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Arsenal – Outgoing Players 2014

While the transfer talks & rumours still go on, let’s talk about the players who have left Arsenal this off season.

Bacary Sagna – Free to Manchester City

This one hurt a bit while it was going down and during the closing games of the last season. Despite being wanted at Arsenal, Sagna felt that he had to leave. However in the wake of the 4 new players who have come in and exciting times for Arsenal, Sagna has all been forgotten by the fans. He made his name in Arsenal and left on a free transfer for Manchester City where, as he says, he will have more of a chance to win the league and cups. Funny that he did this just after Arsenal won the FA Cup for the first time in 9 years. When he faces off against Arsenal it will be just another game!

Lukasz Fabianski – Free to Swansea

This one could have been avoided as Fabianski is a good goalie and was our FA Cup hero. He just wasn’t good enough to be our #1. He left for first team action at Swansea which he felt he needed to do at this stage of his career. He too left on a free transfer as he did not wish to extend his contract. Arsenal replaced him with Ospina who could challenge for the #1 spot.

Nicklas Bendtner has been released from his contract after failing to establish his place in the squad. At time it felt that he wasn’t even trying and then he’d go and score an important goal! Since then he has been in the news having tweeted an audacious nude pic of him with his genitals covered by a cap. He had been thought to be close to a move to Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany, but the Bundesliga side ended negotiations due to the demands Bendtner’s camp were making when it came to his wages.

Park Chu-Young, Chuks Aneke, Daniel Boateng were also released by the club and wished the best for their future. I’ve only seen Park play and hadn’t even heard about the other two. Also Thomas Eisfeld was sold to Fulham – never seen him play either. Also captain Tomas Vermalen may soon be leaving to Barcelona.

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Arsenal Looking Good With Trio Of Confirmed Signings

Finally Arsene Wenger has seen the light and armed with the $100 million that the club board of directors have given him to buy quality players, he has set out to strengthen the squad and make the club look like title contenders. With a few exceptions, grabbing players on deadline day has become what Arsenal fans are used to which has frustrated fans including myself. Wenger has always been seen as the most miserly of managers when it comes to shelling out the big bucks for buying world class quality players that not only gives your team a glamourous look but also excites the fans to root for the team. And in this day and age, you need to spend to keep a quality side. There are some exceptions where a combination of good quality but lesser known players combine well to play outta their minds and guided by the right coach they can win leagues – Athletico Madrid comes in mind! However you can’t always do that.

Despite having some marquee signings in the years since I became a faithful fan of the Gunners, the clubs has recently stuck to a policy of either building from within (which hasn’t always been the best for us) or letting Wenger buy players who all seem to play alike – talented & exciting but certainly fragile and injury prone and prone to not rising to the occasion against the bigger clubs and occasionally fumbling against weaker opponents. Hopefully this season will be the start of a stronger and more winning era for Arsenal which will see us back to challenging and winning the English league as well as that elusive first Champions League trophy. Wenger & staff has made a few signings which will help us get there.

First up is Chile’s attacking star Alexis Sanchez who was bought from Barcelona. Sanchez has shined at the recently concluded World Cup and will add some sharp teeth to the attack. Next up was Matheiu Debuchy who was signed from Newcastle United to be the replacement for the departing Bacary Sagna, who signed with Manchester City this offseason. Both signings have been met with resounding approval and more recently Colombian goalie David Ospina has also signed from Nice. Although he is being signed as the backup goalie Wojciech Szczesny should surely be concerned about his number one spot. Ospina, who stood out for a brilliant Colombian side at the World Cup, turned a lot of heads in his country’s run to the quaterfinals and will battle for the top stopper role as Wenger confirms it.

And that’s not all; Wenger stated that Arsenal are not done and could be finalizing the signing of promising youngster Callum Chambers for $16 million from Southampton and who will be the second choice to Deuchby at right back but can also fill in at the center back’s role! Also Sami Khedira is the transfer rumour that refuses to go away – the only hindrance is his high salary demands but that might be sorted out soon. I hope we get a couple of more really good signings before the season starts. Things look good.

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Germany Crowned World Cup Champions

A couple of days late due to no internet connectivity but nevertheless here is my final report for the 2014 World Cup. It was a deserved win for the Germans as they defeated Argentina by a solitary goal struck by substitute attacking midfielder Mario Gotze in extra time. It was heartbreaking for the Argentines and their fans as they had the better of the chances till then and also it looked like heading towards penalties at that point until the super substitution by coach Joachim Low provided the needed goal. Germans were ecstatic and jubilant on winning their first world cup as united Germany (West Germany has won 3 cups) and they celebrated like the best. I think it was a well deserved win as they are a very strong team, especially that midfield with substitutes as well. Awesome set of players.

