Premier League Review: Great Expectations.

16 08 2010

Here we are again. The opening weekend of the Premier League season passed with a pleasantly mixed-bag of shocks and inevitabilities throughout. Chelsea end the weekend top of the table, whilst West Brom end the weekend bottom. Didier Drogba tops the scoring charts. On the face of it, little has changed. But, as we see below, not everything was so predictable…

“I didn’t see that coming…”.

Blackpool’s 4-0 win at Wigan. A coupon-buster across the country, Ian Holloway’s men took advantage of a horrendous Latics defensive performance, in addition to Marlon Harewood remembering how to, well, be a striker, to stun the Premier League and top the table for a couple of hours. The Tangerines go to the Emirates next weekend two points ahead of the North Londoners, and will hope not to follow the path of fellow early-season successes Burnley and Hull in failing to capitalise on their moment in the spotlight.

– The goal of the weekend coming from Wolves, of all places. Molineux didn’t exactly grab the largest share of attractive football last season, but Dave Jones’ extravagant free-kick against Stoke will be one of the better moments seen in Wolverhampton this campaign. Flicking the ball up to yourself, then proceeding to volley the ball home from twenty-five yards during a direct free-kick is definitely something to try at home, kids…

– Everton toothless in attack. Everton began last season poorly, with injuries littering the squad. This season, with Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill and Louis Saha fit, in addition to Jermaine Beckford transferring in to bolster the striking line-up, Everton looked set to start the season with a bang against a typically average Blackburn Rovers. It wasn’t to be, with the eighty minutes following Tim Howard’s early blunder were not exactly filled with striking opportunities, despite midfield domination. Wolves visit to Goodison Park next weekend could provide the perfect antedote.

Joe Cole’s two-footed karate lunge at Laurent Koscielny, earning him a red card on his Premier League debut at Anfield. He’s just not that sort of player…

“Same ****, different season…”

– Stamford Bridge, the home of goals. Chelsea have now scored twenty-eight goals without conceding at home, and the train kept a-rolling against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday evening. In the same vein, Didier Drogba continued last season’s goalscoring exploits with a well-earned hat-trick, and Florent Malouda continued the kind of form that made him one of the players of the last campaign.

– Goalkeeping howlers. After a World Cup of extraordinary cock-ups courtesy of goalkeepers from across the planet, this weekend such hilarity was brought to the Premier League. Tim Howard dropped the ball at Nikola Kalinic’s feet for the only goal of the game at Ewood Park, whilst Chris Kirkland made numerous attempts at making everyone forget about Robert Green being England’s least confident custodian right now. Until, of course, Robert Green’s weak punch brought about Aston Villa’s first goal at Villa Park. Even the certified ‘Best Goalkeeper In The Premier League (TM)‘, Pepe Reina, gifted Arsenal a point through punching the ball into his own net late on at Anfield. Thank goodness for Joe Hart, eh? And I’m not even going to mention Manuel Alumunia…

– City are probably still not good enough to win the league. A damning assessment after one game away to last year’s fourth-placed side, for sure. However, the problems City need to overcome looked numerous on Saturday lunchtime. Tevez’s role as a ‘false nine’ ended with him being, well, a ‘real nine’, and he became City’s only out going forward, and the only player on the field for City who looked like scoring at all. Jerome Boeteng will surely enter the side upon full fitness, with Micah Richards being torn to pieces by Gareth Bale, whilst the Barry/De Jong/Toure partnership in midfield does not seem to have entered full flow in the slightest. City have spent the pennies, and Milner and Balotelli are yet to arrive, but they will need to improve on Saturday’s rusty performance to get anywhere near the title any time soon.

– Joe Cole’s two-footed karate lunge at Laurent Koscielny, earning him a red card on his Premier League debut at Anfield. Because, sometimes, he IS that sort of player…


Chelsea Season Preview: The View From A Blue.

10 08 2010

Chelsea begin the 2010/11 season with few additions to their double-winning squad of last season. Out of Stamford Bridge go Ricardo Carvalho, Joe Cole, Belletti, Michael Ballack and Deco amongst a never-ending list of youngsters, with only Yossi Benayoun coming into the side amidst work-permit issues with midfield target Ramires. Despite this, most bookmakers would have Chelsea as favourites for the title, even in the face of their recent Community Shield defeat to major rivals Manchester United.

