09 July 2010 3:58 PM

Howard Webb - England's World Cup finalist

Webb Will Robson, in London: After years of waiting England finally have a World Champion. It may not be as glorious a title as the likes of Sneijder and Villa will compete for on Sunday, but Howard Webb is the football refereeing champion of the world.

If Spain win on Sunday they will become only the third team to be European Champions and World Champions at the same time; a honour Webb, who is also a policeman, shares after presiding over the Champions League final in May.

Webb’s performances are reminiscent of the great Pierluigi Collina - and not just because of the shiny bald head. His presence on the pitch and his judgement, combined with his two linesmen who have nailed some incredibly difficult calls in the competition, very much remind me of the past master and have made him stand out from the crowd.

With referees falling like flies in South Africa after making some shocking decisions, our Yorkshire copper has kept his cool and shown that not all Englishmen bottle it on the big stage.


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08 July 2010 4:48 PM

Spain v Holland = Villa v Sneijder

<b>Will Robson:</b> Sunday night’s final will see two sides competing for their first ever World Cup victory, a shocking statistic considering the pedigree that both nations have. The real battle, however, is not between Holland and Spain but between the two men that make them  tick. Wesley Sneijder and David Villa have been outstanding at the tournament so far and both players give their side that edge that is so crucial in a World Cup.

The two of them have been scoring at will, although Sneijder’s first against Brazil should definitely not have be credited to him, and are level on five goals each and at least one of them seems destined to add to that on Sunday.

Both players have a fairly free reign in their sides, with Villa tending to start out on the left, drifting in as he sees fit and Sneijder floating around the midfield launching attacks and breaking forward. Spain are perhaps more reliant on Villa than Holland are on Sneijder due to Fernando Torres’ poor form at this competition but the importance of Sneijder cannot be underestimated.

While both sides have world class teams, you can’t help but think that this game will be decided by the individual performances of these two players.


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07 July 2010 4:22 PM

Slow and steady wins the race for Europe

Netherlands Will Robson, in London: With three European teams in the semi-finals and an all-European final on Sunday, predictions of a shift in the power of football towards South America now seem as premature as Pele’s prediction of an African winner by 2000. The question is how this has happened.

None of the European teams excelled in the group stages but once again they dominated the latter stages of the competition despite South American teams playing more attractive football throughout the competition.

The three remaining teams should not really be there. Germany are the competition’s over-achievers and top scorers but 12 of their 13 goals have come through slack defending. When Serbia really put Germany under pressure their inexperience started to come through. Spain have scraped their way into the semi-final with poor performance after poor performance. As for finalists Holland, they may have been unbeaten during qualification and in the finals, but they have failed to convince with patchy displays.

There does not seem to be any real explanation for this sudden European revival. Against Argentina Joachim Low totally outclassed Diego Maradona, yet the Argentine’s world-class line-up should still have been light-years ahead of the Germans. Holland somehow beat a Brazilian team that seemed to have the game secure after 20 minutes. Spain, a side that have struggled to score goals, edged their way past a Paraguay side that had previously had the best defence in the tournament.

Before the quarter-finals took place there was a serious possibility of an all-South American semi-final however now we are guaranteed a European winner and a very possible European top three.

Perhaps the European sides have simply proved that slow and steady really does win the race.


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01 July 2010 4:23 PM

Maybe England should take Nigeria's lead

Will Robson, London: The Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has suspended his country’s football team from all competition for two years in the wake of their poor show at this World Cup. As one of the top ranked African sides they were expected to make far more of an impact than they did, but only achieved one point. The President believes this suspension will allow Nigeria to reorganise and improve its football.

In the last few days anyone and everyone in world football has given their opinion on England’s national team, whether we wanted it or not, and they have all reached the conclusion that the FA is poorly run, the Premier League cares little for the national team, English players are poor technically and the ‘golden generation’ have a bad attitude.

What is clear is that major action needs to be taken. Not extreme ‘knee-jerk’ action, but a careful and considered restructuring of English football from top to bottom with a concentration on the development of young talent. Spanish football underwent a similar process over ten years ago and is now reaping the rewards.

If the opinions of these so called football experts are to be believed - although David Cameron and his cronies wading in and giving the English game a ‘good kicking’ is perhaps a bit far - Goodluck Jonathan might actually be onto something.


