Posts Tagged ‘World Cup 2010’

No Sympathy for a Sinking Ship

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

As the second round of World Cup group games conclude and the UK lies precariously underneath the Damoclean sword of  Osbourne’s ideologically driven, socially divisive “emergency” budget, there are interesting parallels to be made between the relative performance of teams in the world cup and their respective socio-economic models.

In simple terms European teams are not matching their pre-tournament expectations, whilst their South American counterparts are performing beyond the predictions made of them (this blog included). All five South American qualifiers currently sit atop their respective groups and have provided the competition with some of the more fluent and stylish football thus far. Argentina are ridiculously entertaining (both on the field and in the dugout), Brazil appear extraordinarily resilient and defensively strong, Chile attack with such exaggerated verve that their inability to finish is something of a disappointment, whilst Uruguay and Paraguay are talented, adaptable teams that have proved that a nation need not have a large population to create an impressive football team. The contrast with the traditional powers of European football could hardly be more comprehensive. The Netherlands and Germany are perhaps the two Western European teams most immune from criticism. The former were the first team to secure qualification for the second round of the competition, albeit unimpressively, whilst Germany dismantled Australia before succumbing to a particularly incompetent refereeing performance and an underrated Serbian team. Spain are extremely impressive in terms of retaining possession yet look tactically limited and surprisingly toothless. England, France, and Italy have been little more than a disgrace. Failing to achieve a good performance amongst them (and scoring only three goals in six matches!), the unpleasant triumvirate have all been exposed for what they are – overhyped, ageing (in the case of England and Italy in particular), and divided (France and England) squads playing some of the most negative, unimaginative football witnessed at this World Cup. France are almost certainly out, whilst England and Italy sit in precarious (albeit recoverable) positions within their groups. It would be a genuine shame should any of these teams make it through the group stage.

Whilst the relative fortunes of these two region’s football teams are somewhat interesting, it is the socio-economic context to these performances that perhaps offers an insight into a real power shift that extends far beyond football.

Ask any Argentine what they think of austerity measures and the IMF and they’ll most likely bristle at the memory of their country sinking into an economic shambles that was rescued through defaulting on the nation’s debt and, ultimately, telling the IMF where to go. As a case-study into why neoliberal economics and the IMF as a whole are fundamentally flawed concepts and institutions, one only has to look at Argentina. Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and any other respectable economists, i.e. those not slavishly following the laughably discredited ideas of Milton Friedman et al, all stress the inevitable economic decline precipitated by pursuing an agenda of fiscal-contraction in an economic downturn. Apparently this memo has not yet reached Western Europe. It’s hardly surprising – the greatest casuality of the global financial crisis has been, incredibly, social democracy. In late 2008, when sales of Marx were at their highest in years, and the state became the saviour of the financial system, this idea would have appeared preposterous. Instead we now see daily attacks upon the public sector, upon the ‘unaffordable’ welfare state, and, perhaps most ridiculously, upon the failure of “socialism” (with regards to the ousted Labour party in the UK). What the global financial crisis actually showed us was that 30 years of pursuing a neoliberal agenda and a minimally regulated financial sector were not sustainable. It is not the welfare state that is unaffordable but rather the current global financial system. Remarkably, Europe in general and the UK in particular, have decided that reducing their national budget deficits is the most pressing problem currently facing the region. Whilst financial institutions will always promote such a view, it is incredibly flawed. No real reform was made following the financial downturn and we remain locked within a crisis of capitalism. The Conservative Party’s ideologically driven economic medicine for the UK is to pursue an outdated and unworkable socio-economic system, with an inevitable rise in unemployment, poverty, rapid decline in health, education, and other public services, and an astonishing acceleration of inequality the result. When the next inevitable financial crisis arises this flawed socio-economic agenda will finally be exposed. The state will not be in a position to rescue the financial system and the general populace won’t enjoy the insulation they had from the deepest recession since the 1930s. Western Europe, and Britain in particular, faces an undignified and messy decline. Just as the England football team’s deficiencies have been hidden by an obscenely unbalanced and unsustainable domestic league model, often misguidedly heralded as ‘the best league in the world’, the UK economic system’s flaws were disguised by an obscenely unbalanced and unsustainable dependence upon a financial system beset by incompetence, greed, and panic. The Premier League began to lose a little of its lustre last year as some of its top talents fled to more appealing environments (a process set to continue this summer) and the subsequent decline in quality was notable.