As a Chelsea obsessive myself, I sometimes find it hard to be objective in writing about the team that I support. In this brief preview of the season, I’ll aim to avoid being too protective over some and too damning to others, and provide a well-balanced outlook of the season ahead, and what and who all fellow Blues should look out for.

Players Who Must Improve

Nicolas Anelka

Whilst not having a ‘poor’ outing last term, Nicolas Anelka spent the latter part of the season relatively anonymous to most. Scoring ten less goals than his previous top-scoring campaign (despite the fact Didier Drogba spent two months at the African Cup of Nations), Anelka struggled to fit in to the single-striker system employed by Carlo Ancelotti. When playing the role himself, Anelka went for up to two months without scoring, yet also looked unhappy supporting Drogba in a wide role upon his return. With a single-year extension to his current deal in place, this will probably be Anelka’s final year at the club. He will feel aided by the lack of purchases in the striker department by Ancelotti, but after a difficult summer, Anelka will need to start the season with a more positive outlook to help Chelsea to a second consecutive title.

Yuri Zhirkov

After becoming the most expensive Russian footballer of all time in joining Chelsea last summer, Yuri Zhirkov endured a difficult first season. Frequently injured for much of the pre-Christmas period, Zhirkov struggled to make an impact in the first-team, finding himself caught between a left-back position dominated by Ashley Cole, and a left-wing position that Florent Malouda had excelled in. Despite a memorable (and blood-stained) performance against Bolton in April that helped Chelsea win their fourth title, fans from West London will expect more this season for their £18 million expenditure this season, and Zhirkov will see usurping a shaky Cole from his left-back role as his best route back into the first eleven.

Players To Be Excited About

Daniel Sturridge

Now 20, this season could be the start of something special for Daniel Sturridge in SW1. He has continued to improve on a steady curve until now, excelling at youth level for Manchester City before impressing in cup football for Chelsea last season, before netting his first league goal last April. With Nicolas Anelka seemingly reaching the end of his career at the Bridge, Sturridge will see 2010/11 as a chance to grasp a regular first-team opportunity for Chelsea. With the older guard from previous seasons moving on, Carlo Ancelotti’s faith in younger members of the squad will aid Sturridge’s development in this transitional year, and he will see more playing time because of it. After seasons of relative inactivity in Manchester, Sturridge will hopefully have the hunger to perform this season, when given the chance.

Gael Kakuta

After his controversial entry to the club, Gael Kakuta found himself propelled further into the spotlight than the average 18-year-old should at the beginning of last season. Whilst only being on the pitch for a matter of minutes for his club during the course of the campaign, Kakuta went on win the Golden Player award this summer after his series of electrifying performances for France in the Under-19 European Championships. Now 19, Kakuta falls within the age limit for the Premier League’s new squad rulings, leaving him free to play a part in Chelsea’s upcoming season at Carlo Ancelotti’s calling. Whilst fans should not expect big things early on, Kakuta remains one of the league’s brightest young talents, with a natural flair and incredible pace, and the Frenchman will certainly build a buzz around Stamford Bridge whenever he is chosen to appear in the coming months.

Players Who Will Win Chelsea The League

Michael Essien

How Chelsea won a title without Michael Essien for the majority of last season baffles me to this day. Essien is a personal favourite in the side for myself, with so many strings to his bow that he might require a replacement bow sometime soon. His ability to come forward and strike a ball, combined with his exceptional vision in threading passes to Malouda and Kalou/Anelka aid Chelsea in breaking down sides, whilst his vicious (yet fair) tackling ability and awareness to intercept key passes stop oppositions defensively. All this whilst entering the peak of his career, whilst fresh from a summer without a World Cup, will leave Essien in exceptional condition to lead Chelsea in the coming months.

Branislav Ivanovic

Ivanovic’s contribution at right-back for a large part of last season goes largely under-appreciated, but in reality his services did wonders for Chelsea’s title bid. Overlapping wide players, he provided an excellent service to Didier Drogba and others with six assists all in all for a player not famed for his attacking play. At the back, he covered for a seemingly irreplaceable Jose Bosingwa with aplomb. In the coming season, on Bosingwa’s return and with Carvalho’s departure, Ivanovic may find himself partnering John Terry in the centre of defence, due to Alex’s fitness being a consistent worry. This partnership could make or break Chelsea’s season, but after last season’s successes, I would never write off Branislav Ivanovic making a significant contribution to Chelsea’s title aspirations again.

