World Cup Group F Preview

There is no doubt that Group F will be a cracker. The Group consists of the World Champions Germany, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. It has the making of a very special group with every team in it expecting to go through to the knockout stages. It is another one of those so called group of death scenarios were every point will be valuable. The Germans will be a tough nut to crack and there is no way they will want to relinquish their title without a huge effort. The other three teams will battle it out for that all so important second spot and this could make the games a lot tighter and more exciting.

The World Champions Germany will without a shadow of doubt not let anyone down when it comes to putting in a challenging performance in this tournament. They qualified as the only nation to do so with a 100% record, winning all of their games in the group. That group consisted of Northern Ireland, Czech Republic, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino. They go into the tournament not only as World Champions but Confederations Cup holders as well, having beaten Chile in last years final one nil. On their road to Russia they scored forty three goals and conceded only four, no matter who your opponents are that is some record. Their most decisive and clinical victory was an eight nil win away against San Marino with midfielder Serge Gnabry scoring a hat trick. The Germans will go a long way in this tournament as they always do and it is amazing how they can always get it right when it comes to the finals. Manager Joachim Lowe dropped a major bombshell when finalising his twenty three man squad by not picking Manchester City,s Leroy Sane and by doing so it sent out a clear signal that he only wanted players who are in form. Going into the tournament two players to look out for are Thomas Muller from Bayern Munich and Real Madrid,s Toni Kroos. Muller will get you a goal from anywhere and he is a product of the Bayern Munich academy and in the 2010 World Cup he won the golden boot. He was also part of the German side that won the cup in 2014, the first side from Europe to win it on South American soil. Toni Kroos was born in the former East Germany shortly before the famous wall fell and he made his name at Bayern Munich. He anchored the German midfield in Brazil 2014 and a lot of the analysts are of the opinion that without Toni in the German side they are not as effective. At club level he has won two Champions League,s with Madrid and also two FIFA World Club Cups. The Germans will be one to watch in Russia and a semi final place is a given if you look back at their history over the years in the competition.

Mexico have hosted the Finals twice in 1970 and 1986 but on both occasions failed to really produce any sort of a challenge to lift the trophy. In my opinion they are the one side that always promise so much and fail to deliver. They qualified for this years World Cup by winning the Concacaf group which included Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, USA and Trinidad and Tobago, they actually won it by five points and at no time did they look in any danger of not qualifying. Last year they reached the semi finals of the Confederations Cup and they will look to go one better this time around, although they have never gone past the quarter final stages in the finals and I can not see them doing it this time around either. Going into the tournament two players to look out for are Andres Guardado of Real Betis and Oribe Peralta of America FC, Guardado has won over 140 caps since making his debut in 2005 and has helped Mexico win the Concacaf Gold Cup twice. Peralta was part of the Olympic team that won the medal in 2012 beating Brazil in the final. His goal scoring record for Mexico is excellent when you think he has scored a goal in every other game. The Mexican squad will bring a lot of talented players to Russia but the one thing they will need to do well is have the ability to dig in and get a result, you do not always have to play sexy football to be a winner, something the Mexicans should have a long think about.

Sweden have a great record in the World Cup and have finished third on two separate occasions. They qualified for these finals by coming second in a group which included France, Netherlands, Bulgaria and Luxembourg, by finishing second they entered a play off against Italy and to a lot of people's suprise they beat the Italians one nil over the two legs. Jakob Johansson was the Swedish hero as he was the man who scored the winning goal in the home tie. The second leg was a real backs to the wall effort in the away tie in Milan but great defending got the job done. When the qualifying group for Russia was drawn the Swedes were very much outsiders especially given the fact that their superstar Zlatan had retired from International football. Manager Jan Olof Andersson took over the international reigns in 2016 when Sweden were eliminated in the first round of the European Championships in France. He has done the job he was brought in to do and getting through to the finals through the play offs was an excellent achievement. Two players to keep an eye out for during these finals are Hull City,s Seb Larsson and Krasnodar defender Andreas Granqvist two of the players who got this Swedish team to Russia. Larsson has been a mainstay in the Swedish midfield side since 2008 and that fact tells you he never lets his country down. Granqvist is the captain of the side and his heroics in Milan during the second leg of the play offs were the foundation that saw the Swedes qualify for the finals, he is a no nonsense defender who actually plays his club football in Russia and his experience there will be a great help as he advises his team mates on what to expect over the next couple of weeks.