South America has done things differently. The hardship associated with excessive neoliberal policies has shaped the current socio-economic agenda of much of the continent (Columbia is an obvious exception). The utterly reprehensible actions of the US both before but especially throughout the Reagan-era in the region has proved another powerful influence. Where Europe seeks to attack worker’s pay, conditions, and rights in general, Brazil has surged economically whilst led by a former prominent trade unionist in Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. It could be asserted that many South American nations in general have willingly traded rapid economic (in terms of GDP) growth for a little more social harmony (and Uruguay certainly fits this model), yet their growth has exceeded that of Europe over the past decade (and has improved markedly following the abandonment of nominally neoliberal policies). The upshot of these varying economic trajectories is all too apparent at this year’s World Cup. Neoliberalism has left societies fractured, discontent, and greedy – qualities all too apparent in the play of England and France – whilst the social democratic model of Argentina, Brazil, and other South American nations, has created a unity and equality on and off the pitch. The contrast between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics should prove fascinating. The London games are likely to be held under severe budget restrictions with a demoralised population and the economic deterioration of the country all-too-apparent, whilst Rio de Janeiro should consolidate (following the 2014 World Cup) Brazil’s developing global prominence.


Something of a World Cup Preview

June 11, 2010 1 comment

As a direct consequence of the increasingly depressing state of UK politics, and the Con-Dem coalition’s once-in-a-lifetime socially regressive and economically naïve agenda, this blog will be shifting its focus onto (or perhaps back to) the World Cup. Commencing in approximately 24 hours (!!), global excitement has escalated to such excessive levels that the tournament’s actual start will no doubt leave many feeling like a child on boxing day.

Having promised to select an alternative World Cup XI many months ago (see here), which has fallen somewhat by the wayside but will resume erm…shortly, this post will attempt to further saturate the digital media world with yet another tedious and pointless overview of what could (but most probably won’t) happen over the next month. If you’re looking for originality and writing devoid of cliché, it’s probably best to not only avoid this post, but the World Cup’s media coverage in general.

World Cup 2010 various predictions:

1. England will not make it out of their group (although this may be revised if they get an exceptionally easy group. Slovakia, Tunisia, and New Zealand for example.)

2. Brazil will make the quarter finals at best.

3. Paraguay, Chile, South Korea, Ukraine (assuming they make it), and the USA will be much better than people expect. All will get through the group stage. At least one of these teams will make the last eight.

4. Spain won’t win it.

5. But Russia might (assuming they qualify).

6. Italy have a real chance and are far better than people assume (as per usual).

7. An African side will make the semi-finals (most probably Ivory Coast).

8. Maradona might just lead Argentina to an incredibly improbable victory, and will most likely then tell the entire world to take it up our collective arse

The musings of an idiot on a par with Tim Lovejoy? It remains to be seen, yet these were the predictions made by this very blog way back in November last year. Clearly some of these have been made redundant by the unpredictable nature of the European qualifying playoffs and, in light of this, a new set of predictions will be made following an entirely facile assessment of the groups.

Group A is perhaps the most difficult to call. Featuring the least fancied (and lowest ranked) host nation in tournament history, an appallingly managed team fronted by a rapidly fading Thierry Henry, and two of the teams perhaps most likely to flatter to deceive, the result is a group which could really end with any of the four teams in any position. However, South Africa’s recent form, promising showing in last year’s Confederations Cup, and the inevitable advantage that being a host nation affords a team, should see the rather remarkable sight of South Africa topping the group. Mexico have been poor in recent friendlies, having declined somewhat from their already none-too-impressive form from ’02 and ’06 and are likely to finish bottom. Second place hinges upon Friday’s game between France and Uruguay, with the winner likely to qualify. Uruguay have been somewhat overrated as a dark horse, when their performances in the CONMEBOL qualifying section ranged from poor to insipid to disappointing. Yes, Suárez scored a ridiculous number of goals for Ajax last season, but this is the same league in which Kežman and Kuyt also topped the scoring charts. France will (disappointingly) join South Africa in the second round.

