Cup of possibilities

Published : May 13, 2010 00:00 IST

Brazil has a talented squad spearheaded by the very versatile Kaka in midfield.-AP
Brazil has a talented squad spearheaded by the very versatile Kaka in midfield.-AP

Brazil has a talented squad spearheaded by the very versatile Kaka in midfield.-AP

If one can turn to the football itself, overlooking the security situation in south Africa, not always easy in these circumstances, the picture is becoming a little clearer about the tournament favourites, writes Brian Glanville.

Setting aside, if one can, that the murder rate in South Africa is now one every 30 minutes, that visitors are advised always to drive through red lights if they don't want to be hijacked (and prefer presumably to crash), never to take the bus or the train. It is deeply reassuring to see that the ineffable and seemingly immoveable Sepp Blatter, who has just guaranteed himself yet another four-year term as FIFA President, has booked for himself a palatial accommodation, complete with a fridge full of beverages. If one can turn to the football itself, not always easy in these circumstances, the picture is becoming a little clearer. Especially in the case of Holland, the country which twice reached the World Cup final, in 1974 and 1978, but narrowly lost each time.

It seems to me that the Dutch are “coming good” at exactly the right moment, above all in the shape of three major stars. And has it not always been said that a great team must be built around three or four great players? Especially reassuring for the Dutch has been the recent, long belated return to action of that incisive centre forward, Robin van Persie. Out for over five months, the result of a kick in a friendly match against Italy by the defender Chiellini; whom Van Persie nobly didn't blame. His performances for an Arsenal team, which has missed him grievously, since his return have been highly impressive. In the first of them, he came on as a late substitute at Tottenham and galvanised the Arsenal attack.

Then, in the European Cup, we have recently seen the inspired displays of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, for Bayern Munich and Inter, respectively. Robben's spectacular goals have kept Bayern afloat in Europe; cutting in from the right to use his stronger left foot, he is deadly effective. Even the loss of France's winger, Franck Ribery, guilty of an atrocious foul, in the first leg semi-final against Lyon in Munich, which put him out of the second leg when he was expelled, didn't greatly distract from Bayern's striking power, thanks to Robben, who typically cut in to score, via a fortuitous deflection, the goal that decided the game.

As for Sneijder, he was the outstanding figure in Inter's 3-1 win at San Siro against Barcelona, both as the brains of the outfit, with his clever passing, and with his insidious finishing. Though he was very lucky indeed not to concede a second half penalty when he brought down Dani Alves in the box. With these three, in what still seems to me a largely mediocre field, Holland should flourish.

Spain still look the justifiable favourites, though it remains to be seen whether the prolific, elegant centre forward Fernando Torres can recover from injury in time. But even if he doesn't, Spain have another formidable striker in the shape of Valencia's David Villa. And of course, the midfield is surely the best of any teams: Xavi, Alosno and Iniesta. With Cesc Fabregas, a gifted stand by, assuming he can get over his recent serious injury in time.

Brazil? Always to be taken seriously and as we saw in London, when they beat Ireland comfortably at The Emirates, there is plenty of skill, thrust and defensive solidity (not to mention impressive overlapping) in the side. Kaka, who has had something of a disappointing first season at Real Madrid, where it is said he hasn't taken kindly to the tactics, remains one of the game's most exciting midfielders. In defence, Lucio has been a bulwark for Inter at the centre of the rearguard and we can safely assume that he won't repeat the clumsy mistake which let Michael Owen through to score that early, potentially devastating, goal for England in Japan, in 2002.

England could make little of that Brazilian defence in the friendly game played in the Middle East though the Brazilians won only 1-0. And against Ireland we did not see the injured striker Luis Fabiano, who has been scoring freely in Spain this season.

Argentina? Things looked up for them when they won a friendly against Germany, away, 1-0 but there is still the question marks over both Diego Maradona, now manager and ever explosive, and Lionel Messi, who doesn't seem to want to play for him and has certainly looked well below par when he has. There is abundant talent in the squad, with the likes of Carlos Tevez capable of spectacular goals, but much will depend on Maradona's moods. He was quite lucky to qualify his team at all after such shocks as the six goals conceded in breathless La Paz against humble Bolivia. But clearly the Argentine boss of bosses, (Julio) Grondona, hasn't got the moral fibre to sack him. Not after the Bolivian debacle, not after his splenetic obscene out-burst at the Argentine journalists, after his team had at the death qualified against Uruguay in Montevideo.

England? Unless the United States spring a surprise on them in their opening game — though there will never be a surprise as gigantic as that of the 1950 tournament in Belo Horisonte, when a makeshift USA team won 1-0 against an England side packed with stars — they should qualify easily enough for the next round. But Capello's team still doesn't convince me. Veteran David James apart — and he is subject to injury — there is no obvious keeper. Pity that young Joe Hart, on loan so successfully this season from Manchester City to Birmingham City — hasn't been given his chance; John Terry has lost pace and has been erratic, sent off against Spurs, lucky not to go off against Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-finals. Wayne Rooney, now heading goals as well, has been a salient force, but who should play up front with him? Not Emile Heskey, please, who so seldom scores and is kind of valet to him. And the midfield dualism between Gerrard and Lampard has yet to be resolved. Putting Gerrard out on the left flank on his wrong foot isn't the answer. Perhaps he'd be best deployed playing “in the hole” just behind Rooney, which could create space for Lampard in midfield.

But at least fast wingers abound, Beckham has blessedly gone; Aaron Lennon has such pace, James Milner of Villa is just as good on either wings and in the central midfield. No need at all to stick Gerrard out on the left flank, on his “wrong” right foot, with his tendency to keep coming inside. England for the quarter-finals yet again? It's likely.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to unlock all user benefits
  • Get notified on top games and events
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign up / manage to our newsletters with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early bird access to discounts & offers to our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment