Will Hans-Dieter Flick mastermind for the next evolution of the German National team?

July 2021 marks the end of era in history of the German National team with the charismatic manager, Joachim Löw taking his last bow for ‘die mannschaft’ after the Euro 2020. Löw took over as manager after the 2006 World Cup and transformed the team fortunes leading them to World Cup victory in Brazil in 2014. His 15-year tenure revolutionized Germany’s identity as a nation and a leader in global football.  

The 1990 World Cup signified a turning point in its history. A mere few months after West Germany’s win at that tournament, they reunified with their Eastern counterpart forming the now known unified Germany. Instead of building on that success, Germany struggled to find its footing on the international scene. They did managed to win the 1996 European Championships in England but with an aging squad. There were also promising signs at the 2006 World Cup as well which was on home turf. Despite a semi-final exit, they showed the world a fun summer World Cup (breaking the typical stern-faced German stereotypes) and bright young talents (Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker, Bastian Schweinsteiger) got to shine on the big stage.

Exit stage right – Low is set to depart from the German National job after Euro 2020

The German footballing authority looked to build on this momentum with a new manager (Löw) with fresh ideologies to foster the young and hungry talents that the country bore. The emergence of Pep Guardiola and the Tiki-Taka footballing philosophy along with Spain’s dominance at Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 only strengthened the notion that change was needed. International success usually comes on the heel of domestic success at club level. But German football clubs at the time were struggling to compete with clubs in the more opulent European leagues.

So, the clubs in german pivoted towards a new approach focused on developing home grown players and investing in young and upcoming managers with new ideas for long term success. The move would turn out to be a watershed moment in german football. Case in point, Jurgen Klöpp who brought success to Borussia Dortmund through recruitment and development of young players by educating them on a new chic of counter pressing style of football labelled Gegenpressing. This put Dortmund back on to the big stage again after breaking the Bundesliga dominance held by Bayern Munich with successive domestic titles.

Jurgen Klopp is one of several managers who benefited from a change in mindset in german football

This period of time in the Bundesliga also clubs spend more on international talent recruitment. It coincided with Germany as a country opening its borders more to immigrants in the hope of creating a new national identity and providing an economic stimulus. Some of the then “unknown gems” to shine in the German league at this time included Shinji Kagawa, Heung-Min Son and Roberto Firmino to name a few. Dortmund also produced several young talented german players who would go on to make up the core of the German national team that won the World Cup in 2014. Even now, the approach is being replicated with several german clubs entrusting younger managers who can relate and understand the new generation of players like Thomas Tüchel and Julian Nagelsmann.

This thinking will likely also be applied to the selection of the new German national manager once Low departs. The German national team managerial job is a highly coveted position with a long line of history and pride so finding willing applicants should not be an issue. However selecting the right manager who can work with a new crop of exciting german players is the priority. Last year, four of the top five managers in European football were German coaches (Jurgen Klopp, Hans-Dieter Flick, Thomas Tüchel and Julian Nagelsmann); all of whom got their respective starts in management at a young age. Of them, Bayern Munich’s Hans-Dieter Flick seems to be the best fit for the national job. He was Joachim Löw’s assistant from 2006-2014 with the German National team before getting the nod for managerial career to begin in the Bundesliga on an interim basis taking over from Niko Kovac at Bayern. After getting the managerial job on full time basis, he guided the Bundesliga champions to a continental treble including the Champions League which he won against the Thomas Tuchel led Paris Saint Germain.

Flick waves goodbye to Bayern and hello to the German National managers job

Flick recently expressed his interest in taking over as the next manager of the national team after announcing his own desire to leave Bayern. After a long internal political struggle, Bayern Munich relinquished any chances to change Flick’s mind and hired Julian Nagelsmann from RB Leipzig for the 2021-2022 season. After successfully leading 1899 Hoffenheim to their first Champions League qualification, he then led RB Leipzig to their first Champions league semi-final spot in 2020. Despite his young age (he’s still only 33), Nagelsmann was touted by several big names in Europe to lead their club.  Bayern Munich moved quickly to secure their man and signed Nagelsmann for a hefty sum (€25 million) in order to break his contract with RB Leipzig in a move of utter dominance.

The German FA can now make a move for Flick, their first choice to take over after the Euro 2020. And rightly so. Flick mastermind the reemergence of Bayern Munich as a dominant player in Europe after a disastrous spell under Carlo Ancelotti and Niko Kovac. Part of his masterplan was to pinpoint the key players in the squad who he could work closely with to change the tide. The resurgence of Thomas Müller behind the striker and Joshua Kimmich’s deep runs from central midfield provided a new dynamic flow to Bayern Munich’s football. Given his relationship with Bayern Munich squad who make up the core of German national team and the vast number of talented players playing across Europe, come the summer 2021 and beyond it is hard to see Germany going anywhere but forward.  

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN

Why Bayern Munich’s Domination is Bad for German Football

A few weeks have passed since Bayern celebrated it’s title victory in the German championship, the Bundesliga. In case you didn’t know, that win makes it eighth time in a row. An outstanding achievement on one hand, but a disaster for German football in general. Only seven years ago, the Bundesliga and the German National Football Team were on a high and seemed unstoppable. Bayern scooped the Champions League trophy in 2012/2013 singling the beginning of their dominance. One year later and it was the national team who were celebrating with Germany winning the 2014 World Cup. Things could not have looked better for German football which was expected to go on to dominate for years to come both from a club and national perspective. But it never happened and instead the level of German football started to decline.

Domination

Bayern as a team is already hated by most football fans. During my studies in Germany, I was amazed how many people even in the Bavaria region stopped supporting the team. As fan of Bayern, I was mostly shocked and disappointed. However, the more you talk to football fans, the more you understand the reason. Other clubs don’t have that amount of fame, the same amount of money and mostly important the same respect as Bayern. indeed the general feeling is that certain individuals at Bayern including the president of Bayern often don’t not show the same level as respect to other teams as afforded to Bayern. Former President Uli Hoeness regularly threw out phrases like “Bayer (Leverkusen) will not get ahead of Bayern after 100 years” which didn’t help the situation.

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The endless victories of Bayern has led to the reality that the rival clubs have begun to gradually lose interest in competing for the title with the gaps growing every season. even Bayern has stopped talking about what will happen in the Championship instead focusing more on attaining Champions League success. If Josep Guardiola was still trying to make a revolution in Munich in football terms, then Carlo Ancelotti simply exploited what he received. And he still won the league with ease.

What about other clubs

Despite the domination of Bayern, there have been some promising signs that clubs are beginning to believe that things are about to change. In the Bundesliga,  competition from other clubs seems to be higher than before with more teams pushing Bayern in the title race. Nearest rivals Borussia Dortmund are gradually improving and closing the gap season over season whilst also regularly competing in the Champions Leagues. Bayer Leverkusen are also doing very well, improving its domestic form and taking part in more frequently in European cup competitions. Other teams are in the mix as well with RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach offering new threats to Bayerns domestic dominance. Indeed the gap is shrinking with the difference in points between the second club in the Bundesliga and the fifth is only 2 or 3 point on average.

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But the gap is much wider when you look at the Champions League. Bayerns domination of the Bundesliga and ability to buy its best players year over year is perfectly reflected in its regular participation in the Champion League, especially its latter stages. The last German club to win the title was in 2012/2013, and that was Bayern. Dortmund were the runners up in that final and have pushed hard to make the quarter finals on a more frequent basis but in general German clubs don’t feature as much at that stage in the competition as other nations (take English clubs as an example).

German National Team

The real problem however in German football today is that most of the young players breaking into the Bundesliga are foreigners. The training system, which was considered exemplary for almost 10 years has begun to fail. So what broke in the seemingly unstoppable assembly line that trained young players? Firstly, they all understand perfectly well that there is not enough space for everyone in Bayern’s squad. However not everyone wants to go there. Secondly, when the assembly line started working, it encouraged agents to automatically seek better moves for their players either to other leagues or to Bayern.

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The outcome

It’s hard to say what the future holds for German football. German football like most is evolving and change is happening if slowly. There are promising signs with the development of younger talented players like Timo Werner and Kai Havertz but they need to play in a competitive Bundesliga or will  be forced to move abroad in order to experience winning trophies. This would be detrimental to the league and the development of the National team. Bayerns dominance might be exciting for Bayerns fans but unless they can be unseated soon, the damage to German football may take years to repair. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to watch.

Post by Irina Kuzina, Back Of The Net Russia correspondent. Follow her now on Instagram.

Always in the Shadows

You have to feel for Neymar. The Brazilian superstar just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to his club. After making the breakthrough at Santos in his native Brazil, Neymar quickly became the player that everyone was talking about. Blessed with a natural ability that has elevated him to become one of the worlds best players, Neymar thrives as the focal point of the team. At Santos, surrounded by teammates of lesser quality Neymar was front and centre. For Brazil it is a similar story. Neymar was basking in the limelight but needed a bigger platform. In stepped Barcelona.

Front and Centre - where Neymar feels most comfortable (Image from Tumblr)

Front and Centre – where Neymar feels most comfortable (Image from Tumblr)

At first, the move to Barcelona made a lot of sense. Neymar, the latest emerging prodigy from South America moving to arguably the world’s biggest club. His name and talents would be elevated into the next stratosphere whilst Barcelona profited both on and off the pitch. At Barcelona he would be one of their brightest assets but not their biggest. That title has been held for over a decade by one Lionel Messi. The Argentine is a god amongst men in the world of football, an icon that regardless of how he is playing steals all of the limelight. Barcelona pitched a story to Neymar about coming in to play alongside Messi, learning from him day-to-day and eventually replacing him as the clubs focal point. It was an attractive proposition, one that almost guaranteed success for Neymar so he snapped it up without hesitation. Over the next four seasons, trophies would flow into Barcelona like water – two La Liga titles, three consecutive Copa del Reys, one Champions League and a Club World Cup should have left Neymar feeling on top of the football world. But despite this, all was not right with the Brazilian, something was clearly missing. The limelight.