Players Who Could Lose Chelsea The League.

Ashley Cole

Whilst, on the right day, Ashley Cole remains one of the world’s better left-backs, he currently carries with him an entire wardrobe of reasons why this season could prove disastrous for both himself and, in turn, his club. Firstly, he appears unsettled, with rumours of an escape to Real Madrid fuelling the usually silent Ancelotti to vehemently deny any such move will take place. Secondly, Cole’s tumultuous personal life needs no introduction, and in recent times Cole’s extra-curricular shenanigans have continued, more than ever, to fuel the front pages of the red-tops. Finally, Cole endured a busy yet disappointing summer with the much-maligned England side, and his torturous performance in the Community Shield showed Cole lacking in awareness and pace, two of his best assets. With Yuri Zhirkov looking to impress, and Patrick Van Aanholt coming on in leaps and bounds, Ashley Cole will need to look over his shoulder if his performances begin to slip in the coming season.

John Terry

It is difficult to write about John Terry without stating the obvious. Not since David Beckham in the late-90s has every action of an English footballer, both on and off the field, been so under the spotlight. Firstly, some facts can’t be ignored. Chelsea kept eighteen clean sheets last season, all of which with John Terry at the helm. His performances post-you-know-what dipped, yes, but his qualities still shone at Old Trafford and Anfield late in the season. My concern, this season, is the age of Terry, coupled with just how much abuse he can take in the face of his private life and the afore-mentioned England campaign. If anyone is suited to battle on through, it is Terry, but with the departure of Ricardo Carvalho, he will need to learn to partner one of Alex, Jeffrey Bruma and Branislav Ivanovic in a solid partnership to avoid the mishaps of the latter part of last season, to lead Chelsea to a fourth title as captain. Without him, his defensive partners may not have the experience to win trophies alone.

Overall, I believe Chelsea’s success this season depends on their rivals more than themselves. Chelsea have the right squad to continue where last season left off, and will, in all likelihood, perform to a similar standard. My worry, as a Chelsea supporter, lies in Manchester United improving beyond such a standard, Arsenal’s squad improvements moving them back into the picture, and even Manchester City putting together a squad that will take another six points off Chelsea in the coming months. If their rivals do not improve on last year’s displays, however, I believe the title will be coming to Stamford Bridge once again in May.

Five Reasons Why We Should All Attend Non-League Day.

3 08 2010

On September 4th 2010, due to international fixtures, there will be no games in either the Premier League or the Championship. With the fans of forty-four teams left empty-handed throughout the land at 3pm, James Doe has called on fans of all teams in the top two tiers to pay their local team a visit as part of Non-League Day. This has been done through an excellent social networking campaign which grows by the day.  I shall be partaking in Maidenhead, supporting the away side, as my home-town team of Bromley take on the locals, and there are five good reasons why everybody reading should do the same. Go along to your team that is. Don’t all come to Maidenhead. There’s probably not room.

1) Football Can Be Fun Again.

When I go to Stamford Bridge, I get angry. Perhaps not as angry as those at Upton Park or Anfield, but the pressure of supporting a well-supported team and the embarrassment that will result on Monday morning if we get cuffed by Hull on Sunday evening will inevitably burst me a blood vessel one day. Non-League fans care about their side, and I wouldn’t suggest that they don’t. But the opportunity to watch a game from wherever you want, standing up, perhaps even mixing with opposition fans, promotes a more light-heartened, and dare I say it, fun, footballing experience. This is something we should all embrace. Football is a game, and games were made to be enjoyed. On Non-League Day, a local team will help you remember this.

2) Beer. In Some Places, Whilst Watching The Game.

I don’t mean to paint all football fans as Stella-swilling lager louts. However, I think many would agree that the feeling of being able to have a pint by the side of a football pitch on a sunny September afternoon does appeal a tiny bit. However, it must be considered that in the last twelve months I have been subjected to machine-poured Heineken for four quid at Stamford Bridge, Fosters with a lid on it for £3.50 at Reading and bottled Carling at Dean Court, all of which must be chugged in twelve minutes at half-time whilst holding a pie hotter than the surface of the sun. The thought of a pint of freshly-poured lager at a reasonably priced bar during the actual game appeals somewhat more now, no? I bet the pies are cheaper too.