A night before the Netherlands further impounded the dramatic change of fortunes for hosts Brazil as they won 3-0 against the Brazilians to take the 3rd place spot. Goals from Robin Van Persie (penalty) & Daley Blind in the first half followed by an injury time goal by Georginio Wijnaldum sealed what has to be the worst two game showing by the so-called mighty Brazil. They have let in 10 goals in two games and as expected coach Luis Scolari was given the ax after the tournament ended. And now the transfers will take precedence as clubs look to strengthen their squads before the season start in August.

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So It’s a Germany Vs Argentina Final

In a repeat of the 1986 & 1990 finals, we will have another meeting of the two giants of world football as Germany will face off against Argentina on Sunday for the biggest prize in international sports. Germany shocked the world when they ran out with a 7-1 thrashing of hosts Brazil in a match that broke Brazilians fans’ hearts. It will go down as one of the biggest shocks of the world cup history and as one of the most lopsided games in recent memory. I myself can’t remember watching such rampant thrashings dished out to a contender before. Argentina on the other hand had to wait it out with a goalless and dull boring 0-0 draw that led to penalties before winning it 4-2 in the shootout.

Germany’s win was so shocking because despite Brazil being without their injured superstar Neymar and the suspended captain Thiago Silva, they were still seen as having the upper hand being the hosts. But by the 29th minute of the match, and after Brazil had started well, Germany had rampaged the Brazilian goalpost scoring 5 goals. Mueller, Klose, a Toni Kroos brace & Sami Khedira were the scorers. The fans in the stands were already crying well before half time and the funny tweets were alfoat. The second half Brazil came out with intention to salvage some pride but it was still the Germans who kept scoring with susbtitute André Schürrle scoring a brace before in the final minutes Oscar scored a meaningless goal for his nation which no one bothered to celebrate with any vigor. The icing on the cake is that Klose overtook Ronaldo as the world cup’s all time leading score with his 16th!

Compared to the first semifinal the second was dull, boring and a damp squib affair as the Netherlands and Argentina failed to find a goal even after extra time and the game went to penalties. It was so boring that I resorted to watching some dumb reality show to pass the time and only checked the score every 5 minutes or so. No Tim Krul to save Netherlands here, Argentina scored 4-2 to end our misery and they will face old rivals Germany. I hope Germany wins!

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2014 World Cup – Quarter-Finals

The quarter-finals are done and the 4 teams that I fully expected to win and go through to the semi-finals are through. But it wasn’t easy for any team and it looked like it could go any which way. So our semi-finals for the 2015 will look like this:

Germany vs Brazil : Germany and France had somewhat similar routes to the quarterfinals; they both started out with a bang and scored multiple goals in their opening games but things slowly petered out and they both had a solitary goal win and a draw in their next two matches and another low scoring win. But while Germany looked solid in defence and more likely to score the French had only Benzema and to a lesser degree Pogba who looked sharp in attack. Germany scored in the 13th minute through Mat Hummels and looked like they could score more but in the end it was enough. Brazil has similar style of a run as Germany but they are at home and have a huge advantage behind them. They faced a battling Colombia in the quarterfinals who gave them a run for their money but it looked like the hosts were on a gear higher and scored early as Thiago Silva gave them the lead. Just before the 70th minute Brazil scored again from David Luis before James scored via a deserved penalty to give the yellow fellows a tense last 10 minutes of the game. However Brazil will be without their star Neymar (out injured) for the rest of the tournament while captain David Luis is suspended for the Germany game. Advantage Germany in a huge way.

Netherlands vs Argentina : In a rematch of the 1986 semifinals Argentina faced off against Belgium, another side that is a dark horse in the tournament. And for the first time since 1990 (24 years) the Argentines are through to the semis after a solitary goal victory by Gonzalo Higuain which came as early as the 8th minute. That would prove enough for a win as the Belgians faltered to score even though they had plenty of chances and came close. Netherlands faced off against Cinderella side and unlikely quarterfinalists Costa Rica who took the game to the Dutch. The Dutch came close to scoring on several occasions and especially in the extra time they hit the cross bar twice and the goal post once. Will no goal come for the attack minded Dutch? And then in what is being hailed as the best substitution in the history of the World Cup, coach  Louis van Gaal sent Tim Krul in virtually the last few seconds of extra-time just to take the penalties as he and his coaching staff that the Newcastle goalie was better suited to saving them than first choice Jasper Cillessen to save the penalties and he did, saving two out of five! What a tactician! An unlikely world cup hero and the answer to a trivia question for the years to come. I give a slight edge to the Dutch against Argentina as they seem to be cool as cucumbers even when things aren’t going their way.

