

One to watch: Klaas Jan Huntelaar's record so far is phonomenal. Seven goals in twelve games is good in anyone's book, but when you consider that three were against fellow Euro 2008 qualifiers, and the others were against stonger second-tier nations in the shape or Ireland, Slovenia and the Ukraine, he is not just a rabbit killer. His club career also sees him score three in every four games.

One for the future: There is sparse choice here, as this is not a young squad - at 22, Ibrahim Afellay is the youngest player in the squad, but his creativity, both from the right and in the centre have seen big things predicted.

The Dutch begin their campaign on Monday against reigning World Champions Italy. And just as two years ago, the Italians look a strong bet. They arrive with most of the core of the World Cup winning side, but a long term injury to Francesco Totti and an akle ligament injury on the eve of the tournament to Fabio Cannavaro robs the Italians of two of their star names. But, with the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Di Natale and Cassano up front, Ambrosini and Camoranesi in midfield, and Barzagli, Chellini in defence, the Italians have a lot of strength in depth, with the only question mark being on the back up keepers. After many years with an embarrassment in riches in the glovesman depeartment Amelia and de Sanctis aren't as strong as the likes as Toldo or Peruzzi. In some respects, the group stage is seen as Italy's biggest test, but with the strength of squad they have, they will be disappointed to not qualify, even from a group as strong as this.

One to watch: Luca Toni was a late emerger on the International scence, but with a record of almost one in two games, as well as being the Bundesliga's top scorer with 24 goals in his first German season, he arrives in form.

One for the future: The squad is even older than the Dutch one, and the youngest player is 23, but Roma's Alberto Aquilani's is rumoured to have half of Europe's elite clubs interested in this excellent passer of the ball.

The marquee team in the other group is two time champion France. And the French squad doesn't look too special. Whilst most of the squad ply their trade for bigger clubs in the stronger leagues, a lot of players are either arriving after a difficult season (Patrick Viera, Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda, Thierry Henry), or past their best (Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram are both in the twilight of their career). The rest of the squad are either young and untested at this level, or have failed to impress at this level. Add this to coach Raymond Domenech's unpredictability and ability to fall out with the squad, and the tournament could seem a lot longer than it pans out to be. That said, Patrice Evra, Eric Abidal, William Gallas and Willy Sagnol have all had good seasons, and if nothing else, they will be strong in defence, and in Karim Benezema, they have a striker that half of Europe is talking about.

One to watch: 27 is a little old for a player from one of the more established players in Europe to make their major tournament debut, but Patrice Evra is one of the best defenders in the world.

One for the future: While Manchester United complain about Real Madrid's comments about Cristiano Ronaldo, it has only been three months since Sir Alex Ferguson publicly expressed an interest in Lyon's Karim Benezema.

Finally in group C, we have Romania. Usually, any tournament that Romania qualify for, see them labelled as dark horses. This time, because of the strength of the rest of the group, they have been overlooked. One reason they have been unfairly overlooked is that they qualified from the same group as the Netherlands. Not only did they take four points from the Dutch, they also kept two clean sheets. That said, the squad is taken mainly from players based in Romania, but only one player plays for Romanian champions CFR Cluj - and Eduard Stancioiu arrives in Switzerland as the third choice keeper. Elsewhere, Inter's Cristian Chivu is the inspiration in the side, and while he appears to have been around forever, he is only 27 years old, and at his peak. The rest of the first team contains a few well-known players such as Getafe's Cosmin Contra, CSKA Sofia's Florentin Petre. Both have tournament experience, and they are the old men of the squad - but as both are 32, it suggests that this squad will be fit. And considering the age of the other teams, plus the possibility that the Romanians could be overlooked by the other teams, gives them a chance.

One to watch: This is Adrian Mutu'c chance to prove that he has completed his rehabilitation. Whether the judgement that he has to pay Chelsea just under £20million will affect him, remains to be seen.

One for the future: Ciprian Marica has had a stop start season for VfB Stuttgart, and his known more for his pace, dribbling and his ability to bring others into the game, than his goalscoring, but one in three at international level is not to be sniffed at.

The lowdown

It's been labelled the 'Group of Death' on reputations alone. Italy are the strongest side in the competition, as far as I'm concerned, and could qualify with maximum points. The Dutch's lack of strength in depth and France's lack of form could see Romania pip them both, and if the Romanians avoid defeat in their opener against France, then I'd expect them to be second in this group.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Euro 2008 Preview: More checks and a-pole-ling hosts.

