In a world cup full of shocks, here’s another one; a united French team!

Spain getting thrashed in their first match and going out in their second? Unlikely. Costa Rica beating Uruguay and Italy and qualifying first from Group D? Implausible. An Australian scoring the goal of the tournament so far? Maybe if he used a cricket bat! France looking organised and interested? No chance! Since they were crowned world and European champions in 2002, Les Bleus record at major tournaments has served only to provide England fans with the line ‘at least we weren’t as bad as…’

In 2002 they became the first defending champions to go out of a world cup without scoring a single goal. In 2006 they were single handedly carried to the final by Zinedine Zidane and that ultimately ended in disgrace. Four years ago in South Africa, the divisions within the squad lead to industrial action being taken by some players against manager Raymond Domenech.

Domenech was in fact symptomatic of the problem’s surrounding French football. A man with a precious ego and a lack of genuine leadership quality at the helm inadvertently spilled his example onto the pitch. He had tried to claim that he had masterminded France’s route to the final in 2006, conveniently ignoring the contribution of Zidane, and he was lucky to hold onto his position after a disastrous Euro 2008 where it is claimed he refused to pick Robert Pires due to his star sign. Perhaps Domenech thought he was the new Arsene Wenger, an innovative professeur in charge of the national team. In the end he was more of a poor man’s Basil Fawlty.

However, from the wreckage of 2010 France have risen steadily. Laurent Blanc, a legend as a player restored some credibility as manager during Euro 2012 and Didier Deschamps has continued the recovery. The French FA have tapped into a wealth of managerial talent among their world cup winning players and Deschamps seems to have tapped into the mood of the French supporters.

He made a bold call on the eve of the tournament to drop Samir Nasri from his final 23. He lost his talisman Franck Ribery to injury before naming a squad but that seems to have worked in his favour and has complemented his decision to drop Nasri. Both Ribery and Nasri are brattish figures and are nowhere near as talented as they think they are (although Ribery comes close). Shorn of both of them, Deschamps has a squad at his disposal that is completely removed from the anarchy of four years ago and it is showing out on the pitch. In the two games they have played so far, France have blossomed as an attacking force and have revelled in each other’s success.

Against Switzerland, Karim Benzema missed a first half penalty but refused to let his head drop. His goal was just reward for a selfless performance where he linked up excellently with Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Valbuena. France’s fifth goal exemplified their spirit. Benzema, in a shooting position instead picked out a superb pass for Moussa Sissoko who was still marauding down the right despite it being late in the game and his team already 4-0 up. The third goal was an example of breathtaking counter attacking football. Deschamps’ tactic of leaving Giroud and Valbuena up when defending a corner paid off perfectly.

The signs that France were a team on the up were evident in their first game against Honduras. They did superbly well to keep their discipline and their patience despite the best efforts of the Hondurans to kick them off the park. In both games the joy amongst the entire squad has been apparent for every goal scored. This is a harmonious unit with a collective ambition to entertain.

How far they can go in this tournament remains to be seen. Their defence looks suspect and the two goals they ceded to the Swiss were well taken yet avoidable. Team spirit is easy to maintain when you’re winning and it will be interesting to see how France fare when they come up against quality opposition that can put them on the back foot. However, Les Bleus are now the joint top scorers in the tournament with eight goals along with the Netherlands and they are playing with smiles on their faces. If they continue in this vein, the fans will be smiling no matter what.

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Huge disappointment but England must continue to be brave

In the end, Roy Hodgson and his youthful charges will go down in history for producing the worst showing by an England team at a World Cup. The first England side to go out of the world cup in the group stages since 1958. The first England side ever to lose its first two world cup matches. The stats make for grim reading.

However, this team should be remembered for being the bravest England outfit at a major tournament since Euro 2004. Faced with an immensely challenging task just to qualify from Group D, England went on the offensive. Although the performance against Uruguay was not quite as impressive as the effort against Italy, there were still signs that England are a much improved unit going forward. Wayne Rooney, back in his prefered number 10 role was a constant threat and it was a relief for all concerned to see him finally break his world cup duck. Daniel Sturridge’s presence and pace when running in behind defenders asks questions of opposing teams that England haven’t been able to pose since Michael Owen was in his prime. Raheem Sterling was illuminating in the first half against the Italians and Ross Barkley impressed in both games from the bench. The kids are alright.

There is no doubt that England let themselves down defensively. The suspicion was, even before a ball had been kicked in anger that the back four would be England’s major weakness in this tournament. Glen Johnson, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines are all very accomplished Premier League performers. However, as a unit they lack that genuine enforcer and organiser that underpins all of the great defences. John Terry’s name will be mentioned repeatedly in the coming weeks but Roy Hodgson should not be condemned for ignoring a player who had turned his back on playing for his country. How Hodgson must wish he had been blessed with the options available to Sven Goran Eriksson who was able to leave Ledley King, Jamie Carragher, Sol Campbell and Jonathan Woodgate out of his starting line up in central defence.