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2014 World Cup Round Of 16

The long matches have come to an end and by that I mean the pre-quarter finals or round of 16 games. Never have so many games gone to extra-time or been won in the dying minutes in any tournament ever played. The stronger & more favoured teams won but they struggled to do and I guess the heat and humidity played a big factor in this. But we have a good lineup for the final 8 and things look very exciting. So after a 2 day break from matches, we will see on July 4th:

Brazil vs Columbia : Brazilian superstar Neymar & co will face a big hurdle in the form of Columbia with their own superstar in the making James Rodriguez, who has already scored 5 goals in this world cup. Brazil needed a penalty shoot-out to book their place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup after a 1-1 draw with Chile in Belo Horizonte. David Luiz claimed Brazil’s opener in the last-16 encounter after 18 minutes, but replays suggested that the final touch may have come from Gonzalo Jara after Thiago Silva flicked an inviting corner from Neymar towards the back post. Chile found themselves level shortly after the half-hour mark as Alexis Sanchez capitalised on a lack of communication in the Brazil defence, firing beyond Julio Cesar and into the bottom corner. It took a tense penalty shootout in which Brazilian goalie Cesar emerged as a hero to save a couple of shots for Brazil to win and advance to the next round. Columbia’s win over a toothless (ok I just had to do that) Uruguay side minus the suspended Luis Suarez was more straighforward with a James brace enough to shut down their South American rivals.

France vs Germany : Unfancied Algerians took the game to the Germans, who has started the tournament on fire but has gradually slowed down, and it needed two goals from André Schürrle and Mesut Özil broke the deadlock, if not Algerian spirits. The Algerians got a consolation goal from Djabou in the dying minutes of extra time but it wasn’t enough to stop the Germans. France too were finding the going tough against a spirited Nigerian side who seemed to play better each match and who seemed to threaten more than the fancied French side. It took a 79th minute goal from Pal Pogba to break the deadlock. For 78 minutes, Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama had been inspired in standing up to everything that France could throw at him. But then, just seconds after making a fingertip save to deny Karim Benzema, he rushed at a cross and gifted Paul Pogba what proved to be the decisive goal. A mix-up in added time with Joseph Yobo subsequently gave far more comfort to the scoreline than the French players had felt at any point of the match.

Netherlands vs Costa Rica : Netherlands played Mexico on a terribly hot & humid day that saw a sort of record being set – for the first time in the World Cup, FIFA declared that there be given a 3 minute break for the players to cool down and drink water due to fear of dehydration. The Dutch went behind in the 48th minutes ad Giovanni dos Santos scored and it looked liked the Mexicans would run away with a lone goal victory as the Dutch kept missing in the final 3rd of the field. But a superbly struck volley from Wesley Sneijder drew the match before Arjen Robben went down in injury time and the referee pointed to the penalty spot – Klaus Jan-Huntelaar converted to grant the win to the Dutch. Controversy struck when after the game Dutch winger admitted to diving to get a penalty in the 1st half but not for the penalty. Replays show that Mexican defender Marquez stuck his leg out and did catch Robben’s show toe and to me it looked like a penalty but Robben made the most of it and fell theatrically. Costa Rica faced off against Greece and lost a man in the 66th minute to a red cad. The game had to go to penalties after Greece equalized late in the game and the Costa Ricans came out winner.

Argentina vs Belgium : Argentina looked out of sorts against Switzerland and the game looked fairly open as the Swiss showed that they deserved to be there at that level of competition. They gave the Argentines a run for their money but couldn’t capitalize on the chances that they had in the match. Angel Di Maria scored deep in extra time to grant his nation a 1-0 win over the Europeans. And finally dark horses Belgium defeated the USA 2-1 in another game that went to extra time. Kevin De Bryun & Romelu Lukaku scored in the 93rd & 105th minute respectively to give the Belgians a deserved 2-0 win. Julian Green gave the fighting Americans a consolation goal in the 107th minute to give the Belgian players & fans a tense end of the game. But the Belgians would not be denied and saw their victory through.

Two days of rest and we will  have the battle of the last 8 on July 4th & 5th.

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2014 World Cup – End Of Group Stage

So that’s your round of 16 lineups and it starts off tonight. The group stage matches concluded last night and we have the final 16 teams of the tournament. A couple of surprises here and there. Let’s take a look at the line ups:

Brazil vs Chile : Despite a roadblock in the form of Mexico Brazil finished strongly with an impressive 4-1 win over Cameroon to finish top of their group with 7 points. Chile progress with 6 points and second in their group after losing 0-2 to the Dutch.

Uruguay vs Columbia : Uruguay beat Italy 1-0 to finish second in their group and thereby eliminating the Italians from the World Cup. But they must progress without star striker Luis Suarez who is suspended for 9 matches after he bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder. Columbia topped their group with a 4-1 win over Japan and will have their hopes up to reach the quaterfinals and more.

Netherlands vs Mexico : The strong Dutch team finished with maximum points in their group after they beat Chile 2-0. They look like strong favourites along with Brazil if only they maintain discipline and avoid rash challenges. Mexico’s party continues after they finished second behind Brazil with a 3-1 win over Croatia in their 3rd game and eliminated the Croats from the competition.