The clock on the official Euro 2008 website tells me that it's just over 4 days and 8 hours away from kickoff, which means that I should ge my arse into gear and preview Group B. Not to mention the much needed distraction from trying to come up witha good definition of "social change". Yes, it's assignment time again.

On paper this group is probably the most straightforward to predict the two qualifers from. And almost everyone is ruling out the hosts - with good reason. Austria are probably the poorest side ever to host a European Championship. Ranked 101 by FIFA - admittedly this makes them look worse than they really are, due to the fact that competitive games bring more ranking points, and Austria haven't played a competitive game since 2005, when they beat Northern Ireland in Vienna. Austria finished nine points adrift of the playoffs in the qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, but they only dropped five points at home, drawing with England and losing to Poland. However, their form coming into the tournament isn't great, with only two victories in eleven attempts this season - against Malta and the Ivory Coast. Their record in major tournament finals is even worse. This is their first appearance at a European Championship final, and you have to go back to 1978 for the last time they defeated a European nation at a World Cup final. Added to this that there is a petition for the Austrian side to be replaced - a petition which originated in Austria, and has amassed over 25,000 signatures. The omens are not good. Like Turkey before them, most of the side is based at home, but the Austrian league is a poorer standard. Those players that do play abroad, tend to play in weaker leagues, or for weaker clubs - Spartak Moscow, Werder Bremen and Middlesbrough are the strongest clubs represented.

One to watch: Roland Linz is the third highest scorer in the squad, and is record of a goal every four games internationally is not to be sneezed at, his record of almost a goal every other game for Boavista this season is also impressive.

One for the future: Martin Harnik is the Austrian at Werder Bremen, and has made almost as many appearances for his nation as his club's first team. He also has more goals for his country - the first of which coming within six minutes of his debut against the Czech Republic.

Austria's first game is against Croatia, the side that put England to the sword, which is something you'll hear every ten minutes of ever game of theirs that ITV show. They may also be favoured more because they knocked England out than any of their actual merits, because had England made it to Austria & Switzerland, they would have walked away with the trophy. Just like every other time, of course. Croatia are a strong side, with a brilliant team ethic, and Slaven Bilic has instilled a sense of knowing where everyone else is, meaning that once the Croatians get the ball, it's close to impossible to get it off them again. It is this organisation that more than makes up for the team's lack of stars, with most of the players plying their trade for clubs just outside Europe's elite. Even Dario Simic will have to play UEFA Cup football with his Milan side this season. In some respects it will be unbearable if Croatia do well, because that would then prove how well England would have done (more on that when I reach Group D), but they will be one of the most entertaining to watch, and will make as many friends as their class of 96 did. The draw has been kind to them, and they could take full advantage.

One to watch: Nico Kranjcar has has capped an impressive season with the FA Cup win last month. His speculative shot at Wembley also helped knock England out. Should he score in the finals, look for Croatia to go on to win the game, as they have won all six games he has scored in.

One for the future: Ivan Rakitic has been a success in his first season at Schalke, contributing three goals and ten assists.

Croatia's main rivals in the group are they who should never be discounted - Germany. Although you have to go back to 1996 for the last time they won a game in normal time - ironically against Croatia in the quarter finals - and won a game in the finals at all. Their last two campaigns have been poor, with their best results having been draws against Romania and the Netherlands, and their worst results defeats against Portugal and the Czech Republic - both of whom had already qualified, and fielded a reserved team. This time round, things look a lot stronger for the Germans. Whilst their squad isn't the strongest German side to arrive at a tournament, it is probably the best since Jürgen Klinsmann lifted the Henri Delauney trophy. There is strength and experience across the squad, and Per Metzelder and Christoph Mertesacker proivde a strong centre-half pairing. Michael Ballack has recaptured his form of old and will be assited ably by Schweinsteiger and Frings. Four strikers arrive with plenty of goals under their belt - Klose, Podolski, Kuranyi and Neuville arrive with 93 goals between them, but Mario Gomez is the man who appears to be catching the headlines with six goals in ten caps. If Germany do have a weakness, it's in goal. Jens Lehmann has been second choice at Arsenal for most of the season, but the other two keepers that have travelled have just one appearance between them - and Robert Encke's only cap was over a year ago.

