Kick Off

Rob’s World Cup Wire
Stats Prove 2014 Success PLUS Neymar Fixation Undermined Brazil

by Rob Shepherd.

Who’s Better..?

Diego Maradona has acknowledged Lionel Messi as his heir.

Former Argentina Ossie Ardiles argues Messi is better… he is certainly taller than Maradona, although not by much!

Maradona stood 5 ft 5 and a half. Messi is 5ft 7. Both are classic number 10’s with a magic left foot.

Messi has the name of his son Thiago tattooed to the calf of that wonderful left peg he uses like a conductor’s baton.

And just to remind you; he has scored 42 goals in 91 games for Argentina and has an incredible 243 goals in 277 La Liga game for Barcelona.

Maradona, who won the World Cup in 1986, scored 34 goals in 91 games for his country and in a short period at Barcelona scored 22 goals in 36 games.


Worlds Apart

It’s not just the eye that has been totally convinced, the stats back the argument up too; this World Cup has been on a different planet to 2014.


The vuvuzelas are also missing, which is another bonus!

With two games to go there have been 166 goals scored compared to 138 four years ago.

It’s not just been more attacking – better finishing (excluding England of course) has been helped by a ball that they should stick with for next time.

It’s been cleaner with better refereeing as well;  just 169 yellow cards compared to 229 and just 10 red cards compared to 16.

Talking of cards; Howard Webb who hopes take charge of the World Cup final on Sunday admits he was wrong not show Nigel de Jong a red card for his horror tackle on Xabi Alonso in the final four years ago.

“With hindsight I would change the call but I didn’t have a perfect viewing angle and with 25 minutes gone in the biggest game of our lives I wasn’t willing to take the risk.” Says Webb.

If Webb does get the game on Sunday he would become the first ref to take charge of two finals.

But the word is that if Argentina make it he definitely won’t be chosen given political sensitivities surround the Falklands-Malivinas-islands.


Premier League To Draw The Line

Leading clubs are poised to agree PL proposal to introduce free-kick foam next season.

An executive at a top club told us: “I’m sure most clubs will vote for it, it has worked so well at the World Cup. It cuts out a lot of nonsense and gets the game going quicker.”


Did You Know…

Holland are heading for their fourth World Cup final – amazing for a relatively small country with a population of just 17 million.

But behind England, Netherlands (as the country is correctly known) has the oldest league in the world.

And Argentina has the third oldest league in the world.

Argentina (population 42 million) have reached four finals having won two World Cups. Holland are aiming for their first World Cup trophy.

Argentina played their first international game in 1901 when they beat Uruguay 3-2 fielding a team made up mainly of British émigrés.

But they lost to Uruguay 4-2 in the first World Cup in 1930.

Holland played at their first World Cup in 1934.


One to Watch:

All eyes will be on Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben naturally.

But the slightly less fashionable and not quite so easy-on-the-eye Dirk Kuyt could be key if Holland are to stop Messi and wear down the Argentine defence.




Neymar fixation was beyond a distraction for Brazil

Uber Fussball:Wunderbar!

They expected fireworks in the favelas but in the end it became a funeral pyre for Brazil.

In so many ways Brazil got what they deserved.

Having abandoned their romantics roots of stylish samba soccer in favour of a mean rough win-at-all-costs approach insisted upon by Big Phil Scolari, they were simply outplayed by a group of superior players who were never going to be out-muscled.

Yes, the absence of Neymar and Thiago Silva made a difference.

But in that respect it’s a case of bonfire of vanities.

The Neymar fixation, right down to Scolari wearing a cap bearing his name when they arrived at the stadium, undermined them.

Even when Pele was in his pomp the team did not rely so heavily on him. There were so many others who could play Jogo Bonito, like Rivelino, Tostao, Gerson, Jairzinho…

But having shelved the samba soccer Brazil didn’t have a clue what to do without Neymar – and without Silva they had no on-field leadership.

So what was left was the ashes of a Brazilian football team like we have never seen before as Germany won their semi-final 7-1 in such a uber cool manner – uber Fussball indeed.


World Cup Moment:

A treat for you here as Dennis Bergkamp talks us through his amazing winning goal against Argentina in 1998;



Rob’s World Cup Wire
Muller the Main Man, Cesar for Sale, England Need a German Gaffer!

by Rob Shepherd.



Gerd netted 10 times at Mexico ’70

Thomas Muller is on his way to ‘mullering’ Gerd Muller  – and for that matter Miroslav Klose – as Germany’s greatest ever striker.

If Muller nets today he will become only the third player in World Cup history to hit five goals at two different World Cups.

It has previously been done by Peru’s Teofilio Cubillas in 1970 and 1978 and Klose in 2002 and 2006.

Indeed at 24 Muller has possibly two World Cup left in him so could usurp Klose, who if he notches one today will overtake Brazil’s Ronaldo as the most prolific World Cup finals scorer by moving onto to 16.

It will though take a lot for the modern Muller to beat Gerd ‘Der Bomber’ Muller’s achievement of 10 goals at the 1970 finals. He added four more in 1974 including the winner in the final and finished with an incredible 68 goals from just 62 caps.

Like Gerd did, Thomas played for Bayern Munich having come through the ranks – and is not for sale.


Fergie Went Down Mexico Way

James Rodriguez was rejected by former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson four years ago when he first started to emerge as a force in Colombia.

United’s South American scouts identified ‘James’ as a future star but in the end Fergie opted for Mexican Javier Hernandez instead.

So Rodriguez moved from Colombian club Banfield to Porto in Portugal before moving on to Monaco.

He has been linked to a £40 million move to Manchester United, but as it stands with injured fellow countryman Radamel Falcao being lined up by Madrid he is set to stay for at least another season in France.


No Pick Axe at Old Trafford

Manchester United, who allowed Paul Pogba to leave from their academy to join Juventus over a wage dispute, wont pay the £60 million fee quoted to bring him back.

Chelsea are still considering a move for the 21 year-old Frenchman.