Costa Rica vs Greece : The surprise side of the world cup so far are the positive & exciting Costa Ricans who have topped their group with a 0-0 draw against England which eliminated the English. At times the English didn’t even look like they were trying and they need to really think about changes to the squad. Greece is another surprise as the finished second to Columbia after they defeated Ivory Coast 2-1 in their final group stage match.

France vs Nigeria : France looked a bit listless in their final game of the group stage and drew 0-0 against Ecuador to finish on top of their group with 7 points. But they better shape up as their opponents Nigeria seem to have improved as the tournament went on and they finished runners-up in their group to Argentina with a 2-3 loss to them. However as Bosnia & Herzogovina defeated Iran 3-1 that eliminated the Iranians from progressing to the knock out stages.

Germany vs Algeria : Germany seem to have slipped up a bit from the heady performance of their opening match against Portugal and just about managed to defeat the USA with a solitary goal from Thomas Muller. They need to shore up their defense and also create more chances up front. Algeria is the other surprise although they came from a weaker group but did show strong play throughout to impress me and finished second to Belgium by drawing the final game with the Russians. Look for them to bring their A game against the Germans.

Argentina vs Switzerland : Argentina looked shaky against the ever improving Nigerians but managed to win 3-1 with a strong brace from Leo Messi. Will they peak at the right time and go far in this tournament now that Sergio Aguero is out injured? Switzerland peaked just in time to win 3-0 against Honduras and finish second in the group to France thanks to a hattrick from Xherdhan Shaqiri. Can they break the Argentinians?

Belgium vs USA : And finally Belgium looked like a strong dark horse quietly winning all 3 of their group stage matches with a solitary goal win over Korea. They now face the improving USA who lost their final game to Germany 1-0 but finish second with 4 points over the Portuguese as they have a better goal difference. This could go either way.

So there you have it. Let the round of 16 begin!

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Arsenal Player Transfer Rumours

As we reach the end of the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, I’ve also been trying to keep up with the latest transfer rumours concerning my favourite club Arsenal and here are the top ones:

  • AC Milan may lower their £27m asking price for Mario Balotelli if Arsenal are willing to send Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell in the opposite direction.
  • Arsene Wenger will move for Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic if the deal to sign Balotelli falls through.
  • Arsenal have joined Liverpool, Manchester United and Juventus in the race for Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez.
  • Yann M’Vila is set to deal a transfer blow to Arsenal and Liverpool by rejecting the Premier League pair in favour of a switch to Inter Milan.
  • Mexico star Guillermo Ochoa claims he is open to a Premier League switch as Arsenal and Liverpool prepare offers after watching him star at World Cup.
  • Arsenal fans have threatened to riot if Wenger signs Tom Cleverley.

I wonder if any of these will take fruit. Balotelli looks like the most likely but then the Julian Daxler thing which seemed like a done deal seems to have hit a road block when the player stated that he wants to stay back in Germany (as per a report I read). Also Karim Benzema is rumoured to be on Arsenal’s sights as Wenger is a big admirer of him. Also Germany & Borrussia Dortmund midfielder Lars Bender, Javi Martinez of Bayern Munich & James Milner of Manchester City also look like likely targets. But I want Wenger to sign 20 year old Dutch winger Memphis Depay who has shined in his two appearances as a sub in the Netherland’s last two matches. Sign him Wenger!

Meanwhile Arsenal can confirm that 11 players will be leaving the club when their contracts officially expire on June 30. Nicklas Bendtner and Ju Young Park come to the end of their contracts, while Kim Kallstrom and Emiliano Viviano’s loan spells are set to conclude. As already communicated, Bacary Sagna, Lukasz Fabianski and Zak Ansah have completed permanent moves to Manchester City, Swansea City and Charlton Athletic respectively. Academy players Chuks Aneke, Daniel Boateng, Zach Fagan and Leander Siemann also depart having reached the end of their current agreements.

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2014 World Cup – Second Round Of Matches

The results of the second round of matches in the group stage:

Group A : Brazil 0 Mexico 0; Croatia 4 Cameroon 0

Brazil were restricted to a goalless draw by a resilient Mexican side spurred on by the heroic saves of their goalie Guillerimo Oacha who played himself into the hearts of Mexican and neutral fans hearts. The star performer has also been noticed by several clubs looking to get a goalkeeper. Croatia meanwhile hammered Cameroon with 4 unanswered goals as Mario Mandzukic scored twice and Ivica Olic and Ivan Perisic once each. Cameroon were eliminated as a result.

Group B : Netherlands 3 Australia 2; Chile 2 Spain 0

In an exciting match Australia took the game to the much fancied Dutch side who were perhaps guilty of taking their opponents a little too lightly prior to the second half. In a space of slightly more than 1 minute the score was 1-1 after Arjen Robben set the stadium of fire with his individual goal which was replied by a screamer from Tim Cahill. The Aussies took the lead in the second half and looked to win it before Robin Van Persie equalized and later substitute Memphis Depay scored the winner. Holders Spain became the 5th holders to crash out in the opening round as they lost to Chile 2-0 and ended the golden age of Spanish football. The end of an era was not pretty and it looked like a huge overhaul is needed to get them back to winning ways.