One to watch
: Miroslav Klose may be the rabbit killer's rabbit killer, but Lucas Podolski has 25 goals to his name in less than fifty caps. And he's still only 22.

One for the future: It seems strange to talk about a former Footballer Of The Year, but Mario Gomez is even younger than Podolski. And he's scored 28 goals in 32 games for VfB Stuttgart.

Germany's opening game is against the last team in the group - Poland. Poland's recent role at major finals has been to be the worst European side present. At least this time - their first ever  in the European Championships - they will be able to priove that there is worse on show, when they face the co-hosts in Vienna. Like their co- hosts, it has been a long time since they beat a European side on the big stage - 1986 against Portugal in their case. Unlike their co-hosts, they do have players representing them at Europe's elite. Unfortunately, they will be on the bench for their nation, like they usually are at their clubs, as Celtic's Artur Boruc will almost certainly retain the goalkeeper's role ahead of Arsenal's Fabianski and Manchester United's Kuszczak. The nucleus of the squad appears to be the same as the one that underperformed at the World Cup, only two years older. Again, the National League is well represented. Again, the National League is relatively weak.

One to watch: Wlodzimierz Smolarek scored the winning goal when Poland beat Portugal in 1986, and it took 20 years for the Poles to score against them again. This time round it was one of his son Ebi's 13 goals in 31 games. The younger Smolarek has been more likely to score for his nation than his club, as only four of his nine goals this term have been for Racing Santander.

One for the future: Right winger Kuba Blaszczykowski's pace and dribbling saw him notice by German giants Borussia Dortmund.

The lowdown

In what appears to be the most clear cut of groups, Croatia and Germany should progress, with the Croatian's organisation just proving a little two much in the game that decides which of them progresses. Belgium became the first host to fail to get out of the group stage in 2000, but Austria will eclipse that by failing to register a single point.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Shanks a lot!

For those that don't know, I'm an Ipswich Town fan, and rather than preview Euro 2008 Group B as planned, given that I don't have a really corny title, and there is big news coming out of Portman Road today, I thought I'd fill you in on the happennings in IP1.

It was announced that David Sheepshanks' chairman role becomes 'non-executive' from 1st July. A birthday present a few days early some might think. Ever since Sheepshanks decided in January 2001 to renegotiate players contracts at a level that was unsubstainable should we be relegated - just months after promotion and before we had secured our Premier League place for the following season. We may have been fourth at the time, but as any Ipswich fan of the early nineties will tell you, at that time in 1993 - also our first season back in the top flight after a promotion - we were third, we finished the season three points clear of relegation. Sheepshanks' comments about how nobody could have predicted that we would be relegated in 2002, may have been true, but then nobody would have predicted we would have finished fifth in 2001 in the first place. Given Sheepshanks' comments in the past warning other chairmen of the boom and bust culture, and also in a interview with When Saturday Comes magazine stated that "We're not about that", it was kind of ironic that not only did his post-relegation desperation tactics reduce the value of the players, so we lost most of our best players on the cheap and entered administration. Not much of Sheepshanks' tenure since is anything to write home about. That said, he managed to spin the situation is such a way that he managed to pass the buck onto every factor he could (even the ITV Digital crisis, which came from a loophole in a contract that he helped co-negotiate) and survived as chairman, despite only Bradford being in a worst financial position of the ex-Premiership boomed and busted clubs. Now he gets to bask in the glory of finding the man that has saved the club. From the mess he created. We owe £12million more than we did, mind. And we owe it to our new owner, because in this post-Malcolm Glazer world, he can't be expected to pay for his own shares.

But, celebrating this could bite us on the arse, as reports suggest that should Owen Garvan turn down his contract extension, then we'll sell him, rather than risk him leaving at the end of his contract - despite the fact that as he'll be under the age of 24, we will be due compensation. Which is only likely to be at worst £1m less than his current market value. Given that our new owner is a reputed billionaire, who has invested £20million into the club, it seems folly to lose our best player for the sake of 5% of the investment made just six months ago.

