...so Louis van Gaal really needs to get his thinking cap on. Does he abandon his favourite formation to make room for Adnan Januzaj? It's also big for Arsenal's Germans and Big Sam.
After the departures of Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea, plenty are saying Atletico Madrid won't retain their title. Tim Stannard thinks otherwise...
If you have anything to say on any subject, mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
First Round Winners And Losers
Since we've now seen every participating country play at least once, I thought it would be a good time to make a little list of who's been good and who's been poo. All in all, it's been an excellent tournament with a few outstanding performances along with a few unexpected FUBARs. I've whittled it down to 3 teams at the top and the same number at the bottom:
1. Holland. Five scored against the world champions, three of which were absolutely magnificent.Van Persie's header has already been meme'd to death (thank you, internet) but Robben's sprint was pretty awe-inspiring too. Some heroic defending as well, I'd be surprised if Cillesen, Blind and De Vrij don't get picked up by major sides before September.
2. Germany. Equally devastating, but against slightly lesser opposition (10 no-marks and a half fit Ronaldo). Great football that managed to be Germanically effective at the same time. A truly fearsome outfit, and probably the clear favourites at this point.
3. Costa Rica. Gutsy, exciting and seemingly unbothered about not being fancied ahead of the game. In Joel Campbell, Arsenal will soon have an excellent little player on their hands (or, this being Arsenal, their treatment table).
Honorable mentions: Colombia, France, Italy, Bosnia.
1. Honduras. I'd like to put some disappointing big name like Spain or Portugal up here, but it wouldn't really be fair to say that anyone was worse than Honduras. They were shockingly poor against France, and dirty to boot. Yes, it's only a small country but that hasn't stopped Costa Rica or Bosnia from playing well and not being dastardly. Thankfully won't be around for long.
2. Uruguay. They'll likely step it up against England, but they seemed disorganized and poorly motivated against Los Ticos. I regard Oscar Tabarez very highly, but it seems his magic is wearing off. Did't deserve anything from that game.
3.Brazil. A kind referee saved them the embarrassment of an opening draw or even loss against a decent Croatia side (and probably some industrial scale rioting as a consequence), but not even the man in black could help them against Mexico. Dire, slow, ponderous and don't deserve to go far here. I don't know if this is a compliment to Roy Hodgson or an insult to Scolari, but even England were much better to watch. Which is pretty much unprecedented.
(Dis)Honorable mentions: Russia, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Cameroon.
Get Rid Of Cards
All this talk of red cards ruining games got me thinking, if we were to start again with the rules of football, what would be the fairest way to deal with fouls. Essentially I feel we should be rewarding the fouled team with a bit more than the equivalent they had just lost. Personally I think we could remove entirely the yellow/red card system and the penalty box and instead:
1) For current yellow card offences, players should be sinbinned for 15 minutes. That way there would be a genuine punishment for quite serious foul play to deter people from cynical fouls, essentially taking a yellow card to break up promising moves knowing it won't mean much unless they get another (I would also remove silly yellow card offences, but keep sinbinning for diving)
2) For current red card offences for goal scoring opportunities. Instead award a penalty regardless of where it is on the pitch and sinbin player. Penalties are generally easier to score than goalscoring opporutunities and will stop the cut someone down before they reach the penalty area thing, teams will largely get the goal they deserve and won't ruin whole game via a red card.
3) For current red card offences where a goal is likely (rather than just an opportunity eg handball on line, foul as someone who has an open goal) award a goal and sinbin fouler. As they would lose the goal anyway and get sinbinned, people have an incentive to stop this kind of offence and team will get guaranteed goal they deserve. This rule works fine in Rugby with penalty tries.
4) People still sent off, but only for off the ball incident or seriously violent play (+ the only thing you can be suspended for on future games)
5) Fouls in now defunct penalty box to be a penalty if a goal scoring opportunity and a free kick from place it happens if not. Stops penalties for innocous fouls at edge of area and gives penalties for important fouls just outside the area.
6) Each team has 2 video appeals during games, where 3 officials with video technology can judge and majority decision is final.