But he is more likely to move to Real Madrid when Zinedene Zidane eventually takes over as boss, which could be as early as next year perhaps after serving one year as boss of feeder club Castilla. That is if Paris St Germain don’t push out the boat this summer…

Pogba is known by his team mates as La Pioche: The Pick Axe.


Sale Cesar!


Cesar: 80 caps for Brazil, 5 Serie A titles & a Champions League winner – not quite good enough for QPR though…

If Brazil are to beat Columbia today then Julio Cesar is likely to be as much their hero as Neymar.

It seems incredible that at the start of last season Cesar couldn’t get a game in the Championship for QPR!

Indeed he often didn’t make the bench behind England’s former custodian, the ridiculed Rob Green.

But it wasn’t because Harry Redknapp didn’t rate him it was just about getting him off the books given the £90,000 a week salary Cesar was on.

Cesar though is still technically a Rangers player and the club are still paying around half his wages while he is on loan at MLS club Toronto.

He could then return to Rangers for Premier League action next season but ideally the club hope his displays at this World Cup will convince a club to buy him.


One to Watch:

It seemed when France axed Sami Nasri and then Frank Ribery was injured they would lack flair from the midfield or flanks.

But Mathieu Valbuena (be honest, how many had heard of him before..?) has come to the fore and France have flourished with goals. He has the been the main creative force of the France team – and according to FIFA stats has teed up eleven chances.



German boss Joachim Low has said England will NEVER win the World Cup again.

He may have a point – but may well have led the FA to a solution as well…

Who is the man who re-invented the German national team, helped Low on his way then went over to the USA and turned their national soccer team into a serious force..?

Ja, Jurgen Klinsmann.

A German as England boss. Warum nicht..?


Beat the Bookie

Brazil and Germany are odds-on favourites to progress but those odds could be turned on their head today.

Neymar insists he has the shoulders to carry the weight of the nation but carrying the Brazil forward line – which he has done brilliantly so far – could well prove too much against this talented and spirited Colombia side.

And in James Rodriguez Colombia have a player who can unlock a well drilled Brazil defence.

A 1-1 draw at 90 minutes is 6/1 – Colombia can then go onto win on penalties.

France v Germany has the making of a modern classic.

So stick your neck out and trust Karim Benzema to keep on scoring.

A 3-2 France win in 90 minutes is 50/1.

Odds from Corals.


Word Cup moment:

Tim Howard, according to the stat men, made 15 ‘saves’ for the USA against Belgium which is apparently a World Cup record since such things were logged in 1966.

Whichever way you want to look at it Howard produced the best all round keeper display at the finals – The man with the Golden Glove.

But Gordon Bank’s save from Pele’s header in 1970 surely remains the greatest single save;

Rob’s World Cup Wire
Benzema to stay at Madrid, Stevie a Wonder & Upside to Greek Tragedy

by Rob Shepherd.

Elite Feat

Didier Deschamps and Jurgen Klinsmann are both vying with each other to join an elite group.

So far in World Cup history only two men have won the World Cup as a player and a manager; Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer.

France’s Deshchamps won as a player in 1998 and Klinsmann eight years earlier in 1990.

Given the way they have started France should overcome Nigeria today while Klinsmann’s USA have a tough task against Belgium.

That said USA showed in narrow defeat against Germany that they cannot be dismissed as contenders.


Karim is Cream of the Crop


Benzema has kept his place in Ancelotti’s plans at Real

Karim Benzema looks to have secured at least another season at Real Madrid not least because his exploits at this World Cup.

France striker Benzema has hit three goals and been credited with two assists thereby enhancing his reputation as a world class striker. But for some time the Real Madrid hierarchy have seen him a disposable asset and it was thought he would be put up for offer this summer with the club looking to sign Luis Suarez.

Real though have backed off their pursuit of Suarez with Barcelona now in poll position to sign the disgraced Liverpool striker. And manager Carlo Ancelotti, who he kept his job by winning the Champions League, has argued the case to keep Benzema with the club’s hierarchy.

The player has also benefited from the support of former France World Cup winner Zinedene Zidane, who is being groomed as Real’s next boss having just left his role as Ancelotti’s assistant to take charge of Castilla, Real’s feeder club.


Stevie Wonder

Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi is the first African manager to lead an African side into the knockout stages of a World Cup.

On the previous nine occasions African sides have gone beyond the group stages they have been managed by overseas bosses.

This is the fourth time Nigeria have made this stage.

As player Keshi played most of his football in Belgium, was captain of Nigeria in 1994 but was then controversially dropped and last year as Super Eagles manager he led them to African Nations Cup success.


In Case You Weren’t Sure…

Just to confirm what already know (that Germany are better than England); since the 1966 World Cup win for England the Germans have advanced further than England in all ELEVEN subsequent World Cup finals.


Scot Stitch Up…?


9-0 and the scoreboard looks like it should be at Lords…

The build up to Algeria’s clash has been about avenging the injustice they believed they suffered when West Germany knocked them out of the 1982 World Cup with a ‘stitch up.

A low scoring win for Germany over neighbour Austria would see both countries go through at the expense of Algeria and after an early goal for the Germans the game was played at walking pace and both sets of players celebrated at the end in what has become known as the Anschluss game.

But it’s not the only time there has been some dodgy goings-on at World Cups, not least for Scotland in 1974.

The Scots had beaten a rough and raw Zaire 2-0 and held Brazil 0-0.

But inexplicably Zaire then lost 9-0 – a record at the finals – to Yugoslavia.

The ‘brown envelope’ suspicion surrounding that capitulation was heightened when Zaire then only lost 3-0 to Brazil in their final game.

Yugoslavia then had to hold Scotland to a draw (which they did) to qualify thanks to that goal difference stacked up against Zaire -whose manager was Blagoje Vidinic an, er, Yugoslav…


Greece suffered heartache by  going out on penalties to Costa Rica.

But their players then displayed great heart and generosity by donating all their World Cup bonuses to fund a new national training centre.

The squad issued a statement saying: “We do not want extra bonus, or money. We only play for Greece and its people.”

“All we want is for you to support our effort to find land and create a sports centre that will house our National team.”

