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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Birmingham And Ecuador Mourn The Passing Of Christian Benitez

RIP Christian Benitez (Image from Getty)The sudden death of Ecuador striker Christian Benitez at age 27 has shocked the football world, with several players taking to Twitter to express their sympathies to his family. Benitez, best known for his time in England with Birmingham City where he spent a year on loan, died of heart failure last Monday, only a day after playing his first game for his new club, Al Jaish. The Qatar club is still trying to come to terms with his death, only weeks after the player joined the club in a $10million move. He only played twenty minutes for the club but didn’t complain about feeling unwell at any stage nor showed signs of fatigue. In fact, the player was thought to have been in pristine condition when he signed and passed the medical that the club gave him. Whether part of that medical included an examination of his heart has not been determined but few will blame the club for his untimely death.

Benitez during his Birmingham days  (Image from PA)

Benitez during his Birmingham days
(Image from PA)

Benetiz, or Chuco as he was better known, spent most of his career in Latin America playing for Club Deportivo El Nacional in his homeland as well as two spells in Mexico with Santos Laguna and América before moving to Qatar this July. But it will be his spell in England with Birmingham that will trigger the most memories for fans of European football. Brought in at the start of the 2009-2010 season by Alex McLeish, Benetiz realized a dream by playing in one of Europe’s top leagues after many years of rumours and speculation linking him with clubs like Villarreal and Benfica. The transfer itself was not as straightforward as the player had hoped for with both Birmingham and El Nacional debating after the fact the true value of the deal. Originally Birmingham announced that they had signed Benetiz for a then record transfer of £6 million rising to £9m depending on appearances and goals. However when the striker failed a medical due to a knee problem, the deal was frantically renegotiated to cover Birmingham from future losses. McLeish will remember all too well his time in Scotland as then manager of Motherwell when he watch Rangers splash £4 million on Chilean striker Sebastian Rozental only for the player to pick up a underlying knee injury early on and become an expensive flop for the club. So Birmingham ended up taking Benetiz on loan for a season with the option to buy him outright if he played the season without any real medical concerns.

Knee Problems - Sebastian Rozental (Image from Scottish Sun)

Knee Problems – Sebastian Rozental
(Image from Scottish Sun)

Benetiz finally made his debut for the Blues as a substitute on the opening day against Manchester United and came very close to scoring, only to be denied by a flying Ben Foster. He would have to wait for his full debut which eventually came against Hull in mid September and once again the goalkeeper, Boaz Myhill was on hand to deny the player his first goal for the club. A series of wonderful saves stopped Benetiz from potentially picking up a hat trick and the frustration from that day went with him as the striker failed to score in the next few matches. It was against Liverpool in early November that the Ecuadorian finally broke his deadlock with a fine close range header that beat Pepe Reina at his near post. He would have to wait for his next goal but it eventually came in the fourth round of the FA Cup on a cold Saturday in January against Everton. Benetiz struck early on as Birmingham beat Everton 2-1, with Scottish captain Barry Ferguson grabbing the winner with a wonderful long range strike. Birmingham went on that season to reach the sixth round before being knocked out by eventual finalists Portsmouth. Unfortunately for Benetiz, despite playing well in a majority of the games, he only managed to score two more goals before the end of the season, putting his future in doubt. Birmingham did want to take the option to buy him but after lengthy discussions broke down, the player returned to Mexico to play for Santos Laguna.

Benitez was a national favourite (Image from Getty)

Benitez was a national favourite
(Image from Getty)

In his first season back he finish top goalscorer with 16 goals, which persuaded rivals America to part with a record $10 million for his services. Over the next 79 games he would score 52 times for the club, before leaving to join Al Jaish this summer. Benetiz played over 58 times for his country and holds the distinction of being the countries third greatest goal scorer of all time. His fellow countryman, Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia lead the way last week with a loving tribute to his his former teammate on twitter:

“You will always be my brother, we are experiencing terrible pain, but we love you”

Former Birmingham teammate Craig Gardener spoke about the pleasure that it was to play with “Chuco” whilst the club itself talked about losing a great player and their plans to honour him at St. Andrew’s ahead of  the fixture against Watford. His death, at such a young age and without any warning has shocked and saddened all that knew him as a player and as a friend. His body was flown back from Doha airport to his native Ecuador last Thursday with the funeral taking place the next day with thousands lining the streets to pay their respects. May you rest in peace Chuco.

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