 

Neymar and Messi should have been the dream ticket and for a while it was (Image from Tumblr)

Neymar and Messi should have been the dream ticket and for a while it was (Image from Tumblr)

Neymar was improving season over season. His first season started slowly with Neymar finding his rhythm part of the way through the campaign leading to 14 goals in all competitions. By the second, he was firing on all cylinders contributing 39 goals in 51 appearances. By the third season his tally decreased but his influence on how Barcelona attacked and in particular won games was evident. But regardless of what he did, Messi continued to shine brighter.  In Neymar’s second season at Barcelona, Messi racked up an incredible 58 goals in 57 appearances, 43 of which came in the league. The light was starting to blind Neymar who started to doubt the vision painted by Barcelona a few years before. Messi was not slowing down nor looked to be fading. Neymar knew that if he was to become the central figure, he was going to have to leave.

Living in Messi's shadow grew tiresome for Neymar (Image from Twitter)

Living in Messi’s shadow grew tiresome for Neymar (Image from Twitter)

PSG had spent a lot of money on players before Neymar arrived capturing top talents like Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler and Edison Cavani. But none came close to the impact that Neymar had on his arrival. On signing, PSG went from Ligue 1 title winners to possible Champions League contenders. His €222m transfer obliterated the record set previously by Real Madrid when they bought Gareth Bale. Neymar entered the club like Julius Caesar returning to Rome following the conquest of Gaul. With only Cavani in his way, Neymar brushed aside the Uruguayan to take his position as the focal point of PSG. All was well it seemed until the arrival of a teenage upstart called Kylian Mbappe.

Back in the Limelight - Neymar joined PSG to be the focal point (Image from Tumblr)

Back in the Limelight – Neymar joined PSG to be the focal point (Image from Tumblr)

The 2018 World Cup in Russia was viewed by Brazil as a redemption opportunity; a way to final bury the memory of what happened four years previously back home at the hands of the Germans. Neymar, sidelined for that game took it as his personal mission to win the World Cup for Brazil this time around was a man possessed even if a bit dramatically. As always he was front and centre, controlling what Brazil did and scoring important goals when needed. A wry smile will have crept over his face as Messi and Argentina crashed out early on. Against Belgium in the quarter finals, Neymar’s dream crumbled as an injury time equalizer was agonizingly saved by Courtois. Brazil were out. Neymar was forced to watch as France, led by his newest teammate Mbappe swept to glory. It was a turning point in the career of Mbappe, once a promising talent now considered the real deal.

Mbappe is slowly becoming the star at PSG much to Neymar's disappointment (Image from Tumblr)

Mbappe is slowly becoming the star at PSG much to Neymar’s disappointment (Image from Tumblr)

Back in Ligue 1, Neymar has been playing brilliantly with eight goals in eight league games to date.  A hat trick in the Champions League goes to show how much Neymar has the bit between his teeth. However its Mbappe that is stealing most of the headlines in France. Following his World Cup heroics, Mbappe has been elevated to saint status with his every touch fawned upon. Whilst his goals to games return has not been as good as Neymars’, a recent four goal haul against Lyon has the media once again eating out of his hand. Neymar is not handling it well and cuts a worried figure realizing that this youngster could eclipse him and eventually steal all of the limelight. He has a tough decision to make – stick it out and battle against Mbappe in a country that favours the Frenchman over him or cut his losses and move yet again. Real Madrid are rumoured to be monitoring the situation closely and hoping to get a SOS sign from Neymar. With the light switching over to Mbappe, Neymar needs to act fast or face further years in the shadows.

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US stopper Tim Howard Agrees To MLS Return

 

In a much anticipated move, MLS side Colorado Rapids have announced that they have signed US goalkeeper Tim Howard from English Premier League side Everton. The player himself announced his return with a quirky 15 second Claymation video by Uninterrupted. The move ends Howard’s thirteen-year stay in England where he has racked up 397 appearances so far, first with Manchester United and now with Everton where he has become a fan favourite. Despite being 37 years old, Howard still has the ability to compete at the highest level but having lost his starting spot in the Everton goal to Spaniard Joel Robles, the American shot stopper has decided that it is time to return home. The move to join Colorado was completed late last month but the club decided to wait to announce their new acquisition to allow the player and Everton to focus on several crunch games in the English league and cup competitions. Howard signs a three and a half year deal with the club to become one of their designated players and joins for a fee of just over $600,000 in the summer.

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Howard has racked up nearly 400 Premier league appearances so far (Image from Matt West/BPI)

The move signals Howard’s return to the league where it all began just under 20 years ago. As a native of North Brunswick, it made sense for Howard to join the New York/New Jersey Metrostars (now New York Red Bulls) as a 18 year old. However few expected that he would have the impact that he did. In his debut game ironically against Colorado, Howard gave a dazzling performance making five crucial saves as the Metrostars ran out 4-1 victors. That performance set Howard up for success and he did not disappoint, establishing himself as a important part of the Metrostars team over the next five years. With his growing reputation came the early accolades of his career, winning MLS goalkeeper of the year in 2001 and representing his country at under 20 and Under 23 level. It wouldn’t be long before Howard started to gain attention from abroad and when Manchester United came calling in 2003, Howard knew that his life was about to change massively.

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Howard’s move to Manchester United propelled him into the spotlight (Image from Getty)

Signed as a direct replacement for the outgoing French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez in a $4m deal, Howard was dropped firmly into the deep end at one of the world’s biggest clubs. Under the management of the legendary figure of Sir Alex Ferguson, Howard would excel in his opening season winning the FA cup (becoming in the process only the second American to do so). However his second season would be more problematic with Howard losing confidence then his place to Roy Carroll. He would eventually regain it but by then the seed of doubt had been planted firmly in Ferguson’s mind. After United signing Edwin van der Sar from Fulham, Howard was sold to Everton where he has made a majority of his PL appearances during a ten year stint with the Liverpool club. Throughout that time, Howard consistently showed the world exactly how good a shot stopper he is helping the club to establish its self as a permanent fixture in the top half of the league table. He would also play a starring role for the United States, earning over 100 caps with stand out performances at the 2010 and 2014 World Cup including a man of the match performance against Portugal in the latter which spawned a million memes and landed him a meeting with the US president.

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Following his breathtaking performance against Portugal, the internet exploded with millions of memes of Howard saving things (Image from Google)

Howard spoke to ESPN Sport center shortly after the announcement, stating that the timing was right for the move and that he will always remember his time in England fondly. Howard returns at a time when Colorado are undergoing a rebuilding exercise after several disappointing campaigns. The signing of Howard adds experience to the side managed by former US international colleague Pablo Mastroeni. The new coach will be hoping that Howard can lend his support both on and off the field potentially paving the way for Howard to move into coaching once he hangs up his boots.

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Brazil Recovery On Track As Copa Approaches

BrazilThe 2014 World Cup semi final still haunts Brazil. The humiliating defeat at the hands of eventual winners Germany was an eye opener for a team so confident of success in the tournament that they became blinded towards the truth. Despite having arguably one of the best players in the world in Neymar, the Brazil squad selected for the World Cup in their home land was less than inspiring. Luiz Filipe Scolari’s side were good on paper but lacked the creative spark or cutting edge of previous Brazil world cup teams. No Robinho or Ronaldinho to add an extra dimension to their play and no Romario or Ronaldo like striker to fire them to glory. All in all it was a side built for one purpose – to support Neymar. The talented 22 year old was given a free role, allowed to roam and create and basically do what he does best. With that freedom, Neymar shone picking up four goals on route to the quarter finals and placing himself in the running for player of the tournament. But a bad clumsy challenge by Colombia’s Juan Zuniga in the last few minutes of their clash in the quarters ruled Neymar out for the rest of the tournament. Heading into the semi’s Brazil were like a chicken with its head cut off. Unable to function and without Neymar to lead the way, Brazil were torn apart by a rampant Germany hungry for success. The 7-1 score line was flattering to Germany but in truth it could have been more. Their pride severely dented, Brazil’s national team was in tatters.

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup (Image from Getty)

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup (Image from Getty)

Two months later a fresh looking Brazil side took to the field to play Colombia in a friendly. Led out by new manager Dunga returning for a second spell as national boss, Brazil looked nervous yet prepared to start to rewrite the wrongs that had happened months previously. Their ranks had been changed dramatically with several key players from the World Cup notably absent. Striker Fred, who suffered the most due to his poor showing at the World Cup, had retired from international football aged 30 whilst Julio Cesar, Jo, Hulk, Maxwell and Paulinho all were left out in favour of fresh blood. In came Diego Tardelli, Everton Ribeiro, Philippe Coutinho and a recall for Robinho to add options to Brazil’s approach. The inclusion of Atletico Madrid defender Miranda was also welcomed by the fans and Brazilian media, many of whom felt that he should have been part of the World Cup squad in the first place and not have been excluded. His addition helped to solidify a shaky looking defence, even if it meant breaking up the much hyped PSG duo of David Luiz and Thiago Silva.  The match against Colombia finished in a 1-0 win with newly appointed captain Neymar sealing the win with an 83rd minute free kick. That nervous win would kick start a run of friendly victories that has now stretched to eight in a row. Brazil are back so it would seem and with a bang. Or are they?

