One On One with: Jeremie Aliadiere

At 16 years of age, he turned heads at the elite Clairefontaine academy with his technical ability on the ball and his pure number 9 movement off of it. Fortunately for him, among those impressed was Arsene Wenger, the genius French football mind who was currently assembling his dream squad that would go on to become the undisputed ‘Invincibles’ of England. Wenger soon put the young Frenchman- who had trouble getting permission for this from his parents- on a plane to the UK.

What followed was a 6-year long career at Arsenal where he found Wenger to be a father figure, and earned himself a rare ‘Invincibles’ Premier League medal. Jeremie was among the Ruling Masters of England in 2002/3. As his career progressed, Jeremie saw it all. He found himself lifting trophies, as well as fall from glory; but only to get back up stronger and have the season of his life in his beloved France. From debunking transfer speculations in his prime to waiting for the phone to ring on bad days, from struggling around a star studded line up to coping with the trauma that is life after football, Jeremie Aliadiere opens up in an exceptional interview with us at Back Of The Net. Enjoy!

Backofthenet: Let’s start from the very beginning, you trained at the world-renowned INF Clairefontaine Academy, which has produced the likes of Thierry Henry, and more recently, Kylian Mbappe. How important do you think the academy turned out to be in molding you into a professional footballer? Would things have gone differently if you attended another academy?

Jeremie Aliadiere: Clairefontaine Academy was the best pre formation I could have ever had as everything was based on technical abilities. We were training every day for 2 hours which helped me so much to develop as a boy as well. I had to leave home at the age of 13 so I had to grow up very quickly.

Clairefontaine Academy, France

Clairefontaine Academy, France

BOTN: You have said that at the tender age of 16, after signing for Arsenal, you moved in to your own five-bedroom house in Southgate. Things were definitely looking good off the field for you. Do you think that level of independence and luxury at such a young age impacted you positively? What did you learn from those experiences?

JA: I moved from France at 16 to a country where I didn’t speak the language so my parents weren’t gonna let me go to the UK unless my grandparents moved with me. They stayed for 6 months but found it very tough and went back. After that I lived on my own. It has only impacted me in a good way I think as I had to become an adult at a very early age and quickly. Yes I have made mistakes but learned from them and moved on in my life and my career.

BOTN: During your early years at Arsenal, you had three fairly disappointing loan moves including one to Celtic under Gordon Strachan. What happened during that time and why do you believe Strachan never gave you the opportunity you needed?

JA: I wouldn’t say the Wolves move was disappointing as I played every game for 4 months for a great manager and man Glenn Hoddle. As for Celtic unfortunately Strachan had a lot of belief in me until they signed a Polish striker in middle of August (editors note: Maciej Zurawski). From then he said to me I wasn’t going to start games as I was only on loan so I didn’t see the point of staying at a club  where I wasn’t going to get more playing time than i would at Arsenal. So I left before the end of the summer transfer window to West Ham.

BOTN: Only a handful of players in the world can claim the honor of being called an ‘Invincible’. You were part of the Arsenal Invincibles squad of 2003-4. How does it feel to be part of such an elite group? Do you often reminisce about the golden days?

JA: Yes I always think about it as I realize what an achievement it is. At the time I did feel quite frustrated as I wanted to play more but now that I have retired, I realize how amazing it was to be part of that squad of incredible players.

Aliadiere lifts the Premier League trophy as part of the "Invincibles" (Image from Aliadiere's Instagram)

Aliadiere lifts the Premier League trophy as part of the “Invincibles” (Image from Aliadiere’s Instagram)

BOTN: Henry, Bergkamp, Nwankwo Kanu, Sylvain Wiltord and Francis Jeffers were already in the squad when you signed as a striker for Arsenal. Competing for the same position as these already established players, did you ever feel intimidated, or unsure about your own abilities?

JA: Yes, from the beginning I always thought it was pretty impossible for me to get ahead of those guys and I did feel intimidated and didn’t believe in my own abilities.

BOTN: In a recent interview, you called Dennis Bergkamp the ‘smartest’ player you have shared the field with. How do you think training with him changed your perspective of the game or impacted your style of play?

