International Football

World Cup 2014: Kick-off is here!

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The favourites

The build up to World Cup has been anything but smooth. While there have been many issues with the stadiums in Brazil, some of the 32 national teams have faced their own problems with a plethora of talented individuals unfortunately missing out on this summer’s showpiece tournament. Kevin Strootman, Falcao, Franck Ribery and Marco Reus to name but four of the players who won’t be taking part in the World Cup.

All eyes will be on Brazil, as tournament kicks-off on Thursday night with the hosts taking on Croatia, thus beginning a month long festival of football. The pressure has already been heaped on the Brazilians, as the nation expects them to lift the trophy on home soil at the Maracanã on July 13th and make up for the final of 1950 which they lost out to Uruguay.

In terms of the European teams taking part, history is against them. This will be the seventh time that the World Cup has been staged in South America; all the previous six have been won from a team from the same continent, a small caveat to add is that South America has only hosted one World Cup in the past half century (Argentina 1978).

On the other hand, Spain has a double chance of creating history – the reigning World and European champions will be aiming for a fourth straight tournament victory – you have to go back to Brazil 1962 to find the last team to retain a World Cup.

There is an air of always the bridesmaids never the bride associated with Germany of late; having made the semi-finals of the last two World Cup’s and the final in 2002 only to fall short. Jogi Loew’s hugely talented squad have a certain Jekyll and Hyde quality about them. While the national team have been successful at youth level, their last major tournament victory came in the 1996 European Championship.

Having recovered from the Diego Maradona sideshow in South Africa in 2010, Argentina go into this summer’s tournament in a curious position. By his own standards, Lionel Messi has had a less than successful season at Barcelona. Argentina and Messi have a strange relationship to say the least, however, that will pale into insignificance if he was to lead them to glory in Brazil. La Albiceleste’s haven’t won a major tournament since 1993, when they triumphed in the Copa America that year.

Outside bet – France (25/1)

Taking those teams into account, an outside bet for the World Cup could well be the 1998 World Champions, France. Les Bleus are a strange beast when it comes to major international tournaments. Under Raymond Domenech, they stank the place out in South Africa in 2010, failing to win a game, finishing bottom of their group and falling out with each other. A new and unified generation has emerged under current manager, Didier Deschamps, with the likes of Raphael Varane, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba all travelling to Brazil. Outside the favourites for the tournament, France might just be one to watch.

The Hipster’s choice

Belgium and Colombia are the current two flavours of the month and why wouldn’t they be given that they are ranked 8th and 11th in the current FIFA rankings. Even with a vague interest in football, the chances are you could at least name one Belgian player – their ‘golden generation’ has been very kind to them. However, this is the first tournament that Belgium has qualified for since 2002. While, Radamel Falcao has been one of the most high-profile casualties of this summer’s World Cup, Colombia can still call on the likes of Carlos Bacca, Adrian Ramos and Jackson Martinez. Similar to Belgium, Los Cafeteros, have also been blessed with a golden generation and have been on an upward curve – this will be their first World Cup since 1998.

Even watching the highlights from Chile’s recent friendly vs Egypt gives you a flavour of what to expect from them in Brazil – a suicidal high-line from their defence, but also the ability to counter at breakneck speed.  People will remember Marcelo Bielsa’s, Chile from South Africa, well, never fear, they haven’t changed one bit.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN! 

Is Giovanni Trapattoni’s time up?

There was very much a sense of dread surrounding the start of Ireland’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup – after the disaster of the European Championship which saw Ireland suffer three consecutive defeats – the hope and optimism that was present a couple of months ago has since faded. Irish football almost hit another low point yesterday, as it took two late goals from Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle to salvage three points and a 2-1 victory over Kazakhstan, a nation ranked 116 places below Ireland.

Yes, Ireland did get all three points, but not even that could paper over the cracks that are present in the current Irish set-up and under the current leadership. Almost a year to the day since that famous 0-0 draw against Russia – Ireland were reduced to continuous long-balls against a side ranked 142nd in the world. To be outplayed is one thing, but Ireland were dominated and outclassed, as Kazakhstan looked to pass the ball around, much more than Ireland did. The lack of variation from Trapattoni and the players was worrying. Long-ball, to a certain extent should be used as a last resort; however, Ireland insisted and persisted on it throughout.

Last night, Trapattoni reached a half-century of games in charge and it is already looking likely that he won’t be in charge of Ireland for another 50 games. The Italian has constantly been coming under-fire since the Euros and as a nation, Ireland remains to be divided about the 73-year old and his management style and whether he should continue to manage the national team. His lack of willingness to change, coupled with the lack of communication and the fallings out with various players, most recently, Darron Gibson and Shane Long. As former Ireland manager, Brian Kerr wrote today: “The minute attention to detail required to be successful at international level is not evident from Giovanni Trapattoni” while Kerr goes on to describe the manager’s tactics as “crude and outdated”. And, unfortunately, it is hard to disagree with him.

In a bristly post-match interview with RTE’s Tony O’ Donoghue, Trapattoni remained in a defiant mood, proclaiming: “I’m happy because we achieved the result,” he continued by saying “now in this moment; all that is important is the result”. The fact remains; this is an Irish squad that has lost both “momentum and confidence” as Miguel Delaney writes. From that unbeaten run before the Euros, along with the successive clean sheets – just three minutes into the opening game, as Mario Mandzukic found the back of the net “The solidity was shattered”. The signs are that the months ahead are going to be tumultuous for Trapattoni.

As immature as it was, the Irish frustration was best encapsulated in a post match tweet from James McClean (which he has subsequently apologised for). McClean clearly felt hard done by, having sat on the bench for the entire game last night, while Simon Cox started out of position on the wing and with Shane Long and Kevin Doyle both coming on, meant that Ireland played the game with at least three strikers on the field throughout.

Yet Ireland looked blunt and lacked attacking intent. There was no ingenuity or no guile. Ireland may have a limited pool of players (which will grow more limited if Trapattoni continues to fall out with them) and are not blessed with the talent of the past, however, there is no way the squad should be relegated to offensive, long-ball tactics against a side ranked as low as Kazakhstan. Ireland can and are better than that, despite what Trapattoni might think and believe. The Italian might have picked up the pieces following the Steve Staunton era but things are beginning to crumble again.

Trapattoni has now presided over Ireland for a little over four years and this is his third qualification campaign after the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championships. The 73-year-old was awarded a new contract last autumn when he achieved qualification for Poland and Ukraine; this should have been put on hold until after the tournament because since then, circumstances have changed massively – as Miguel Delaney also wrote today: “In the wider world of international football, managers of European teams last on average, 2 years and 11 months.”

In that respect, the Trapattoni era has run its course. It is time for change!