Yes they have played against some good sides (notably France, Chile, Argentina and Colombia) scoring 18 times and conceding just twice but in a majority of the games Brazil have labored away to get the win. This may be due to Dunga crafting the team in his vision – less flair, more workhorse like in their performances. Brazil is more disciplined than before preferring to play through teams on the deck rather than looking for adventurous but risky long balls. Neymar in his new role as captain has a more disciplined approach too, less free to roam the pitch and more focused on linking the play and inspiring the team with some quick setup work or a shot on goal. The results of this change have been evident with the Barcelona player scoring eight times in as many games, including a self demolition of Japan when he scored four goals. Unlike during the World Cup though, the pressure on Neymar as his country’s only real goal threat has been lifted with several new players drafted in to ease the burden. In particular, the emergence of Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino has been a massive boost to Brazil’s attacking options with the 23 year old playing a significant role as provider and finisher of some of Brazil’s best moves in recent games. Despite having only four caps to date, Firmino has scored two fantastic goals and looks set to cement his place in Dunga’s long term plans as long as his form continues for both club and country.

Brazil’s fresh start under Dunga has been impressive to date but the biggest challenges await with the Copa America the first of them. Due to be played in Chile in June, Dunga will know that only a strong performance and perhaps a win will be enough to mend the bridges with the Brazil fans that were so violently destroyed by that defeat by Germany. The Copa is far from an easy competition to win, arguably tougher than the World Cup so Brazil will need to be on their best form to be triumphant. Brazil face Peru, Colombia and Venezuela in the group stage starting June 14th with progression expected. Failure to progress is not an option open for Dunga especially with the heartache from the World Cup still fresh in Brazilian hearts and minds.

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Oscar Misses Out As Brazil Gears Up For Copa Run

Copa target - Brazil manager Dunga (Image from Getty)With the Copa America just over a month away, Brazil manager Dunga has decided to name his squad in preparation. There are few surprises in the squad that will likely be captained by Neymar. In a fairly balanced squad Dunga has named a majority of the players who have played under him over the past eight friendly matches. However there is a recall for former Manchester City striker Robinho after his impressive season for Santos this year. The 31 year old forward will be hoping he can inspire Brazil to yet another Copa America title much like he did back in 2007. Currently on loan from AC Milan, Robinho has racked up only five goals in 13 league appearances this past season but has contributed much more to Santos overall style of play that his return of goals give him credit for. Also in the squad is Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho who has been the shining light in what has been a difficult season for the Anfield club. Having lost Luis Suarez to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge to injury for a majority of the season, Liverpool have failed to build on last year’s 2nd place EPL finish. That said, Coutinho’s form especially in the last few months has propelled the club back into European contention and now sit in 5th place with three matches left to play.

There is no place however for the creative Oscar who has had a frustrating past few months with injuries, summed up perfectly by his knock out at The Emirates thanks to a wild challenge by Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina. The Chelsea midfielder was hoping that his recent injuries would be overlooked by Dunga and be able to claim a place by a call from Jose Mourinho soon sorted that out. The Portuguese coach, who spent last weekend celebrating his four Premiership title, placed a call to the Brazil manager to inform him about a thigh injury that Oscar had sustained in training. It’s a devastating blow for the 23 year old playmaker who is keen to build on his already impressive 45 appearances for his country including some standout performances at the last World Cup. Also missing out are the influential trio of Ramires, Dani Alves and Kaka with Dunga preferring to play favour with a group of players who fit more comfortably into his style of play. It may not be the style that most expect from Brazil, with attacking bias benched in favour of slower build up play with the midfield rather than the strikers playing a more significant role. This cautious approach is designed to avoid the pitfalls experience last summer.

Brazil as a nation is still reeling from the events of last summer and the Copa America, set to take place in Chile in mid June has been viewed by many in the country as the salvation. Since their 3-0 defeat to Holland in the third place playoff’s, there have been several personnel changes including the manager with Scolari replaced by Dunga. The changes have worked with Dunga’s new look Brazil side unbeaten so far in the eight friendly games they have played. They approach the Copa with confidence, with the country slowly coming back to support them in their droves. Dunga however is taking nothing for granted and knows that the memory of that 7-1 mauling at the hands of Germany in the World Cup semi final is still fresh in most Brazilians minds. The coach is always looking over his shoulder and for good reason. His first spell in charge was deemed a failure with his tactics especially in competitive matches questioned. Eight wins on the bounce is a great feat and goes a long way to mend the deep cuts inflicted by the Germans nearly a year ago. But failure to win the Copa, which is considered one of the more historic and important titles by many in South America, could result in Dunga leaving his job before the 2018 World Cup qualifiers begin in October. Reaching the final is a must, with even the semi’s not being enough to satisfy many. Dunga’s side will have to play six matches in four weeks if they are to reach the final so his team selection is designed specifically for this challenge. Instead of having a set eleven much like Scolari had at the World Cup, Dunga will use his full squad and rotate players depending on the opponent, with the only player likely to feature in all the matches being Neymar. He has strength in depth with several players in the squad able to play numerous positions which gives Dunga options in terms of tactical approach.

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup  (Image from Getty)

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup
(Image from Getty)

He has strengthen the backline, which looked shaky and unorganized last summer, with Atletcio’s Miranda coming in to break up the reliance of David Luiz and Thiago Silva at centre back. In goal, Julio Cesar has been sacrificed for  the more reliable, no nonsense Jefferson whilst Danilo and Fabinho have been drafted in to offer support from full back but perhaps not as much attacking threat as a Dani Alves. The addition of Everton Ribeiro and Diego Tardelli add attacking prowess and mark a first for Brazil by calling up players for the first time who play in the UAE and China respectively. Much rests on captain Neymar’s shoulders but perhaps not as much as in the World Cup. His absence in the semi final due to injury was a huge blow to Brazil’s attack minded approach with Fred the only real option. That over reliance cost Brazil dearly and is a mistake that Dunga is cautious to avoid making again. The Copa America offers the chance at redemption for one of the world’s best sides. How far they can go will depend on many aspects but one thing is certain – failure is not an option.

Brazil squad for Copa America

Goalkeepers: Jefferson (Botafogo), Diego Alves (Valencia), Marcelo Grohe (Gremio)

Defenders: Fabinho (Monaco), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Chelsea), Danilo (Porto), David Luiz (PSG), Marquinhos (PSG), Thiago Silva (PSG), Miranda (Atletico Madrid)

Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Elias (Corinthians), Casemiro (Porto)

Attackers: Everton Ribeiro (Al-Ahli), Douglas Costa (Shakhtar Donetsk), Willian (Chelsea), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Robinho (Santos), Neymar (Barcelona), Diego Tardelli (Shandong Luneng), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim)

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YouTube Star Roche Makes FIFA Goal Of The Year List

Goal of the Year contender - Stephanie Roche (Image from Getty)There are a couple of familiar names on this year’s FIFA Puskas Award for goal of the year and one not so familiar. Irish striker Stephanie Roche is hardly a household name like the other two other contenders on the list – Manchester United and Holland striker Robin Van Persie and Real Madrid and Colombia midfielder James Rodriquez but her place on this year’s list is as much deserved as theirs. The former Peamount United striker has earned her way onto the shortlist with a stunning goal against Wexford Youths in October. Receiving the ball on the edge of the opposition area from a cross from teammate Wendy McGlone, Roche neatly controls the ball with her right before dinking it over her marker with her left and spinning round to hit an unstoppable volley past the helpless Wexford Youths goalkeeper Mary Rose Kelly.

The strike, which was luckily captured on film by someone in the 95 person strong crowd, has become a YouTube sensation capturing thousands of views only weeks after it was initially posted. The buzz created by the video has worked in Roche’s favour who has now been given a professional contract by French side ASPTT Albi as a result. Pundits and former players have also been quick to praise the strike and in particular the technique applied by Roche in executing the volley. Former Republic of Ireland defender Paul McGrath, ex England striker Matt Le Tissier and former player turned pundit Gary Linekar have all taken to social media to wax lyrically about the strike. Roche herself is over the moon by the attention the strike is getting and by her subsequent nomination stating on BBC Radio 5 in the UK that she has been overwhelmed by the messages of support and encouragement and is generally happy that her goal is getting recognized, not just for herself but for women’s football in general.

Roche’s goal was one of ten to make an initial shortlist before it was eventually whittled down to just these three. Now it is up to users of FIFA.com and FranceFootball.fr to decide which one of the three goals wins the award. Roche though faces tough competition as both goals by Robin Van Persie and James Rodriguez, which happened during this past summers World Cup have enough merit to win the award themselves. Real Madrid ace Rodriguez was undoubtedly the star player at the tournament, scoring six goals as he helped Colombia march into the quarter finals only to be eventually beaten by a Neymar inspired Brazil. But it was his volley in the round of 16 match against Uruguay that earned him a place in this year’s list. With his back to goal some 25 yards out, Rodriguez controlled a headed pass on his chest before swiveling round to unleash a venomous dipping volley which crashed into the net off the crossbar. Perhaps seen as less spectacular that Roche’s or Rodriguez’s volleys, Van Persie’s elegant swan like diving header goal for Holland against Spain in their World Cup group opening match was equally as impressive. The goal which showed great vision and technique by the Dutch striker who carefully watched the ball before leaping well to head the ball over Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal, setting Holland on its way towards a shock 5-1 victory which effectively ended Spain’s defence of their title before it even began.

The award named after Hungarian and Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskas, who scored his own fair share of spectacular and impressive goals during his career, will be presented in Zurich on January 12th 2015 at a star studded event. Roche will be present, along with Van Persie and Rodriguez for the announcement of the winner and if Roche’s name is called she will become the first ever female winner of the award.

You can view all three strikes again and vote for your favourite here: http://www.fifa.com/ballon-dor/puskas-award/video=2463789/index.html

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Could A Facebook Post Have Ended Jourden’s France Chances Before They Have Even Begun?

As France gear up to face Portugal on Saturday in an international friendly, spare a thought for Didier Deschamps.  The French national coach has had a torrid week not at the hands of the press or his players but online. For the second time this year, Deschamps has been blasted on social media by the partner of a player he did not select. The wife of Montpellier goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourden took to Facebook to call out Deschamps on his apparent snub of her husband when selecting his squad for the forthcoming friendlies against Portugal and Armenia. Noemie Jourdren vented her anger by saying that she hoped Deschamps died the next day. Her comments come only a few months after Anara Atanes ranted on Twitter about Deschamps excluding her boyfriend Samir Nasri from his World Cup squad. Atanes repeatedly swore about France and Deschamps before calling the former Monaco boss as bad manager.