The main drawback is it makes everything more subjective but with video evidence, this would remove some of the subjectivity and anyway the red/yellow card, foul system is quite subjective anyway (with a referees interpretation essentially awarding games now to one team with red cards). The benefits are several: no more stupid yellow card suspensions for finals, no more ruining rest of game by 10 vs 11 borefests, no more cynical take a yellow card fouls or even red card just outside penalty box knowing it stops a goal, no more double punishment penalty and red card, no more cynically breaking up a game when you are a goal up by picking up yellow cards (teams would be quickly down to 8 or 9 men) and no more distinction between a foul just inside a white line being an almost certain goal and outside being not worth much. Bits of games would be played 10 vs 11, but it would change game dynamics and add excitement if just for a short period of time.
I know there are downsides, but can the mailbox readers do any better?
Mike B, Geneva
Maybe Slightly OTT On Brazil
I look at Brazil's first two games and I think what has happened to this once great footballing nation? The current crop are an absolute disgrace to the sublime history of samba football. Fred, Hulk, Marcelo, Paulinho, Jo, Bernard, David Luiz - the list goes on. You would seriously question them making your 5 a side team.
They are incapable of functioning as a unit on the pitch and are effectively a long ball team with one genuine star - Neymar - to his credit is at least trying his best to carry the weight of a nation on his shoulders. Big Saminho would be more effective than Big Phil, who has to take blame for not starting Willian and Fernandinho and then leaving a genuine playmaker in Coutinho out of the squad.
It must be a sad time for the people of Brazil to watch their team in steady decline over the last 10 years. I don't know what causes a football crazy nation of 200 million people to produce Fred and Jo as your best central strikers. Maybe it's the mass exportation of players at a young age. Brazil will definitely not win this world cup - they will be crushed by a Holland, Germany or Argentina.
Incidentally, Neymar should never have joined Barca - he will always be in Messi's shadow. He should have gone to Bayern to be the main man and take his game to the next level.
More On Commentators
On the subject of World Cup commentary, my mates Chris, Mark and I (I can't take sole credit) have numerous favourites so far, including
- Jonathan Pearce almost having a Big Ron moment by casually talking about a Honduran player being a 'boat person' - risky!
- An ITV commentator stating that Eden Hazard is 'used to working in tight spaces' - is he a miner in his spare time or something?
- The less popular Neville (imagine that) talking in depth about looking into other players eyes in the tunnel - if I remember rightly this was followed by a long, uncomfortable and understandable silence from Guy Mowbray.
So can everyone relax, stop complaining to Ofcom and just enjoy the lack of commentary skill on offer; it provides a nice contrast to all the lovely goals we are being spoiled with.
Bin Them Off
This was a brilliant thought from a football-hating guy at work just now. He heard a few of us moaning about commentary and asked why do we actual need commentators anymore? What a brilliant idea.
The reason I go to the pub to watch games is for the atmosphere, I can't even hear what the commentators are saying a lot of the time and don't enjoy it any less. When you're at a live game you don't need someone telling you what's going on, if you don't recognise a player you have a look at the program, which hopefully has a bit of blurb about the away team too. At home or in the pub we have laptops and smartphones to find this out.
However I don't want to watch the game on mute, I'd much rather just have the stadium noise turned up full whack without anyone telling me stuff I either already know, can look up easily, or don't want to know. I'm all for a bit of half-time and post-match analysis if it's decent but really what is the point in them?
But Well Done Guy Mowbray
For all the (deserved) criticism of the terrible standard of commentary so far in Brazil, I think a tip of the hat is needed to whoever the main commentator was on the Russia v S.Korea game last night. (Think it was Guy Mowbray but it was late and I was tired)
Both teams had some pretty difficult and confusing names and he navigated them with consumate ease, never seeming to pause to look down at his team sheets as the ball was pinged about between them. Who knows if his pronunciation was correct, but I think he deserves a gold star for effort.
Hargreaves Was Decent
In response to Joe Donohoe's question, "Which Englishman Has Had A Good World Cup?", I think Owen Hargreaves in 2006 is definitely worth a shout.
Going into the tournament he was hugely maligned, but despite England being generally god-awful throughout, he managed to come out of that tournament with a vastly improved reputation and the title of England's Player of the Year for 2006. Not that it was a particularly difficult title to win.