3) The Personal Touch.

If you venture below the Conference at Non-League level, you’ll find everyone, but everyone, has a story to tell you about one of the twenty-two men on the pitch. My next-door-neighbour-but-one used to play full-back for Bromley FC in the mid-90s, and every person who accompanied me to a game would usually find this out within minutes of entering the ground and reading the programme, if they hadn’t already on the bus on the way there. This was usually followed by a ‘G’wan Andy!’ every time he went anywhere near the ball, as if the personal support of the ten-year-old down the road would improve his usually below-par performances. I’m sure that I wasn’t alone in this, and I’m sure not much has changed today. Embracing football at such a level will immerse you, not only in the fans and the culture, but in the players themselves, and that’s something you don’t get in your average soulless Championship bowl.

4) Doing It For The Kids.

In connection with the previous point, the effect such an exposure to the lower leagues will have on a football-loving youngster is stronger than anything you will gain from the Premier League. A youngster’s first experience of catching a wayward shot and actually touching the match-ball will live in infamy in their own tiny minds. The experience of seeing your next-door neighbour play in front of hundreds of people will spur them on to practice and make it onto the torn-up hallowed turf one day themselves. Seeing their idols in the Premier League will make your children look to the stars, but seeing a Non-League football pull into the car-park in a Vauxhall Corsa will ground them into realising that being a footballer requires hard-work and mastering the simple stuff. All this can be achieved whilst you have your pint during the game…

5) Every Little Helps.

On a serious note, with so many clubs in the Football League moving into administration, every football club in the land needs the help of their supporters to stay afloat. Non-League Day provides us all with a chance to have a trial run at your local club, and if what you see takes your fancy, to go along more and aid your local team’s survival. Every programme, pie, or scarf bought helps, and what better place to start than September 4th.

The Death Of Soccerball. The Birth of Football.

30 07 2010

As pre-season silliness moves into full swing, Tottenham and the two Manchester clubs elected to spend their preparations in the USA, home of turnovers, upper-90s and cross-passes. This enabled us in the UK to grab a taste of football state-side, through the host broadcasters of FOX and ESPN. Forever-mocked on this side of the Atlantic, I decided to indulge in the various pre-season tournaments, backed by the tune of our American cousins, and left the games optimistic for the future of soccer in the US.

With anything slightly ridiculous going viral in minutes via modern technology, the USA have frequently been exposed as seeming to lack any proficient football knowledge at the most crucial of times. From the New York Post hollering ‘USA WINS 1-1’ after their draw with England in the World Cup, to Rosanna Scotto’s cringe-worthy ‘Good Day New York’ interview with ‘World Cup winner Thierry Henry’ after his move to her native Red Bulls, the Americans have an outstanding knack of shooting themselves in the foot just as they begin to gain credibility with the traditional football nations. And being the football snobs we are, the rest of the world laps up the seeming ignorance of the leader of the free world where our beloved sport is concerned.

However, a deeper analysis shows all may not be as it seems. Firstly, the World Cup itself proved an embarrassment for both our terrestrial TV channels in terms of punditry and commentary. Ignorance of any player not partaking in the Premier League, borderline xenophobia, Mark Lawrenson’s stand-up-routine commentary and a completely lack of research before important games left any football fan with any minor knowledge of the game curling their toes in anger, wondering why they aren’t the ones being paid thousands to provide a better analysis of a simple game.

Such accusations cannot be leveled across the pond to commentators such as JP Dellacamera and Christopher Sullivan, from ESPN and FOX respectively, whose research and knowledge proved absolutely watertight and impeccable throughout this pre-season. I watched in awe as the ages, heights and previous clubs of Tottenham youth prospects were reeled out seemingly from memory. True, a quick search through Wikipedia would provide all of these statistics in seconds, but the question must be asked why Lawro et al didn’t bother during the World Cup to do similar research before the biggest event in world football. The question is answered by Lawrenson himself, who famously said in a radio interview that ‘he didn’t see the point’ in any form of prior research. So, the ‘ignorant’ Americans research every nook and cranny before a pre-season game featuring Tottenham Hotspur and Sporting Lisbon, and the lead co-commentator of the birthplace of football doesn’t see the point in researching any of the players in the World Cup Final. A disturbing parallel indeed.