South Korea are another nation who were involved in hosting the tournament when they co hosted in 2002 with Japan, a tournament that was possibly the best ever run competition. In 2002 they reached the semi final and were within a hairs breath of going all the way to the final, matching that achievement has been an uphill struggle since. They qualified for Russia by coming second in the Asia Round 3 Group A which also included Iran, Syria, Uzbekistan, China and Qatar. This is the ninth time they have qualified for the World Cup and it shows us how strong their game is, there are quite a few European teams who would love that record. Manager Shin who took over from former German international Uli Stielike has also played for his country and has scored three goals in 23 appearances. Two players to look out for during this tournament are Totenham,s Son Heung-Min and Lee Dong Hook who plays for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in South Korea. Son has been successful with all the clubs he has been with and his performances for Spurs last season were excellent. Lee is his countries top goal scorer with more than 30 goals in over 100 appearances. He is also top scorer in his domestic league and has had spells with Werder Bremen and Middlesborough in Europe. Korea will need a big effort to get out of this group and their games against Mexico and Sweden are going to be the matches they have to pick up the points from.

Matches

Germany  v  Mexico      17/6/2018

Sweden     v  South Korea  18/6/2018

Mexico      v  South Korea   23/6/2018

Germany   v  Sweden    23/6/2018

Mexico       v  Sweden     27/6/2018

South Korea  v  Germany  27/6/2018

 

Who's been a naughty boy then?

So our travelling fans are in trouble again for having a good time! Since when do football chants have to be politically correct? Am I wrong?

Well, according to the majority I am and I should be punished heavily. At last nights Germany v England game a small minority started singing '10 German bombers' and within minutes the whole of the away end looked like a drunken mass of human aeroplanes dive bombing the row in front, all in extreme jollity. 

Greg Clark was venomous in his attack on the fans as was a number of newspaper columns. 

Greg Clarke: England chants 'inappropriate, disrespectful and disappointing'

"The FA has consistently urged supporters to show respect and not to chant songs that could be regarded as insulting to others," said Clarke

The day before the game England fans were generally having a good time fuelled by drink and a pre match game in a square in Dortmund with opposing German fans. German fans were not bothered - it is quintessentially the grudge match that keeps going on and on. It's either the war or THAT goal in 1966 that seems to rule fans.

What is upsetting is the reward for that wonder goal that won the tie for the Germans by Lukas Podolski in his final and 150th appearance for Germany. No-one deserves the grief he got from England fans last night not on this night!

Gareth Southgate made a passing criticism at the fans but it's not up to him. He shouldn't feel he needs to say this. The FA are responsible for our fans and if they think they have overstepped the mark then they need to act quickly and decisively and not just with a few words! 

“Obviously our travelling support in terms of number and the way they back the team is brilliant. But we would encourage them to do that in the right way at all times.” Southgate

It's entirely probable and likely that those who sang it or acted it out have no idea what they were singing about and I'm sure our British Veterans would be equally embarrassed. 

However the issue is banter and where it stops. 

Clearly the Football atmosphere has moved on from 10 years ago where politically correct needs to be embroiled into many of the songs on the terraces when we are abroad. However I don't think it will be any time soon before that takes affect in our of our domestic ties and when it does will the atmosphere be the same?

Who remembers "Your going to get your f***ing head kicked in", or "your going home in an ambulance"? 

Clearly not right and we have moved on from those days. Do we need to further move on. I, as I said above, clearly believe they had no idea of the significance or remember why we sang it in those days, but what amazes me is that no-one has picked up a number of nazi salutes by the home crowd! 

Euro 2016 - Group C Preview

Another tough group but Germany are clear favourites in this group for a reason and I fully expect them to lead the way.