Especially given Jim Magilton's record in the transfer market. Despite bringing in 17 permanent signings and nine loanees in the space of two seasons, we don't look at team. There is not a single player at the club who is a natural right midfielder, instead we play a target man (Jon Walters), a pacy striker with poor distribution (Danny Haynes), or a central midfielder (David Norris) there, and while Walters won player of the seaon on the basis of his first half-season of performances there, the latter half of the season has seen him found out to an extent in his new position, which is why he's started eight out of his last eleven games in his natural position. Also, as we spent months chasing him, talking about him in public, and then spent £2m on David Norris, we've got to play him somewhere, even if it makes him look bad. We've been linked with a lot of players so far this close season, but none of them play wide right.

As well as no natural right midfielders, we have two left backs at the club, but both are as likely to play this season as I am. Kurt Robinson is seventeen, and Magilton seems loath to use youth where possible. In Joe Royle's first two seasons, he gave debuts to ten youth players. Magilton has given debuts to just two. And there are people out there that will tell you that it's Royle who had the problem with youth. Matt Richards, Ian Westlake, Dean Bowditch, Lewis Price, Owen Garvan, Shane Supple and Danny Haynes all established themselves under Royle, yet the first player to leave the club under Magilton was Westlake. Price has also been sold, and Richards, Supple, Garvan, Haynes and most suprisingly of all Billy Clarke all seem to be on their way, while Bowdich is still waiting to find out if he will be offered a new contract. All of which would leave us with two players who have graduated from the academy (not including the 31 year old Richard Naylor) who have played first team football - Chris Casement and Liam Trotter. Casement hasn't played in 2008, and Trotter has played a handful of minutes since a harsh sending off against Portsmouth.

With that record with the youths, the transfer policy needs to be good, and certainly needs to improve over the summer if a promotion challenge is to be repeated. Some of the names linked are just scary, but fit in with Magilton's MO so far. If we look at his signings so far, they fall into 3 categories:

Irish (both sides of the border), or at least has represented them at some level:

  • Alex Bruce: signed as a holding midfielder, but didn't last long there. These days is either a right back who drifts inside or a steady, if not solid centre-half. When we spent half the season trying to sign Gareth McAuley from Leicester, it wasn't Jason De Vos we were looking to replace.
  • George O'Callaghan: Impressed in a three month trial. Made five starts before being shipped out first on loan to Brighton, then permanently back to Cork City.
  • Jon Walters: Best player in the team.
  • Nick Colgan: Likely to leave in the summer without playing a game.
  • Alan Quinn: Like Norris, Sumulikosi and Tommy Miller, moves up and down the pitch in a straight line a lot. Not much else going for him. Least said about his free-kicks the better. Could also fit in the next group.


  • Pablo Couñago: Ten goals in his first 24 games, two in his last 21.
  • Tommy Miller: Was accused by fans of disappearing in a lot of games towards the end of his first spell. Made even less of an impact this time round.

Not Irish, not an ex-teammate.
  • Dan Harding; Magilton's second signing was a virtual ever present in his first season, and has ended the second on the transfer list.
  • Martin Brittain: Made an encouraging debut in the League Cup. Never seen in an Ipswich shirt again.
  • Sylvain Legwinski: Player of the season in his first season. Barely seen in his second. Now released.
  • Ian Miller: Looked solid in his debut. Never seen in an Ipswich shirt again. Now at Darlington.
  • Jaroslav Drobny: Short term signing as back up. Now in Germany.
  • Gary Roberts: Impressed in a three month loan spell. Unimpressive since. Transfer listed.
  • David Wright: Still at the club, not on the transfer list. Is more likely to be played out of position or on the bench than his usual right back role (which he mananed once in the last ten games).
  • Neil Alexander: Good, if not great keeper. Stayed six months, now at Rangers.
  • David Norris: Good box to box midfielder. Like we haven't got enough of those. Has played in his natural position once. Great way to use our biggest value signing since 2001.
  • Velice Sumulikoski. Good box to box midfielder. Like we haven't got enough of those. At least we play him in his right position.

So, Walters, Wright and Sumulikoski are the only three successes for me, and even Magilton hasn't been impressed with most of the others, given that they're mainly gone or going. And the jury is still out on Schumi. So when I hear of more mediocre Irish players (McAuley, David Healy, Alan Mannus, Peter Thompson, Ian Harte) ex-teammates (Richard Wright and god help us Titus Bramble and Jay McEveley) and other random, yet crap players (Dean Leacock, Carlos Bocanegra, Thomas Sorenson and most notably Emile Mpenza!), please forgive me if I don't get excited about the players we've been linked with, who I don't know anything about. If Pim Balkestein, Obinna Nwaneri, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Behrang Safari, Andreas Granqvistand Rahamat Mustapha are anything like those that have gone before, then let them go somewhere else.

