We Hate Argentina

One of my more vivid memories of our time in the UK is watching England v Denmark in the first knock-out round of the 2002 World Cup at our local pub.

The game was played in the middle of the day on a Saturday, UK time, and England went on to win 3-nil.  But, that’s not what I remember.

By the time we arrived shortly before kick-off there was already small but vocal group of keen fans who had been drinking all morning.  They were getting ready for the match by singing a song which had the simple lyrics: “We hate Argentina! We hate Argentina!”  This was all the more curious because England had already knocked Argentina out in the group stages, so this time around they weren’t going to be able to blame Argentina for their eventual exit.

Why do English fans hate Argentina?  It’s complicated, but part of the reason is that Argentina has a history of cheating and getting away with it, whereas England does not.

Cheating and getting away with it isn’t sport, yet the “art” of diving, faking injury, pushing and shoving and pulling shirts to impede opponents, handling the ball and intimidating the referee have somehow become an integral part of football.

At some stage soon FIFA [1] are going to need to decide whether to introduce technology and/or new rules into the mix for future World Cups, to assist the referees and ensure a fair result.  There are lots of options, including the status quo of leaving it all to some poor bugger to decide in real time.

I think they could do a lot worse than consider these three changes, based on some ideas proposed by my brother:

Challenges. Each team would be given one challenge per half, which they could use to challenge any decision made by the referee – e.g. if they think the referee has missed a foul, or incorrectly awarded a free kick or penalty.  They would be reviewed by a television official.  If the challenge is successful then the decision is reversed and they maintain the challenge.  If not, they lose the ability to challenge for the remainder of the half.  Because they only have one challenge they will need to be careful to use it only when they are convinced the decision was wrong.

Red Cards for Simulation. If a player is caught diving or over-acting where there is a foul then they are sent off.  Given the ability to challenge (see above) it will no longer pay to try and play the referee and could be very expensive, so this should significantly reduce this behaviour.

Penalty Goals. If a goal would have been scored but for a foul then a goal can be awarded, rather than just a penalty.  (If this rule was in place then Uruguay would have lost the match to Ghana at the 2010 World Cup).

What do you think?

[1] Some trivia: it’s not actually FIFA who will decide on these changes.  The laws are maintained by a body called the International Football Association Board which is composed of four representatives from FIFA and one each from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Any changes need to be approved by 6 out of the 8 members.  So, all that whining from England about TV replays, but they really have nobody to blame but themselves!

Olé Olé Olé

I got up too early on Saturday morning, with our five year old, to watch the draw for the Football World Cup.  (Let me re-phrase that: he was up anyway, so I was the only reluctant one in the equation).

Thanks to the magic of MySky we skipped through the 30+ minutes of pre-match faffing around, and caught up with the live action just in time for the draw itself.

We both booed when Mexico and USA got our preferred places in South Africa’s and England’s pools respectively.  And cheered too loudly (there were others still enjoying a sleep in) when New Zealand was finally drawn – despite the mathematical certainty of that happening eventually.

Perhaps it was just relief at avoiding Brazil and Spain, the two remaining seeded teams still to come in the draw, the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the world, and obvious picks for eventual finalists (provided Portugal don’t stuff it up by winning their pool which would force them to play each other in the second round).

Some observations:

1. I think we “won” the draw.

Sure, beforehand there were an almost infinite number of permutations, some of which were much more attractive than what we got, but also very unlikely to actually eventuate.

If we just look at the other teams that were in our pot (aka the “bunny bucket”), it’s hard to argue that we’d be better off in any other pool:

We wouldn’t want to be in…

  • North Korea’s pool with Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast (ranked #2, #5 and #16 in the world).
  • Japan’s pool, with Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark (#3, #11 and #26).
  • Honduras’ pool with Spain and Chile (#1 and #17).
  • Australia’s pool with Germany and Serbia (#6 and #20).
  • Mexico’s pool, with France and Uruguay (#7 and #19).
  • South Korea’s pool with Argentina and Nigeria (#8 and #22).

The best alternative we could hope for would be USA’s pool with England and Algeria (#9 and #28).

The reason for this is simple.  There was nobody in the draw that we would play and be confident of beating. The only other team to have qualified for the tournament with a lower world ranking is North Korea (and since they were in our pot they were never going to be in our pool).

2. Expect to be soundly beaten by both Paraguay and Slovakia.

Italy are ranked #4 in the world and are defending champions.  Expectations will correctly be low when we play them.

But, I fear, by the time the matches actually start there will be a number of people who will expect to see the All Whites compete against the other two teams in our pool.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see it happen.

But to expect it would be misguided.

Paraguay are ranked #30 in the world.  Slovakia are ranked #34.    We are ranked #77, just ahead of Uganda and a place behind Uzbekistan.

To draw a comparison with rugby, the #77 ranked team is Solomon Islands.  However, that’s misleading since there are only 95 teams in the IRB rankings, compared to 207 in the FIFA rankings (there are five teams tied in 203rd= place, including American Samoa and Papua New Guinea – giving a good guide to the quality of opposition that we needed to beat out to be Oceania champs!)

So, the equivalent match ups in rugby would be Hong Kong (#34) vs Japan (#13) and Tonga (#15).

