It’s finally here!

Finally, football worth watching...

Finally, football worth watching…

Last night saw the eagerly anticipated start to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. As is customary for me before international tournaments I make a point of missing the utterly pointless opening ceremony, and switch on about half an hour before kick-off to soak in the atmosphere of the opening game.

Unfortunately, last night’s opening game was being covered by ITV, which meant I had to endure the horrific cringe worthy presenting of one Adrian Chiles, who knows as much about football as my gran. Suffice to say, she’s not an expert. Sandwiched between Chiles, whose resemblance to the part of the male anatomy which encases the family jewels is uncanny, and the ever enlightening Lee “I don’t know what I’m doing” Dixon were 2 legends of the game; Patrick Viera and Fabio Cannavaro, who must have thought their worst nightmares were being realised, as well as coming to a deeper understanding as to why England are as bad as they are at football if this is what amounts to their standard of punditry. But I digress.

Pathetic punditry aside I was looking forward to the game (or not having to listen to Adrian Chiles any longer) when the handover from Chiles said “Your commentary team for tonight’s match is Andy Townsend…” Ah f**k!

Andy Townsend must single-handedly be the worst pundit on television – and that includes a stellar list of buffoons like Michael Owen and Chris ‘Pelanty’ Waddle.

10 seconds into the game, Andy Townsend wielded his almighty wit when talking about the expectation levels on the Brazilian team. “Well Clive, expectation, you’ve got to expect it…” Sheer genius.

The game itself was an even affair. Neymar was nowhere near the standard he needs to be if Brazil are going to win the World Cup – even with his 2 goal haul and but for shocking refereeing and pathetic goal-keeping Croatia would have left the game with a point in the bag.

However, four goals, massive talking points, and the fact that even the Brazilian fans recognised pathetic punditry when it is in their presence by cracking ITV’s studio with rocks, all made for a very enjoyable and entertaining opening game.

So where do we go from here? Personally, I’m backing Spain and Germany to be the front-runners in this World Cup. Yes, Spain are an ageing side, and their brand of football has apparently been ‘found out’ at club level. However, a few of Spain’s first team are coming back from a successful Champions League campaign which should stand them in good stead. Also, Spain have won the last 3 international tournaments and know how to get the job done. They may be lacking a potent finisher up top, but given that in Euro 2012 they cultivated a winning side with a 4-6-0 formation, as well as the fact that Torres won the Golden Boot last time round, I think they’ll be OK in the goal department. As for Germany, yes they have lost arguably one of their most prodigious talents in Marco Reus in a worthless World Cup ‘warm up’ match (utterly detest these games) and they will be a poorer side for it. However, they have talent, they have strength and they have organisation. Add to the fact that they have players who simply get better when they pull the German shirt on; namely Podolski, Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose who is still banging in goals for Germany! All of this leads to a winning formula when you add a talented coach into the mix and a fairly deep squad to pick from as Joachim Lowe does. They have been Spain’s closest contenders in terms of quality in the last few tournaments, it is time for this young team to seize their opportunity.

Aside from my personal predictions, there are the standard teams to watch out for. Brazil, Argentina and Italy. All of whom are brimming with quality but have never quite managed to put themselves in contention in the past few tournaments. Italy were well beaten by a rampant Spanish side in the Euro 2012 final. They will be keen to avenge this defeat, by going one better and winning the World Cup. This will be Andrea Pirlo’s last hurrah for Italy, and what better way to bow out of international football for a legend such as he to lift the World Cup?

Then there are the dark horses. I’ve always liked Uruguay’s combination of flair going forward and grit at the back. If Suarez is fit and on song, they have a fighting chance to get to the latter stages. Forlan hasn’t got it in him to lead the line any more, and frankly Cavani is, and always has been, utter s**t so they heavily rely on Suarez. I fancy them to push for the latter stages, only to lose out to one of the big boys.

The Netherlands have been perennial nearly men and were so close in the last World Cup, only to lose in extra-time to Spain (despite the fact that they clearly should have been down to 10 men) and will be looking to go one step further and win it. However, as is always the case with the Dutch, in-house fighting will be their undoing as Robben has been acting the prick again. Quarter-finals at best. Can see them having a poor tournament.

Belgium are many people’s dark horses for the tournament. This is the first international tournament they have qualified for in a while and boy did they qualify! They steam-rolled a qualification group that included the impressive Croatia and have a plethora of Premier League talent, as well as top flight experience across Europe. They have high calibre all over the pitch, from Kompany at centre half to Lukaku up front. Nippy forward men such as Dries Mertens, Mirallas and de Bruyne. As well as depth of talent in midfield with Dembele and Witsel. It remains to be seen if they can do it at the top stage with the world eagerly watching their progress. Will they falter or will they live up to their pre-tournament hype?

England. What can I say about England? England aren’t dark horses for this tournament. England are merely a horse in this race. Just like the 100/1 Grand National shot, you’re happy enough to see it come over the first few fences without it falling flat on its backside. Hodgson will insist on playing the likes of Smalling, Jones and Welbeck, like his previous predecessors, he has an unnatural love-affair with Manchester United which will be his undoing. The insistence to play Wayne Rooney regardless of the overriding needs of the team will also prove England’s undoing. Rooney is a club player. A good one at that. He has never given England what they need because he is never used in the right way. He is a player without a position. By forcing him to play either wide, or down the middle exclusively, his worth is negated. Let him run between the lines. Let him track back, let him bomb forward. So long as Sturridge is down the middle England have sufficient threat going forward. Defensively England are suspect. Cahill is not good enough. Johnson has never been a defender and Baines is good, but isn’t as defensively sound as Ashley Cole.

England will do what they always do. Qualify from their group – definitely second behind Italy. Then when it comes to facing top opposition they will get utterly destroyed. I take a somewhat sadistic sense of glee from that fact what with me being an Irishman and all, but it really is about time England utilise the talent that is available to them. Too many squad places are being wasted by utter tripe. Trim the tripe and pick players on merit not reputation. Then, and only then, will England stand a chance.

Well there you have it, my own views on the World Cup. Of course I could be completely wrong, but hey, that’s all part of the craic! Let me know what you think of my views!

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