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with Irish players or his ex-teammates, I'd just rather we had the good ones, than the mediocrities we've seen so far.

Euro 2008 Preview: Czech out the Swiss role

One of the greatest things about even numbered years is the fact that the football doesn't stop. Once the League Two final ended on Monday, then the International friendlies begin, and they of course are the precursor for Euro 2008, which begins in just over eight days and fifteen hours time. And, given that the deadline for the squads has passed, I thought I'd spend the next few days looking over the teams as a bit of a preview. Of course the best place to begin is Group A, and we'll start with the co-hosts.

Switzerland take part in the opening game for the second time in the three finals they will have taken a part of, the other being at Wembley in 1996. That day, Kubilay Turkyilmaz was the party pooper as the Swiss held their English hosts to a 1-1 draw. This time, the hosts will be looking for a win - which would be their first in seven attempts at a Euro finals. They do however, have their second round appearence at the World Cup relatively fresh in the memory. They eventually lost on penalties, and exited the tournament without conceding a goal. Obviously defence is their strength. That said, Pascal Zuberbuhler has been usurped as 'keeper by Diego Benaglio, and two of their defenders - centre-half Patrick Muller (torn cruciate ligament) and right back Philipp Degen (torn thigh muscle) are only just coming back to fitness from long term injuries. This increases the pressure on Philippe Senderos and Valon Behrami, and leaves question marks over their strength of two years ago. At the other end of the pitch, the goals are likely to come from the controversial Alexander Frei, Marco Streller and midfielder Hakan Yakin, while Johan Volanthen was tipped for great things, when he became the second youngest player in finals history four years ago.

One to watch: Alexander Frei has returned from injury to score six in his last eight games for Borussia Dortmund.
One for the future: FC Basle's Eren Derdiyok scored within 12 minutes of his international debut at Wembley in February.

The co-hosts's opening game will be in Basle against the Czech Republic. Of all the new nations to emerge from the former Iron Curtain, the Czech's have made the biggest impact of all. Most notably as runners-up in 1996. Blessed with talents such as Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky, Pavel Kuka and Miroslav Kadlec, they won many friends with their style as well as their ability. These days, Nedved, Poborsky, Smicer are all retired,  Jan Koller is 35, Milan Baros has had a very inconsistant season, and Tomas Rosicky is injured. Which is a shame, as for the first time since the Czech Republic split from Slovakia, they have a favourable draw. All of their previous campaigns have had to begin against at least two former or reigning world or continental champions. That said, it gives a new generation a chance to shine, although their strength is in defence, rather than up front. Petr Cech is reckoned by many to be the best goalkeeper in the world, and Zdenek Grygera and Marek Jankulovski are both regulars at top Italian clubs, and Tomas Ujfalusi has contributed to Fiorentina pipping Jankulovski's Milan to the Champions League. Midfield looks to be a weakness, as only Tomas Galasek has over 35 caps, and none of the eight players selected by coach Karel Bruckner plays for one of Europe's elite clubs.  Up front, Koller's experience should compensate for his age, and as he was never the fastest player in the world, his advancing years shouldn't be too much of a drawback.  With Baros' form a factor, it is a concern that only one other striker (Libor Sionko) has hit the target for his country with four goals in 27 appearances.

One to watch: As long as he has licence to move forward, Marek Jankulovski will provide a lot of creativity - and leave good opportunities for the opposition to counter-attack.
One for the future: Martin Fenin's goal in the World U-20 championship last season led to a lot of high profile clubs looking to sign him, with Fenin choosing Eintracht Frankfurt over Juventus.

The strongest team on group on paper are Portugal, especially given the form of Cristiano Ronaldo who has scored a phonomenal 45 goals this season - three of which for Portugal. A ratio of almost a goal a game is made even more impressive by the fact that he regularly plays out wide. While questions have been asked about Cristiano Ronaldo's big match performances, those were put to rest in emphatic style with a bullet header in the Champions League final last week. With strength throughout the squad, with Ricardo Carvalho and a choice of Paulo Ferreira, Miguel and Bosingwa in defence, Joao Mountinho and Deco in the centre, Simao joining Cristiano out wide, and Nuno Gomes likely to play up fron on his own, this Portugese side looks even stronger than the one that fell at the final hurdle in 2004. The only weaknesses tend to be in goal, where Ricardo can be amazing, but can be erratic (although he does have the big game mentality needed by an international goalkeeper), and at left back, a cruel irony given their embarrassment of riches at right back.