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28 June 2010 11:18 AM

Come on Sepp, give us goal-line technology

Will Robson, London: So the final whistle has blown on England’s 2010 World Cup campaign after some defensive errors that would have embarrassed an under-10 side. Emile Heskey’s observation that it’s back to drawing board is surely the understatement of the World Cup!

There will obviously be an inquest into how this ‘Golden Generation’ failed to perform at a World Cup again, as there rightly should be. However questions should also be directed at Sepp Blatter over how he can possibly justify not using goal-line technology.

The fact that Frank Lampard’s goal was not given is an embarrassment to football. A tournament the size of the World Cup should not experience or tolerate mistakes like that. I like to think that this is not just a bitter England fan’s view and that if this had happened to any team at the competition people would be saying the same thing: now we have unequivocal proof that the game needs to change.

To make matters worse for Blatter and his antiquated views, the Argentina game with Mexico offered another example of human error as the officials failed to see Carlos Tevez standing comfortably offside for one of his goals.

The idea of officials being able to handle the game and make important decisions by themselves is a nice romantic one, but has been proved impossible. It is not only England who have failed to handle the pressure of the spot-light on the biggest stage of all; Sepp Blatter has fluffed his lines too.


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25 June 2010 4:16 PM

The changing face of world football

Fabio Cannavaro Will Robson, in London: What a difference four years makes. In 2006 the world watched in stunned silence as Zinedine Zidane delivered the most infamous head-butt of all time whilst Italy won the World Cup in an all-European final.

Four years later and both sides have failed to make it through their groups – with the Italians finishing behind lowly New Zealand. With all Europe’s big names struggling to find their form, the chances of another all-European final look almost non-existent. 

The question is, how did the reigning world champions and their beaten finalists come to crash out so embarrassingly? The French, of course, blame England for instilling a ‘money grabbing’ culture in their key players. The Italians don’t seem to know who to blame - it seems to be more a reaction of shock than anger amongst their press.

However, the problems in both squads do seem to be fairly obvious. The French, whether it is down to the English influence or not, appear to suffer from severely inflated egos and unprofessional behaviour. This has been endemic right through the squad from Nicolas Anelka’s rant, to the boycott of training and Raymond Domenech refusing to shake Carlos Parreira’s hand.

The Italian squad were doubted before the competition due to their age and the critics appear to have been proved right. Against Slovakia the old legs that made up most of the team seemed to have lost the will to fight, will the few young legs, Quagliarella in particular, struggled on alone.

Intense rebuilding is clearly needed in both camps. Two of the titans of European football have fallen and the remainder are stuttering in the competition. The South Americans are clearly taking advantage and dominating their groups. Argentina have looked scintillating. Brazil will be there or there abouts, while Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Mexico have played exciting, expansive football.

This World Cup has also brought African football to the very forefront of the world game and while South Africa, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast in particular will be disappointed they have not gone beyond the group stages - Ghana's progress represents the strength of African football.

Latin America’s dominance, combined with the lacklustre European effort and the progress of African and Asian sides, shows how the 2010 World Cup could represent a turning point in the global game.


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It's the great World Cup swop shop

Jack Lefley, in Sun City: England and USA supporters have turned airport departure lounges, bars and hotel foyers into one big ticket exchange.

England's second place finish in the group has thrown fans' travel plans into chaos and left them lumbered with tickets for the USA versus Ghana match in Rustenburg. With many desperate to secure their seat at the England versus Germany game in Bloemfontein's Free State stadium - anyone with an American accent is a target for ticket requests.

Dedicated Septics fans have also been on the hunt with meetings arranged online and notices plastering hotel reception notice boards. It has compounded a terrible week for the small band of English touts who made the journey to South Africa in the hope of bleeding England fans dry again.

First they were left saddled with wads of practically worthless tickets for the England versus Slovenia match after the match failed to sell out.  And now they are stuck with tickets for the wrong game as fans help each other out with little or no money changing hands.

England fan Prakash Patel, a London lawyer who arrived in Johannesburg this morning, said: "England finishing second means fans have got no tickets, no hotels and no hire cars. But England v Germany is a must see game and we will do whatever it takes."