If England’s players had that sense of duty and generosity then maybe they would also have the team spirit required to do well at a big tournament.


One to Watch:

Could Kenneth Omereo eventually succeed John Terry as the rock of Chelsea’s defence..?

How the 20 year old copes with the France attack today will be a great test for a player Chelsea signed from Standard Liege two summers ago and spent last year on loan at Middlesbrough.


Beat the Bookie:

You can get 10/1 on all four teams to score.

A 3-2 win for France is 33/1.

A draw at 90 minutes between Germany and Algeria is 4/1.

World Cup moment:

Nigeria should have progressed to the Quarter finals of the 1994 World Cup, perhaps gone all the way even.

They were leading Italy 1-0 and looking in control but then Italy’s enigma of that era Roberto Baggio suddenly showed what he could do.

Italy equalised then Baggio scored a penalty winner in extra time. Italy went on to lose the final to Brazil in a penalty shoot-out – and with the decisive kick Baggio, known as the Divine Pony Tail, shot way over bar.

Here’s his smart finish v Nigeria as seen on Italian TV;


Rob’s World Cup Wire
Johan Not Happy, Mexico a Tough Nut to Crack + Miguel a Real Tweet

by Rob Shepherd.

Johan Not Satisfied


Cruyff is unimpressed by Dutch performances

Holland have under Louis Van Gaal developed a style more like Power Football than the fabled Total Football which came to the fore in the Seventies with Johan Cruyff the inspiration.

It’s highly effective with Holland having won all their group games with 10 goals, but Cruyff is critical and wants to see the Dutch turn on the style against Mexcio and ironically be more German! The Germans have turned their old power game into a more attractive style, as Cruyff observed;

“The Oranje has qualified but the football isn’t that good. I liked the way that Germany kept playing in their own style – even during the moments when things weren’t going well against Ghana.

“That’s the way Netherlands should be playing as well. The results are good, now we have to start playing good football.”


Mexican or Mexican’t..?

Mexico will test just how good Holland’s counter attacking really is given they have proved to have one of the toughest defences so far.

Along with Belgium and Costa Rica, Mexico are the only team to have conceded only one goal.

The stats back it up as well; They have made 42 tackles compared to a tournament average of 36.7, have achieved 121 recovered balls compared to 88.8 and there have been 9 off-sides given in their favour against an average of 4.9.


Miguel Tweets ‘Em Right!

He is hardly the best known but Mexico coach Miguel Herrara has become a cult hero.

His impassioned touchline antics plus the generous way he treats fans has seen him gather nearly 800,000 Twitter followers – which is the most of any coach at the World Cup.


Did You Know…

Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto is Costa Rica’s coach, but just after World War Two they had an Englishman in charge. Randolph Galloway, a pre-War striker for Derby and Nottingham Forest, managed several clubs in Europe – including Valencia and Racing Santander – and briefly took charge of Costa Rica in 1946.

Oh, and the last time they made the round of 16 was on their World Cup debut in 1990, memorably beating Scotland 1-0 on their way to qualifying behind Brazil in their group.

But despite a fine equaliser from Costa Rica’s Ronald Gonzalez they were beaten 4-1 by Czechoslovakia in the last 16, with Tomáš Skuhravý scoring an impressive hat-trick (see below).


Greek Toffee..?

Georgiois Samaras is a familiar face after spending two years at Manchester City then six at Celtic.

He will be the focal point of the Greece attack tonight and the player Costa Rica need stop having ended a goal drought 1,478 minutes old with his last minute penalty winner against Ivory Coast.

Now 29, his contract has expired with Celtic and could move back to the PL. Everton have expressed interested but Sevilla of Spain are also looking at him.


Who’s The Victim Here..?


A young Luis Suarez (in blue) and brother Maxi Miliana with grannie Lile Rene.

There is an old newspaper saying; Dog bites man, no story. Man bites dog, big story.

But far from losing his livelihood or even liberty, Luis Suarez arrived back in Uruguay following his ban after an unprovoked assault on Italian Giorgio Cheillini hailed as a national hero. He has even had the backing of the country’s president.

Indeed he can look forward to a pay rise if a move to Barcelona goes through. Leaving Liverpool was always the plan this summer, this unseemly incident makes the parting of ways easier.

Sometimes justice and morality around modern football seems to be upside down.

After all his grandmother has been quoted as saying the FIFA ban was “barbaric” and he has been treated like a, er, “dog” as if HE has been the victim of rough, rough justice.

And Suarez himself has, well, lied through his teeth by denying what he clearly did in his formal response to the FIFA charge.

Talk about barking…



Brazil are still favourites to win the World Cup but I say they are there for the taking when they face Columbia in the quarter finals on Friday.

It was not a surprise they were taken all the way by Chile and only scrambled over the line on penalties on Saturday.

With the exception of Neymar they have been distinctly lacking in Samba skills upfront and ironically for them have been indebted to a pretty tough defence.

Hulk and Fred don’t seem up to it and Oscar hasn’t clicked.

It’s as if they have been carried through on the wave of emotion and support that surrounds them.

It could still see them through but Columbia, familiar opponents in the Copa America, won’t be fazed and with James Rodriguez upfront could well deny Brazil’s dream of winning the World Cup on home soil – just as Uruguay did back in 1950.


One to Watch:

Georgious Karagounis is a modern day Greek god.

He was an inspiration when Greece won the 2004 Euros and is still going strong at the age of 37.

He will retire from international football after the tournament and is out of contract at Fulham.

But in what is dubbed the clash of the underdogs he still has the energy and passion to drive Greece, who like Costa Rica are seeking to reach the QF for the first time.


World Cup Bet:

Holland to win and both teams to score is 4/1.

The Dutch to beat Mexico 3-1 is a tempting 18/1.

Costa Rica v Greece could be a slog so a draw at 90 minutes at 2/1 is prudent;  1-1 is 11/2  and 2-2 20/1.


World Cup moment:

It’s argued that Holland’s 1974 team were the best side never to win a World Cup.

