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Wales

Wales

I had given up.

I had given up on Wales qualifying for a tournament, and that was OK. In the same way that most men give up on becoming astronauts or professional footballers, I’d come to the conclusion that Wales featuring in a Panini sticker album was never going to happen. It’s a well worn cliche, but supporting Wales has never been about results, as we’ve achieved very few of them over the years. I was fine with what the Wales national team was, and what it represented.

View from our hotel of the historic site where  Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. A day after Wales would qualify for the finals of their first major tournament since 1958.

View from our hotel of the historic site where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. A day after Wales would qualify for the finals of their first major tournament since 1958.

If you’ve ever watched one of the home nations away from home in a far-flung eastern European destination (especially Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland), you’ll often hear the commentator praise the loyal band of hardy followers who have trekked all that way, often for so little. You’ll hear the commentator praise the supporters for sticking with the side. What you’re unlikely to hear is that those fans are having a whale of a time, win, lose or draw. Few traveling fans will watch the TV and be thankful they’re not there.

I traveled to Skopje only 18 months ago to see a lacklustre Wales side lose 2-1 against Macedonia. It was a great trip. We sought out Darko Pancev’s coffee bar and saw the man, now in his late 40s, beer belly, long-shorts and a pair of shades enjoying his retirement in the Balkan sun. His bar his aptly named “Number 9” and the walls are covered in photos of his European Cup win with Red Star Belgrade. We stood in the crowds in Skopje city centre watching their basketball side best Serbia in a European Championships finals game. It was a genuinely good weekend away. Going to watch football is rarely about the football. In Brussels I saw grown men dancing on tables at 2am singing songs about Ashley and George Williams after Wales had secured a 0-0 draw. Qualification was still a distant dream, people were just having a laugh.

Bar 72 in Zenica. Our home for the day. Not a Football League themed bar, despite its name. Though it did show Walsall vs Burton Albion during the afternoon.

Bar 72 in Zenica. Our home for the day. Not a Football League themed bar, despite its name. Though it did show Walsall vs Burton Albion during the afternoon.

Somehow Wales being able to get a point from the last two games always felt on a visceral level unlikely to me. Even when the evidence suggested otherwise. When I placed my own certainty of Wales never qualifying for a tournament, against the bookies odds of Wales’ near certain qualification, my pessimism always won. It was only when I (and the hundreds of other Wales fans) saw Bryn Law, like a modern day John the Baptist signalling the dawn of a new era, miming 2-1 on the touchline and lifting his arms aloft, that many of us could truly embrace reality. Wales would be going to France.

Our moment. The Wales national team celebrate their qualification to Euro 2016.

Our moment. The Wales national team celebrate their qualification to Euro 2016.

A lot has been written about Gareth Bale and his impact on the Welsh national side. He’s an undoubted talent and a world-class player. Easily the best Welsh international I’ve had the privilege of watching, however he offers more than just lung-busting runs and fantastic free-kicks.

Bale sets an example to the rest of the team. He could be forgiven for sulking on the halfway line, hands on hips, awaiting service from his less illustrious team-mates. But he doesn’t. He runs, he harries, closes down, he clears the ball of the line in Belgium. I’m convinced that Wales wouldn’t be as successful as they have been if swapped for another great talent like Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Wales lost  the game in Zenica. They were beaten by a Bosnian side who needed the points. But in reality Wales’ qualification was already secured. The fantastic wins against Belgium at home and Israel away will be viewed as the most impressive victories but the win in Nicosia against Cyprus was the true measure of the team. Wales always struggle in Cyprus. They normally struggle everywhere, but especially in Cyprus.

Bale’s goal in Nicosia, a thunderbolt header from a Jazz Richards cross that a Roy of the Rovers cartoonist would have to tone down (the header and Jazz’ name) were he to depict it in comic form. Bale celebrates wildly. But not alone. He runs to the halfway line to embrace his manager Chris Coleman, to embrace David Cotterill (Birmingham City) and Tom Lawrence (does anyone know?). The embarrassingly corporate slogan of #TogetherStronger is somehow made flesh. If Jazz Richards never again plays for Wales, he will be remembered for his lofted cross, playing Blackie Gray to Bale’s Roy Race.