Spare a thought for the 46 countries ranked higher than us who didn’t even qualify for the finals.  Imagine if Hong Kong qualified for the rugby world cup but France didn’t – Croatia, ranked 10th in the football world will not be in South Africa, but we will.

We should consider ourselves lucky to score nil.

3. France 1, FIFA 0.

I know that Frace played poorly in the qualifying tournament, and were lucky (pronounced “cheat-y” in Irish) to be there at all.

However, having qualified they should have been a seeded team.  They are ranked #7 in the world, ahead of Argentina (who hardly strolled through qualifying themselves), England and South Africa who were all seeded.

I can understand that the organisers wanted to ensure that South Africa played at pre-determined venues and in pre-determined matches, but there are lots of other ways they could have orchestrated that – for example, simply by mandating that whichever pool South Africa was drawn in would be considered Pool A, swapping place with whatever pool they were naturally drawn in.

France got screwed by the FIFA seedings, so the fact that they ended up as the strong favourite to win their pool anyway can only be put down to karma.

4. England, optimistic as ever.

Here is my favourite quote from coverage of the draw, from The Guardian:

“In the last two decades England have limped home from Italy (1990), traipsed back from France (1998), stumbled west from Japan (2002) and sounded the retreat from Germany (2006), where Wayne Rooney as sent off in a quarter-final defeat to Portugal.  Next summer’s competition therefore presents a fresh opportunity: to be knocked-out on a whole new continent, in winter time, rather than the clammy temperatures that help redden faces, along with the tears.”

I know we like to think that the All Blacks are the rugby equivalent of Brazil, but you have to admit, when it comes to the supporters’ expectations especially there are a lot of similarities with England too.

5. Predictions.

According to the TAB, England are now third favourites, behind only Spain and Brazil.  Yes, they have a relatively easy pool, which they should top.  And, provided that Germany finish top in Australia’s pool they will have a second round match they will expect to win too – most likely against Serbia.  But, from there it gets a lot tougher.  Their quarter final opponent would probably be one of France, Nigeria or Argentina (the ol’ nemesis).  Two other teams on their side of the draw, and likely semi final opponents, if they get that far, are Netherlands and Brazil.

I think that either Netherlands, currently paying $13, is a better bet than England at $7, but wouldn’t it be good to see them prove me wrong!

If results go according to rankings, the later knock out stages will be:

Quarter Finals:

France v England
Netherlands v Brazil
Argentina v Germany
Italy v Spain

Semi Finals:

France v Brazil
Germany v Spain

Final:

Brazil v Spain

I guess I shouldn’t plan on too much sleep during July next year then?

Here’s a question for you: next year, if you could attend one of a) Winter Olympics, b) Commonwealth Games, or c) World Cup, what would it be?

Niet te geloven 3-1 verloren

Picture this:

A much loved national sports team, which hasn’t won a major tournament since the late 80s goes into the latest event as one of the favourites. The team, including many of the superstars of the game, easily win all of their pool matches before being bundled out in the quarter finals to a less fancied opponent. Their army of supporters, all dressed in the same colour, and all convinced that they are the greatest team in the world, struggles to come to terms with the result.

Russia 3, Netherlands 1 (after extra-time).

I was in Amsterdam when the Netherlands lost to Portugal in the semi-finals of Euro 2004, so I can imagine what the atmosphere must be like there at the moment, after the loss to Russia this morning (NZ time).

Many of you can probably relate too, I suppose.

I’ve always maintained that the All Blacks are the rugby equivalent of Brazil, but given this result perhaps the Netherlands are a closer match?

Go on the Fleet

Last week we (meaning the 28,000-odd members of MyFootballClub.co.uk) completed the takeover of Ebbsfleet United FC:

Yahoo News: Web fans complete takeover of lowly English club

With that out of the way we new owners have quickly gotten on with business, including picking new strips for next season (following the takeover Nike have kindly offered to be the kit sponsor!)

Here are my selections:

Home

Away

The team are currently 9th on the Blue Square Premier Football Conference table, just outside of a promotion playoffs spot. So, they’re only four winning seasons away from the Premiership!

Could be fun. :-)

My Football Club Update

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about My Football Club.

On Wednesday this week they announced that they have reached their target of 50,000 members and are now in negotiations with three four clubs. The have a budget of GBP 1.5 million, so should be able to find something interesting to spend that on.

You might wonder what the clubs who are likely to be bought (not to mention their existing fans) think of the scheme. I guess time will tell once a purchase is announced. Meantime they don’t seem to be too stressed about it. I suppose that it doesn’t compare too unfavourably with being taken over by an odd foreign billionaire.

Here is a local news item from Anglia TV whose local team, Cambridge United, is #3 on the hit list:

I’m in. If you want to join the fun you can register online (cost: 35 quid).

:-)

My Football Club

This is great:

http://www.myfootballclub.co.uk/

These guys are trying to sign up 50,000 members in order to buy their own UK football club. They already have 45,000+ confirmed.

Top of their wish list of clubs: Leeds United, which was in the Premiership when I arrived in London but has since fallen on hard times. That would be awesome.

By the looks they have picked up sponsorship from EA Games, who possibly see this as an extension of their popular FIFA Manager game.

Will be fun to watch and see what happens.