They couldn’t have got off to a better start though when English referee Jack Taylor awarded them a penalty in the first minute of the final. It was converted by Neeskens but Germany, led by Frank Beckenbauer, bounced back to win 2-1.

The Dutch also lost the 1978 final but perhaps now is the time to show they can at last be champions…



Rob’s World Cup Wire
incl: States Gets Soccer Fever & Klinsmann’s Chicken Salad Recipe!

by Rob Shepherd.

Jay Who..?


The unmistakable Jay Goppingen…

Jurgen Klinsmann quickly defied the cliché that Germans don’t have a sense of humour when he arrived at Tottenham in 1994 and produced a self-mocking pronounced dive celebration when he scored on his debut at Sheffield Wednesday.

And when he left Spurs he held a press conference at London’s Comedy Club.

After quitting playing in 1998 (after a loan period back at Tottenham) he moved to California and in 2003 he put his playing boots back on – but cheekily under a false name.

Known as Jay Goppingen (Goppingen being the German town where he was born) Klinsmann played eight games for local team Orange County Blue Star scoring five goals during the summer of 2003.

“I was just having fun and staying healthy and fit, and having a group of guys to kick the ball around with,” Klinsmann said. “It was for me after a long career, it was just enjoyable. It was a lot of fun and the name thing is funny.”


Jurgen’s Chicken Salad Recipe

It’s a quote that will always stick with me;

In the opening game of the 1994 World Cup (won 1-0 against Bolivia) Jurgen Klinsmann put in a typically energetic display in intense heat at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

Afterwards I chatted with an American Sportswriter who was hugely impressed by Klansmann’s sheer energy, physicality and willingness not to see any wayward pass as a lost cause but a potential chance.

“You see that guy Klinsmann… he makes chicken salad out of chicken shit!”

What a wonderful turn of phrase.

In 80 internationals Klinsmann hit an impressive 38 goals.


German Resort

Quite rightly a lot has been made about the ridiculous number of England backroom staff  (77 no less)  and the £2 million cost of the trip to Brazil.

But Germany built a new facility and built their own training ground to suit their requirements.

The custom built complex near Porto Seguor was commissioned by the German DFB and will become a sports and nature resort with a youth academy when the World Cup is over.



Mind you the England entourage pales into insignificance compared to that of the USA…

Their contingent – bloated by security men for fear of a terrorist threat includes their own traffic cops and FBI contingent – is an incredible 700.


Asamoah Makes Amends

Asamoah Gyan was the player who you will remember missed the last minute penalty that would have put Ghana into the World Cup semi finals four years ago.

But his goal in the 2-2 against Germany has kept Ghana in it this time.

It is the third successive World Cup in which he has scored and he is now Africa’s all time WC top scorer with five goals.

And has hit a whopping 41 goals in 80 internationals.

He has the potential to lead Ghana to the next stage but a move back to the Premier League is unlikely. After leaving Sunderland in 2012 he signed a six year deal with UAE worth a £6 million a season.

States Soccer Makes Strides


Spurs Win Title! (wont be typing that again for a while I suspect…)

USA’s match against Germany today is expected to attract the biggest ever soccer audience in the States, possibly pushing towards the 30 million barrier which would be bigger than many regular season NFL games.

The opening game victory over Ghana attracted the biggest US television audience for a football match – 16m people. The draw with Portugal smashed that record with an average of 24.7m viewers.

Football is finally beginning to gain genuine ground on America’s three heartland sports of American football, basketball and baseball.

Coach Jurgen Klinsman has tried to boost audiences by wirting a letter to urge bosses in the States give workers time off.

To put the audiences in perspective the concluding game of the NBA Finals last week drew an audience of 18m when the San Antonio Spurs beat Miami Heat, while Major League Baseball’s hallowed World Series averaged just short of 15m viewers.

The average audience for regular-season games in the NFL in 2013 was 21m, although the Super Bowl was the most-watched programme in US history with 111.5 million


South Korea Go The West Ham Way!

Given the clichéd view of the stature of South Koreans it is ironic thet they have developed a version of long-ball, route one football.

Both their goals in the 4-2 defeat to Algeria were from long ball punts which is the liking of Park Chu-Young who is an Arsenal player but spent last year on loan at Watford.

Maybe West Ham boss Sam Allardayce will take in interest in the Korean target man…?


In Case You Missed it, Luis Suarez Is In The News…

In Uruguay, Luis Suarez trades on his bad-boy image, so his latest transgression could actually increase his marketability given the dubious moral code of top level football and big business.

In an interview yesterday Creative chairman of advertising agency Green Cave People, Malcolm Green, told BBC Sport: “The level of social media interest shows he has been able to take his infamy to new heights in an instant.

“More than just a pantomime villain, he is now able to take the role to unprecedented heights.”



One to Watch:

Algeria reached the semi finals of 2013 African Nations Cup and can enjoy their best ever run at World Cup if they best Russia today.

For them to do so then their 5ft 8 attacking midfield player Yacine Brahimi will be key to their success – and Russia boss Fanio Capello enduring more World Cup misery.



Roy Hodgson has suggested he will keep the door open for both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

Hodgson says he doesn’t want either to retire formally from international football because it means “They disappear from England selection”.

No it doesn’t. There is no contractual obligation or pension complications about such a retirement.

But the idea that Hodgson feels he might need to turn to them as England embark on their 2016 Euro campaign illustrates why Roy should retire from the scene.

He says he won’t resign so he should be sacked.

Not just because of two dire showings at major tournaments but by suggesting that he doesn’t seem to have a clue of how to build a new team, as revealed by trying to cling on Gerrard and Lampard and keep them part of the set up. How can that be progress when both are in their mid thirties..?

Those at the FA who have their doubts about standing by Hodgson should consider that when they make their deliberations in the wake of the failure in Brazil.

As it happens I suspect that both Gerrard and Lampard will do Hodsgon’s job for him on that front and hang up their England boots.


Beat The Bookie

It is never a good idea to back against Germany but William Hill are offering an incredible 10/1 on a USA win. That’s worth a tickle…

A safer bet would appear Thomas Muller and Eden Hazard both to score.