Group C : Columbia 2 Cote ‘Ivore 1; Japan 0 Greece 0

Colombia scored twice in six minutes in a lively second half to beat Ivory Coast 2-1 at the World Cup on Thursday and move to the brink of the knockout stage. Japan and Greece played out a draw that left them both with a lot to do if they wanted to get through to the knock out stages.

Group D : Uruguay 2 England 1; Costa Rica 1 Italy 0

England were knocked out of the competition as still unfit yet good enough to score Luiz Suarez scored a brace to give Uruguay a 2-1 win over them. Wayne Rooney had finally scored in a world cup to equalize but it wasn’t enough to get the English to avoid defeat. Also shocking was veteran Steve Gerrard who was outplayed and even made mistakes in the match. His time with the national side looks to come to an end. However England were beaten by the better team in both their matches so far and should hold their heads high and go out with a good game versus Costa Rica. Speaking of whom, the wonder boys took the game to a lacklustre and disinterested looking Italian side and defeated them by a solitary goal. Italy should be ashamed of themselves for playing they way they did.

Group E : France 5 Switzerland 2; Ecuador 2 Honduras 1

France seem to a candidate to win the cup as they ran away with a 4 – 0 lead against a sorry looking Swiss side. Scoring 2 goals within 2 minutes, the French side had 5 different scorers, including Giroud & Benzema (who also missed a penalty) and almost overwhelmed their opponents.  Blerim Dzemaili and Granit Xhaka gave the Swiss consolation goals in the final 10 minutes of the match. Ecuador come back from a goal down to beat Honduras, with two goals from Enner Valencia moving them to second place in Group E. They fell behind to a goal from Carlo Costly but Valencia, who has three goals in the tournament, ensured Ecuador only need a draw in their final game against France to progress.

Group F : Argentina 1 Iran 0; Nigeria 1 Bosnia & Herzegovina 0

For most of the match it looked like Iran would hold the Argentines goalless as they barricade their goal and protected their goalie by placing 9 players in their own half and keeping just their lone striker up front. Argentina were getting frustrated and getting booed by the Brazilians in the crowd. Until Leo Messi scored a beauty of a goal in the dying minutes of the match to shut the doors on Iran; rightly so! We don’t need such negative play. Nigeria ran out with a similar lone goal victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Group G : Germany 2 Ghana 2; USA 2 Portugal 2

In what was perhaps the best second half I have seen in a long time, Ghana took the match to much fancied Germany and gave us an exciting finish. After Germany had gone ahead by a Gotze headed, the Ghanians went ahead with goals by André Ayew & Asamoah Gyan. They looked good enough to win it as well and had a clear opportunity to goal 3-1 ahead. But veteran Miroslave Klose came on as a substitute and scored a typical poachers goal for his 15th goal across four World Cups, tying the record for most career goals at the tournament, held by former Brazil star Ronaldo. That’s the way the game ended at 2-2. The USA & Portugal match also ended in a 2-2 draw; Nani put Portugal ahead early in the first half, before a Jermaine Jones wonder strike levelled the game. Clint Dempsey thought he had won the game for his team when he restored the USA’s lead late on, but a moment of Cristiano Ronaldo brilliance allowed Varela to head in a last-minute equaliser.

Group H : Belgium 1 Russia 0; Korean Republic 2 Algeria 4

Finally group H and the most boring game I have watched so far with even the expert panel & commentators groaning in agony. Russia played out a defensive dull game with Belgium and deservedly the more exciting team finally win in the final minutes of the game with a lone goal. Algeria, a strong surprising side for this World Cup, defeated the Koreans by 4 goals to 2. The Algerian men ran riot in the opening 45 minutes as the South Korea defence was found wanting time and again. I do hope they qualify for the second round along with Belgium.

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2014 World Cup – First Round Of Matches

Please note that it’s first round of matches and not after the group stage. First round of matches as in, every nation participating in the world cup finals has played one match. So here are the results:

Group A : Brazil 3 Croatia 1 & Mexico 1 Cameroon 0

After a nice opening ceremony hosts Brazil opened the finals by facing off against Croatia and scored an own goal via defender Marcelo. That aside it was the Neymar show and he dazzled with a brace. But Croatia were no pushover and announced their intentions to try and finish 2nd in the group and qualify for the round of 16. Mexico were unlucky in that the referee wrongly denied them 2 goals which would have devastated Cameroon but in the end a solitary goal by Oribe was more than enough to see the Mexicans win.

Group B : Netherlands 5 Spain 1; Chile 3 Australia 1

The result of the tournament so far is the Dutch dancing around the Spanish defense and dominating the defending champions so much in the second half. Robin van Persie & Arjen Robben were on fire and the talk is that Spain might not even make it to the next round and that their era of success has come to an end . Chile meanwhile looked impressive enough in the win over unfancied Australia who still claim that they have a chance.