JA: Before joining Arsenal I was always focused on scoring goals but after watching Dennis play, I realized you could enjoy yourself by playing for the team and the other players; creating space for your teammates. He was always one step ahead of everyone else, he saw things before everyone else and was a very clever player.

The legendary Dennis Bergkamp (Image from Tumblr)

The legendary Dennis Bergkamp (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Eventually you left Arsenal and moved to Middlesbrough under Gareth Southgate. It was a turbulent time for the club who were very much in transition following some success under Steve McLaren. What do you remember about that time? 

JA: I will always be grateful to Middlesbrough and Southgate as they gave me that opportunity to be part of a starting eleven in a top club in the Premier League. Yes it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t the same football I was used to but I have learned so much and the fans were amazing.

BOTN: Are you surprised to see how well Southgate is doing as England manager?

JA: i’m not surprised at all with the progress and how well Southgate has done. He was so motivated, clever and smart. I knew he was going to make it at the top.

BOTN: You experienced relegation with Middlesbrough in 2009 which resulted in Gareth Southgate getting sacked and Gordon Strachan being appointed. Given what had happened at Celtic previously in your career, what were your emotions when you learned that Strachan had got the job? Did you feel that you had to move clubs?

JA: When Strachan got the job at ‘Boro, I must say I wasn’t over the moon but thought I would wait and see how things were going to go but he was great to me. From the first day he came in, he said to me he was counting on me so I was very happy and did my best even when I had injuries.

Jeremie Aliadiere at Middlesborough (Image from Tumblr)

Jeremie Aliadiere at Middlesborough (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: A return to France followed with a move to Lorient. You had some of your best seasons for Lorient, where you were a leading striker in a competitive top tier team. What do you think was the reason behind this top spell in the French league?

JA: It’s very simple. I was at the lowest of my career, after spent one year without a club and wasn’t sure I was going play football at the top level again so when Lorient call me I had nothing to lose. Gourcuff gave me back the joy of playing football. Lorient is such a family club and that was what I needed. A family club with a great coach who knows my quality and was going to give me the opportunity to enjoy playing football the way I’ve always like to play football.

BOTN: At Arsenal and at Lorient, you played under two magnificent managers in Arsene Wenger and Christian Gourcuff. Both have unique and distinctive styles. What impact did both managers have on your career? Are there specific things that they did to get the best out of you?

JA: They are both very similar in some ways and both want to play football in an attractive way. Wenger was like a dad to me as I was so young when I joined Arsenal and gave me my chance at the highest level. Gourcuff saved my career and I will always be so grateful to him and Lorient. He believed in me when nobody else did and he made me realize that you achieved great things by being disciplined and tactically organized.

Father figure - Jeremie with former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger (image from Aliadiere's instagram)

Father figure – Jeremie with former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger (image from Aliadiere’s instagram)

BOTN: During your career, you have played for a club who have won various titles and for clubs fighting relegation. How would you assess the differences in the dressing room morale in those situations? Are players more determined to win when they are considered underdogs, or as defending champions?

JA: I think it’s much tougher to play against relegation without a doubt. You play with the clubs survival and know that you could impact on so many people lifes. When you play for the title, you go into certain games with so much confidence that you feel that you have won the game before it started.

BOTN: Your career was often troubled with injuries. How did you try to stay positive during the long, aching periods of recovery before you were allowed to play again? How important is it to have a supportive family behind you during these times?

JA: I have had many big injuries in my career but I have always thought I couldn’t give up. What else was I going to do? Football is my life; that’s all have done since I was 6 so whatever happened I was always going to carry on and fight to come back. My family has always been very supportive and behind me. You do realize when times are hard who Is there for you. Not many people are when the phone isn’t ringing but that’s life.

BOTN: During several interviews, you have opened up about life after football and all the struggles that come with it. What advice would you give to young footballers still in their prime years, such that the end to their careers is more fulfilling? Do you think enough is being done to help footballers prepare for life after retirement?

JA: I would tell them to start preparing what they would like to do after their career is over even if they have a lot of money and don’t need to work. The hardest thing is from one day to the other the change a way of life. Football is a way of life with everything that comes with it. When you lived for 25 years like that it’s very hard to change.