Ghana at 21/10 against a dispirited Portugal is also worth a punt.


World Cup Moment

It is perhaps the most painful for England fans.

Not the 1-0 defeat to USA in 1950 but Gerd Muller’s extra time goal to give West Germany a 3-2 win over England and knock Sir Alf Ramsey’s World Cup holders out of the 1970 tournament at the quarter final stage.


Rob’s World Cup Wire
Lamps to call it a day, Gunfight for Suarez, Wright’s Bulldog Spirit

by Rob Shepherd.

Frank to Bow Out

Frank Lampard captained England against Costa Rica and will now quit international football despite Roy Hodgson suggesting he still has an international future.

Frank Lampard

Frank paid tribute to the England fans after the game

Lampard thinks it is the appropriate time to bow out and will do so having won 106 caps. He has a deal lined up to play in the MSL with New York City but could appear in the PL next season on loan to one of several clubs who would love to have him.

His international appearance number will thus be just two fewer than his father Frank senior’s West Ham pal, former England captain Bobby Moore who won 108.

Lampard’s record of 29 England goals is impressive although Charlton hit 49 and remains England top all time scorer – but Wayne Rooney on 40 is closing.

If Lampard had netted against Costa Rica he would’ve become the second oldest player to score a goal at a World Cup finals for England having turned 36 four days ago.

The oldest was Sir Tom Finney who scored a late penalty in the 2-2 draw against the Soviet Union in 1958 at the age of 36 and 64 days.

Although Steven Gerrard has asked for some time to consider his international future it is unlikely Roy Hodgson will persuade him to change his mind on calling it a day with England.

As it stands Gerrard has 114 caps, just behind the most capped outfield player David Beckham, while goalkeeper Peter Shilton remains the most capped on 125.


Gunfight for Jaws

The Luis Suarez ‘camp’ are now dropping heavy hints that when the World Cup is over he will quit Liverpool with Barcelona and Real Madrid then set to battle it out for his services.

A “shoot out” between the two La Liga against would be appropriate. To his Uruguayan team mates Suarez is known as El Pistolere – The Gunfighter.

But to the rest of us he’s known as ‘Jaws’…

Messi on the Right Path

Diego Maradona has agreed Lionel Messi is now his heir.

The former Tottenham legend and Argentine World Cup winner Ossie Ardiels already believes Messi is now better than Maradona – and even Pele.

“For some time I have thought that Diego could never be surpassed, and nor could Pele, but no longer. I would now say that Lionel Messi will go down in history as the No. 1 player of all time, the best that there ever was” said Ardiles.

“Yes, I would now say that Lionel is the very best, but of course you would wonder just how much better Maradona or Pele would have been if they had the advantage of such advancements in the game.”

But for many it will need Messi to lead Argentina to victory at a World Cup before he can be regarded in such esteem as Maradona.

After flopping at the last World Cup Messi is on the right path having scored two superb individual goals to seal 1-0 victories and could well further stamp his personality on this tournament against Nigeria.

In that respect Messi has started better in terms of goals at least than Maradona did in 1986, as Diego only scored one goal at the group stage in a draw against Italy.

He then struck his two ‘beast and beauty‘ goals against England in the quarter finals, then two more in the 2-0 semi-final win over Belgium, although he didn’t scored in the 3-2 final win over West Germany.


Did You Know…

In the last four World Cup finals Germany’s Miroslav Klose has scored 15 goals compared to a total of 17 by the entire England team over the same period.


Draw! What is it Good For…?!?

England’s failure to win a game at this World Cup is not without precedent; England also failed to win a game at the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden.

But a squad which had lost the services of several Manchester United stars – such as Duncan Edwards – after the Munich tragedy didn’t lose a match either.

A team that still boasted legends such as Billy Wright, Tom Finney and Johnny Haynes though were eliminated though in third place of their group with three points following a 2-2 draw with Soviet Union, a goalless draw with Brazil (who went on to win for the first time) and a 2-2 draw with Austria.

At the 1982 finals England played five matches and didn’t lose one – but were still eliminated.

In the first group stage they beat France, Czechoslovakia and Kuwait. At that tournament the second phase was also an ill-conceived group phase leading to the semi finals.

England played out a goalless draw with West Germany, who then beat Spain 2-1. So England had to beat Spain to progress. The injured Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan came off the bench and produced a late rally but Keegan missed two great chances and England were out.


Drogba Tupac it in!

It's Snoop Drog!

It’s Snoop Drog!

Last minute heartache for the Ivory Coast means the 36 year-old Didier Drogba will quit international football now their tournament has ended.

Perhaps one of the reasons for his longevity is that The Drog didn’t start a professional career until he was 21 with lowly club Le Mans.

There is a growing feeling that too many young English strikers get burned-out because they play far too much at a younger age. Take the case of Michael Owen for example.

And there is an argument – endorsed by Paul Scholes – that at 28 Wayne Rooney has already peaked, an age when Drogba moved into his pomp at Chelsea.

And even a bit of a racy lifestyle didn’t seem to harm Drogba. In his early days his team mates called him ‘Tupac’ after the American rap star because of his penchant for a wild nightlife!



Ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Poland Ian Wright once explained in a mix of Churchillian rhetoric and ‘Sarf London Caribbean slang’ that England would win because of “The bulldog spirit, man”.

They did the next night at Wembley when a combination of panache and passion saw England blow Poland apart 3-0.

Such virtues seem very much out of fashion now, laughed off as ‘old school’ while the appliance of more and more sports science is seen as the way forward.

But a bloated back room staff of medics, spin and head doctors has hardly succeeded. If anything it’s given the players more excuses and made them more mentally fragile.

Indeed when you listen to what makes other countries tick many cite national pride and desire – the very qualities that are laughed off by football ‘hipsters’ in this country.

Indeed when explaining Spain’s demise Xavi Alonso spoke of a lack of ‘hunger’.

When Harry Redknapp suggested that some Spurs players made excuses NOT to join up with England it does question the motivation of many when it comes to playing for England.