But England’s problems in defence only serve to highlight the importance of continuity for this squad. In the wake of the defeat to Uruguay, FA Chairman Greg Dyke finally said something sensible (as if this world cup hadn’t provided enough shocks!) when he declared that Roy Hodgson’s job would be safe. The manager is contracted until Euro 2016 and for England to be successful that contract must be honoured. With another two years working with the players, Hodgson should be able to iron out the kinks in defence. Either the back four he has now will be stronger for this experience or the development of young players such as John Stones and Luke Shaw will mean that competition for places is a fierce as it was in 2006.

I mentioned on a previous post that the reason for Germany’s success in recent tournaments was the stability garnered from coach and players working together over a sustained period. If Hodgson is allowed to continue then the young players he has nurtured so well over the last two years will be a formidable outfit in France in two years time.

The preparation can begin immediately. The final game in Group D against Costa Rica is almost a free hit for England. How encouraging would it be to see England start with Barkley, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? There is room also for Hodgson to show sentimentality which is rare enough in any form of football let alone a world cup. This game will undoubtedly spell the end of the road in international football for Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. With 217 caps and 50 goals between them, it would be fitting if both the captain and vice captain were able to bow out on the pitch against Costa Rica. The thought of Gerrard being replaced by Lampard with twenty minutes to go and handing over the captain’s armband whilst both players are applauded by their team-mates is already bringing a nostalgic tear to the eye.

When the qualifiers for Euro 2016 get under way, I would like to see Joe Hart given the captain’s armband. He has not been his usual assured self during this tournament but he has shown at Manchester City under Manuel Pellegrini that he responds well to proactive man management. Appointing him captain of a brave young squad could be a masterstroke for Hodgson.

It is important now that England focus on the positives from this campaign. They have taken the game to two quality sides in stifling conditions and come up just short both times. They have finally embraced the attacking philosophies that the rest of Europe had adopted years ago – the days of four four two are over. They will be inevitably criticised for their naivety but it won’t take them long to realise that the same people bemoaning the lack of experience in the squad are the same people who were praising the manager for putting his faith in youth when the squad was announced on the 12th of May. If Hodgson and his players are allowed to stay together then the future looks increasingly bright.

Euro 2016 will mark fifty years of tournament football since England were world champions. In England’s brave new world, that fatalistic number has a pleasant ring to it.

What is each teams nickname?

If you want to show off your sports knowledge to friends this World Cup, we’ve got you covered.

ESPN commissioned Brazilian artist Cristiano Siqueria to create posters for all 32 teams competing in the World Cup. They display each team’s unique and oftentimes poetic nickname, so impress your friends by saying “La Furia Roja” instead of “Spain.”

The nicknames range from the simple, such as Switzerland’s “La Nati,” which means “the national team,” to more elaborate ones, such as England’s “The Three Lions,” an homage to the Royal Arms of England. All of the names provide interesting bits of trivia about their respective countries.

Check out Siqueria’s posters and a brief background on the teams’ nicknames, below:

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The most dedicated fans of the World Cup so far.

Soccer isn’t just the most popular sport in the world — it’s a religion to millions of people.

The devout followers who made the pilgrimage to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup came decked in their best gear to celebrate the tournament, and — most importantly — to cheer their squads to victory.

Grab your pom-poms and face paint to cheer along with the zaniest and most spirited World Cup fans.

13 GIF’s that sum up England v Uruguay.

  • 1. Could Wayne Rooney break his World Cup curse?

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  • 2. Luis Suarez returned after knee surgery and looked strong. Surgery schmergery.

    Uruguay-suarez-gif
  • 3. Handball!

    World-cup-handball

    (Not as bad as Suarez’s 2010 World Cup handball against Ghana.)

  • 4. Bending, bending, bending … nope.

    Rooney-miss
  • 5. Rooney’s header goes high. The curse continues.

    Rooney-misses-header-world-cup-gif
  • 6. Yep, Suarez is definitely back. 1-0 Uruguay.

    Suarez-goal-world-cup-1
  • 7. Ouch.

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  • 8. Double ouch.

    Ouch
  • 9. Rooney sccooooooorrrrreees his first-ever World Cup goal. 1-1

    Rooney-goal-world-cup-2
  • 10. A nation celebrates…

    Rooney-goal-reaction
  • 11. …but not for long. Suarez scores again. 2-1 Uruguay.

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  • 12. England loses.

    Sadgerrard
  • 13. Uruguay wins.

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    * Courtesy of Mashable.