Aliadiere tears his cruciate ligament against Man Utd in the Community Shield in Wales (Image from Aliadiere's Instagram)

Aliadiere tears his cruciate ligament against Man Utd in the Community Shield in Wales (Image from Aliadiere’s Instagram)

BOTN: Finally some fans questions if we may. What advice would you give your younger self? Would you like to have played your career in reverse and end it at Arsenal?

JA: I would tell him to believe in himself more and not to care so much about what other people think.

BOTN: You have a tattoo of the Algerian flag and could have played for them at one stage. You were also close to being called up for the French National team at Lorient. Were you reluctant to play for Algeria as you felt that the French call up might happen?

JA: I could have played for Algeria but didn’t feel I was close enough to the country for me to play for them. I do regret it now as it would have been a great experience. As for France, I was going to get called up once but was a bit injured so couldn’t go.

BOTN: How close did you come to signing for Newcastle in the 2013 January transfer window? Why did that deal fall through?

JA: I wasn’t close at all. I never spoke to Newcastle at that time. It was all press speculation.

BOTN: Finally, you have played in Qatar with Umm Salal SC. Do you think that Qatar will be able to host a successful World Cup in 2022?

JA: Yes I do believe it will be a successful World Cup. It’s a great country with amazing people. They will want impress the rest of world and they can do it so trust me they will do everything in their power to make it a very successful event.

Interview by Sairam Hussian Miran, Special correspondent for Back Of The Net. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jeremie on Instagram.

The Show Must Go On As The 2015 African Cup Of Nations Gets Set To Start

Who will win the African Cup of Nations? (Image from Getty)This Saturday sees the kick off of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations with host nation Equatorial Guinea taking on Congo in the opening match. The start of this year’s tournament will come as a great relief to the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Issa Hayatou who has endured a stressful time of late since Morocco spectacularly pulled the plug on hosting the event in an announcement made in October 2014. Originally selected back in 2011, Morocco informed CAF that it refused to host the tournament amid concerns around the Ebola virus epidemic that was gripping parts of western Africa spreading to their country. Their principle fear was that if the virus spread to Morocco it would affect one of their principle pillars of revenue – tourism with visitors staying away as a result. Whilst reassurances were made by CAF, Morocco failed to budge and as a result the tournament had to be relocated quickly. Step forward Equatorial Guinea, who despite the tight turnaround believed that they could host Africa’s biggest tournament.

CAF President Issa Hayatou has had much to ponder of late  (Image from Getty)

CAF President Issa Hayatou has had much to ponder of late
(Image from Getty)

Tight is hardly how to describe the situation that Guinea faced, left with only 8 weeks to organize a 16 team 3 week long tournament. Venues had to be identified and secured quickly, accommodation for all 16 teams established as well as hundreds of other smaller items including match scheduling, ticket allocation and security to name a few. There was little time for this small oil rich central African state to improve on the stadiums so some fall far behind what would be classed as international ready. But Hayatou is hardly in a position to complain having taken the tough decision not to delay or postpone the tournament after Morocco’s exit. Hayatou is also facing the wrath of several national teams and coaches who are highly critical of the facilities in Guinea and its organization in general, citing the federation has done little to help resolve a growing list of problems. Guinea to be fair has done a remarkable job in getting ready, albeit with slight hiccups along the way – some nations are still hunting for additional accommodation as there aren’t enough hotel rooms to go around whilst others who are lucky enough to have rooms have found in some cases a lack running water or rooms in a desperate state of disrepair. Despite the chaos, the tournament will kick off in earnest on Saturday with the football taking the spotlight rather than the circus that has led up to it.