It’s all very well and good knowing your statistics, but you need a grasp of the game itself to provide a well-rounded picture of the event to your audience. Many in Europe splutter at the terminology used by the ‘play-by-play’ commentators of a football match in America, with players ‘ejected’, keepers aiming for ‘shut-outs’ and players wearing their ‘cleats’. However, why do we ridicule the idiosyncrasies of the Americans, yet embrace the terminology of the commentary teams featuring other languages? An elongated ‘Gol’ is seen as a romantic element to watching Brazilian football, where as similar phrases are used in slang-terms, throughout Spain and Italy without the mockery shown to the American game. Whilst the football glossary of our Latin neighbours sounds colourful and exotic, the pundits of the USA are bound by the fact they speak the same language as us, leaving them open to ridicule if the slightest phrase is unique to their own version of the game. Such ridicule of terminology seems immature and unnecessary if the commentators of ESPN and FOX back their phrases up with a rounded knowledge of the game, which they carried out with fantastic aplomb throughout the pre-season.

Finally, after a World Cup where negativity flowed through the pundits and commentators of the UK, with many seemingly ungrateful to even be at football’s showpiece, the refreshing raw energy provided by the Americans is nothing to be sniffed at. At times, the WWE-style whoops and kapows can seem over-the-top to an audience used to the nonchalance of Alan Green and the ilk. However, in a growing sport, it is the job of an American pundit to exhilarate the viewer in the USA, and the unusual optimism and genuine excitement at seeing Premier League teams in American stadiums made each of the pre-season friendlies a more positive experience for all at home. Football should be an enjoyable experience, and whilst the BBC seems to see footballers as gladiators dragged in front of a crowd to entertain, ESPN stands back in awe of those with the natural talent to play the game, and the respect shown towards those on the pitch can only be a positive asset.

I enjoy the NFL and NBA more than most in this country, and this may provide an immunity to the negative facets of what I have heard over the past ten days from across the pond. However, the only things we should all ask of commentators is to provide nuggets of factual information those at home may enjoy, and depict and amplify the atmosphere that already exists in the stadium itself. The colour commentators of the US of A have more than adequately provided all of this and more in recent weeks, and the death of soccerball may be upon us, and a seed of football knowledge may have been planted deep in the hearts of soccer fans all across the nation. God Bless America.

Emiliano Insua: The Strangest Transfer of 2010.

18 07 2010

Stepping into a club in the midst of a power struggle between unpopular owners and a militant fan presence does not seem easy for a man like Roy Hodgson. Not known as a man with the aggressive temper and iron fist of a Capello or a Ferguson, his seeming nonchalance in dealing with a missing, rebellious Javier Mascherano has done little to ease the fears of Liverpool fans, desperate to avoid another disastrous season like the last. However, one of the strangest transfer decisions of the summer seems to have slipped a little under the radar, and valid questions have been raised over how much Hodgson has influenced the transfer of a young Argentinian to the continent.

Emiliano Insua’s three seasons at the Merseyside club saw personal growth in all areas. The left-back began a loan-period with Liverpool in January 2007, after impressing with the Argentina Under-17 side during his spell in the reserves of Boca Juniors. An impressive eighteen months in the reserves led to a three-year contract offered by Rafa Benitez in July 2008, and in the coming season Insua leapfrogged an injured Fabio Aurelio and a highly disappointing Andrea Dossena to become first-choice left-back for Benitez at the beginning of the 2009-10 season. Thirty-one appearances in the starting eleven followed at the age of twenty, his first taste of first team football after missing out on ever starting for Boca. His confidence exuding, Insua earned a call-up (amongst many, many others) to the Argentina qualifying games against Peru and Uruguay under Diego Maradona, after winning the Under-20 World Cup in Canada two years previous, conceding only four goals in seven games in the process. A disappointing season followed for Liverpool, but with six assists earned in ventures forward and reasonable defensive performances, Insua would rightly not be blamed for such failures at the end of the season.