It’s easy to view Wales as Bale and ten others. However, the whole squad is of a measurably better quality than it has been for many years. In addition to Bale there’s the excellent organisational qualities of captain Ashley Williams, the creative talents of Aaron Ramsey and the two Joes in midfield (Ledley and Allen) who are a significant upgrade on the two Carls (Fletcher and Robinson) who spent years toiling in the Welsh engine room.

Our Bosnian hosts invited us outside and we sung a few songs in the wet Zenican street. I don't know why.

Our Bosnian hosts invited us outside and we sung a few songs in the wet Zenican street. I don’t know why.

The game in Zenica concluded and we had our moment. We all wandered through the Bosnian rain back to Bar 72. When we entered the bar we were greeted by a round of applause from the drinkers inside, congratulating us on Wales’ qualification. A truly remarkable moment, though I’m unsure if they’d have been so welcoming had Wales stolen victory. We sang songs. La Marseillaise, Viva Gareth Bale, Hal Robson-Kanu (they named him three times), and their was an aborted attempt at singing Bonnie Tyler’s “Lost in France”. A beautiful night. Somehow, somewhere our trips to the football, that were never about the football had become about the football.

This qualification campaign was the first I’ve been able to take my (now seven year old) son along to matches. As we were walking out of the stadium after beating Belgium 1-0 , he heard a few people using the acronym “WNQ” and singing “We Never Qualify”. He asked what “WNQ” stood for, and I explained. “Not, We Never Qualify Dad, its We Never Quit.”.

Wales are in the draw for the 24-team Euro 2016 finals that takes place in Paris on Saturday at 5pm and nothing will ever be the same again.

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2015 in International

 

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Commonwealth Games Football Tournament

Commonwealth Games Football Tournament

After writing a post about what a World Cup for the 33rd to 64th best teams in the world would look like (you can read that post via this link), it was suggested to me that I should do similarly for the Commonwealth Games.

As there appears to be no official rankings for Commonwealth football sides I decided to use the FIFA World Rankings to select the 32 sides that would compete in these games. (32 chosen to mirror the FIFA World Cup). In order to organise this tournament we’ve had to stretch to 151st in the World Rankings to pick out Malaysia and India who currently hold that place jointly.


 

Seeds

The top seeds are chosen via FIFA World Rankings and he following three pots come from Africa, North America and then a mix of Asian and African sides. This should ensure that the groups are geographically mixed as possible. World Ranking in brackets after team.

First Seeds

  • England (20)
  • Scotland (27)
  • Nigeria (34)
  • Ghana (38)
  • Wales (44)
  • Cameroon (53)
  • Sierra Leone (64)
  • South Africa (66)

Africa

  • Zambia (77)
  • Uganda (87)
  • Kenya (95)
  • Botswana (99)
  • Tanzania (106)
  • Rwanda (109)
  • Namibia (112)
  • Mozambique (114)

Asia & Africa

  • Australia (76)
  • Malaysia (151)
  • India (151)
  • Northern Ireland (89)
  • Cyprus (139)
  • Malta (150)
  • Malawi (121)
  • Lesotho (131)

North America & Caribbean

  • Jamaica (83)
  • Trinidad & Tobago (84)
  • New Zealand (101)
  • Canada (118)
  • St Vincent (135)
  • St Lucia (138)
  • Grenada (142)
  • Antigua & Barbuda (149)

 

 Groups

I’ve laid out how the groups could look. Scotland, as hosts,  have a base in Glasgow (the location for this year’s Commonwealth Games). I’ve attempted to choose other Scottish cities using a terrible knowledge of Scottish football stadia and geography.