Not all the accommodation options in Guinea have been up to scratch  (Image from Seastravel.com)

Not all the accommodation options in Guinea have been up to scratch
(Image from Seastravel.com)

Algeria enter the tournament as strong favourites after an outstanding World Cup which saw them reaching the last 16 for the first time in their history. Regarded by many as the best team in Africa at the present time, Algeria play an attractive fast flowing game which utilizes many of the same squad retained from the Brazil World Cup. Stand out players Yacine Brahimi, Islam Slimani and Sofiane Feghouli will need to be on form and up for the event when they kick off their campaign against South Africa on Monday. To win the tournament, Algeria will need to first escape from what is by far the hardest group that also contains Ghana and Senegal alongside South Africa. Ghana in particular are keen to put their poor performance at the World Cup behind them and show that they are a dominant force in African football. It has remarkably been 30 years since Ghana lifted the Cup, something the current team is all too aware of and keen to rectify. As too are the stars of the Ivory Coast team who have had to wait 20 years since their last victory. But with Manchester City’s newest signing Wilfried Bony on a rich vein of form coming into the tournament as well as host of other star players around him like Yaya Toure, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou, the Ivory Coast has a very strong chance of ending their run of bad luck. South Africa and Cameroon are considered potential winners as well after strong qualifying campaigns. The two nations, who have a rich pedigree in international football have fallen on darker days of late but are displaying early signs of recovery in their recent form.

Few are giving host nation Equatorial Guinea much of a chance of providing a shock but as history has shown in the past, the winner of the African Cup of Nations is hardly an easy one to predict. Zambia were shock winners in 2012 whilst Burkina Faso almost upset the apple cart last year before being beat in the final by a young and vibrant Nigeria side. Regardless of the winner, the next three weeks will be an action packed hell raising experience for the fans that have made the journey. Whilst not on the same level of stature as the World Cup, the African Cup of Nations is certainly one of the most vivacious in international football. It’s a tournament that showcases the very best of African talent and for Hayatou is the highlight of the calendar year, hence his desire to make it happen.

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African Teams Keen To Show They Are Not Just There To Make Up The Numbers

Ghana vs USA 2010 World Cup (Image from afp)

Four years have past since the World Cup was held on African soil for the very first time and it’s safe to say that the buzz in that continent still remains. For the five African nations that have qualified for Brazil, it’s a moment to showcase to the world how football in that region is developing with all five naming exciting squads for the biggest football tournament on the planet. None are expected to win the event but all five have the ability to provide shocks along the way and should be pushing for places in the latter rounds. Nigeria in particular will want to continue to build momentum off of the back of their successful African Nations triumph in 2013 but will be mindful of setting expectations too high given the crash back down to earth the received at the Confederations Cups only months later. Head coach Stephen Keshi has kept faith with the team that won the African Cup of Nations in South Africa last January with Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel likely to play a major role. The recall of Peter Odemwingie and recent addition of former Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi will add experience and options upfront to a fairly young Nigerian side. Last nights friendly against Scotland gave Keshi a better opportunity to assess which 23 of his prelimary squad of 30 will be heading to Brazil and who else will be going home. For the Super Eagles, who often face heavy criticism from various elements back home who want to derail them, it’s a chance to showcase why they are currently the best team in Africa.

Nigeria win the African Cup Of Nations  (Image from Getty)

Nigeria win the African Cup Of Nations
(Image from Getty)

It’s decision making time too for Cameroon who made it to Brazil despite playing poorly in qualification. The ever green legs of Samuel Eto’o carried a lot of the weight and his goals ensure the team qualified. More importantly for Cameroon coach Volker Finke, the issues between Eto’o and several other members of the squad that plagued the team’s qualifying campaign have now been resolved and the group is once again at peace. A freak injury to Pierre Achille Webo during the warm up match against Macedonia is the only fitness concern with Hamburg’s Jacques Zoua already ruled out with injury some time ago. Finke named a 28 man provisional squad and is deciding who to axe before the deadline to bring it in line with the required 23 man limit. One player who has marked his card to go is Lorient striker Vincent Aboubakar who has finished this season in impressive style with a haul of 16 goals. His inclusion alongside the midfield trio of Jean Makoun, Stephane Mbia and Alexandre Song is almost certain but the same can’t be said for Coton Sport duo Cedric Djeugoue and Loïc Feudjou who are likely to be left behind.