Anara Atanes, pictured with Nasri blasted Deschamps for not picking him for the World Cup (Image from Getty)

Anara Atanes, pictured with Nasri blasted Deschamps for not picking him for the World Cup
(Image from Getty)

Nasri has since retired from international football citing he was unhappy with everything associated with the national team. Deschamps was questioned by the French media at the time about the exclusion of Nasri, especially given that the midfielder had played a significant role in securing the English Premiership title for his club, Manchester City but the coach simply felt that the player did not play in the same way he did for his country as he did for his club. In the end Nasri’s exclusion matter little with France making it to the quarter finals of the World Cup in Brazil before being knocked out by eventual winners Germany. In the case of Geoffrey Jourden however the player has yet to be capped for France. He has been performing well for his club, Montpellier this season and was in contention for a call up when Saint Etienne goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier pulled out of the initial squad due to injury but Deschamps instead opted to call up Rennes Benoit Costil instead. This was obviously a massive disappointment to Jourden who has dreamed of representing his country at full international level since 2006 when he first pulled on the Les Blues jersey for the Under 21 team. However the actions of his wife may have ironically made that dream a more distant reality than it was before her post.

Jourden must save his international career by speaking to Deschamps (Image from AP)

Jourden must save his international career by speaking to Deschamps
(Image from AP)

It calls into question the impact that social media can have on a player’s career. Whilst a vital tool to connect the players with their fans and give them a voice away from the pitch, it can be argued that it could be detrimental to their careers especially if they are too vocal in their opinions. Both club and international managers are adapting to the way players use social media with some embracing it as a form of expression and free speech whilst others clamp down heavily in order to protect the players from themselves. However controlling those connected to the players is almost impossible as in the case of Jourden and Nasri. It is admirable that both Noemie Jourdren and Anara Atanes felt compelled enough to protect their partners and voice their anger at what they saw as a grievance as many of us would however when it has the potential to have a negative effect, then they must stop and think about the impact before posting. It must fall to the players to control the situation that surrounds them and stop any social media outbursts that could damage their brand or impact their jobs. Football careers are short as they are and given the increased pressures to perform on a regular basis at the highest level, it is to be anticipated that emotions will run high. However like in any job, blasting your boss on social media or going public with your negative view points about how they do their job will only end up with bad consequences.

Tough week for Deschamps (Image from AFP/GETTY

Tough week for Deschamps
(Image from AFP/GETTY)

As national manager, Deschamps has every right to select the players he feels are correct for the games ahead and will not be deterred by the actions of Noemie Jourden or Anara Atanes. In fact, publicly blasting the manager on social media if anything made it harder for their respective partners to be selected.  France automatically qualify for Euro 2016 as hosts so Deschamps is using the time between now and the tournament starting to test players and formations. For Jourden, he had time on his side to continue to impress and eventually win his way into Deschamps plans but the outburst of his wife and in particular the nature of her comments may have made that challenge an impossible one. Jourden would be wise to act quickly to mend the bridge between himself and Deschamps before this situation becomes irreparable or face years of wonder what could have been if only his wife hadn’t written that post.

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German Engineering Proves Too Strong For Messi and Argentina

Gotze wins it for Germany (Image from AFP)

It may have taken 112 minutes to come but Germany’s World Cup winning goal was 24 years in the making. For a country known for producing quality automobiles refined over generations it should be no surprise that they applied the same logic to its national football team. For the key engineer behind the project Joachim Low, it is vindication for all those nearly runs whilst he was tweaking and adjusting the balance of his machine. Nine years ago he started, picking up from Jurgen Klinsmann who had managed Germany for only two years prior with Low at his side as assistant manager. Klinsmann had started the overhaul, stripping the aging team down to its bare components and starting again after a disappointing Euro 2004. He managed a semi final berth at the 2006 World Cup on home soil in Germany but decided to step down after the tournament and let Low take on the challenge. It would be a masterful decision as Low would take Germany that one stage further eight yesrs later in Brazil. On the way they would reach the semi finals of the 2010 World Cup and earn a semi final spot at Euro 2012 but it was all in preparation for the ultimate goal, World Cup final success.

The Engineer, Joachim Loew  (Image from Getty)

The Engineer, Joachim Loew
(Image from Getty)

Mario Gotze 112th minute strike will go down in the record books as the one that helped lift the World Cup for Germany but this truly was a team effort. In goal, Manuel Neuer looked calm and relaxed throughout the tournament, quietly confident that they would win in the end. Neuer had more touches outside of his box in the tournament than inside of it, as he played the role of sweeper keeper to perfection. His assured performances shone brightly, helping him to the Golden Glove award and to World Cup glory. Captain Phillipp Lahm proved irreplaceable in the team, operating either as a defensive midfielder or in his natural right back berth. The Bayern Munich star inspired his team to victory through his tenacity and self drive that has made him a winner in almost every competition he has entered. His defensive partners  – Benedikt Höwedes, Mats Hummels, Jérôme Boatengand Per Mertesacker ensure that Neuer was rarely tested and redefined German defending for years to come.  Hummels in particular stood out, showing why Manchester United are so keen to sign him and why Borussia Dortmund are trying desperately to hold on to him.

Unbeatable - Manuel Neuer  (Image from Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Unbeatable – Manuel Neuer
(Image from Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Bastian Schweinsteiger proved once again that he is one of the world’s best midfielders, battling from the start in a style not seen since Michael Ballack departed for retirement. Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil shone bright whilst Chelsea’s Andre Schurrle proved invaluable from the bench. Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira anchored the side in midfield providing the inspiration when needed to get them through some difficult matches. Up front Thomas Muller continued his Wolrd Cup tradition with yet another 5 goals including a stunning hat trick, the first international one of his career, against Portugal whilst the never aging Miroslav Klose ensured that history would not forget him as he became the all time leading goalscorer in a World Cup with the two strikes needed to take him to 16. Each to a man, Germany excelled, their passing game a joy to behold. As the game ticked into its 60th minute, Germany had already racked up 400+ passes to Argentina’s 176. Possession of the ball stood at 60/40 in Germany’s favour and they had already struck the post once. Whilst Higuian had the ball in the back of the net from a offside position once, Argentina had rarely troubled Germany in the first hour of the match. The second hour, which included the 30 minutes of extra time saw the same story with Germany only giving up on its total possession by 7% mostly due to growing fatigue. Argentina simply didn’t have the spark that many thought they would have going into the match.

World Cup winners, Germany  (Image from PEDRO UGARTEPEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

World Cup winners, Germany
(Image from PEDRO UGARTEPEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Much will be talked about the ineffectiveness of Lionel Messi on this the grandest stage of all but to be fair the odds were always against him. Comparisons to Maradona and his achievements in 1986 were predictable but without a support team of genuine world-class players, it was never going to be Messi’s night. They will refer to how Maradona single handily dragged Argentina over the finish line in the final to win the World Cup and how Messi, arguably one of the games greatest ever players should have done the same. But the bitter truth is that the Argentina squad of 1986 was collectively a far stronger and star-studded team than that which took to the field yesterday. Jorge Valdano, Daniel Passarella, Jorge Burruchaga  and Oscar Ruggeri all played vital roles in Argentina’s success alongside Maradona in Mexico 1986 as they beat West Germany in the final 3-2. Maradona was a genius whose creativity, vision and determination had got them there but he never scored in the final. The winning goal would come from Burruchaga after West Germany fought back from 2-0 down to tie the match with ten minutes to go. Messi had played a similar role in getting his team to this years final, scoring four goals along the way and earning four consecutive man of the match awards. But without a fully fit Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero plus the stuttering form of Gonzalo Higuian, it was always going to be a step too far for the Barcelona striker.

Maradona lifts the 1986 World Cup  (Image from Action Images / Sporting Pictures / Tony Marshall)

Maradona lifts the 1986 World Cup
(Image from Action Images / Sporting Pictures / Tony Marshall)

For Germany, the Low built machine rolls on to qualification for Euro 2016 in France. Like Spain who dominated for six years during 2008 and 2014, Germany will be considered favourites to win before even one ball has been kicked and rightly so. The current crop still has plenty left in the tank and Low will be keen to build on his legacy. He will refine and tweak his team adding newer parts like Julian Draxler, Matthias Ginter and Marco Reus into the fold, rebuilding the machine that he has put together. Germany were deserved winners of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and will use that as a springboard for future success. The scariest thing for other nations to observe is Germany can get better and with Low behind the driver’s seat, this well oiled machine could dominate world football for the foreseeable future.

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Crunch Time For The US As Their World Cup Fate Lies In Their Own Hands

Dempsey has led the charge for the US (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Two games in, four points gained. Not a bad start for a team expected to struggle in a supposed group of death but for US head coach Jürgen Klinsmann it’s the start he expected and he is now looking forward to today’s game against Germany. The job is far from done as mathematically Ghana or Portugal could overtake the US into second spot, knocking them out of the World Cup. Only a point is needed to secure passage although a defeat may still work as long as the goal difference tally remains positive and other results go their way. An electric win against Ghana set them on their way and for a brief moment victory for the second time and secured passage to the knockout rounds was on the cards against Portugal before Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up in the 95th minute of the game to provide a killer cross for Varela to bullet home a header. It was a bitter blow for the US to handle who had taken the game to Portugal from the first kick of the ball. Despite falling behind to a Nani shot in the 5th minute, the US rallied and through Jermaine Jones found the equalizer. When Clint Dempsey drifted into the box in the 81st minute to knock the ball into the net using his stomach, the US bench erupted knowing that they were only 9 minutes away from adding another famous scalp to their repertoire. But any team with Ronaldo in its ranks cannot be discounted and the US paid for a single moment of slack marking that ultimately cost them two valuable points.