Argentina should ease into the next round from Group B and are most likely to be joined by South Korea. With undoubtedly the most potent attacking sextet at the World Cup (Messi, Agüero, Higuaín, di María, Milito, and Tévez are all in form and fit), Diego Maradona’s Argentina are becoming an increasingly attractive proposition if the betting markets are any true indicator of likely success (in the UK, more bets have been placed on Argentina to win the World Cup than any other side). A stuttering and schizophrenic qualifying campaign has been replaced in recent months by a solidity in defence, which has seen the team start to perform exceptionally well in friendlies. With the most natural talent of any of the participating squads (not least in the form of the world’s best player), Argentina should view anything less than a semi-final as failure. South Korea should easily surpass their disappointing performance in ’06, led by the talent of the severely underrated Park Ji-Sung and Bolton’s emerging star, Lee Chung-Yong. A strong qualifying campaign has been allied to recent impressive friendly performances – not least a dominant victory against Japan and a narrow 1-0 loss to favourites Spain. Nigeria’s World Cup preparations are a sad reflection upon the chaotic current state of the nation itself. From altered accommodation plans, last-minute changes of venue for friendlies, a technical fault with the team’s plane originally selected to travel to South Africa (and subsequent late arrival), a stampede amongst fans at their most recent friendly, and finally, the loss of John Obi Mikel to injury, very little has gone to plan. Nigeria were abject in this year’s African Cup of Nations (ANC) and, with a squad the shadow of that at France 98, they’ll do well to avoid finishing bottom of their group. Since Greece bored us (and their opponents) to their crime-against-football victory in 2004’s European Championship they have only looked like the sum of their parts – a group of players devoid of any discernible talent, albeit exceptionally well-organised due to their impressive management. Having said that, they may well run South Korea close for second in the group, and have a rising talent in Sotiris Ninis.

England struck lucky with Group C. In the above predictions this blog confidently stated that England would not make it past the group stage unless their opponents were of particularly low quality. This is the scenario they now find themselves in. England should dominate Group C and win it fairly comfortably. Yes, the United States are the only team to have beaten Spain in years, but they’re not the threat that Serbia are to Germany, or even that of Chile to Spain. England’s other opponents in the group are unlikely to even threaten the US to qualify alongside England. Algeria bullied their way into the tournament, securing an incredibly unlikely victory over fierce-rivals Egypt in Khartoum, whilst Slovenia caught Guus Hiddink’s Russia on one of their less-impressive days. Leading 2-1 from the first-leg in Moscow, the Russians allowed Slovenia to gain that all-important home goal in Ljubljana, whilst posing little threat themselves. A deserved result but a shame nonetheless. Had Egypt and Russia sat alongside England and the US, this group could have legitimately termed the ‘group of death’, besides affording British commentators the chance to make ridiculous and outdated references to The Cold War.