Out to Impress - Lorient's forward Vincent Aboubakar (R)  (Image from FRANK PERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

Out to Impress – Lorient’s forward Vincent Aboubakar (R)
(Image from FRANK PERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

The Ivory Coast face one of the easier groups in the World Cup so qualification to the knockout stages is expected. With Didier Drogba still pulling the strings for The Elephants, experience is key for Sabri Lamouchi as he makes his World Cup debut as a manager. Lamouchi will be the youngest international manager at the Brazil tournament and has picked a side packed full of caps to ensure his stay is extended. Alongside Drogba, there are call ups for Kolo and Yaya Toure, Newcastle’s Cheick Tioté, Swansea’s Wilfred Bony and Trabzonspor’s Didier Zokora. The giant Lacina Traoré makes the provisional squad but his place is not confirmed as the Ivory Coast already have a wealth of riches upfront. However the impressive Serge Aurier is likely to make the cut after a fantastic season with Toulouse in the French Ligue 1. How far the Ivory Coast can proceed in the tournament will rest on whether they can fix their defensive problems with an aging yet experienced backline in front of the error prone Baobacar Barry in goal. It will be a major test for Lamouchi who has only been a manager for 18 months so onlookers will be keen to see how he copes with the pressures that come with the tournament.

The youngest coach at the World Cup - Sabri Lamouchi  (Image from PA)

The youngest coach at the World Cup – Sabri Lamouchi
(Image from PA)

Algeria on the other hand name a squad that lacks real international experience with captain Madjid Bougherra as the most capped player on the team with 68 appearances for The Desert Warriors. Algeria’s manager, Vahid Halilhodžić is however highly experienced and will approach this World Cup with the same enthuasism and passion as he has done previously. He will look towards the future and the likes of Granda’s Yacine Brahimi and Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli for inspiration from midfield. A place in the final 23 is also potentially on the cards for Tottenham’s 19 year old winger Nabil Bentaleb but this World Cup may have come too soon for the talented youngster. Leading the line will be either Dinamo Zagreb’s El Arbi Hillel Soudani or Sporting Lisbon’s Islam Slimani with the latter likely to get the nod. Expectaions are low for Algeria who will struggle to get out of a group that includes Belgium, Russia and South Korea. Progress will depend on the result of their second group game against South Korea where if they are able to pick up all three points, playing for a draw against Russia may be enough to snatch second point in the group.

Lead by Example - Captain Madjid Bougherra  (Image from PA)

Lead by Example – Captain Madjid Bougherra
(Image from PA)

Ghana face a similar situation, placed in a group with Germany, USA and Portugal but few would bet against their progression. In South Africa, Ghana reached the quarter finals only to be knocked out by Uruguay on penalties so Kwesi Appiah and the Black Stars will be hoping to go one or two steps further this time. Former Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan will captain the side which has a familour look to it with several members of the 2010 team returning like Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and Kevin Prince Boateng but the rest of the squad is made up of Ghana’s fresh crop if talented youngsters, all of which want to use the World Cup as a stage to showcase their skills. Chelsea midfielder Christian Atsu, who was on loan to Vitesse last year is one such player as is Sparta Moscow striker Abdul Majeed Waris who has spent half of last season on loan at Valenciennes. Ghana also has the luxury of calling upon the Ayew brothers (Andre and Jordan) who both possess an abundance of talent and pace. Attacking options will not be an issue but like the Ivory Coast, Ghana’s biggest weakness is at the back with regular goalkeeper Fatau Dauda dropped to the bench in favour of Adam Kwarasey due to bad form and lack of game time. Appiah may play Essien as a holding midfielder in order to protect his weak back four especially against attacking teams like Germany and Portugal but must get all three points against the US in their opening game to stand a chance of progressing to the knock out stages.

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Is It Time To Resuscitate The World Cup?

Should FIFA revamp the World Cup? (Image from Getty)The pressure is building on Brazil to be ready by June with some stadiums only partially completed whilst infrastructure still leaves a lot to be desired. However the tournament itself is under more scrutiny than ever before as it attempts to live up to its hefty billing. The World Cup is and always has been football’s global showcase but it’s a title that is slowly losing its grip of. With the luxurious Champions League pulling in a growing number of admirers especially in its latter rounds due to exciting football and a soon to be revamped European Championship that will encourage better fan participation with more teams than ever before, the World Cup is starting to show her age. The old girl has been around for a considerable amount of time but has lacked the panache in recent years that it once had.