Germany have a squad full of talent, whereas the rest of the group have workmanlike teams with one or two top players. That may be harsh on Poland who garnered 21 points in qualifying (finishing behind Germany), whilst Northern Ireland performed well in a weaker group and Ukraine just snuck through via the play-offs.

Germany

Qualifying record:

7 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses

Top scorer:

Thomas Muller (9)

Projected top performer:

Thomas Muller - Without a shadow of a doubt, Muller is the man Germany will be relying on to put the ball in the back of the net.

At the 2010 World Cup he won the Golden Boot and at the 2014 World Cup he was the second top goalscorer, so he has a knack for doing it on the big stage.

Despite scoring 3 goals and providing 7 assists in qualifying for Euro 2012, he didn't manage to nail down a spot at the finals and instead, Mario Gomez led the line.

There is no way history will repeat itself. Muller has to start in this tournament, he featured in 9/10 games in qualifying scoring 9 goals (a goal a game ratio) and has also just managed his most prolific scoring season of his career at club level, finding the net 32 times in 49 games in all competitions.

He is not even the main striker at Bayern, fellow Group C player, Robert Lewandowski holds that spot, so despite being seemingly overshadowed for large parts of his career, Muller still gets the job done.

Whilst Gomez enjoyed a great season on loan at Besiktas (26 goals in 32 games) , I still think Muller is the main outlet and if they are going to win this tournament I am sure he will be a big part of it.

Expectations:

Win and nothing else will do. The 2014 World Cup winners are behind France in the betting market, but for me they should be favourites.

France have the home advantage, but Germany strike me as the better team. If you were to question Germany in any position it would be defence, however with the likes of Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels etc. protecting Manual Neur, it is hard to call it a weak link.

They should make it to the semi-finals at least, however if you were to ask me who my pick was in a one and done format, it would be Germany.

Ukraine

Qualifying record:

6 wins, 1 draw, 3 losses

Top scorer:

Andriy Yarmolenko (6)

Projected top performer:

Andriy Yarmolenko - Yarmolenko is an exciting player, who brings flair to a team that desperately needs it.

At club level Yarmolenko has played nearly 200 games for Dynamo Kyiv first team, since joining them in 2007 and he has been on the radar of Premier League clubs for the last few seasons.

Everton and Stoke are known admirers however Dynamo's president, Ihor Surkis was not set on the idea of him joining either side being quoted saying "He is already a top player, so he should go to a top club. My position is that we should not let Yarmolenko go to such clubs as Everton and Stoke City."

If he plays to his full potential, he can grab a couple of goals in the early stages and prove to potential suitors that he is the real deal, but that's about as much as he can do in my opinion. It is now reported that the club will let him go to any interested party should their asking price be met and Yarmolenko is happy with the team he is joining.

Yarmolenko also has a well-known rivalry with international team-mate, Taras Stepanenko who plays for Shakhtar Donetsk. In October 2015 Yarmonlenko nearly broke Stepanenko's leg and whilst the two looked to make up after the game, it didn't last long, as the former threw the shirt the pair had exchanged to the ground when thanking his fans.

In the next meeting Stepanenko kissed the badge in front of the away fans, leading to a brawl between the two where Yarmolenko kicked and beat Stepanenko to the ground.

Tension must be in the air still, even if they put their personal issues to one side for the sake of the team and that cannot be healthy.

Expectations:

Whilst I do think it will be a struggle for Ukraine to even get out of the group, they have been very solid under current head coach, Mykhaylo Fomenko. In his 34 games in charge, Ukraine have won 24, drawn 6 and lost just 4 a good achievement all things considered.

They struggled to qualify from a group that included Slovakia and Spain and as a result had to go through the play-offs, their reward - a very tough group.

I can't see them getting a result against Germany or Poland and anything they can get against Northern Ireland may just be a consolation.

Yarmolenko was as good as ever in qualifying but he is not on the same level as someone like, Gareth Bale who may well able to drag his team through the group stages single-handedly. He may have support on the other wing from Yevhen Konoplyanka and the two can be dynamic in attack, but a team without an out-and-out striker is always going to struggle.