Group C : Columbia 3 Greece 0; C’ote deIvorie 2 Japan 1

No surprises over here although I thought Greece would put up a bit more of a fight. I remember their Euro theatrics and was hoping for more. Japan is one nation I support a lot and I had hopes for them. They could still qualify but will find it tough.

Group D : Costa Rica 3 Uruguay 1; Italy 2 England 1

Surprise here again with upstarts Costa Rica, who do have some good players on display here, getting the better of Uruguay. The South Americans have a much more fancied team on paper and should have done better. Italy vs England was a delight to watch late at night and the cool as cucumber Italians didn’t panic when England equalized and went on to win. On a positive note, England look good enough to get through despite the loss.

Group E : Switzerland 2 Ecuador 1; France 3 Honduras 0

Didn’t watch either match but I would like to look at France as a possible quaterfinalist or maybe more. With Karim Benzema scoring a brace they look strong but have a weak group to qualify from and shouldn’t have any issues. I’d pick them to win all 3 games and go with 9 points.

Group F : Argentina 2 Bosnia & Herzegovina 1; Iran 0 Nigeria 0

Ah Argentina, a perennial favorite team of mine. They started well alright but should have shone better; however Messi was the star. Will they progress far? I dunno but this side shouldn’t trouble them much. Who will join them in the round of 16? I think Nigeria should pick up their game and get a few goals in.

Group G : Germany 4 Portugal 0;  USA 2 Ghana 1

Germany put on a clinic and beat fancied Portugal 4-0, aided ofcourse by that stupid sending off by Pepe who had a moronic reaction to Meuller making the most of a fall. But even by then Germany looked to be the much stronger team and will be one to watch. The Americans went all gaga over their win over Ghana, a team that beat them twice before in previous World cups. But will they make it to the next round? It could depend on the Portugese performance.

Group H : Belgium 2 Algeria 1; Russia 1 Korea Republic 1

Least exciting group to watch; for me anyway. I expect Belgium and Russia to make it and based on their performances so far, it might hold true. But Algeria played very well last night and took the game to Belgium and opened the scoring and looked good to win it for a large part of the game before the Belgians switched gears and picked up their intensity.

And that’s how it finished. Onto the second round of games! Ole!

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2006 World Cup In Germany

And now the 2006 World cup held in Germany. The 18th World Cup was the least I had seen of a World Cup tournament since I was old enough to star watching the matches live, ie. from 1990 onwards. The reason is simple enough, work stood in the way and especially when I had a mix of day and night shifts. Still I did manage to watch quite a  few games.

Eight nations qualified for the finals for the first time: Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Ghana, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Ukraine, and Serbia and Montenegro. Czech Republic and Ukraine were making their first appearance as independent nations, but had previously been represented as part of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union respectively; Serbia and Montenegro had competed as Yugoslavia in 1998, as well as making up part of Yugoslav teams from 1930 to 1990.  Hosts Germany started well winning all 3 of their group stage matches and Ecuador joined them in the knock out stages. England & Sweden scrapped their way through in their group, while old rivals the Netherlands & Argentina had 7 points each in their group. Portugal were a strong team and got 9 points while Italy & Ghana came out of group E. Group F saw a strong Brazilian finish with 9 points joined by the Aussies in the round of 16. The Swiss finished above France while Spain and Ukraine qualified from the final group.

The knockout stages went like this Germany beat Sweden and faced Argentina in the quarters and won on penalties to reach the semis. Italy beat the Aussies and then took care of Ukraine, while Portugal beat the Dutch and then England. France beat Spain and then Brazil to make it to the semis. A showdown was set but Germany fell 2-0 to Italy while France beat Portugal by a solitary goal to setup a clash of big teams in the final. At the end of the regulation 90 minutes, the score was still level at 1–1, and the match was forced into extra time. Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon made a potentially game-saving save in extra time when he tipped a Zidane header over the crossbar. Controversy ensued near the end of extra time, when Zidane head-butted Materazzi in the chest in an off-the-ball incident in which the Italian abused the Frenchman’s family and was sent off. Extra time produced no further goals and a penalty shootout followed, which Italy won 5–3. Germany beat Portugal 3-1 for 3rd place to cap off a successful World cup. Miroslav Klose with 5 goals won the golden boot.