Audience's tune in to watch the Champions League in their millions  (Image from David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Audience’s tune in to watch the Champions League in their millions
(Image from David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Not since France 1998 have crowds been held on the edge of their seats from day one all the way up until the last kick of the ball in the final.  Not to say that viewers are turning away from the World Cup as globally the audience continues to grow but there has been a shift in recent years towards a lack of care or enthusiasm for what was unfolding. Watching smaller nations like North Korea face Brazil in a one sided match was less entertaining and instead more painful.  China’s approach to the 2002 World Cup was pure survival, preferring to enjoy the spectacle rather than compete; resulting in three losses and no goals (they boasted a total of two shots on target during the entire tournament). Not that these teams did not deserve to be there as they fought hard to qualify from their respective groups but the sizable gap in performance and skill is so evident that you wonder why they wanted to get there in the first place. Yes reaching the World Cup is magical but so is competing in it. Give it your best shot as it may be your only one should be the battle cry but more often than not teams appear with a whimper than a roar.

All hands on Deck - North Korea defend in numbers against Brazil  (Image from FIFA)

All hands on Deck – North Korea defend in numbers against Brazil
(Image from FIFA)

The World Cup should be as it’s billed – the planets best 32 teams competing for the right to be called World Champions. If Iran and North Korea are in that 32 then great as they deserve to be there but not in the way that they are right now. Personally I blame FIFA’s spot allocation system that dictates how many teams each region can send to World Cup. Being fair is one thing but if the main event suffers then surely questions need to be asked over it validity?  How can a region with an average FIFA ranking of 101 be given 4.5 spots whilst another with an average of 90 is allocated only 3.5? Both regions have a similar number of teams but it would appear that FIFA favours one over the other for reasons unknown. Perhaps it’s the fact that the region with the higher number of spots also helps to contribute to a larger share of money going into FIFA’s coffers than the second mentioned region.  Either way what has happened is that the World Cup has become a competition for a handful of teams to win rather than all 32. Heading into Brazil, fans will be placing their bets on who will lift the coveted golden trophy at the end but few bets will be placed on the likes of Costa Rica, Algeria, Honduras or Iran. Do they have a shot? Of course they do but it’s a very long one that will require more than just good fortune along the way for them to win the tournament. In fact qualifying to the knockout stages may be a challenge for most of them given the gap in quality between them and the other nations in their group.

Long Shot - Iran will need a miracle to win the World Cup  (Image from PA)

Long Shot – Iran will need a miracle to win the World Cup
(Image from PA)

FIFA has taken a gamble by focusing on growing the World Cup brand, focusing on the pre show rather than the main event which may come back to haunt them. A radical overhaul may be required to keep interest in the World Cup high and keep the competition itself competitive. Realignment of the qualification process including a mixing of the groups by FIFA rankings or through knock out stages may be necessary to protect the World Cup’s long term health. There is still life in the old girl yet but without something to keep her interesting; she may just start to fade away from the public eye. That really is the last thing that FIFA wants.

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England Hold Their Breath As The World Cup Draw Nears

Getting ready for the draw (Image from FIFA)With the World Cup draw happening tomorrow, nerves in the England camp are at an all time high.  England’s fate will be decided at 5pm (GMT) in Bahia, Brazil so in advance BOTN explores what could be England’s worst group.  Using the existing pools (England are in pot 4) and based on the various rules and regulations attached to the draw itself, here is the “Group of Death” for England. It features Spain from Pot 1, Chile from Pot 2 and Mexico form Pot 3 with England filling the final place from Pot 4.

Current World Cup holders, Spain  (Image from Getty)

Current World Cup holders, Spain
(Image from Getty)

The current World and European champions are amongst those in pot one that could pose a real threat to England’s chances. In fact all eight teams, with the possible exception of Switzerland will be a serious threat to England’s qualification hopes. Spain have talent in abundance and are incredibly hard to break down due to their intense passing game. Xavi and Iniesta are likely to dominate the play with Fabergas and Mata as support options. At the back, they have a solid backline with centre back pairing Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos causing problems for opposition strikers, roaming just in front of Casillas, Reina or Valdes in goal. Upfront Spain’s rich talent pool continues with the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa, Fernando Llorente and  Roberto Soldado to name a few offering options. Adding to this mix is newly converted Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa who has been in blistering form so far this season. The Brazilian born striker, who recently pledged his allegiance to Spain instead of his homeland, has forged a successful partnership with David Villa for Atletico. This surely gives Spanish head coach Vicente del Bosque food for thought on whether he should unleash the pair for Spain during next summer’s tournament.