At the age of twenty-one at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, the progress shown above by the young left-back should surely cement his place as a cornerstone of a Liverpool side keen to put a seventh place finish in 2009-2010 behind them. However, for the relatively small fee of £5 million, Insua will instead start for Fiorentina in Serie A next season. His transfer seems to have passed with little noise exuding from the Anfield club, or indeed its support, but the timing of the move amidst the speculation surrounding the futures of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and the aforementioned Mascherano has baffled pundits.

Firstly, if nothing else, Insua seems to have left no-one behind to replace him. Once a position in which Liverpool were blessed with numbers, if not talent, has been left threadbare by his departure. Aurelio left the club at the end of last season, whilst Dossena left for Napoli in January, leaving only youth to fill the hole. Liverpool will now need to turn to the transfer market for a replacement, with names such as Paul Konchesky and Danijel Pranjic being circulated by the rumour mill. However, Liverpool will no doubt find themselves paying over the £5 million earned by the sale of Insua for an older player with less future potential.

There could be further side-effects on another key man of such a callous disregarding of a young talent. Fellow Argentinian Javier Mascherano has been the biggest cheerleader of Insua’s potential within the Anfield club, stating that “it isn’t easy to be playing for the Liverpool first team at just 20-years-old. I’m really happy for him. After just two years he is playing really well whenever he gets into the first team”. Considering that many suggest Mascherano’s future also lies in Italy with Rafa Benitez at Inter Milan, the transfer of Insua could be another factor that contributes to poking the defensive-midfielder over the edge and into the San Siro. Stacked with other potential losses including an out-of-form Gerrard and an unfit Torres, the loss of the Argentina captain could be the greatest this summer for Liverpool.

Finally, and most worryingly, it seems the transfer of Insua had little to do with incoming manager Roy Hodgson. The left-back was included by Hodgson on a pre-season trip to Switzerland before being sold, and appeared to hint that decisions involving the movement of players to and from the club would be handled by managing director Christian Purslow in a recent interview. In a club ravaged by debt, putting transfer decisions in the hands of a businessman instead of a newly-employed manager would seem a worrying development for fans, and indeed players, of the Merseyside giants.

Whilst not seeping into the regions of a Portsmouth fire sale, the transfer of such a promising youngster seems a decision steeped in short-term financial gain, instead of long-term football development. Emiliano Insua will look to prove his doubters wrong in Italy, and with Gabriel Heinze aging and a supportive Maradona remaining in charge, the 21-year-old could see himself starting for Argentina for many years to come should his development continue. Liverpool may look back in anger at one of the oddest transfers of the summer of 2010.

Forlan: One of the Good Guys.

5 07 2010

Diego Forlan is probably relaxing in a Cape Town hotel right now. He’ll sleep tonight on the eve of arguably the biggest match of his twelve-year professional career, as Uruguay stand one game from the World Cup Final. Many of the tournament’s ‘stars’ have been accused (by some) of under-performing when the moment addresses them throughout the past month. However, this particular Uruguayan could possess all the mental fortitude to take his country to Soccer City on Sunday, for the story of Diego Forlan stems from something far deeper than sipping Cristal at China White’s, or textual relations with someone other than his partner.

At twelve years old, Forlan played tennis, not football. His father a Uruguayan international, the younger Forlan appeared fully committed to turning his back on the family business, preferring the hard courts of Montevideo to the grass of the football fields. His love of his family, however, would be the tragic catalyst for Forlan’s rise to superstardom on the football pitch.

Forlan’s sister, Alejandra, dreamt of becoming a model. At the age of 17, she and her boyfriend Gonzalo sped down a rain-lashed road, and their car spun violently into a palm tree. Gonzalo was killed instantly, whilst Alejandra fought for her life with Diego at her bedside. Alejandra was told she would never walk again, and her younger brother made a promise: To become an international footballer, and pay for any treatment his sibling would need for her injuries. In tragedy, a star was born.

With Forlan’s funding, Alejandra went on to complete a degree in psychology, overcoming depression stemming from her injuries in the process. Diego played for a variety of teams throughout South America before settling with Independiente, scoring a goal every two games in a solid four year period. His infamous £7.5 million transfer to Manchester United left Forlan with a mountain to climb to resurrect his career from a spell in England blighted by inconsistency, and visceral baiting from the English press. Once again, Forlan exhibited the mental toughness his sister preached, and during a three-season period with Villareal the Uruguayan netted an impressive 54 goals, sharing the European Golden Boot with Theirry Henry in 2005. He repeated this feat in 2009 with Athletico Madrid, scoring an outstanding 32 goals in only 33 appearances during the La Liga. He completed the exorcism of all his English-football demons during a scintillating set of performances in the 2010 Europa League, scoring and defeating two English teams on the way to lifting the trophy for ‘Athleti’.