One to watch: While the obvious answer is Cristiano Ronaldo, any side paying him too much attention, should make sure it's not at the expense of Deco.

One for the future: Joao Mountinhio is already captain of Portugal at the age of 21, and a move to La Liga or the Premier League has been mooted over the summer.

Last, and undoubtedly least is Turkey.
Fatih Terim returns to the big stage, 12 years after guiding the Turks to their first ever European Championship finals. And, while Fenerbahce's run to the quarter finals of the Champions League would ordinarily prove to boost the national side, the team is dominated by national champs Galatasaray. In fact, the five Fener players have only 47 caps between them. Only seven of the squad play outside Turkey, most notably Nihat (Villareal), Emre (Newcastle United), Tuncay (Middlesbrough) and Hamit Altintop of Bayern. Munich. The side is relatively inexperienced internationally, the exception being goalkeeper Rustu, whose 128 caps is more than the team's seven defenders combined, and nine of the squad are still in single figures on the world stage. All which will likely mean an early exit, but it will give the players a chance to shine for the first time on a wider stage.

One to watch: Hamit Altintop has played an important role in Bayern Munich's regaining of the Bundesliga. Pacy, with a strong shot and a keen tackler, 

One for the future: Arda Turun's distribution, creativity and his ability to beat defenders has led to comparisons to Gheorghe Hagi.

The lowdown

The opening game in any tournament is usually a low-scoring letdown, and with the Swiss and the Czechs both strong in defence, this should be no different. Portugal should start their first game with a win. Portugal are the strongest team in the group, and should progress unbeaten, however they could drop points to the hosts, which could prove decisive in the battle for second. Turkey will round out the group pointless.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

A Golden Age?

It's been almost a year since I decided to become a mature student and join the Open University. At the moment, I want to head towards psychology or criminology. In order to ease students into the first year, and give us students some familiarity with the subject - and a view of some of the other options - the first year is a general look at the social sciences. This means as well as psychology and criminology, we get to look at politics, economics, sociology, geography and more. All well and good, but when you reach the end of the course, instead of knocking up an assignment based on one subject, all of a sudden you've got one assignment, and you have to include at least three blocks of the course. All of a sudden 1500 words stops sounding like a major achievement, and suddenly becomes a restriction. To put it into context, so far I've written the equivalent of 10% of the assigment, just in this blog post. And that's taken five minutes, and no effort at all. Still, it helps that there is a choice of questions. And one of them is about the best thing I've learned all year. 'The golden age'. It's doesn't exist. It's in our heads. Think about this quote for a minute:

The Whole City, My Lord, is alarm'd and uneasy. Wickedness has got such a Head, and the Robbers and Insolence of the Night are such that the citizens are no longer secure within their own Walls or safe even in passing their Streets, but are robbed, insulted, and abused, even at their own Doors … The citizens are oppressed by Rapin and Violence.
The olde worlde style words used tell us that it's an old quote, but the sentiment is one we hear a lot ourselves. We're in danger of being robbed. We're not safe in our houses. It's not safe to walk the streets. It's not like it used to be. The quote is from Daniel Defoe, way back in 1730, so either the streets became very safe between the eighteenth century and fifty years ago when people could leave their front doors open whilst they went to Butlin's for the week, or people have a rosier view of earlier times in their lifetime. And the times they enjoyed the best, are remembered in a way that distorts them to the extent that they can be remembered even more fondly. or something.

And therein lies the problem with the assignment. I've just scratched the surface of the question, referenced one aspect of the year, and *BANG* 20% of the word limit is taken up. Still, I have just over a week to finish it, and as I've just written the equivalent of a third of the essay in twenty minutes, and given that as it's essentially an end of course review, means that it should be a piece of piss to complete, right...?

Hello and Welcome

So this is it. My first blog entry. I suppose I could introduce myself, but let's be  honest, at this stage, the only people who are reading this will know me, so those of you picking this up in the long distant future will have to get to know me from the other scintillating posts.