Leaving Donovan behind was seen as a strange move  (Image from Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Leaving Donovan behind was seen as a strange move
(Image from Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Going into the tournament, the focus of all discussions was around Klinsmann’s surprise omission of US legend Landon Donovan from his final 23 man squad. Doubters called it the end of the US World Cup campaign before it began but in truth Klinsmann’s side have looked like they hardly miss the LA Galaxy striker. In goal, Tim Howard has shown why he is consistently one of the best goalkeepers in the English Premier League, whilst midfielder Michael Bradley has demonstrated why Toronto shelled out over $10 million for his services. Up front captain Clint Dempsey has rolled back the years with two heart on the sleeve performances and two highly important goals. Added into this the emergence of new stars like Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi have made the US tough to break down and tougher to beat. It really has been a group effort from front to back with all members of the squad playing their part but today’s game will require an extra special push as they face one of the favourites for the tournament. Recent history is on their side with the US beating Germany in a friendly in June of last year by 4 goals to 3. However it would be wise not to be fooled by this result as the German side that Low fielded that day was primarily second string and experimental at best. Today’s team will be tougher, stronger and more technically gifted.

Old Friends - Klinsmann and Low  (Image from Getty)

Old Friends – Klinsmann and Low
(Image from Getty)

Questions have been asked about Germany’s conviction going into the match and whether Germany manager Joachim Low and Klinsmann will have made a deal to draw the game, a result good enough for both countries to progress regardless of the other result. The pair have history, with Klinsmann appointing Low as his assistant manager when he took over as Germany manager in 2004. When Klinsmann quit after the 2006 World Cup, it was he who recommended to the German FA that Low was ready to take over, ultimately handing the baton straight to his number two. But as much as a deal would suit both teams, it is not in either’s nature to agree to such a thing. Klinsmann is keen to prove that his US side is in the knockout stages on merit, not due to a side deal whilst Low, confident of his team’s progression will be aware that mathematically Germany could still be knocked out if results go against them. Having been beaten finalists at Euro 2008 and beaten semi finalists four years ago in South Africa, Low is desperate to pull Germany over the line and hand them their first World Cup in over 24 years. For Klinsmann reaching the knockout stages is a must and a chance to show his critics exactly how good a coach he is. Remember it was Klinsmann who started the Germany revolution back in 2004 by embracing the country’s youth players like Philip Lahm, Bastian Schweinstegier and Lukas Podolski who have been core to the German push in the last 10 years. Klinsmann will be hoping for a positive result today that sees the US progressing to the knock out rounds and hopefully acts as the springboard for the US national team’s progression over the next ten years.

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Real Madrid To Rebuild Los Galacticos With Summer Move For Falcao

Falcao looks set to move to Real Madrid (Image from Getty)

It’s been nearly ten years since the breakup of Los Galacticos, Real Madrid’s star studded team but now President Florentino Perez wants to rebuild it with a haul of impressive summer signings. The current Champions League winners already boast the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas but Perez now has his sights firmly set on Colombian power striker, Radamel Falcao. Discussions between Falcao’s current club Monaco and Real Madrid have already begun according to reports surfacing from Spanish paper AS last weekend. It is believed that a fee for the player has been agreed with Falcao due to meet with Madrid officials soon to discuss personal terms. The Colombian striker missed out on this year’s World Cup after failing to recover from a cruciate ligament injury sustained in January but has been in Brazil at each of his country’s games cheering them on.

Rebuilding Los Galacticos?  (Image from Real Madrid)

Rebuilding Los Galacticos?
(Image from Real Madrid)

The move to Madrid may surprise a few people especially in Monaco as it is only been a year since his €60 million transfer to the French club from Atletico Madrid. But the truth is that Falcao has failed to settle in the tiny principality and has been eyeing a move since late December. Falcao’s next move was anticipated to be towards England with Chelsea and Manchester City both keen on the 28 year old but the pull of a return to Madrid, albeit with the white half of the city, is proving too strong for Falcao to ignore. How exactly his old club, Atletico will react to the news of their former star player joining their biggest rivals will go down is hard to say. Falcao, like Torres before him, achieved hero status at Los Rojiblancos during his time there, so for the fans of the new La Liga Champions the move would be seen as a slap in the face. Atletico will likely join the race and try to persuade Falcao to return to them instead but will be unable to compete against the financial muscle of Real.

Suarez Scored Twice To Knock England Out Of The World Cup  (Image from Getty)

Suarez Scored Twice To Knock England Out Of The World Cup
(Image from Getty)

What the move means for current Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema is unknown with the French striker still in contract negotiations heading into the World Cup. He could be allowed to leave with the English Premiership his most likely destination although several other clubs, including Monaco may attempt to sign him. Benzema’s stay at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium hasn’t been smooth sailing all the way but under new coach Carlo Ancelotti, Benzema has found consistency and has been in good form. He helped Real Madrid win its 10th European title in May with a 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions league Final. This good form has continued into the World Cup with the front man already picking up three goals in the group stages. The race for his signature will heat up if he is shown the door at Real Madrid. Doubts too about what this means for a supposed summer transfer move for Liverpool and Uruguay striker Luis Suarez. The man who put England to the sword during Uruguay’s 2-1 victory has been vocal in saying that he is happy at Liverpool but several sources are now reporting that he has told close friends and colleagues about his desire to move to Spain, to either Barcelona or Real Madrid. Real appeared to be the favourite but the move for Falcao may put Barcelona in the driving seat unless Ancelotti believes he can make space in his team for both Falcao and Suarez. If he can, Madrid’s front line of Falcao, Suarez, Bale and Ronaldo will be one of the most terrifying in the game. But Barcelona are unlikely to let this happen with Suarez elevated to No.1 target in new manager Luis Enrique’s plans. Either way, La Liga looks to benefit this summer if these transfers go through.

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End Of An Era as Ineffective Spain Crashes Out

Sergio Ramos cna barely watch as Spain crash out (Image from Getty)

This was meant to be their fairytale send off, a chance for a group of genuine legends in the game to make history once more by becoming the first team to win four major international tournaments in a row. But instead Spain looked their age and crashed out of the World Cup thanks to a spirited and lively Chile. The beautiful passing game that has characterized Spain’s playing style was officially posted missing against Chile. Tiki Taka was replaced by misplaced and misjudged passes from an uncharacteristic Spanish team as Del Bosque’s team became only the second team (behind Australia) to be eliminated. It’s the end of an era, one in which Spain dominated the international game and entertained the masses with some of the slickest and most effective football we have ever seen.

Questions will be asked about Del Bosque's tactical decisions  (Image from EMPics Sport)

Questions will be asked about Del Bosque’s tactical decisions
(Image from EMPics Sport)

Now the inquest will begin as to why Spain has made an early exit. Strange tactical decisions made by Vicente Del Bosque heading into the game will be questions. Deciding to drop Barcelona duo Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez from the starting lineup that was shocked by Holland in the first game was unusual, but more so was to keep faith in Diego Costa upfront. The Chelsea bound striker has looked less like the formidable front man that he has become at Atletico and more like a lost boy, unsure of exactly what he is supposed to be doing. Ineffective against Holland and dithering in the first half against Chile, Costa was replaced on both occasions by Fernando Torres, who himself hasn’t had the best few years for club or country. Tactical adjustments made in the two games will also be under the microscope as Del Bosque failed to make full use of the talent at his disposal. Two games played and still no game time for David Villa and Juan Mata. The latter has had a difficult season at Manchester United but possess the vision and talent to pull any team out of a death slide. But the shun of Villa is the one that makes the least sense. The 32 year old had a fantastic season with La Liga winner Atletico, partnering Costa up front so many anticipated that Del Bosque may deploy the duo together for Spain as well. It would have made perfect sense given that Costa operates better as part of a strike force rather than as a lone striker. But Del Bosque resisted and Spain suffered. Trailing 2-0 to Chile at half time, Villa would have appeared to have been the obvious choice with Spain switching to a 4-4-2 formation but again Del Bosque resisted. Preventing Spain’s all time record goal scorer from coming onto the pitch, not even for 20 minutes was criminal by Del Bosque and cost Spain their chance of retaining the World Cup.

The backlash on Casillas from the media has been unwarranted given what he has done for Spain over the past 10 years  (Image from Getty)

The backlash on Casillas from the media has been unwarranted given what he has done for Spain over the past 10 years
(Image from Getty)

The international careers of Fernando Torres, David Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Xavi Alonso and Iker Casillas are surely over given their disastrous exit. Questions too about Del Bosque, who despite signing a two year extension before the tournament started will be under the spotlight after Spain became the first ever defending champions to lose their first two games. Despite Spain’s glorious history under his reign, which included 1 World Cup and 1 European Championship, the humiliation of exiting this early from a tournament they were one of the favourites to win may result in his exit. Spain need a fresh start, a rethink of their formation and style of play and Del Bosque may believe he isn’t the right man to do that. Chile to be fair were superb. Fast, innovative, creative and effective to the end, Chile has shown the world that they are to be feared in this competition. Hammering Australia was expected but the way that they played against the current world champions with confidence from the start was breathtaking. They now face Holland to see who tops the group and it will be difficult for anyone to call that one. But for Spain, they must pull themselves together for a meaningless game against Australia, competing for only pride before boarding a plane home. It’s not the exit that this legendary team neither wanted nor expected but ultimately it’s the one they deserved for the way that they played in their first two games. Spain will recover, regroup and as a new revamped team take on the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a renewed passion as if they have to prove something. For true football fans however, Spain have nothing to prove, for they will always be the team that show the world through tiki taka exactly how the game should be played and how to win with style.

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Can Koeman Convince Southampton Starlets To Stay?

