Football Station


Out of the Starting Gates

With the first round of games knocked down in the English Premier League, football fans across the globe now have their feet wet in one of the most appetizing leagues in the world.

A handful of games could have been dismissed as early season anxiety, however, some were worth note.  Newly promoted Blackpool took Wigan to the cleaners for 4 goals, and sit second in the table under Chelsea and above Manchester United.  They may want to relish the position, because not many can claim they’ve held it for long.  The reigning champions demolished West Brom by 6 goals to nil, Liverpool (i.e. Pepe Reina) surrendered their lead to Arsenal in the 90th minute after being reduced to 10 men, Tottenham and Manchester City played out a goalless draw in London and Manchester United cruised to a sweet 3-0 over

Impressive was an understatement for the reigning champions against West Brom.

Newcastle.

With the initial nerves fading fast and reality setting in, teams must soon realize that if they don’t snap out of their summer funk soon, they’ll be looking at a long season (we’re looking at you Wigan).  Standout fixtures are mainly Liverpool v. Manchester City and Manchester United at Fulham.  That’s right.  United have lost their last three visits to the Cottage, and you wonder in the Londoners can keep up the streak.

Liverpool will be looking to overcome their last minute draw against Arsenal in a tough tie against Chelsea look-a-likes Manchester City at Eastlands.  Manchester have yet to prove their credentials in the Premier League,granted their first game was against Champions League newboys Tottenham at White Hart Lane.  Liverpool will be without Joe Cole and with Aquilani seemingly on his way, it looks like Gerrard will line up behind Torres, with maybe Mascherano/Lucas paired up with Poulson, who looked rather impressive against Trabzonspor.  City have a slew of players in their ranks and Mancini has his pick.  Balotelli may well start up alongside Tevez, and, if he does, I will seem more like a statement from Mancini rather than a genuine selection.  Yaya Toure is expected to start and he will provide a great matchup for Gerrard and whoever wins that battle, controls the ebb and flow of the game and could very well control the outcome of the match.

Typically, a Manchester United matchup against Fulham would yield a full three points for the former, however, on Fulham’s

Danny Murphy nets from the spot as Fulham beat Manchester United at Craven Cottage.

ground, the Red Devils have lost three consecutive matches.  Will the fact that Roy Hodgson has moved on to Liverpool make a difference for the tie?  Or is Craven Cottage simply kryptonite for United?  Fulham may be without Mark Schwarzer between the sticks but Hughes is hopeful of a return for the Aussie stopper.  Patrice Evra was a doubtful for a little while, but it looks like he’s shaken off the knock and will suit up against Fulham.  Wayne Rooney hasn’t scored for his club since…United played Fulham at Old Trafford last March.  Since then, the boys gone dry.  Other than those little snippits of information, there isn’t a lot to be said about the tie until the teams actually take the field.

Predictions – Being so early in the season, it’s hard to try and call the shots.  However, that’s exactly what I’m going to do…

Saturday

Arsenal 2 – 0 Blackpool

Birmingham 1 – 0 Blackburn

Everton 2 – 1 Wolves

Stoke City 1 – 3 Tottenham

West Brom 0 – 0 Sunderland

West Ham 1 – 0 Bolton

Wigan 0 – 3 Chelsea

Sunday

Fulham 1 – 1 Manchester United

Newcastle 1 – 2 Aston Villa

Monday

Manchester City 1 – 1 Liverpool

A lot of close games, and, obviously, a lot can depend on who the head men select for the starting XI.  Until next week, we’ll see who is the quickest out of the starting gates…

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Set Your DVR For…Pt. 1

Group A –

– South Africa vs. Mexico –

The young Mexican will open up defenses in Group A.

Yep, the opening game.  It will be the first test for both sides hoping to make it out of one of the more exciting groups.  Recently marred by the Benni McCarthy scandal, the nation will be eager to get behind their boys and cheer the Bafana Bafana to victory. However, they are coming up against a battle ready Mexican side featuring the likes of Andrés Guardado, Giovanni Dos Santos, and Cuauhtémoc Blanco.  But, it is important to stress the effects that homefield advantage can have on a squad (cue 2002 South Korea).  Whatever happens in Group A, it should amount to some fireworks.