Group D is that one group in every World Cup that is expected to be close but in reality proves anything but. Australia would do extremely well to match their performance from Germany. In reality, they’ll do well to avoid finishing bottom of the group. This is an ageing, sluggish, and often-violent team that will do little to endear itself to neutrals. Ghana, in contrast, were the favourite of many a neutral four years ago, yet without the talismanic Essien, will find it just beyond them to reach the second round. Although possessing a raft of talented youngsters, this is likely to be a World Cup too soon. The same charge could be leveled at Germany who, in sharp contrast to prior generations, have one of the youngest squads at the World Cup, especially in light of the injury to their captain and figurehead over the last decade, Michael Ballack. However, such a loss could prove to be something of a blessing in disguise. In addition to the potential for engendering team spirit (in a team which is already pretty strong in that respect, particularly following the loss of likely number-one-goalkeeper, Robert Enke, in tragic circumstances), Ballack has been in decline over the past couple of years. Liable to slowing play to the detriment of a team which relies on swift, aggressive attacking, Ballack’s absence has opened up a spot for the talented Sami Khedira, the captain of Germany’s Under-21 European Championship triumph of last year, in which they demolished England 4-0 in the final. However, the undoubted star of that tournament was Mesut Özil, Germany’s likely first-choice attacking midfielder who orchestrated the dismantling of England in Malmö. Ably supported by Marko Marin and Toni Kroos, Germany’s young players could prove a revelation. Serbia are this year’s undoubted ‘darkhorse’; a label that shouldn’t give any degree of confidence to the team, given that they were also somewhat fancied in ’06 (as Serbia & Montenegro), before being humiliated by Argentina and exiting the group stage without a point. This is, however, undoubtedly a much-improved team with Vidic leading a defence of well-documented strength allied to some exceptionally talented attacking players. Miloš Krasić could see his profile rise in the way that Andrei Arshavin’s did following his superb performances for Russia in 2008’s European Championships. Not only supremely talented, Krasić is unlikely to suffer the same level of fatigue as many other European-based players, given that his club side, CSKA Moscow, are only a few months into their domestic season. Serbia could not only qualify for the second round, they may yet push Germany into second-place in the group.

The Netherlands are strong favourites in Group E, and with good reason.  Strong in most areas, the team also contains, in Robben and Sneijder, two of the sport’s outstanding performers over the past season. Although Robben is struggling with a hamstring strain, he is likely to be available at least for the knock-out stages and, given The Netherlands’ early opponents, his absence from the first round is unlikely to prevent the team from topping the group. Japan have yet to successfully replace Hidetoshi Nakata, although Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow is perhaps the most likely current candidate, and would have to play several levels above their form over the past year to match their previous-best World Cup performance of a second-round spot at home in 2002. Suffering defeat in their four previous games (although especially unfortunate against a lacklustre England), Japan have arranged an emergency friendly against Mozambique today, which appears to be little more than an exercise in encouraging greater squad confidence. Cameroon and Denmark appear, on a cursory glance at least, closely matched. Both have a blend of youth and experience, a mix of talent and not-so-much talent. Cameroon do have the more outstanding players – should they incorporate Alex Song and Samuel Eto’o into a well-organised system, they should comfortably qualify alongside The Netherlands. This is a big if however, and discernible organisation was starkly absent from the Cameroon team that contested this year’s ANC. Denmark’s fate will likely be decided by Cameroon’s performance.

Alongside England, Italy will have been the other team most satisfied by their World Cup draw, which placed them alongside Paraguay, New Zealand, and Slovakia in Group F. Italy are heading into the World Cup devoid of form. Having lost (and being outclassed) to the same Mexico team that proved relatively ineffectual in a 3-1 loss to England just days prior, Italy’s ageing squad (although, interestingly, not as old as England’s) appear ill-equipped to defend their 2006 triumph successfully. With few younger players of note emerging domestically, Italy are facing an extended period without success. However, it would be a significant shock were they not to make it through the group stage. New Zealand are quite probably the worst team at this World Cup and perhaps the weakest to have ever qualified. They ran Australia close in a recent friendly, and even beat Serbia, but their dismal performance at least year’s Confederations Cup is a more reliable indicator of what to expect – three defeats and no goals loom ominously.  Paraguay qualified for the finals with relative ease, although their performances appeared to worsen throughout the qualification process and recent friendly results inspire little confidence. Losing one of their form strikers in disturbing circumstances has undoubtedly weakened their chances, particularly when a lack of goals is one of the team’s key weaknesses. However, Paraguay are a well-managed and established outfit with enough natural ability and organisation to qualify alongside Italy. Slovakia have been tipped in some circles as a team to watch. They do have a number of talented individuals; not least Marek Hamšík at Napoli, but the extensive gap between qualification and the tournament itself has led to an exaggeration of the team’s qualities. Slovakia are limited and struggled in one of the weakest European qualifying groups. They will continue to struggle at the World Cup.