Koeman faces an uphill struggle to keep his stars (Image from Getty)Ronald Koeman faces an uphill challenge from day one in his new job as Southampton manager. The Dutch legend, who signed a three year deal on Monday, must spend the summer trying to convince key members of his new squad to stay. Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Calum Chambers have all been linked with moves away from the club following the departure of former coach Mauricio Pochettino last month to Tottenham. It now falls to Koeman to convince them not to follow their former coach out of the exit door and that he can fulfill their ambitions by growing the club into European contenders. Koeman, who will be assisted at the club by his brother Edwin and long time friend Jan Kluitenberg, will seek talks with the quintet as soon as possible in order to secure them for next season.

Koeman signs on at Southampton  (Image from PA)

Koeman signs on at Southampton
(Image from PA)

However Croatian defender Dejan Lovren has already requested a formal transfer so persuading him to change his mind may be beyond Koemans’ powers. Adam Lallana has been heavily linked with Liverpool who raided Southampton earlier this summer for England striker Rickie Lambert. Lambert and Lallana are currently in Brazil as part of Roy Hodgson’s England World Cup team and will be talking about the prospect of linking up again at Anfield next season. Lamberts former striker partner Jay Rodriguez was also due to be in Brazil but injury ruled him out which strangely may work in Koeman’s favour. If he can get to Rodriguez early before he has recovered, he may be able to convince his that his future lies at St Mary’s rather than elsewhere. Koeman should also be able to talk Calum Chambers into staying another year, that is unless Arsene Wenger finally puts money behind his admiration for the player and places a bid for him. Arsenal have already lost Bacary Sagna to Manchester City so need a replacement right back before too long with Chambers one of several options under consideration by Wenger. Koeman will want to hold on to the talented right back who is destined to be a full England international within the next few years. The chances of him doing so are high given the players love of the club and strong sense of loyality.

Lambert will be trying to persuade Lallana to join him at Liverpool  (Image from Getty)

Lambert will be trying to persuade Lallana to join him at Liverpool
(Image from Getty)

The same unfortunately cannot be said about left back Luke Shaw who will likely be leaving for a substantial fee this summer. After a stunning season last year, Shaw stock has risen considerably and is now seen as one of the brightest prospects in European football. With a sweet left foot and stunning pace, Shaw was picked ahead of Ashley Cole to be the support act for Leighton Baines in the England squad. Until recently Chelsea and Manchester United were fighting it out for his signature but it appears that Chelsea have now turned their attentions elsewhere clearing the path for Shaw to move to old Trafford. Koeman will not give up hope of retaining him and will use his fame as former PSV, Barcelona and Holland defender to persuade Shaw that he can learn a lot from Koeman by hanging around.

United bound? - Luke Shaw  (Image from AFP)

United bound? – Luke Shaw
(Image from AFP)

The other option to Koeman would be to cash in on all five players which would likely net Southampton somewhere in the region of £70-80million to then rebuild but the risks evolved plus the backlash from the fans makes this a last resort. Keeping all five would be the best scenario for Koeman and building his new team around them for his first assault on the Premiership. Success for Koeman is building upon the work that Pochettino started and helping Southampton to grow beyond that. Failure would likely start by letting all five players follow Pochettino out of the exit door.

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Messi Shines As Spain Implodes

Messi strikes to put Argentina in the driving seat (Image from AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)It was always going to be an explosive start but no one could have predicted this. In the opening 11 matches, we have seen 37 goals, 2 red cards, one use of the goal line technology and several uses of the new disappearing foam at free kicks. Added into this, the world’s best players have shown up with Neymar, Alexis Sanchez, Arjen Robben, Mario Balotelli and Karim Benzema all getting on the score sheets in spectacular fashion. At present Brazil, Holland, France and Colombia all look like potential candidates for eventual winner but following yesterdays games they have a new threat to be worried about.

Balotelli breaks English Hearts  (Image from pa)

Balotelli breaks English Hearts
(Image from pa)

Argentina made their case for being considered as serious contenders with a 2-1 win over world cup newbie’s Bosnia. With the weight of an entire nation resting on the shoulders of Barcelona star Lionel Messi, the diminutive forward finally started to live up to expectations by scoring a quite stunning solo effort. Picking the ball up at the half way line, Messi drove forward with pace before playing a slick one two with Gonzalo Higuain. After retrieving the ball, Messi stepped up a gear leaving his shadow of the day Muhamed Besic and defender Ermin Bicakcic in his wake before cooling curling the ball past Amir Begovic in goal and in to the net off of the post. Although Argentina did concede a late goal, they never looked like letting Bosnia back into the match. Messi looks ready to finally show the world that he is the greatest player to have ever played the game by doing the one thing that has escaped him to date- lifting the World Cup. This is probably Messi’s best chance of winning it given the team he is playing in and the way they played against Bosnia. On the wing, Angel Di Maria looked unmarkable whilst upfront Sergio Aguero and Gonazlo Higuain were unlucky not to end up on the score sheet. Even at the back, an area identified as a potential problem by many, Argentina looked strong with Sergio Romero impressing despite limited playing time this season for Monaco. Argentina could go all the way and finally give Messi that last trophy that he has been craving.

Safe Hands - Romero  (Image from AFP)

Safe Hands – Romero
(Image from AFP)

Spain on the other hand looked less like champions and more like early exiters after a humiliating 5-1 thrashing by Holland in their opening game. In the repeat of the 2010 World Cup final game, Spain started strongly earning a penalty that was converted by Xavi Alonso with ease. But after Robin Van Persie scored a quite spectacular diving header equalizer and Arjen Robben scored with a cool finish to put Holland into the lead, Spain’s confidence disappeared. Their lack of confidence stemmed from the ineffectual performance of Iker Casillas in goal. Once the rock in which the Spanish side was built on, Casillas lack of game time this season for Real Madrid started to show as he helplessly flapped at crosses and punched rather than grabbed shots. His performance was so bad that head coach Del Bosque was considering dropping him for their next game against Chile until replacement David De Gea pulled out with a leg injury. He could still be dropped with third choice Pepe Reina an option. Either way Casillas will know that he needs to improve and will not be able to live on past glories any longer. Spain now faces a rampant Chile side who many are calling the underdogs of this tournament. Defeat would spell an early exit for Spain and surely end the international career of Casillas.

Casillas concedes his performance was unacceptable  (Image from Getty)

Casillas concedes his performance was unacceptable
(Image from Getty)

Another team fearful of an early exit is England who suffered a 2-1 defeat on Saturday at the hands of Italy. The Andrea Pirlo inspired Italian side took the lead through a wonderful 25 yard strike by Claudio Marchisio before Raheem Sterling and Wayne Rooney combined to set up Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge for a well executed equalizer. England erupted in celebration with the bench jumping from its seats to join in only for head physio Gary Lewen to comically slip on a water bottle and dislocate his right ankle and is now been forced out of the World Cup. But five minutes after the restart, Antonio Candreva doubled back on a run against Leighton Baines to deliver a perfect cross for Mario Balotelli to head Italy back into the lead. England looked shell-shocked and despite throwing on several creative players like Jack Wilshire, Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana, they were unable to get back into the game and now face Uruguay in a must win game. There were several positives from England’s performance such as Raheem Sterling but once again Wayne Rooney looked out of sorts, something that manager Roy Hodgson needs to correct if they are to stay in the competition. If he can’t then England’s World Cup campaign will go the same way as Lewen’s – over before it began.

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Wickham Should Ignore England Hype And Focus On Survival

Wickham for England? Not yet (Image from PA)The recent praise handed down to Sunderland’s Connor Wickham for his goal scoring exploits are justified but his manager’s call for him to be included as part of the England squad for the World Cup is somewhat ironic. Wickham has been in fine form last month since his return from a loan move at Leeds and has helped spearhead Sunderland’s survival hopes with five goals in three games. England manager Roy Hodgson has been impressed by the young striker and even attended Saturdays’ stunning 1-0 victory over Manchester United but Wickham would be foolish to think that he needs to look out his passport. It’s still unsure who Hodgson will turn to in the striker options to fill the last remaining spot, with Rooney, Welbeck and Sturridge almost certain to be three of the four going to Brazil. But it would be a shocking twist if that man was Wickham despite his recent good form.

Decision time for Hodgson  (Image from Getty)

Decision time for Hodgson
(Image from Getty)

His inclusion, based on only the last month would destroy the credibility of Hodgson who needs a good showing at the World Cup. Taking a player who has only showing limited glimpses this season of his potential would be a major slap in the face to the likes of Southampton’s Rickie Lambert and Toronto’s Jermaine Defoe, both of which have had successful seasons. Lambert, who hit the winner against Swansea at the weekend to take his tally to 12, knows that this is his only chance of ever playing at a World Cup and has done enough to justify his inclusion. As an old fashion England number nine who is strong on the ground and powerful in the air, he offers something different to Rooney, Sturridge and Welbeck. His hopes looked dashed by the form of teammate Jay Rodriguez by an unfortunate cruciate ligament injury has ruled him out of contention and placed Lambert back in the frame. But Hodgson may turn to Jermaine Defoe as the former Spurs striker is a proven goal scorer for England and has experience at the highest level so taking him to Brazil would be less of a risk. His move to Toronto, whilst making him a regular starter, may deter the England boss who looks at the MLS as a much weaker league. West Ham’s Andy Carroll should have also been in the running but a troublesome season, riddled with injury and poor form means that he will likely miss out, despite being an opposing figure in and around the penalty box. All three men would be disappointed not to go but would likely be enraged if Wickham was given the nod over one of them. Hodgson could take five strikers but that would mean sacrificing either a midfielder or a defender, neither of which appeals to him.