Group A – Glasgow (Ibrox & Celtic Park)

  • Scotland (Hosts)
  • Mozambique
  • Australia
  • Jamaica

Group B – Edinburgh (Easter Road & Tynecastle)

  • England
  • Zambia
  • Malawi
  • St Lucia

Group C – Inverness & Aberdeen (Caledonian Stadium & Pittodrie)

  • Nigeria
  • Uganda
  • Malaysia
  • Trinidad & Tobago

Group D – Dundee (Tannadice & Dens Park)

  • Ghana
  • Namibia
  • India
  • New Zealand

Group E – Glasgow & Motherwell (Firhill & Fir Park)

  • Wales
  • Rwanda
  • Lesotho
  • Canada

Group F – Perth & Stirling (McDiarmid Park & Forthbank Stadium) 

  • Cameroon
  • Tanzania
  • Northern Ireland
  • St Vincent

Group G – Kilmarnock & Ayr (Rugby Park & Somerset Park)

  • Sierra Leone
  • Botswana
  • Cyprus
  • Antigua & Barbuda

Group H – Dunfermline & Cowdenbeath (East End Park & Central Park)

  • South Africa
  • Kenya
  • Malta
  • Grenada

I’ve somehow managed to organise a football tournament where Malta will play Grenada at Cowdenbeath. It would no doubt be available via the BBC Three red button.

 


 

Thank you to Chris Oakley from the excellent Football Attic and the tactically astute Zonal Marking for the idea.

 

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2014 in International

 

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World Cup B Tournament

World Cup B Tournament

What if  FIFA decided to run a second competition featuring the second best 32 teams in the world? Who would compete in it? What would the groups look like? Based on the qualification for the 2014 World Cup I’ve set out who the best 32 sides who didn’t qualify for the World Cup would be. What follows is an outline for an international football tournament for the 33rd to 64th best international sides on the planet.


 

Qualification

Africa CAF (5 sides)

  • Senegal (Playoff losers)
  • Ethiopia (Playoff losers)
  • Tunisia  (Playoff losers)
  • Egypt  (Playoff losers)
  • Burkina Faso  (Playoff losers)

Europe UEFA (13 sides)

  • Sweden (Group C runners-up)
  • Romania (Group D runners-up)
  • Iceland (Group E runners-up)
  • Ukraine (Group H runners-up)
  • Serbia (Group A third place)
  • Denmark (Group B third place)
  • Austria (Group C third place)
  • Hungary (Group D third place)
  • Slovenia (Group E third place)
  • Israel (Group F third place)
  • Slovakia (Group G third place)
  • Montenegro (Group H third place)
  • Finland (Group I third place)

South America CONMEBOL (4 sides)

  • Venezuela (6th place)
  • Peru (7th place)
  • Bolivia (8th place)
  • Paraguay (9th place)

North America CONCACAF (4 sides)

  • Panama (5th place)
  • Jamaica (6th place)
  • Guatemala (best placed side in CONCACAF Round Three qualification stage)
  • Canada (second best placed side in CONCACAF Round Three qualification stage)

Asia AFC (5 sides)

  • Uzbekistan (Group A third place)
  • Jordan (Group B third place)
  • Qatar (Group A fourth place)
  • Oman (Group B fourth place)
  • Iraq (Group B fifth place – best fifth place side)

Oceania OFC (1 side)

  • New Zealand (Playoff losers)

 

Seeds and potential groups

Seeds

The top eight FIFA ranked sides who did not qualify for the World Cup in Brazil are:

  1. Ukraine (16)
  2. Denmark (23)
  3. Slovenia (25)
  4. Romania (29)
  5. Serbia (30)
  6. Panama (31)
  7. Sweden (32)
  8. Egypt (36)

Three different sets of opponents split into geographical areas:

  • Pot 2 (CONCACAF/AFC):  Jamaica, Guatemala, Canada, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Qatar, Oman and Iraq.
  • Pot 3 (CAF/CONMEBOL): Senegal, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay.
  • Pot 4 (UEFA/OFC): Iceland, Austria, Hungary, Israel , Slovakia, Montenegro, Finland and New Zealand.