 

The Reign of Spain Ends in Pain

Former World Cup champions Spain have been booted out of the tournament, losing to Chile 2:0 in Brazil. Their defeat has triggered a social media storm, with memes poking fun at the Spanish team flooding Twitter.

Spain’s performance at the World Cup this year has been dubbed “the great disappointment” by the Spanish media.

The defending champions were humiliated right from the onset of the tournament, losing 5:1 to Holland. The Spanish team was finally knocked out of the running by Chile on Wednesday evening, prompting a wave of scathing memes on Twitter under the hashtag #CHIvsESP.

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“The King just sent a Whatsapp to Del Bosque (manager of the Spanish team)…”
“Shall we abdicate together?”

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Continuing the theme, Twitter user @viniami2009 posted a meme of Del Bosque.

“Come on guys, let’s get back to Spain to see the coronation of the new king.”

 

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“Don’t turn off the engine! We won’t be long!”

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Disappointed fans targeted Spanish keeper Iker Casillas, who was responsible for letting in seven goals over the course of the first two World Cup matches.

“If you know I’m gonna mess up, why do you bother inviting me?”

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Fans also targeted Spanish striker Diego Costa, who changed his nationality from Brazilian to Spanish to play for the World Cup team.

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Following the match, elated Chilean football fans flooded Italia Square in the country’s capital, Santiago, to celebrate victory. The Chilean team now goes on to face The Netherlands on Monday.

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Bests of the 1st round!

The first round of fixtures of the 2014 FIFA World Cup have now passed and given us a fair bit of excitement, goals, controversy and general all round awesomeness!

49 goals, 1 hat-trick, 3 red cards, only 6 clean sheets and only one African victory, here is our recap of the first round of fixtures.

Goal of the Round – Robin van Persie (1) vs. Spain

This is a tough one as Joel Campbell’s goal against Uruguay was a brilliant team goal, Clint Dempsey’s slalom run was mesmerising and Lionel Messi scored a superb solo goal. But while all of those were great, the goal by Robin van Persie with a diving header against the World Champions Spain was a goal of pure class and a goal that few words would do justice to.

Player of the Round – Thomas Müller (Germany)

FIFA World Cup (2)Arjen Robben and Joel Campbell ran this close for me, but Thomas Müller was the star of the show for Germany. He has now scored 8 World Cup goals in his career and hit his 20th goal in his 50th cap against Portugal. His goals were not World class or anything, but his persistent hassling and positioning made him a thorn in the side of Portugal. Don’t be surprised if he is the golden boot winner again at this World Cup!

Controversy of the Round – Mexico second offside goal

The first offside goal was a ridiculously tight call that you can forgive the linesman for, the second was as atrocious a call as Ive seen. It almost appeared that the linesman and ref were so scared to make incorrect calls that they overly erred and made an atrocious one. Fortunately Mexico got the goal they deserved and in the end the error did not cost them, but if they fail to progress on goal difference then it could still be the biggest poor call of the tournament.

FIFA World Cup (1)Nimwit of the Round – Pepe (Portugal)

I am not condoning the over reaction of Müller in the build up, but Pepe is not a smart man. His reputation for being a hot head and losing his cool came to the fore once again as he let his team mates and his country down with a display as childish as you can expect from the Real Madrid man. Portugal may be better off with him not playing in the next games.

Team of the Round – Netherlands

Few had given Netherlands a chance of beating Spain, even less had given them the chance of annihilating Spain. But annihilate is exactly what they did. After Spain received a dodgy penalty from a Diego Costa tumble, Holland produced a masterclass in ruthless football. Robin and Robben robbed the Spanish of their dignity and made one of the best keepers in the world, Iker Casillas, look like a Sunday League amateur. Their odds have also been dramatically cut on potential winners after that display.

Upset of the Round – Costa Rica 3-1 Uruguay

Uruguay won the FIFA World Cup the last time it was hosted in Brazil and as reigning South American champions had been tipped as a definite dark horse for winning the cup. They of course were also strongly tipped to run away with a group that also features England and Italy. But on the day they met a Joel Campbell inspired Costa Rica in a display so brazen that even England and Italy would have been stunned. Costa Rica were expected to complete the numbers, but now are competing for points. It makes the World Cup a lot more exciting. Uruguay on the other hand face elimination if they don’t beat England on Thursday.

FIFA World Cup (3)Match of the Round – England 1-2 Italy

England and Italy were poised to offer up a tense, turgid affair, but instead offered a neutrals dream match as they produced what can safely be said is the game of the tournament so far. The match produced 30 shots at goal at a frenetic pace. England can feel hard done by on being the wrong side of the defeat as both sides produced some sublime football.

The three goals were also all quality, one strike from range and the other two both from fantastic crosses. If ever a team could be proud of their performance in defeat, it was England. Italy on the other hand are well poised now to progress to the latter stages.