Rickie Lambert has fired Southampton to an 8th place finish  (Image from Getty)

Rickie Lambert has fired Southampton to an 8th place finish
(Image from Getty)

Most of the calls for Wickham to be included are coming from his manager at Sunderland Gus Poyet but the calls may not be as genuine as intended. Poyet is doing what any manager would do by boosting the confidence of his now prolific young striker. He knows by feeding his ego, Wickham will push on into Sunderland’s last two games with a renewed confidence in the hopes of having him score the goals needed to secure Premiership survival. If Wickham can impress in the last two matches against West Bromwich Albion and Swansea, he could go a long way in cementing his first team place at Sunderland for next year’s campaign. Three points against West Brom should all but seal the fate of Norwich who currently lie in 18th place and ensure Sunderland will be playing the England’s top league next season. That incentive alone should be enough for Wickham without the added false hope of getting into Hodgsons team for Brazil. There is still time for the England Under 21 striker to go to a World Cup but Brazil 2014 shouldn’t be it. But first Wickham needs to develop as a Premiership striker and show that like Daniel Sturridge and Rickie Lambert he too can command a first team place and score into double figures for his club. After a season of disappointment for Sunderland, the focus will turn towards the future, which Wickham could play a major starring role in, as long as he doesn’t start to believe the hype.

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The King of Rome Rolls Back The Years To Help Roma’s Resurgence

In the form of his life - Totti(Image from Getty)The Italian media is running out of superlatives for Roma’s Francesco Totti and it’s not hard to understand why. At 37 years old, the player called King of Rome by the Italian media has turned back the years and is playing some of the best football of his career. His efforts have inspired Roma to their best ever start in Serie A and turned them into genuine title challengers. Roma sit three points behind leaders Juventus and are so far unbeaten in the league, the only team in Serie A to hold this record. Despite four draws in their last five games, Roma continue to defy the critics who wrote them off at the start of the season.

Ruling Like Never Before - The King of Rome, Francesco Totti  (Image from Getty)

Ruling Like Never Before – The King of Rome, Francesco Totti
(Image from Getty)

Credit for this revival must be given to Totti and the steps he has gone to in order to prolong his career. The player is in the best shape of his life mostly due to a fish based diet that has kept him lean and able to sculpt his physique more to suit the physicality’s of the modern game. He has found the hunger that used to burn so brightly behind his eyes and is playing with a freedom that is befitting a man of his talents.  New coach Rudi Garcia took what he saw as a calculated risk when he took over in the summer by building his team around Totti. Most coaches would have looked at the aging former internationalist with several niggling injuries to his name and tossed him aside with little thought. But the spark and flair was still there, locked up under heavy chains imposed on Totti by previous regimes. Releasing him lifted the weight off of Totti’s shoulders and has allowed him to play. Garcia smartly dropped Totti back from his usual striker position into an attacking midfielder/playmaker role, much to the players delight.

Garcia and Totti lead Roma forward  (Image from PA)

Garcia and Totti lead Roma forward
(Image from PA)

Totti now controls the game, feeding balls left, right and centre neatly yet accurately onto the toes of on rushing teammates. He can still score, as demonstrated this season against Inter and Parma but without having to run as much as he would have done in a striker role. He can conserve his energy until the right moment, then attack the ball with a renewed vigour and determination. As part of his new role, his teammates are benefiting from his vision and ability to create something from nothing. In particular former Arsenal winger Gervinho is profiting the most and looks more and more like the player he was at Lillie and the one Arsenal thought they were buying. Similarly players like Miralem Pjanic, Alessandro Florenzi and Adem Ljajic have managed to find more space and have increased opportunities to score thanks to Totti’s selfless set up play. With 6 assists to his name so far, Totti is on course to exceed his best ever total of 12 in a season, highlighting how well he is playing. He makes Roma tick, and Roma are appreciative of it.

Gervinho has benefitted from Totti's setup play  (Image from Getty)

Gervinho has benefitted from Totti’s setup play (Image from Getty)

At 37, Totti’s chances of playing in another World Cup should be all but buried. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has other options to choose from after all but none can change a game like Totti can. So should he be part of the squad that goes to Brazil next year? If he stays in good shape and continues to play a fundamental role in Roma’s season, is there room for him on the plane? The question that Prandelli has to ask is can he afford to leave him at home or will it come back to haunt him as the tournament gets underway? Don’t be surprised to see Totti take the pitch for Italy in their opening game against England next June. Nothing should surprise us anymore when it comes to Totti.

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Brazil Or Bust: The Challenges Facing Teams At The World Cup

Sepp Blatter and Fernanda Lima at the Draw (Image from Getty)Friday’s World Cup draw was anything but easy to understand. The complicated system employed by FIFA to stack rank then draw the 32 teams left many wondering what had just happened. The look on England manager Roy Hodgson’s face said it all. But now that the draw is over, each team has full clarity of the task in hand and who they will be facing next summer. For some the draw was kind whilst others will be wondering whether to go at all. Speculation over who will win the tournament has gone into overdrive with Brazil, Argentina and Spain set as early favourites based on their FIFA rankings and the groups drawn but there are other factors at play that need to be considered.

All eyes on Brazil  (Image from PA)

All eyes on Brazil
(Image from PA)

Just looking at how the groups are laid out is not enough to try and work out who will be victorious in Brazil. There are other mitigating circumstances that will come into play and will affect the overall outcome. First and foremost the location of each game and the travelling required by some nations will have an effect on the condition of the players and how tired they will be. With only a few days between games, logistics will play a huge part in the preparations. Mexico look to have profited with a draw that sees their travel restricted top only a couple of hours each time. All of their matches will be played in the northern cities of Natal, Fortaleza and Recife. In the same group, home nation Brazil will spend a majority of time travelling as they attempt to appease the fans across the country. Whilst accustom to the climate and conditions, the heavy travel schedule over a short space of time make take its toll. Portuguese chances of progressing from the group stage took a hit when the draw was made. Not only did they land in a tough group with Germany, USA and Ghana, the way the fixtures are lined up could also factor into their potential success. A tough opener in Salvador against Germany is followed six days later with a tiring match against the US in tropical Manaus before a lengthy journey to Brasilia to face Ghana four days after that. Like many teams, the strength in depth of the squad will show as rotation will be key to survive the group stage. Squads like Croatia, Iran, Greece and Japan will all struggle as their key starting eleven falter and managers are forced to replace them with lesser quality players.

Travel will play a major role in who wins the World Cup  (Image from Google)

Travel will play a major role in who wins the World Cup
(Image from Google)

The weather and climate will also play a major role. In places like Manaus, centered in the middle of the Amazon, teams will experience high temperatures and lung busting humidity. During July, heavy rain is not uncommon but the summer months fall during the countries “dry spell” so the rain is usually limited to mid afternoon showers. Still this will likely alter the playing surface, forcing teams into tactical changes and potentially player selection. It’s a world away from the cooler temperatures of the south in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro where the weather is more controlled and will suit the European teams more. Don’t be surprised to see dark horses Belgium storm through the group stages after being given a kind draw. With an easy group (Russia, Algeria and South Korea) and all their matches to be played in the south (Rio, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte), Belgium should be refreshed and firing on all cylinders come the knock out stages. France too should profit from having two of their three matches located in the south of the country. Travel will play a role but with a difficult game against the Swiss sandwiched nicely between ties against Honduras and Ecuador, France should progress with ease. England and Italy are both facing a difficult World Cup and will need to start strongly in their opening match against each other in Manaus on Saturday 14th June.  After the match, Italy travel east to Recife where they face Costa Rica then conclude the group with a likely winner takes all match against Uruguay in Natal. England however fly south to Sao Paulo to take on a Luis Suarez inspired Uruguay then north to play Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte. Hodgson will know that the match in Belo will be pointless if his team cannot pick up any points in the first two matches of the group. A tough challenge given the opposition, weather conditions and travel.

Belgium should benefit from an easy draw and little travel  (Image from Getty)

Belgium should benefit from an easy draw and little travel
(Image from Getty)

We are now just over six months away from the kick off of the 2014 World Cup. All 32 teams now know who they will be facing and what other challenges lie in wait for them when they reach Brazil. The toughest challenge for them all will be not necessarily the games themselves but everything around them. With transport infrastructure still an issue, hotels not complete and adverse weather conditions across the country, the winners of Brazil 2014 will have to overcome a variety of obstacles if they are to lift the famous golden trophy.

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Portugal and France Progress To Brazil As England and Spain’s Plans Are Thrown Into Turmoil

Ronaldo celebrates securing Portugals passage to Brazil (Image from PA)It was a dramatic night of international football on Tuesday that sent four more European teams to Brazil and others wondering if they want to go at all. A Cristiano Ronaldo hat trick eclipsed a stunning brace by Zlatan Ibrahimovic as Portugal met Sweden in Stockholm for the second leg of the play offs.  With Portugal leading 1-0 from the first leg, the home fans were determined to help their team as much as possible, including disturbing the sleep of the Portuguese players the night before. Despite the underhanded tactics, Ronaldo would not be deterred from his goal of reaching another World Cup. The Real Madrid star put his team into an early lead before a Swedish comeback inspired by their talisman Ibrahimovic who has been in the best form of his life over the past two years. A quick fire brace including a wonderfully taken second goal pulled Sweden back level on aggregate and back into the match. But Ronaldo would have the last laugh as he stepped up a gear by grabbing a brace himself to complete his hat trick and put Portugal on the plane to Brazil. It wouldn’t be the World Cup without the Real Madrid star but others will be disappointed that Ibrahimovic will not be there as his creativity and flair have light up many a back page with yet another wonder goal.

ibrahimovic was unable to overturn Portugal's lead  (Image from PA)

ibrahimovic was unable to overturn Portugal’s lead
(Image from PA)

Elsewhere a convincing 2-0 victory for Croatia helped sealed their place at the expense of Iceland. The tiny Scandinavian country had reached the play offs against all odds so defeat over the two legs to Croatia will be painful to take. After all this was a Croatian side ripe for the picking having come off the back of a double defeat to Scotland in the group stages. Iceland’s approach and effort in qualifying should have been enough to secure their passage so falling at the last hurdle will be a harsh lesson for their young squad in staying focused and not being distracted by the main prize. Croatia will be joined on the plane by Greece who dispatched Romania over the two legs despite a spirited performance from Victor Piturca’s players.