Potential Groups

Based on keeping a good geographical spread in each group

Group A

  1. Ukraine
  2. Iraq
  3. Senegal
  4. Finland

Group B

  1. Denmark
  2. Oman
  3. Bolivia
  4. Montenegro

Group C

  1. Slovenia
  2. Qatar
  3. Ethiopia
  4. Slovakia

Group D

  1. Egypt
  2. Jordan
  3. Paraguay
  4. Israel

Group E

  1. Sweden
  2. Jamaica
  3. Tunisia
  4. New Zealand

Group F

  1. Serbia
  2. Canada
  3. Venezuela
  4. Hungary

Group G

  1. Panama
  2. Uzbekistan
  3. Burkina Faso
  4. Austria

Group H

  1. Romania
  2. Guatemala
  3. Peru
  4. Iceland

 

A tournament that will have fans interested from start to finish and staying up until 4am to watch Burkina Faso versus Uzbekistan or a pointless exercise? You decide.


 

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2014 in International

 

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World Cup 2014 UEFA Qualification – Average Attendances


Despite many English football fans claiming to be disgruntled with their national side, they are the best supported side in Europe. Although England didn’t always fill Wembley Stadium during qualification for the World Cup, they normally got pretty close and come out top of the attendances ladder for Brazil 2014 qualification.

World Cup 2014 UEFA Qualification - average attendances by team

World Cup 2014 UEFA Qualification – average attendances by team

Looking at the attendances by group shows that France & Spain’s group came out on top. This is almost certainly due to the lack of a micro-state minnow such as Andorra or San Marino in their group.

World Cup 2014 UEFA Qualification - Average attendances by group

World Cup 2014 UEFA Qualification – Average attendances by group

  • Russia are the side who had the largest disparity between their highest (54,212) and their lowest (14,300) attendances.
  • Belgium fans are the most consistent. Their lowest crowd (39,987) was 87% of their highest crowd  (45,844)
  • The least consistent fans were the Cypriots whose smallest gate was (937) and the largest gate was (2,493).
  • Serbia also managed to draw some erratic crowds with 30,000 fans for one game yet only 6,500 for another.
  • Highest crowd was at Wembley (86,645) for England’s demolishion of San Marino.
  • Lowest crowd during qualification (excluding the two games which were played behind closed doors) was a paltry 341 in Nicosia where Cyprus played out a 0-0 draw with Albania.
 
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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in International, Statistics

 

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Margaret Thatcher and the curse of the Norwegian commentator


Only 32 short years after this was recorded, everyone mentioned in this famous commentary has now passed away.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/PqZTP8-8wIs

“We are the best in the world! We are the best in the world! We have beaten England 2-1 in football!! It is completely unbelievable! We have beaten England! England, birthplace of giants. Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana–we have beaten them all. We have beaten them all.

“Maggie Thatcher can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher, your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating! Maggie Thatcher, I have a message for you in the middle of the election campaign. I have a message for you: We have knocked England out of the football World Cup. Maggie Thatcher, as they say in your language in the boxing bars around Madison Square Garden in New York: Your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating!”

Any excuse to post that short video…

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2013 in International

 

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Nationality of players in the Premier League and Football League


The nationality of players within the Premier League and Football League is a subject I regularly return to. It’s not because I’m a believer that foreign players are a blight on our national sport, but because I find the exotic nature of the nationalities represented an interesting discussion point. If you believe that the English national side suffers due to the number of foreign players in its league you should probably look closer to home for the players who are blocking the way of Englishmen as it’s Irishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen who make up the vast majority of “foreign” players on English clubs’ books.

  • 53/92 clubs have fielded Welshmen in the league this season.
  • 64/92 clubs have fielded Scotsmen in the league this season.
  • 69/92 clubs have fielded Irishmen in the league this season.
  • 39/92 clubs have fielded Northern Irishmen in the league this season.