Prediction

South Africa 1 – 2 Mexico

– France vs. Mexico –

To say France has drastically underachieved in qualifying could be putting it lightly.  Les Bleus have one of the strongest rosters in the world, but have failed to live up to that potential.  Forever famous for his handball (the Hand of Gaul), Thierry Henry, the French’s leading scorer, will look to net early and often against a Mexican side that isn’t without its flaws.  Rafael Marquez has only just returned from injury and could be prime for a runaround, a fact that Franck Ribery knows assuredly, as well.  One of the only consistent performers for the French, and only recently, is goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.  The youngster has been in superb form for Lyon and will more than likely attract the attention of big European clubs in South Africa.

Snugglin'

Prediction

France 1 – 1 Mexico

Group B

– Argentina vs. Nigeria –

Most likely the most anticipated match-up of Group B, as the attacking flair of the Africans and the unrivaled talent in the striking

department of the Argentines should provide fireworks.  The Nigerian defense isn’t half bad either.  With the likes of Joseph Yobo, Danny Shittu and Taye Taiwo, they won’t be push overs.  However, when you consider the opposition of Messi, Tevez, Aguero, Milito and Higuain up front, it’s hard to be confident.  Expect a high scoring match with little being offered by either team to defensive standoffs.

Prediction

Argentina 4 – 2 Nigeria

Group C

England vs. United States –

There is a lot of buzz surrounding this match, as the two nations have an illustrious history.  Wartime foes and allies, fierce

So much Wayne. So much angst.

rivalries in sports (Ryder Cup anyone?) and the constant claim that the Americans will never be up to snuff in the footballing world.  And with a squad like England’s, it’s hard to argue…at least this time around.  Despite losing Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry (for the opener only), England still has plenty of bite.  Their pacy wingers will be eyeing up the slower Yank defense and licking their lips.  However, the Americans prosper as underdogs and have proved it before against Spain, Italy and nearly Brazil.  They also do have a few game changing players in their ranks in the likes of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.  Michael Bradley will surprise some critics at this World Cup for his stifling defensive work but will have his hands full with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard…especially if Ricardo Clark starts and keeps being useless.

Prediction

England 2 – 2 United States

Group D

….All.  The Germans look favorites to top the group, who could blame them?  They are historically dominant and just legit all the time.  Without Ballack, there will be a big hole in midfield that some undersized plugs will try to fill, but the Germans will still manage to oust this group.  The Ghanians will obviously be missing their star man, Michael Essien, but there is still hope as Asamoah Gyan will be a viable option up top and Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah will look to anchor down the middle of the park.  The big physical play of the Serbs could see them through this group as they have sufficient talent all over the pitch, namely defense. Aleksander Kolorov, Branislav Ivanovic, Neven Subotic and Nemanja Vidic…enough said.  They won’t allow many goals and won’t be devoid of goal scoring options up top.  The Australians might be the underdogs of this group, but not by too much.  Their defensive work, like the Serbs, could make up for any menace they lack going forward.  Brett Emerton, Lucas Neill and keeper Mark Shwarzer will be up to the task to snuffing out more than enough attacks.  The question is: can they hold off enough of them to get forward themselves to score?  We don’t think so.

Prediction

Germany to take top spot, with Serbia and Ghana slugging it out for second.  Slight edge Serbia.

Group E

Cameroon vs. Denmark

Simon Kjaer will be entrusted with stifling Samuel Eto'o

The two would-be runner up contenders will contend what we believe to be an intense contest.  This is backed up by a little guycalled Christian Poulsen.  He’s explosive, he provokes players and he’s violent.  After run ins with Francesco Totti, Gennaro Gattuso and Kaká, Poulsen has made a name for himself as a bit of a dirty player.  That coupled with the intensity sure to be building up within the Cameroonian midfield could lead to a show.  Don’t put it past Poulsen to make a racial slur, provoke one of the Lions.  That said, Cameroon have an iconic hitman in Samuel Eto’o, however that may be slightly scuppered by the big Danes, Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer.  Cameroon are also dealing with internal team issues with Samuel Eto’o being called out by legend Roger Milla, essentially for being a baby.  Denmark will look to snuff out attacks with their big boys in back and counter through their young gun Nikolas Bendtner.