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Netherlands 5 Spain 1

Oh man! I told myself that I would only do weekly updates or an update every 2-3 days of the world cup matches but this is easily broken because of what happened last night.Ok, first I watched the second half of Mexico vs Cameroon in which the Mexicans came out deserved winners 1-0. And then waited for what I though the pick of the first round matches will be. Netherlands lost to Spain in the 2010 World Cup finals in what was a animosity filled affair. Coming so close for the 3rd time in World Cup history and losing the final yet again was a bitter pill to swallow for them. They were eagerly waiting to get a chance at revenge and last night…

They got it! It was supposed to be one of the best matches of the 2014 World Cup group stage, but the Netherlands had other ideas as they picked apart Spain’s defense and hammered the defending champions, 5-1. Robin Van Persie scored twice, and Arjen Robben added two goals of his own as the Oranje absolutely crushed Spain. Diego Costa, who was a controversial choice for Spain having been Brazil born and raised and yet chose to get Spanish citizenship so he could play for Spain, was constantly booed throughout the night. He faked a foul in the penalty box which the referee fell for and awarded a spot kick which Xabi Alonso converted. The Dutch struck when Robin Van Persie executed a sensational volley header off a long curling pass from Danny Blind that left Casillas frozen as the ball sailed over his head and into the goal. Early in the second half, Robben put the Dutch ahead 2-1 thanks to some wonderful footwork in the Spanish box. He showed a tremendous touch, bringing down the looping cross from Blind, and managing to immediately control the ball and cut back as Gerard Piqué’s momentum carried him past. Robben fired his shot to the right of the sliding Casillas, and the Netherlands were ahead.

Sneijder sent a free kick from the left wing across the face of goal, and Casillas failed to deal with it properly as Van Persie collided with the goalkeeper. In the confusion, Stefan De Vrij was able to sneak it at the far post and apparently head the ball down off his own foot, and over the line, giving the Netherlands a 3-1 lead. In the 73rd minute, Casillas made a horrible mistake with his first touch, allowing the ball to bounce right to Van Persie at the top of the box. The goalkeeper’s desperate sliding tackle was too late, as RVP held his balance long enough to toe-poke the ball into the empty net: 4-1, Netherlands. Spain’s comical defending continued in the 81st minute when they simply couldn’t stop Robben as he danced around inside the box, before firing the ball into the once again empty net to make it 5-1. The rout was complete.

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2014 World Cup Commences

So, the greatest show on planet earth, watched by more humans (and some animals too) than any other event, started last night (for Indians) with a grand opening ceremony. Said opening ceremony lost a lot of glitter as it took place during the day time and would have looked a lot more spectacular had it been held in the later hours of the day. Nevertheless even as the anti-tournament protested continued their demonstrations the event took place in front of an appreciative stadium crowd as well as a huge global audience. And ofcourse that stupid, simplistic & corny song sung (and I use that term loosely) by Pitbull & 2 Stray Street dogs was performed with JLo looking like she was about to bare her chest to the entire world. I have no idea who the Brazilian bimbo with them was.

A while later the opening match took place with hosts Brazil taking on Croatia. A brace by Neymar cancelled an own goal by defender Marcelo as a resilient Croatian side attacked on the counter and troubled the Samba boys for a while. However it would still be Brazil’s day although the Japanese referee had dubious officiating that seemed to favour the host side. Oscar finished things up by poking home a third at the death.

So here’s hoping for a great tournament and some exciting matches.Ole!

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2002 World Cup In South Korea & Japan

I remember quite a few things about the 2002 World Cup, the first to be held on Asian soil. And fittingly Japan was one of the nations that co-hosted the tournament along with South Korea. Shock of the tournament was defending champions France losing in the opening match to Senegal. Yes….to Senegal! Even more shocking they were eliminated at the group stage itself as they drew their next game against Uruguay and then lost to Denmark with the dubious dishonour of being chucked out of the world cup without even scoring a single goal!

Argentina too failed to move past the group stage while Irish legend Roy Keane was sent home well before the tournament started after he had a public quarrel with manager Mick McCarthy. Germany thrashed Saudi Arabia 8-0 while Spain & Brazil impressed early on by winning all their 3 games in the group stages. The two co-hosts would qualify to the next stage bringing pride & joy to their respective fans. Senegal would be a big surprise of the tournament beating Sweden in the round of 16 to make it to the quarter-finals. Turkey was another, beating Japan in the round of 16 and then ending fellow surprise package Senagal’s run in the quaters. South Korea were the biggest surprise beating Italy 2-1 in sudden death extra time! They would go on to beat Spain but their impressive Cinderella run came to a halt when they were beaten 0-1 by Germany in the semi-finals. The Koreans finished 4th as the lost the 3rd place match to Turkey.

The final saw Brazil win 2-0 over Germany – a match I watched in Trivandrum with a cousin who had traveled with me while we were staying at another cousin’s house along with some of the latter’s friends. We had whiskey, porottas and lamb curry with goat brains and fried eggs! But what I most remember of this particular World cup was the going to Calicut early in the morning with another cousin and our uncle to attend yet another uncle’s housewarming. On the way we pass through Malappuram as well and the entire district had football & world cup decorations, hoardings & posters all over the streets as well as effigies of famous players! Flags of Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Spain were all over the place as well. The same thing could be seen in the city of Calicut as well. After lunch at my uncle’s house a huge gathering of older folks – men & women in their 60s & 70s watched the Brazil vs England quarterfinal match and they were very knowledgeable about the game & players as well. That was a huge & pleasant surprise for me and my cousin as we don’t get to see that in the rest of the state.