Croatia and Iceland battled it out during the Play offs (Image from Getty)

Croatia and Iceland battled it out during the Play offs (Image from Getty)

The surprise of the night was the comeback of Les Blues as Didier Deschamp’s French team clawed back a 2-0 first leg deficit against a powerful Ukraine side to win 3-0 in the second leg and book their place. A brace from Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho and a solo strike from Karim Benzema was enough to turn around the tie that many feared was already over. Ukraine were blown away by a determined French side, inspired by Franck Ribery and Yohan Cabaye who were helped in their cause by the dismissal of Ukrainian defender Yevhen Khacheridi just before half time. A passionate crowd sang songs of allez les blues as France romped to victory.

France celebrate reaching the World Cup  (Image from AFP)

France celebrate reaching the World Cup
(Image from AFP)

Meanwhile friendly defeats for England, Spain, USA and Belgium have heaped concerns about their chances in Brazil next summer. England’s failure to trouble a heavily rotated Germany will surely concern manager Roy Hodgson and definitely the over exuberant British press. Spain’s surprising defeat in South Africa also came as a shock especially as Del Bosque had sent out an almost full strength team. Whilst they had chances, the reigning World and European champions looked vulnerable at the back, with some suggesting the exclusion of legendary goalkeeper Iker Casillas being the main catalyst. Dark horses for next year’s tournament, Belgium also suffered defeat for the second time in five days, this time to Japan. The Japanese who have also qualified took their chances well against the young and enthusiastic Belgium side eventually winning the match by three goals to two. In Austria, Jürgen Klinsmann led team USA preparations took a knock with a surprise 1-0 defeat to Austria. Having drawn on Friday with Scotland, Klinsmann was hoping to put Austria to the sword but they had other ideas. A single goal by Marc Janko thirty three minutes into the match sealed a famous victory and gave the German coach much to ponder.

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O’Neill Takes Calculated Risk Adding Keane To The Ticket

O'Neill/Keane ticket - a winner? (Image from Getty)In a move set to reinvigorate Irish passions, the announcement of the dream management duo of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane yesterday is exactly what the country needs. Since the removal of Giovanni Trapattoni as manager last month after failing to steer Ireland to World Cup 2014, rumours around the appointment of O’Neill as the preferred candidate have been growing gradually day over day. It comes as no surprise that the former Leicester, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland manager has been handed the role but the addition of Roy Keane to the ticket at the last minute was a curve ball that few could have expected. Keane, who has been out of management since leaving Ipswich in January 2011, joins as assistant manager and has expressed his enthusiasm for the role and how he is looking forward to working alongside O’Neill. The duo’s first test will be against Latvia in a friendly match in just over 9 days’ time. Expect fireworks.

Giovanni Trapattoni was dismissed after failing to qualify  (Image from David Maher / SPORTSFILE)

Giovanni Trapattoni was dismissed after failing to qualify
(Image from David Maher / SPORTSFILE)

O’Neill’s managerial record speaks for itself and he is one of the smartest coaches in the game, bringing both experience and knowledge to the job. But whether he can control the temperamental Keane, not known for his composure or biting his tongue will be interesting to watch. The pair has only worked together before as TV pundits, often sharing the microphone on ITV sport and have the same ideology that stems from their time working at Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough.  Clough’s influence on the pair is clear to see but that’s where the similarity ends. Whilst Keane speaks his mind and is not afraid of the repercussions, often playing the hard man with ease, O’Neill prefers to be more reserved, softly spoken yet forceful with his views. The theory behind combining these two footballing greats is to get the best out of a talented Irish side with a sort of good cop, bad cop routine. In fact, it was O’Neill’s idea to approach Keane about the role in the first place, much to the reluctance of the Irish FA. Having dealt with Keane related issues in the past, the FA were hoping to avoid any similar types of problems in the future so adding Keane to the package to secure O’Neill was not exactly what they had planned. But without Keane, there would be no O’Neill so the FA agreed.

Which Keane will show up?  (Image from Getty)

Which Keane will show up?
(Image from Getty)

O’Neill is taking a risk in bringing Keane into the fold, one that can go either way. Keane’s arrival to the setup could help to reignite the passion in the players that started to dwindle towards the end of Trapattoni’s reign.  Winning only 4 out of 10 games in the World Cup qualifying group C was not good enough and resulted in Ireland finishing in fourth place behind Austria. Keane was not impressed by Ireland’s defeat at home against Austria as a TV pundit so now having the chance to work with the players to ensure it doesn’t happen again will make him more determined than ever. It will be up to O’Neill to manage that approach as Keane has a reputation for heavily criticising players performances and effort levels, something that the professionals of today take offence to. Keane’s mantra is that you play hard to win, and the effort you apply should be the same as he applied as a player, which has the tendency to create problems between him and the players under his control. If Keane does disrupt the dressing room, there may be little that O’Neill can do to rescue the situation and could result in him losing his job, especially if results on the pitch go south as well. Time will tell how the new look Irish management team perform together and more importantly which Roy Keane will show up to the party.

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SFA Place Their Bets On Scotland Revival As New National Boss Is Named

New Scotland manager, Gordon Strachan (Image from Getty)The SFA has finally listened to the fans and appointed its new manager in the form of Gordon Strachan. The 55-year-old former Celtic, Middlesbrough, Southampton and Coventry boss was presented to the media yesterday to draw to a close the speculation over who would eventually be chosen to replace Craig Levein. Strachan, the fans and bookies favourite from the start since Levein’s dismissal, seemed relaxed yet proud about the prospect of managing his country and the ambitious task of restoring some national pride. After an abysmal start to World Cup 2014 qualifying, which has resulted in Scotland lying bottom of Group A with only two points in four games, Strachan’s first task is to repair the spirit of his team and pick up the pieces of Levein’s disastrous reign. Replacing the worst Scotland manager on record, even worse than Berti Vogts, with a 22% win rate in all competitive games, Strachan will not struggle to eclipse what Levein did, as long as he can get the team playing again. The job may be seen by many as a poison chalice, but for the Scottish Hall of Fame inductee, it’s the right challenge at the right time in his career.

Scotland fans sent out an SOS for Strachan (Image from Caughtoffside.com)

Scotland fans sent out an SOS for Strachan
(Image from Caughtoffside.com)

After a successful playing career spanning over 26 years including spells at Dundee, Aberdeen, Manchester United, Leeds United and Coventry, the former FWA Footballer of the Year took up his first managerial job at Coventry following Ron Atkinson’s move upstairs to the Director of Football role. Having worked for a year previously as assistant manager to Ron and having played for him at Manchester United, he took the job with Atkinson’s blessing. It was during this time he would form a close bond with Garry Pendrey who joined Coventry in 1998 as assistant to Gordon following Alex Miller’s departure. The two grew close and Garry would end up following Strachan throughout his managerial career, including subsequent moves to Southampton, Celtic and then Middlesbrough. During the duo’s time at Celtic, they fought back the challenge of a Rangers team in transition, managed firstly by Strachan’s close friend and former Aberdeen teammate Alex McLeish, then French manager Paul Le Guen and eventually former Scotland manager Walter Smith, to win back to back titles for three successive years. Strachan’s time in the east end of Glasgow was his most rewarding as a manager as he finally experienced European football and in particular Champions League football as a manager. After failing to win the title in his four-year, Strachan left the club to take up his final managerial appointment at Middlesbrough but his time here would be restricted to only a year after struggling to change the fortunes of the north-east club.

Strachan won 50 caps for Scotland as a player (Image from BBC Archives)

Strachan won 50 caps for Scotland as a player
(Image from BBC Archives)

Strachan’s new job may however be his toughest yet. Sitting bottom of the group with qualification hanging by a thread and looking less likely, Strachan knows he needs to turn things around and quickly. With only one friendly against Estonia before a crunch double-header against Wales and Serbia, Strachan has little time to experiment. But his honesty in the press conference yesterday will come as a relief to the tartan army as Strachan looks to find a formation that works for the players he has first before tinkering with it later. After watching the sometimes inept tactics employed by Levein during his reign, including the much publicised 4-6-0 formation he adopted against a poor Czech Republic side in an important qualifying game, fans will be confident that the players who take the field against Wales in March will be relaxed enough with where they are supposed to be playing, that they may be actually able to play instead. Strachan also admitted to the media that the international game has improved over the years (Belgium’s rise along with Serbia as technical teams are good examples of this) so qualification for major tournaments is harder than ever. Scotland will need to adapt to survive and play better to qualify but Strachan knows this after watching endless hours of both domestic and international football since leaving Middlesbrough in late 2010.

Puppet on a string: Levein's tinkering cost him his job (Image from Daily Record)

Puppet on a string: Levein’s tinkering cost him his job
(Image from Daily Record)

Besides the team, Strachan will know that half of the battle he faces is controlling the media which turned on Levein fairly quickly into his reign as national boss, in some cases so severally that Levein was unable to recover and by the end became a bumbling wreck, repeatedly stating the remaining number of points available to Scotland in qualification, despite defeat after defeat. Strachan should be able to cope however as he has adopted a likeable style that draws the media in but controls them as he wants. His ability to make light of a situation or crack the occasional joke plays well into the media’s hands who cannot help but laugh and move quickly on. Qualification for next year’s World Cup, however, is no laughing matter and Strachan will know that it will be difficult to get the points needed to reach the tournament in Brazil, despite the fans hopes and prayers. Focusing on France 2016 should be a more realistic goal but Strachan has a never say die attitude and in his own words, his team will give 100% to their forthcoming qualification ties and above all else give it “their best try”. Realistically this is all the Scottish fans can hope for at this stage in the qualification process.

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