Diego Costa and David Villa  (Image from AFP Getty Images)

Diego Costa and David Villa
(Image from AFP Getty Images)

Chile tested England in their last trip to Wembley just under a month ago as Alexis Sanchez backed up his talking off the pitch with a sublime performance. The Barcelona striker made a sly remark about England’s pathway system for future footballers stating how it was too easy for youngsters to join academies and automatically play for a club in the future. In Chile the academy system is nowhere near as advanced as it is in England but appears to be producing the goods. At Wembley they convincingly beat England 2-0, throwing Roy Hodgson’s plans into disarray. Although England chose to field an altered side for the match allowing them to test some new faces, it was a huge win for the South American’s who have shown with the emergence of star players like Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Felipe Gutiérrez and Gary Medal that they are a future force in world football.  Pot 3 may be considered to be the weakest pot but within them lies the stinging tail of Mexico who could relinquish all hope for England. With a squad made up of established stars and Olympic winning youthful exuberance, Mexico are considered to be one of the tournaments dark horses. Despite taking a rocky path in qualifying, Mexico’s strength is their desire to succeed which makes them a dangerous opponent.  Upfront, Mexico can call upon Manchester United’s  Javier Hernandez, Valencia’s Giovani Dos Santos or Santos Laguna’s Oribe Peralta to score the goals needed to progress.  In midfield, head coach Miguel Herrera mixes experience in the form of Andres Guardado (who is one game off his century for his country) with up and coming stars like Porto’s Héctor Herrera with some success. He could also spring a few surprises with his final squad selection if Erick Torres or Marco Fabian make the cut. Both players are good examples of the rich talent that Mexico is producing and that England needs to be aware of if they draw them in the World Cup.  

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England  (Image from PA)

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England
(Image from PA)

In the World Cup, there is no such thing as an easy team as England have found out in the past. There are various other teams who pose a threat to England’s chances of progression, most noticeably host’s Brazil, a Messi inspired Argentina and arch rivals, Germany. But some of the dark horses could also cause problems such as the Ivory Coast or Ecuador. Ivory Coast has plenty of talent including Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, Roma’s Gervinho and CSKA Moscow’s Seydou Doumbia. They will be no pushovers, nor will Ecuador who are an improving side and will be a lot tougher than the last time England played them in 2006. Antonio Valencia and Vitesse’s Renato Ibarra are two talented wingers with lots of pace to burn plus with Felipe Caicedo up front, Ecuador could be a real threat. The country is still hurting from the death of legend Christian Benetiz so will be approaching the World Cup with a desire to do well for his memory. The USA are also amongst the group of teams who could be a potential danger as England found out in 2010 in South Africa. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann has spent the past few years experimenting with different players but now has established a nucleus of talent like Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley that he is building his team around. Added into this the emergence of Brek Shea, Terrance Boyd and Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore, Klinsmann has a strong group that is ready and prepared for the World Cup next year.

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw  (Image from Getty)

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw
(Image from Getty)

Hodgson and England will be hoping to avoid such a nightmare by drawing a generous group such as Switzerland, Algeria and Iran. Based on previous draws, England has had luck on their side but can it hold for Brazil? Interestingly one team in pot 4 will be moved into pot 2 just before the draw starts. This is to allow for 4 groups of eight and a somewhat easier drawing process. That said, it is still quite confusing as FIFA will not allow a group to have more than two European teams in it so adjustments will need to be made, ruling out the three European teams in Pot 1 being pulled.  If England were chosen for Pot 2, it could play in their favour or perhaps not. Either way, Hodgson is unlikely to get any sleep tonight as he worries about who his team will face next summer.

Blog by Richard Waterhouse

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