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24 June 2010 4:46 PM

Bend it like Bailey

Ben Bailey Ben Bailey, London: The BBC decided to get Clarence Seedorf - the only man to win the European Cup with three different clubs - to analyse the troublesome Jabulani World Cup football.

At work we were all desperate to know which famous face would be testing the ball for the Standard. The office was rife with talk of big names that would be coming in. Zidane, Becks, and Luis Figo were all apparently in the frame. Guess who they went with...

I knew I had a lot to live up to as I pulled on a pair of rather garish lime green Adidas F50i’s and strolled out on the hallowed turf of Kensington Gardens. Those that saw the Beeb’s footage will remember Seedorf (IN HIS BLOODY JEANS!) casually thumping the ball into the top corner. In contrast I had problems getting the boots on (they were a little tight) but after overcoming that obstacle I gave it my best shot.

It took one hoof to realise that 20 years learning to read the trajectory of a football was not going to help. The Jabulani really does have a mind of its own. This may irk the likes of Kaka, Messi and Rooney as it affects their accuracy, but for your amateur (oh go on, semi-professional) player it makes the ball absolutely brilliant to play with.

While bending it like Beckham used to be reserved for people like, er, Beckham, the world’s best no-longer have a monopoly on swerve.

Ben Bailey2 The movement one can generate makes shooting incredibly enticing. Having quite literally bashed it all over the park I encountered the slightly more tricky aspect of the Jabulani: controlling the thing. On deep crosses muscle memory goes completely out of the window. After 20 minutes I thought I had it cracked. The ball flew through the air. I set myself to chest it. All was fine, until at the last moment the ball didn’t drop and hit me plumb in the face.

It was a low moment. A few passers-by giggled. I think one kid even called me 'crap'. I trudged off feeling like Emile Heskey.

Next time I’ll leave it to Clarence.


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England vs Germany - bring it on...

Will Robson, in London: So once again we’re off to play the Germans. I for one wouldn’t have it any other way; the chance for our ‘Golden Generation’ to truly prove themselves, to avenge the agony of Italia '90 and Gazza’s tears, the chance to atone for yet more penalties in '96, and of course to finally silence Franz Beckenbauer!

Der Kaizer’s accusations of 'kick and rush football' and 'stupidity' have been well documented; he seems hell bent on giving Gerrard and co. even more motivation to win on Sunday, something that they surely won’t need.

If the England fans in the stadium against Slovenia are anything to go by, the atmosphere on Sunday will be electric. The English army made mincemeat of the much criticised vuvuzelas and against Germany it can only get louder - with an arsenal of anti-German chants.

There is much for the England fan to feel confident. Against Slovenia we finally saw a united England; the players were all on the same page passing and moving and generally giving the opposition defenders a torrid time. It was by no means perfect but it showed that they could still do it and that the confidence of that impressive qualifying campaign had returned.

On top of that the Germans have hardly been perfect in their games. An impressive start against Australia was followed by a poor showing against Serbia and then an unconvincing win against Ghana. This game is very much winnable.

However, lurking in the back of every England fan’s mind is the dreaded gremlin of English football, the penalty shoot-out. How will the boys cope with this very real possibility? The poor display against Portugal in 2006 hardly inspires confidence.

If England can bring their shooting boots and handle the pressure of a shoot-out the revenge would be sweet and it would mark a massive step forward mentally for the team and for English football. However giving the Germans, and Beckenbauer in particular, a lesson in English football would be the sweetest victory of all.


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23 June 2010 9:39 AM

England find themselves in group of death


Jack Lefley, in Port Elizabeth: Former England international John Barnes was thrown a curve ball as he played pundit on South African television and saw Fabio Capello's men catapulted into the group of death.

As if things weren't bad enough for England as they prepared for their make or break clash with Slovenia today, local station S3 had them pitted against Brazil and Portugal.

With disappointing draws against the United States and Algeria so far, it's unlikely Wayne Rooney and Co would have relished facing Ronaldo or Kaka as they attempt to avoid going down in history as one of the worst England World Cup sides ever.

One time Liverpool midfielder Barnes looked confused by the erroneous table and struggled to give a meaningful analysis of a group that should have included the Ivory Coast rather than England.

It was the elephant in the room for around five minutes until someone else spotted the mistake and England were sent back to struggle in Group C where they belong.


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