On that front perhaps the FA should find some sort of role for Ian Wright in the camp.

On the notion that there are players who duck out of playing for England Wright has had this to say: “ The next young player who says he does not want to play for England should be ordered to ring the parents of a soldier who has died in Afghanistan, and tell him his reasons…”

Well said Wrighty, that’s the bulldog spirit, man!


Beat the Bookie

Kairm Benzama and Lionel Messi are both 5/1 to score first tonight.

Nigeria, Argentina, Ecuador and France all to score is 12/1.

A draw between Bosnia and Iran is 23/10.

Wayne Rooney is 1/5 to be next England captain… but Joe Hart is tempting at 9/2.

World Cup Moment

Belo Horizonte, where England faced Costa Rica, is of course the venue of England’s most infamous defeat when they were beaten 1-0 by the USA.

At the time England were regarded as the best team in the world with players like Sir Tom Finney and Stan Mortenson – although Stanley Matthews was dropped for the match.

England also lost to Spain 1-0 and were eliminated although they did beat Chile 2-1.

The chastened experience suffered is said to have inspired England’s right back at that World Cup to one day make amends and lift the trophy.

His name? Alfred Ramsey.

Here is a lovely piece with some footage of the game complete with the thoughts of two of the heroes from the US team that day, right back Harry Keough and the goalkeeper Frank Borghi.


Rob’s World Cup Wire
Neymar’s Dirty Old Man, Bruce a Bonus & Mexico Skipper record

by Rob Shepherd.


Neymar with his (dirty) old man.

Neymar might not be better than Pele but in many ways he is already bigger. In the modern world of sport marketing 22 year old Neymar’s image is omnipresent in Brazil.

Neymarketing sees the player endorse a wide range of products from soft drinks to mobile phones and he has even appeared on the front cover of Time magazine.

Today he aims to endear a besotted Brazil even more by leading them to victory against Cameroon.

All this from a player who four years ago could have moved to, er,West Ham.

In 2010 agent Barry Silkman alerted the club about a new Brazilian wonder player at Santos – the club where Pele played.

The Hammers swiftly made a £12 million bid for a player then “unknown” in Europe. But Santos, and one suspects the Neymar family, turned the offer down. An approach from Chelsea soon after was rejected too.

Neymar moved on to Barcelona last summer.


It has been claimed that part of the complex deal that took Neymar to Barcelona was payments to prostitutes so that his father could enjoy an orgy.

Officially Barca paid Santos a fee in the region of £44 million. But a further sum of round £30 million went in “compensation” to a company owned by Neymar’s father.

The “deal” which has been the subject of a tax invasion angered Santos.

The Santos president at the time, Luis Álvaro da Oliveira Ribeiro, recently claimed in an interview: “The €90 million included coffees for Neymar’s father, as well as an orgy in a hotel in Piccadilly, London, because Neymar’s father was looking to claim everything. He never once paid for a coffee. I paid for the 200 coffees he had with me. That included prostitutes and a plane to take him to Florianápolis to see the national team.”


Four Time Skipper

Mexico skipper Rafael Marquez, who leads his country out against Croatia tonight, has set a new record this summer.

He is the first player in World Cup history to have worn the captain’s armband at FOUR consecutive finals.


One to Watch:

Chile’s Alexis Sanchez is often left in the shadows at Barcelona – not least because of Lionel Messi – even though he was the club’s top scorer behind the Argentine.

But he showed his talent in Chile’s wins over Australia and Spain and will pose a big threat to Holland.

Liverpool fans will be particularly interest as Sanchez could be offered by Barca in part exchange for Luis Suarez.


Total Samba Final…?

Holland only need to avoid defeat against Chile to finish top of the their group and stay on course for what could be a classic Total Football v Samba Soccer final.

If the Dutch do top their group they would avoid Brazil in the first knockout stage, most likely facing Mexico and creating a path for a p0ssible Holland v Brazil final.

If Brazil, who kick off their final group game later much to the chagrin of Dutch boss Louis Van Gaal, top their group like Holland then they would face Chile – who have the capability of bursting the balloons of both countries.


It’s not often I agree with what Sven Goran Eriksson has to say.

After all here is a manager after a brief period of bringing some stability to the England set up eventually wasted a “golden generation” who should have much closer to winning the World Cup or European Championships when he was in charge. He was allowed to stay in the job far too long.

But he is spot on to say the FA are wrong to back Roy Hodgson who ahead of tomorrow’s game against Costa Rica says he won’t quit.

Steve Bruce

Would Bruce be a bonus for England…?

Fact is Hodgson has been in charge of two tournaments and England have under-performed badly.

The whole set up needs a fresh approach. Problem is many contenders don’t really want the job.

It is interesting to see that sources close to Hull boss Steve Bruce have indicated he would be willing to take on the challenge – or poisoned chalice depending on your view.

I say he would be a good choice not least because Bruce would not only be an ideal figure to nurture the young players emerging and be tactically more flexible but he would also help former Manchester United team mate Gary Neville mature into the role down the line.


Beat the Bookie:

Arjen Robben and Neymar are in contention for the Golden Boot so 6-1 for them both to score today seems decent.

And given the amount of goals that have been scored a punt on four or more goals at 12-1 is worth a tickle.

Brazil to beat Cameroon 4-0 is just 7-1


World Cup Moment

Cameroon, who play Brazil tonight, burst on to the scene at Italia ’90 and were on their way to knocking England out at the quarter finals stage. In fact they were only 8 minutes away from making the semi-final.

England were trailing 2-1 with time running out but then Gary Lineker won and converted two penalties.


Rob’s World Cup Wire
Louis by Numbers, Gerrard Can’t Play Quarterback & No Long-Shot Goals?!?

by Rob Shepherd.

England Have Record in Sight…

England are left clinging to the hope that Italy will beat Costa Rica tonight and then overcome Uruguay.

That way England could hatch a Great Escape with a 2-0 win over Costa Rica.

Stranger things have happened. But of course should they lose to Costa Rica then this would rank as England’s worst ever World Cup finals.

