Belgium

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! 

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Five things we learned from the PL

Belgian – Eden Hazard has lit up the Premier League with six assists and one goal in three games

Graceful Swans flying high

Ciaran: Swansea. ‘Swansalona.’ A team who proved last season that a side can be promoted to the Premier League, play good football and succeed. After Brendan Rodgers moved to Liverpool, Michael Laudrup was announced as manager and, strangely, many pundits tipped them for relegation. Now, it’s only two games into the season, but it’s looking like they could be proven very, very wrong. After two matches Swansea are flirting with the top of the table and have the greatest goal difference of any team in the league (+8) by virtue of two big wins; 0-5 away to QPR and 3-0 at home to West Ham. It can be argued that both of these opponents are not the most difficult Swansea could have faced but it needs to be remembered that QPR have splashed the cash in an attempt to strengthen their squad and West Ham were tipped by some to stay up whilst Swansea are relegated.

A key factor in Swansea’s impressive opening start to the season has been the signings they have brought in – the most impressive being the Spaniard, Michu. After losing out on Gylfi Siggurdson’s signature, a midfielder who would score goals was needed, Laudrup pulled off a coup of in getting a midfielder who was the top scorer in his position in La Liga last season for a fee of only £2m. So far this season Michu has 3 goals and an assist, an impressive return which, if continued, could see him be one of the signings of the season.

Another signing who has impressed for the Swans is defender ‘Chico’ Flores. Signed for £2m from Genoa, the defender has played in the heart of the defence for both games and has helped Laudrup’s side to keep two clean-sheets and almost got onto the scoresheet versus QPR, seeing his header rebound off the crossbar. Two more midfield signings featured for Swansea against West Ham, the first being Canadian Jonathan De Guzman on a season long loan from Villarreal. De Guzman is a player the manager knows well, having managed him at Mallorca in the 10-11 season. The other, record-signing Ki, did not play in the match but was paraded to the home fans before the game, following his transfer from Celtic. Laudrup has strengthened the side well and if they can keep their performances at the level they are at currently, Swansea could have a very good season.

It’s going to take time for Paul Lambert and Villa

Ian: The ex-Norwich manager is third manager in three seasons, having replaced Alex McLeish last season and while Lambert was touted as a breath of fresh air to rid the club of the malaise that has blighted it, but has endured a difficult start at the helm at Villa Park. Villa are now 12 games without a win, their last coming in March. Lambert showed himself to be adaptable and tactically astute at Norwich last season. Villa have kept the ball better in their opening two games, but have lost on both occasions. Time is not something managers get a lot of today in football, but Lambert needs it, because it looks as if it will be a hard slog for him this season.

Wayne Rooney is now droppable

Ian: Those that witnessed Manchester United’s defeat to Everton on Monday night will have saw how Wayne Rooney huffed and puffed around the pitch for 90 minute. The England international looked short of match-fitness, while his first-touch was particularly poor, highlighted when Shinji Kagawa attempted to link up with him on a couple of occasions only for Rooney to scuff the ball. It was no surprise then, to see that United lined-up this afternoon with Rooney on the bench, with Robin van Persie being given his home debut. Rooney, despite scoring 27 league goals last season, did look unfit at many stages, but Ferguson persisted with him. Now, with the signing of van Persie, Rooney’s place has come under threat. The Dutchman, along with Kagawa, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia looked incredible fluid against Fulham. Rooney did come in the second-half, but was stretcher off and brought to hospital after a particularly nasty gash on his leg. Van Persie’s home debut ended with a goal, while Rooney looks set to be ruled out for up to four weeks.

The Toffees make a flying start

Ian: We have been hearing for years now, how well David Moyes has done on a restricted budget at Everton and after over ten years in charge now he seems to have done it again. Slow starts have hindered the Toffees in recent seasons, before their customary flourish towards the end of the season, where they make a push for the European places. After successive seventh place finishes Moyes’ side have won their opening two games of the season, for the first time since August 2007 – the Toffees are now unbeaten in their last 11 Premier League games, stretching back to last season. With Steven Naismith, Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas all arriving this summer and no injuries to report thus far, everything looks to have clicked into place, after 1-0 win and a 1-3 win over Manchester United and Aston Villa respectively.

Belgians – the Premier League’s new guilty pleasure

Ciaran: So far this season we have seen Chelsea’s Eden Hazard assist 6 goals and score one in just 2 games. Everton’s Marouane Fellaini also received many plaudits for his magnificent performance in their opening fixture against Manchester United, which he capped off with a goal, and his second headed goal of the season today helped Everton to a three-nil victory against Aston Villa. A player that has long impressed is finally being recognised for just how good he can be.

Everton also have another Belgian in their ranks, in Kevin Mirallas; who made his debut for the Toffees today, the pacey forward had the ball in the back of the Villa net but it was ruled out due to an offside call. Elsewhere Moussa Dembele, put in an impressive performance for Fulham against Manchester United and defender Jan Vertonghen played a part in what was almost a Tottenham clean-sheet – but for a late West Brom goal. Romelu Lukaku also played in this match, looking to secure his second goal in two games. Lukaku had a tough first season in England, getting few chances with Chelsea, but a loan move to West Bromwich Albion looks to have reinvigorated him and given him a new confidence and he threatened the Spurs goal on occasions. He could cause problems to many defensive lines across the country this season.

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