There are only three clubs who have not fielded Irishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen or Northern Irishmen this season in the Premier League or Football League. These three clubs are Chelsea, Manchester City and (perhaps surprisingly) Hartlepool United. The north-eastern club are an interesting case when it comes to player nationality as they are the only club of the 92 who have fielded only Englishmen this season. Twenty-two Englishmen to be exact. And coincidentally the same number as would be required to play a game of cricket on a village green on a balmy summer’s afternoon.

Despite Hartlepool United’s commitment to the English cause, it’s Wimbledon who can claim to have fielded the most Englishmen during the current 2012/2013 season. A total of thirty different English players have pulled on the blue of Wimbledon in an attempt to help the London club retain their Football League status so far this season. Though it’s perhaps worth mentioning that this statistic doesn’t tell the whole story, as few clubs have fielded as many players as Wimbledon (38).

In stark contrast to their north-eastern, all-English neighbours Hartlepool (whose residents once hanged a monkey on suspicion that he were a French spy), Newcastle United have fielded eight different Frenchmen in league fixtures this season. No other club in the Premier League or Football League has fielded as many of the same non-English nationality as that. Blackpool come close having fielded seven Scotsmen in their Championship campaign so far, whilst Coventry City (6 Irish), Arsenal (5 French), Blackburn (5 Portuguese), Brighton (5 Spaniards), Crystal Palace (5 Welshmen) and Oldham Athletic (4 Australians) all provide interesting clusters of nationalities.

When it comes to clubs who have fielded very few English  players it’s Wigan Athletic of the Premier League who take this title by some distance. During their current league season they have been represented by only three Englishmen with Wigan boss Martinez seemingly preferring players from hisanophone countries such as Honduras (2), Chile (2), Argentina (2), Paraguay (1) and Spain (4). During the current season the Latics have fielded and incredible fifteen different nationalities. However, they are not the most eclectic and international group of players in the Premier League.

wigan_nat

The most nationalities fielded by any club of the 92 is Martin Jol’s Fulham. They have fielded players from eighteen different countries during the current 2012/2013 Premier League season (England, Switzerland, Norway, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Australia, Germany, Mali, Greece, Bulgaria, Colombia, Turkey, Croatia, Sweden, Iran, Costa Rica, Belgium and Holland). Clubs outside the top flight who have used a lot of different nationalities include Watford (who have bulked up their squad with loanees from Spain and Italy) and Blackburn Rovers (who are currently battling to recover from a dreadful chicken induced Premier League coma), both sides have fielded players of thirteen different nationalities in league fixtures so far this season.

fulham_player_nat

The impact of British Isles players on the 92 Premier League and Football League clubs is pretty evident when trawling through the statistics. Of the 92 there are twelve clubs who have fielded at least one player from England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland this season. Those clubs are Wycombe Wanderers, Rotherham, Southend United, Barnsley, Bristol Rovers, Crewe Alexandra, Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest, Doncaster Rovers, Aston Villa, Hull City and West Brom.

Ninety-eight different nationalities have been represented so far this season, they are:

Africa: Algeria, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo, Congo DR, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Asia/Oceania: Australia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Korea Republic, New Zealand, Oman, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Europe: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Macedonia FYR, Montenegro, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Wales.
North America/Caribbean: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, Costa Rica, Curaçao, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Montserrat, Trinidad and Tobago and United States.
South America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

 

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2013 in International, Players

 

Africa Cup of Nations 2013: The players


With the Africa Cup of Nations 2013 almost here I thought I’d take a look at the players who make up the sixteen squads taking part in the competition. Some of the graphics are interactive, so feel free to have a click around.