England have never lost all three group games at World Cup since first entering in 1950, although England did lose their three group games at the 1988 European Championships.


Gary To Get The Call..?

Roy Hodgson has already batted-off the “Will you resign?” questions with a ‘No’.

Publicly the FA stand firm behind the manager, not least as chairman Greg Dyke suggested when he took over that a bloody nose was expected in Brazil but with a long term aim of a young side developing at Euro 2016 – and Hodgson is seen as the right man not least because there are no obvious or wiling replacements.

But there are some around the FA who are not convinced and there is a growing feeling that despite no experience at club level Gary Neville could fit the bill.


Louis knows how to number his squad

Louis knows how to number a squad

Louis the Calculated

While Roy Hodgson tinkered with his system if not the personnel, Louis van Gaal is revealing to Manchester United fans one of his great strengths as a coach. He has a well thought-out plan and team in his mind and sticks to it: Holland had the same starting 11 for their first two wins and the starting eleven were numbered 1-11 – the only nation to have done so at this World Cup.

Talk about having a plan. It also suggests Van Gaal won’t succumb to Wayne Rooney deciding where he wants to play at Old Trafford.



Fat Stats

It’s interesting to note that while Raheem Sterling was the stand out player against Italy and covered 6.52 miles, two England players covered more distance; Wayne Rooney (6.97) and Steven Gerrard (6.58).

Which just goes to show why that kind of stat is often meaningless…


Keeping It Up Close

The have been some truly stunning goals at the his World Cup but precious few long range scorchers.

Holland’s late winner struck by Memphis Depay – whose name sounds like a Blues singer by the way – was a rarity. Thus far only 13 per cent of goals have been stuck from more than 20 yards.



Most of the debate leading up to England’s showdown with Uruguay revolved around Wayne Rooney and where he should play or if he should play at all.

That big debate has disguised the fact that  against Italy England skipper Steven Gerrard was far from a commanding figure and certainly didn’t pull any strings in his new ‘quarterback’ role as Andrea Pirlo did for Italy.

But in Gerrard’s defence he did hold his position and thus helped England keep their shape for most of the game.

Against Uruguay though Gerrard failed to take control again.

Roy Hodgson seemed afraid to sub his skipper and put on Frank Lampard who had the experience and nous to help turn things England’s way in midfield. It begs the question; what was the point in picking Lampard in the first place..?


Out First Ball

Spain are the fifth World Cup holders to have been deposed at the first hurdle on their defence.

The previous four were Italy in 1950 (they had won in 1938 then the WWII intervened, Brazil in 1966, France in 2002 and Italy in 2010.

Four years in football is a very long time to fade.


Costa Blue

Now that Spain are out Chelsea should at last complete the £32 million capture of striker Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid next week.

Blues fans will be hoping he doesn’t go a bit “Torres” on them and become known as Diego Costa-lot.

After all in 126 minutes of football in Brazil Costa has failed to register a single shot on target yet…


Look Out For:

Costa Rica’s Arsenal “owned” striker Joel Campbell caught the eye in their opening win over Uruguay. He could well be the player to probe the Italian defence this evening but the player who might undermine the Italians and stick a knife into England is their right back Cristian Gamboa who is currently with Norwegian club Rosenborg but will no doubt be attracting the attention of a number of La Liga and PL clubs.



Beat the Bookie

The bookies make Karim Benzema the favourite to draw first blood in France – Switzerland showdown at 9/2 to score the opening goal while his English-based comrades Loic Remy and Olivier Giroud are both priced at 11/2.

It should be a tight and cagey affair, so a HT/FT bet on Draw/France at 4/1 is tempting.

Brazil remain 7-2 favourites to win the tournament but  Holland have been cut but  to 11-1. Could this at long last be an Orange summer?


World Cup Moment 

It became on of the most tragic episodes in football history.

Much fancied Columbia  flopped at the 1994 World Cup finals not lest because of the influence drug cartels and betting syndicates around the squad.

They were knocked out when defender Andreas Escobar scored an own goal in defeat to the USA. A few days later, having returned home to Medellin, Escobar was shot dead outside a bar after a row with some gangsters.

The game is remembered for Escobar’s OG, but USA’s Earnie Stewart rounded off a fine move with a neat finish to put the American’s 2-0 up. Goals are below (complete with hilarious US commentary!).


Rob’s World Cup Wire
incl: The Belgian Blueprint, No Free-Kick Goals & Transvestite Frolics!

by Rob Shepherd.

Frees Please!

Neymar will be looking to prove he is up there with all the great Brazil number 10’s down the years – even Pele – by inspiring a win over dangerous Mexico tonight.

How better than with a special “Brazilian” free-kick strike to weave his name into pantheon of greats..?

Many of the most enduring memories of World Cups have been stunning goals from free-kicks, not least by Brazilians.

But so far there hasn’t been one from 20 direct strikes. Last season in the Premier League one in 12 direct free-kick strikes hit the back of the net.


Did You Know…

Former England boss Fabio Capello leads Russia into their campaign against South Korea tonight as the only nation at the finals who don’t have any players playing outside their country.


Brilliant Belgian Blueprint

Belgium kick of their campaign against Algeria as many peoples dark horse contenders.

So many of their team are familiar faces to an English audience with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard the jewel in the the crown.  But how has this happened..?

After crashing out of the 1998 finals at the group stages the Belgium federation came up with a blueprint for the future written by coach Michel Sablon. Those at the FA who strive to improve the standard of English football ought to read it.

A significant section is focused on how to nurture young players: Keys stage 1 is for 5-7 year olds making football fun, learning steps then encouraging dribbling and passing through progressive small sided games – 2v2 5v5 8v8 up to 11v11 – when at around age 11 the players learn to play in a 4-3-3 system.


Sam’s Islam..?

Algeria striker Islam Slimani could well test the credentials of Belgium.

West Ham boss Sam Allardyce will be watching with interest. Having been rejected again by Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku in an attempt to take him on loan from Chelsea, the Hammers could make another attempt to lure Slimani from Sporting Lisbon.