Also that same world cup, I was watching a lot of games at my uncle’s house – just 2 houses next to where I lived back then – and my grandmother would join us in the afternoon and evenings to sit with us as we watched some of the matches. She was on medication (as well as being unwell she had also just lost a son less than a year ago) and liked sitting with us. It was fun and we would joke with her just to keep  her in high spirits. That is a cherished memory that I am unlikely to ever forget.

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1998 World Cup In France

The 1998 world cup was another really memorable and enjoyable one for me. Perhaps no other world cup was an enjoyable and as exciting for me personally. I was 21, not yet 22, studying at NIIT and despite most of the matches ending late at night, like 1am-2am, I would watch all of them and get up at 5 am 4 days in a week to get to the 7 am class at NIIT. Me and the other guys would be in class, eyes red as hell and guzzling down loads of hot black coffee to stay awake while the ladies looked at us as if we were insane. Once the classroom and lab sessions were over (usually at around 11 am) we would spend the next 2 & a 1/2 hours discussing the matches that we had seen the previous night. At 1:30 pm we would leave for lunch and head back home.

I would sleep for awhile and in the late evenings read all the match reports and analysis of the matches played and rest up for that night’s matches. This was a fun time. I never discussed so much football in one place ever. There were so many good squads. Norway & Denmark represented Scandinavia with Sweden having failed to qualify and both teams entertained, especially Denmark with the final time that we would see the Laudrup brothers playing on a big stage together. Chile & Italy gave us a good match but Nigeria were the big surprises in the group stage, qualifying at the top of their group which included Paraguay – who also qualified – along with Spain & Bulgaria who didn’t! The Netherlands started slowly drawing 2 games and thrashing South Korea. By the way, this was also the first time that I saw my favourite utility player of all time Philip Cocu play. He was an unheralded hero playing defender, wing back, midfielder, winger & striker in different matches throughout the tournament.

Romania also showed some early flair finishing top of their group that also included England & Columbia, while Argentina looked the strongest during the group stage winning all 3 of their group stage matches in style. The big game in the round of 16 was ofcourse England vs Argentina and drama ensued. David Beckham was red carded for kicking at Diego Simone after being fouled by the Argentine in a fit of rage. Argentina went on to win the game via penalty shootout. In the quaterfinals Brazil vs Denmark and Argentina vs Netherlands were two exciting affairs and it was a shame that both Denmark & Argentina had to lose at that stage. Brazil would face off against the Netherlands in the semis and won via penalties. The other quarterfinals were between France & Italy with France winning in the shootout while a big surprise was up with the Cindrella team of the tournament with Croatia beating Germany 3-0. France would then beat Croatia and go onto beat Brazil 3-0 under the brilliance of Zinedine Zidane, give the French their first ever World Cup. Davor Suker won the golden boot with 6 goals and led Croatia to the 3rd place, beating Netherlands 2-1.

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1994 World Cup In The USA

1994 was a bad year for me personally and I was literally in tears lying on a bed in the bedroom downstairs at my old home while watching the games every day during the USA World Cup. Held in 9 cities over the country, the World Cup was a huge blur for me, even though I watch almost all the matches, uptill the semifinals when I finally cheered up. Greece, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia qualified for the world cup finals for the first time. The qualification campaigns of both Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were affected by political events. The nation of Czechoslovakia dissolved in 1992, and the team completed its qualifying group under the name Representation of Czechs and Slovaks (RCS), but failed to qualify the finals. Maradona ended his illustrious career in shame – in his 4th world cup Maradona was expelled from the tournament after he failed a drug test which uncovered ephedrine, a weight loss drug, in his blood.

But the biggest & saddest shock of this world cup – and I think it is the saddest ever – was the death of Columbian defender Andres Escobar. In the group stage match against the United States, he scored an own goal that eliminated his team. Escobar was shot to death outside a bar in a Medellín suburb only ten days later, apparently in retaliation for the own goal. As the insane idiot shot at him, he yelled “goal”,”goal” with every bullet shot! Such a tragic story. On the field Bulgaria proved to be a big surprise of the tournament; having never won a match at the world cup before, they reached the semifinals and finished 4th. Brazil won the tournament having beaten the Netherlands in the quaterfinals, Sweden in the semis and Italy in the final. In a tense final both Brazil & Italy faced off and failed to score a goal. After 120 minutes the game went to penalty shootouts and Roberto Baggio – till then Italy’s star – missed by shooting it over the crossbar, and Brazil were crowned champions for the fourth time, surpassing Italy’s 3 reigns. Sweden with mercurial star Tomas Brolin finished 3rd after beating Bulgaria 4-0.

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