The so-called ‘group of death’, Group G is likely to prove anything but. A lot hinges upon Didier Drogba’s fitness and whether he will actually recover from a fractured arm in time to appear for Cote d’Ivoire. Given how unlikely this must surely be, it’s difficult to see how the team can possibly qualify in a group which contains Portugal and Brazil. Knocked-out of the ANC by a poor Algeria side, Cǒte d’Ivoire struggle for goals even when Drogba is fit. The team is likely to prove a massive disappointment for those who hope for some African success. In contrast, it is difficult to dismiss Brazil in spite of Dunga’s uninspiring squad selection, his massive unpopularity at home, and a generation devoid of the talent of previous teams. However, Brazil have perhaps the strongest defence at this year’s World Cup, and retain some of the sport’s greatest talents (although not necessarily having had the most impressive of seasons). They are clearly potential winners. Portugal, in contrast, are not. Losing Nani to injury is more significant to the team than might be expected. In addition to having a breakthrough year at Manchester United, he has arguably proved Portugal’s greatest asset in recent games. The team still possess a strong defence, some emerging talents from their domestic league and a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, who is yet to really perform at international level, and so Portugal will inevitably prove to be a serious obstacle to both Brazil and Spain in that part of the draw. The North Koreans are perhaps the only unknown quantity in the World Cup and could have perhaps caused an upset in a more amenable group. However, they have been unlucky with the draw and will most likely be returning to Pyongyang without a point to their name.

Group H sees overwhelming favourites and reigning European champions Spain take on the fluid and exciting Chileans, an underrated Switzerland, and a most-likely hapless Honduras. The Spanish squad is astonishing. Every position has at least two options; all players are supremely talented. Should they play to their potential (and they have basically been doing so for the past few years now) they will win the World Cup. However, Spain were highly fancied in Germany and slumped out of the tournament with defeat to France and only scraped to an unconvincing victory against Saudi Arabia recently. They did follow this up earlier this week with a 6-0 rout of Poland. In the earlier predictions, this blog suggested that Spain wouldn’t win the World Cup. They still might not but this will require a simultaneously poor Spanish performance and a particularly impressive one from their opponents. The chances are slim to say the least. Chile are on course to be the neutral’s favourite team. Coach Marcelo Bielsa who guided Argentina to an embarrassing first-round exit in 2002, is committed to flowing, attacking football. Chile score plenty of goals – primary striker Humberto Suazo was top-scorer in the CONMEBOL qualifying round and, although injured at the moment, has the potential to impress on the global stage. Furthermore, Chile’s 443-formation places signficant importance upon the team’s wingers, Alexis Sánchez and Mark González. Aided by the highly rated Matías Fernández, Chile have some incredibly talented players and could even surprise Spain. A second-round place beckons if they can cover their defensive weakness. Switzerland have impressed somewhat at recent tournaments, without really playing to their potential. With some underrated players (Barnetta, Behrami et al), the team qualified for the World Cup with relative ease, beating Greece twice on the way. In several other groups, Switzerland would stand a reasonable chance of making the next round. Spain and Chile will most probably have a little too much for the Swiss, however. Honduras will do well to pick up a point.

Having discussed the groups in pretty extensive detail, here are a number of revised predictions as a means of summation:

1. Spain and Brazil are legitimate favourites but it would be incredibly dull to predict that either will win. As such, this blog predicts that Argentina will claim a victory that was improbable only a few months ago.

2. The Netherlands and Germany are the most likely challengers to this triumvirate.

3. England will get out of their group and could potentially make the semi-finals. Equally, they could be knocked-out in the second round.

4. Serbia and Chile are the not-so-dark ‘darkhorses’.

5. Given that Argentina are this blog’s predicted winners, Gonzalo Higuaín will complete an exceptional season by finishing as the tournament’s top scorer.

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