[iframe width=”680″ height=”2438″ src=”http://infogr.am/afcon2013-3294397″%5D

The above graphic was made with infogr.am and the data came from the ever reliable wikipedia.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in Africa, International

 

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Integrating penalty shoot-outs into a nation’s psychology

Integrating penalty shoot-outs into a nation’s psychology

In 1252 King Henry III enacted the Assize of Arms. This act decreed that all Englishmen between the ages of 15 and 60 must, by law, equip themselves with a bow and arrow. This ensured that Englishmen would be familiar with the weapon, and when war inevitably arrived (inevitably against the French) the populace would be ready to fight back. Incredible victories such as Agincourt in 1415 (the 13th century’s Denmark 92 moment) were possible due to the expertise of the Henry V’s well practised archers.

Similarly to Henry III, Roy Hodgson has called for the introduction of penalty shoot-outs should one of his side’s friendly games end in a draw. It’s a perfectly sensible suggestion. After all, penalty shoot-outs have been an integral part of professional football for decades and there’s no reason why a friendly international shouldn’t be used to practice them. There are likely to be opponents to this move who will assert that you can’t mimic a penalty shoot-out at a World Cup finals in a friendly international. But you can’t mimic a World Cup finals football match in a friendly international either, yet we still play them.

Despite being in agreement with Hodgson regarding the addition of penalty shoot-outs after friendly internationals I feel this idea could be taken a lot further. The penalty shoot-out is now ubiquitous in cup competitions across every nation’s cup competitions as well in continental and international play. Any football nation that wants to edge ahead of the rest should attempt to become the gold standard of penalty shoot-out takers. I believe there are a couple of ways that a nation such as England could seek to do this.

Firstly, the head of the nation’s FA should dictate that after every academy or youth team match that the team’s should take part in a penalty shoot-out (regardless of the result). This would give young players regular exposure to penalty kicks. And if the old adage “Practice makes perfect” has any basis in truth, then it should mean that young players who take part in these competitions would improve.

Secondly (and probably more controversially) it should also be dictated that penalty shoot-outs should be played at every Premier League and Football League match at the conclusion of proceedings, whether the game ended drawn or not. The shoot-outs would have no bearing on the final league tables, but the results would be recorded and a parallel “Penalty Shoot-out League” would be run alongside the regular Football League to give fans an update as to how their team was getting on. I believe this would have a few benefits:

  • It would give players much required extra exposure to penalty shoot-outs.
  • If the shoot-outs were scheduled after the conclusion of the match it would enable players to take the penalties in a fatigued state (a similar state they would take them in a major international tournament).
  • It would give teams with nothing to play for something to focus on should they be out of contention in the proper league. (In addition I’d also like to see the winners of all four divisions penalty shoot-out competition take part in a finals tournament at Wembley, similar to the Watney Cup).
  • Any “handbags” at the final whistle could be sorted out over a series of penalty kicks rather than in the tunnel. Or it would at least delay them.
  • It would give Sky and football bloggers another set of meaningless statistics to trawl over.

Whilst a few of my suggestions above are facetious, I think if any nation wants to take penalty shoot-outs seriously then they do need to start thinking about integrating penalty shoot-outs into their competitions or at the very least their training. More than anything I think that adopting some of the approaches above would give a nation a slight psychological edge over other nations because their opponents will know that they are facing a country that had assimilated penalty shoot-outs into the very fabric of its footballing mentality. That’s got to be worth something?

 

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in Featured, International

 

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World Cup 1978: Tunisia

World Cup 1978: Tunisia

In 1990 Cameroon were rightly lauded for their swashbuckling run to the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup. Their flair, power and pace impressed and surprised in equal measure. Many regard Cameroon’s excellent World Cup in Italy as the breakthrough moment for African football. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story as in the late 1970s Tunisia, one of the best teams in Africa, played some wonderful football in Argentina’s 78 World Cup. Their short pass and move game may have been world’s away from the powerful game Cameroon adopted twelve years later but it was almost as effective.