I cannot see Ukraine progressing from the group stages, despite their ability to shut up shop at the back (conceded just 4 goals in qualifying).

Poland

Qualifying record:

6 wins, 3 draws, 1 loss

Top scorer:

Robert Lewandowski (13)

Projected top performer:

Robert Lewandowski - Robert Lewandowski is one of the best strikers in the world and will be keen to put on a show this summer for his country.

He scored 42 goals in 51 games in all competitions at club level and his 13 goals in qualifying for this tournament took him to 34 goals in 76 appearances for his country.

Euro 2012 was his first and only major tournament appearance for his country, as he did not make his debut until after Euro 2008 and Poland failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

This is his chance to shine. Poland were great in qualifying, he was the top scorer across the whole of Euro 2016 qualifying and he can build on that in France.

Games against Northern Ireland and Ukraine represent great opportunities for him to score plenty of goals and that is why he is only just behind bookies' favourite, Muller in the Top Goalscorer betting.

Muller has the advantage of a better side around him, but Lewandowski has a support cast of his own. Strike partner Akadiusz Milik scored 24 goals in 42 games at club level for Ajax this past season and the 22-year old has already scored 10 goals in 24 games at international level.

If Milik can take some of attention of his partner, Lewandowski could be very dangerous and similarly if all the focus is on Lewandowski it will open up chances for Milik, either way Lewandowski is the key for this team.

Expectations:

Poland have other stars in their ranks including Borussia Dortmund defender, Lukasz Pisczcek and Sevilla midfielder, Grzegorz Krychowiak and the squad looks solid across the board.

This is their best chance in recent years to go deep in a major finals and I do believe they can get to at least the Quarter-finals or even further. I do not think they can win it, as there are a few teams stronger than them, but a team that has a striker with the quality that Lewandoswki possesses will always stand a chance of winning any game on the day.

I fully expect Poland to qualify comfortably to the next round, and a Germany/Poland 1-2 finish looks the most likely outcome in this group.

Northern Ireland

Qualifying record:

6 wins, 3 draws, 1 loss

Top scorer:

Kyle Lafferty (7)

Projected top performer:

Steven Davis - Davis is the captain of the team and arguably the best player amongst the squad.

The midfielder goes quietly about his business popping up with the odd important goal at both club and international level - notably the 2 goals he scored against Greece to help secure his country's spot in the finals.

He has been a regular for his country since making his debut in 2005 and became Northern Ireland's youngest "modern-day" captain 10 years ago, at just 21 years of age.

Davis played a big part in Southampton's successful Premier League season and for a manager like Ronald Koeman to hold in such high regard tells you something about his qualities as a footballer.

Coach, Michael O'Neill also has plenty of good things to say about his captain as, proved in an interview after the Greece game.

"There's all types of captains, but for me Steven epitomises everything you want in a captain; he takes responsibility on the pitch, he drives the team forward, he's an example in terms of how he is as a professional, how he is as a person," he said. He also added "I didn't expect him to score an 18-yard header if I'm honest, but I'm delighted for him to get the goal because in my opinion he's one of the most underrated players in the Premier League, he's a top, top, top player and he showed that again tonight."

Expectations:

Whilst Northern Ireland enjoyed a great qualifying campaign and they will be ecstatic to make it to the finals for the first time in the nation's history, I cannot see the fairytale lasting long.

Germany and Poland are strong opponents and even if they could somehow avoid defeat against either side, they would still have to beat Ukraine, which for me is a 50/50 game.

With the new rules, they could make the last-16 but I really do doubt it and it looks like an early exit for the European Championship newcomers.

A lot of the squad play in the lower leagues so whilst they may have a squad full of players that will put maximum effort in, they unfortunately lack the quality to have any real impact on this elite stage.

They are rank outsiders (500/1) alongside Albania and that is no doubt a fair reflection of their chances. The fans will no doubt enjoy the occasion and it is a good experience for all the players involved, young and old.