Prediction

Cameroon 1 – 0 Denmark



“Squeaky Bum Time” in Group E

Group E

Netherlands

Denmark

Japan

Cameroon

Group E could be a tight contest, as the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon are all options for advancing.  Japan don’t have as much firepower as needed to advance, despite the fact that the Blue Samurai’s manager, Takeshi Okada is aiming for the Semifinals.  A bold claim, seeing as how the other teams Japan is grouped with have some world class talent.

Cameroon –

The big news out of the Cameroon Camp right now is Samuel Eto’o and his displeasure at the comments made by Roger Milla.

The Arsenal youngster will be out to impress in South Africa.

Should Eto’o decide to not participate in the World Cup, Cameroon still have a capable squad and have a chance of advancing.  That said, there is no way Eto’o won’t participate.  The World Cup is the biggest stage in football, it only comes along every 4 years and Sammy is 29.  He’ll be 33 next time around…this is his time.  He just needs to stop being a baby and suck it up.  Eto’o will play and he will have a good team lining up behind him.  Jean Makoun of Lyon and the fleet-footed Alex Song of Arsenal marshall the central of midfield with Stephane Mbia floating on the left wing as well.  Tottenham’s Assou-Ekotto and Bassong, and former Real Madrid, Chelsea and Newcastle defender Geremi and Rigobert Song will compose the back line.  Cameroon has the pace, technical skill and physical presence to boss around lesser teams.

Japan –

It’s always hard when a team has unrealistic expectations placed on their shoulders.  Unfortunately, that is exactly the case that the Blue Samurai are under with their Coach shooting for a Semifinal berth.  However, the team shows a serious lack of firepower and will struggle with the physical nature of the Danes and Cameroonians.  There is hope, though, in the form of talisman Shunsuke Nakamura, the freekick wizard and veteran midfielder.  Also, Yasuhito Endo was the Asian Player of the Year for 2009 and has had a fantastic year in the J-League.  He will partner Nakamura in midfield and could provide some brilliance going forward.  The one to watch is Keisuke Honda.  Honda is a tricky out-and-out winger who will terrorize right backs in Group E.  The Samurai will end up building their team around the 23 year old, and he will definitely be an interesting one to watch in South Africa.

Denmark –

The Danes are wild card for the World Cup.  They have several great players, but still have some glaring worries approaching June 11.  The spine of the team consists Stoke City keeper Thomas Sorensen, Simon Kjaer & Daniel Agger, Captain Jon Dahl Tomasson and Nikolas Bendtner.  To say the least, they are fully capable of attacking opponents as Coach Morten Olsen is so fond of.  Denmark is the only team in Group E who could be exposed by the quickness of Japan and the techincal ability of the Netherlands and Cameroon.  Problems for the Danes include their wingers, who are young and largely untested and Christian Poulsen.  Poulsen habitually finds himself in trouble by stepping on, punching and verbally taunting opponents.  If he plays against Cameroon, program the DVR, because, odds are, he’s going to do something rash against their physical midfielders.

The Netherlands –

What do you do with the Oranje?  Packed with talent, and oozing with potential, the Netherlands are always contenders for the

Back from injury, Van Persie will line up against Arsenal teammate Alex Song.

title…until they play in the later stages.  The Oranje are renowned for choking when they need to pull out a win.  In Euro 2008, the Dutch cruised through their first three games and then fell badly to the Russians in a 3-1 loss.  A demolition of their group should be guaranteed for them in Group E, but when it comes to the later stages, who knows?  Where to begin with their talent?  They have several world class players in Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and youngsters Eljero Elia and Ryan Babel.  The Dutch also have veterans in Dirk Kuyt, Rafael Van Der Vaart, and Mark Van Bommel who they will look to for experience and to steady the ship.  All things considered they should run their group and end up playing Slovakia or Paraguay in the next round which is a nice thing to think about if you’re a Dutch fan.  However, keep in mind their ability to blow it.  It could happen.

Prediction –

1. Netherlands

2. Cameroon

3. Denmark

4. Japan