QUALIFICATION 1977: EGYPT 4-1

Thirteen years before Italia 90, Tunisia were preparing for their final World Cup qualifying match against north African rivals Egypt. After picking up four points from their games against Nigeria and losing away in Cairo, Tunisia knew that only a win in Tunis would be enough to seal their place in the World Cup Finals as sole African representative. And win they did, in style, defeating the Egyptians 4-1 in front of a partizan crowd. Those who feel atmosphere at football is calmed negatively by an Athletics track should take a look at the celebrations following Tunisia’s 3rd that effectively qualified the nation for their first ever World Cup Finals. The track merely gave players a place to celebrate and for cameramen to frolic in.

WORLD CUP 1978 GROUP B: MEXICO 3-1

Tunisia in 1978 were only the fourth African side to play in a World Cup Finals – after Egypt (1930), Morocco (1970) and Zaire (1974). None of these sides had performed particularly well in their outings, the only bright spot a Moroccan draw with Bulgaria in Mexico 1970. The Carthage Eagles would record a couple of firsts for Africa in this tournament. They were the first country to be managed by an African at a World Cup (Abdelmajid Chetali) and they also became the first African nation to win a game at a World Cup Finals when they came from behind to beat Mexico by three goals to one.

WORLD CUP 1978 GROUP B: POLAND 0-1

Despite winning their first match the Tunisians were always going to find qualification to the next stage tough as they found themselves not only up against current world champions West Germany but also Poland who had finished third in the previous World Cup. Tunisia’s second game was against a Polish side including Lato and Boniek and as expected they lost, but only narrowly by a solitary Grzegorz Lato goal to nil. There was certainly no shame in this defeat, as the mighty Brazil had lost in the World Cup ;74 third placed match by the same scoreline (to the same goalscorer). However, the Tunisians will always wonder what could have been. Late in the game they almost scored what would have become an all time classic World Cup goal. Unfortunately the ball hit the underside of the bar and bounced the wrong side of the line.

WORLD CUP 1978 GROUP B: WEST GERMANY 0-0

The unfortunate Tunisians came up against the current World Cup holders West Germany in their final group game and gave a good account of themselves. A sterling 0-0 draw with goalkeeper Mokhtar Naili making some fine saves wearing what appear to be brown leather gloves. The scoreless draw wasn’t enough for Tunisia to progress to the next stage but it was enough for the Tunisians to cement their place in African football history. West Germany and Poland qualified in first and second place.

NUMBER 10: TARAK DHIAB

The 1978 World Cup goes down as Tunisia’s best World Cup performance to date. Inspired by 1977 Africa Footballer of the Year Tarak Dhiab the side almost managed to shock the world by sneaking through the group stages. Dhiab played over one hundred times for Tunisia and played his last international in 1990 as a 36 year old, captaining his country against England  who were warming up for Italia 90. Just like West Germany twelve years before, England didn’t heed the African warning and were almost undone in the quarter finals by the Indomitable Lions. Despite often playing in differing styles the threat from north Africa remains just as strong as from the sub-Saharans.

Flickr Photo Credit: philippelemoine

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Africa, International

 

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Youngest international squads in Europe

Youngest international squads in Europe

Most countries have now played four games in their World Cup qualification groups so I thought it would be a good time to take a look at which countries are fielding the youngest and oldest teams so far in the competition.

In the four games that have taken place so far it’s Belgium that has fielded the youngest set of players with an average of just over 24 years old. The golden generation of young-guns like Lukaku, Hazard, Courtois, De Bruyne and Benteke helping to push the average age down. It’s the Maltese who have fielded on average the oldest players so far during qualification with an average age of almost 29 years old.

World Cup Qualification Europe: Average Ages

World Cup Qualification Europe: Average Ages

Some interesting values to note in the above table are the World and European Champions Spain are an ageing squad, on average almost four years older than the youthful Belgians.

There should be grounds for optimism for the Welsh national side who have fielded the 7th youngest set of players so far this campaign. Northern Ireland under Michael O’Neil have fielded the 21st youngest set of players, England are 25th whilst Scotland are 29th (despite not having picked David Weir so far this qualification campaign).

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2012 in European, Featured, International

 

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