Fontaine holds the record with 13 goals

The Golden boot at the last two World Cups has been won with five goals.

But with Thomas Muller – who claimed the prize in 2010 – upping the ante to two goal Neymar, Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben with his opening game hat-trick it looks like the eight Brazil’s Ronaldo hit at the 2002 finals could be challenged.

And with such a good start the 10 hit by Gerd Muller in 1970 is not impossible. But the record 13 which France’s Just Fontaine struck in 1958 still looks safe.

It’s always hard to measure the star quality of a tournament, but there is a strong case this has been the best start to a World Cup ever.

Certainly this on a different planet to the drab opening of South Africa 2010 where after 12 games there had been just 20 goals. So far there have been 41 from 12 games – a ratio of 3.4 per game – the highest since 1958.


Carlos Used To Throw The Best Parties…

Mexico’s Carlos Salcido once partied with a transsexual hooker.

Salcido celebrated Mexico’s victory over Colombia four years ago canoodling with a transsexual prostitute in a Monterrey hotel room. Salcido, then at Fulham, was fined £30,000 by the Mexican FA.

Transvestite Yamille said Salcido invited him to a party in the players’ hotel during an interview with a national magazine and described a sexual encounter the two had in the bathroom.

The two met via Facebook in April earlier this year, according to Yamille, but it wasn’t until after the game against Colombia in Monterrey that the two actually met.

Yamille described the “moral hangover” she felt after the incident as Salcido had no idea that he was a man. The transvestite, who appeared on a high-class prostitutes website, also apologized to Salcido’s wife.

Salcido was fined 50,000 pesos along with ten other players for his role in what the Mexican Soccer Federation described as a “party.” Two players, Efrain Juarez and Carlos Vela, were banned from the national team for six months.

Safe to say that if Mexico cause an upset and defeat hosts Brazil later you can expect some calmer celebrations from the team…


Who Gave Us A Wave..?

So far the games have been so absorbing and entertaining  (even the first goal less draw between Nigeria and Iran) that there have been few sightings of the Mexican Wave – always a sure sign when fans have started to get bored with events on the pitch.

The ripple effect ovations are credited to have started at the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico. But apparently it was present at American football games for a few years before that.

It first appeared at a University of Washington Homecoming Game in 1981, led by UW Husky “Yell Leader” Rob Weller and UW Marching Band director Bill Bissell.


Beat the Bookie:

Neymar to score a hat trick is 12/1

And you can get Brazil, Belgium and Russia to win at 10/1.

(Odds courtesy of William Hill)

World Cup Memory

Just as it seemed Belgium would take England to penalties at the 1990 World Cup, Paul Gascoigne sent over a cross which David Platt converted with a stunning volley on the turn. In many ways it is the goal that changed the face of English football…


Downfall of the Architect!
How to Stop Pirlo by Rafa Benitez


Denying Pirlo space is key says Rafa

I know Andrea Pirlo is on your minds because people have been telling me so in the few weeks since I have been back in England, at the end of my first season in charge of Napoli.

Yes, he is quite a player. Of course we need to discuss him in some detail because we know he will probably be very dangerous in a place like Manaus when England start their tournament against Cesare Prandelli’s team on Saturday. The simple idea is to man-mark Pirlo. Simple in theory? Maybe. Simple in practice? No. Even if somebody like Danny Welbeck is sent on to the pitch with the job of stopping Pirlo – chasing and chasing, closing him down – the Italian will still have the ability to find space and put in the pass that can change everything.

It was the same last season when my Napoli side played his Juventus team. (They won in Turin, we won in Stadio San Paolo.) We started with a strategy to stop Pirlo as much as we could, controlling the space around him and limiting the possibilities of him creating serious danger. Whatever you do against him, he will probably always have his moment to put in the important pass. “Thread it” as I know you like to say. A very appropriate word!

It wasn’t easy when we were at Liverpool and faced him at the heart of the Milan team, in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul. It was difficult to close him down. On a hot night in Istanbul, it was Harry Kewell’s job to be tight on him as soon as we lost the ball, staying close to him every time, putting pressure on him, being alert to collect the second ball, not letting Pirlo settle down. Not allowing him time to pick out his pass, basically.

You can never plan for everything as a manager and Kewell shouted across to us that he was injured after about 20 minutes. But what was important about that game was approaching Pirlo with an attacking mentality. We also wanted Kewell and Steven Gerrard to make use of the spaces either side of Pirlo – because despite his incredible talent he was not the quickest when acting as a defensive shield. We also wanted to double up in the wide areas, switching play fast from midfield to isolate one of the full-backs, who in Milan’s diamond formation had to do all the work on the wings.

England have the mix of players at this competition to have ambition, too, when approaching Pirlo and Italy. They don’t need to live on their wits, as I think you call it, sitting and sitting and playing only on the counter-attack. They have the right mix of players – Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, experience; Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, pace and hunger – to take the ball and do their own thing, knowing that they can cause Italy a threat and be dangerous.


Pirlo is ‘The Architect’ for the Azzuri

Of course, it is always about the balance between defence and attack. As a manager you know that it always depends on what the other team do, too. Look out particularly for my Napoli player Lorenzo Insigne in the days and weeks ahead. He is a young player – not tall, but with pace and mobility who works on the left side, looking to go in-field. And he is not only dangerous because of his goals.
People in England also often ask me about Mario Balotelli, who was at Inter when I arrived as manager. Sometimes players need to be 26 or 27 to see what talent they have and decide not to waste it. It is never too late. For now, it is just difficult to predict how much he will threaten England.

So, there are players and names to think about but England have a better squad to beat Italy than they did when we were writing about them here four years ago. I believe there is too much English pessimism sometimes. The word “architect” has always been used about Pirlo, but England need to know that they can be their own architects. I remember that in some important games at Liverpool I used to write four words down, in Spanish, to remind the players what I wanted them to remember. Decision. Conviccion. Hambre. Quererla. Decisiveness. Conviction. Hunger. Want the ball. England can go into this match with all of those things in their minds.

This article first appeared in The Independent.