Fast-forward a month to Pretoria. Forlan’s 30-yard wonder-strike opens the scoring for Uruguay against the host nation, and the first stone of their path to the final is laid. The 31-year-old went on to score a second that night, in addition to a swerving, ducking free-kick against Ghana to set-up tomorrow’s clash with the Dutch. If it all ends in victory, Diego will celebrate bare-chested as ever, his blonde locks leaving him looking more like an Adonis in Ancient Greece than a superstar striker from South America. Beyond the posturing, however, Forlan’s mind will no doubt be on Alejandra, and the mutual pride shared between the sibling pairing whose sacrifices and lives are worlds apart.

In a world where sex, drugs and violence lay too abundant in world football, Diego Forlan’s legacy is something Uruguay, FIFA and Forlan himself can be proud of.

Davey’s World Cup Diary: Day 3. The Germans have arrived.

14 06 2010

With nine goals in the first seven matches of the tournament, the world yearned for Germany to light up the World Cup on Sunday evening, at the very least with goals if not flair and creativity. But who would have thought the Germans, consistently organised yet never attractive, would be the team the rest of the world feared come Monday morning? A fine display against a weakened and completely incoherent Australia side it may have been, but certain facets of the German side we had been warned about came to the fore from the first minute, and others we didn’t expect reared their heads as well.
Firstly, the partnership of Lucas Podolski and Miroslav Klose. Between them they scored a paltry six goals this season in the Bundesliga, forcing some to predict they would be equally blunt in this tournament, if they even made the starting line-up at all. These pundits clearly forgot that this is the World Cup, and a Klose goal (especially with his head) is as likely as an England goalkeeper embarrassing himself, or an Australian kicking someone up in the air minutes into the tournament (more on that later on). The delivery and distribution of Philip Lahm, revelling in his new-found captain’s role, consistently provided Klose with chances, and despite only taking one of them his positioning and awareness should be noted by the coaches of Ghana and Serbia should they wish to go unpunished later in the group stages. Lucas Podolski performed equally well, with a thunderous shot too strong for even Mark Schwarzer to keep out giving Germany the lead, and the Polish-born front-man linked up with his strike-partner well throughout.

The absence of Michael Ballack was reported, at least in the English press, as a hammer-blow for Germany. The vilification of Kevin-Prince Boateng in the Germany press showed their obvious fears that a German World Cup side without Ballack stood little chance of progressing far in the tournament. However, his replacement in the form of Sami Khedira, linking up with midfield partner Bastian Schweinsteiger, performed excellently throughout Sunday evening. The pairing defended well when they had to, whilst focusing the rest of their attentions to distributing the ball to the flanks in the form of Podolski and Thomas Muller. Some might say Ballack’s absence may cost Germany later in the tournament against better sides than Australia, but the performance of his replacements last night gives Germany a huge lift as they progress in the tournament.

To coin a cliche, we save the best for last. Mesut Ozil of Werder Bremen was tipped by many to be a young star of the tournament after being key to Germany’s success in the Under-21 European Championship in 2009. The Turkish-born attacking midfielder proved his tipsters right, and was instrumental in much of Germany’s attacking play against Australia. Moving across the field behind the three strikers, Ozil proved difficult to pick up to the Australian defenders, allowing him time on the ball to play it into attacking positions. Somehow finishing the night without a goal, he assisted one, and played a part in two others, leading many to name him the man of an extraordinary match.

Australia were poor, and played half an hour with ten men, after Tim Cahill’s questionable sending-off for a challenge on Schweinsteiger. Their discipline was also dreadful throughout, with Lucas Neill a particular offender, at one point jumping with his knees raised into the back of Thomas Muller. Their decision to attack a German side who can pass the ball so quickly and efficiently proved their downfall, as Germany regularly counter-attacked at pace with ridiculous ease. Nothing can be taken away from a German performance of incredible class, however, and their young and fit squad will prove a match for anybody in this tournament.