...what happened to the fourth Champions League place the last time an English team won the thing. Plus, who would want to pay £60 to watch the current England team?
A Sunderland fan in the mailbox is surprised by Jack Colback's call up to the England squad. Plus, thoughts on Welbeck and Liverpool's Champions League draw...
If you have anything to say on any subject, mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where Are The Ex-Pros?
I really was jealous watching Danny Blind and Patrick Kluivert sitting either side of Louis Van Gaal last night. Two of the most prominent Dutch players of the late 90s heavily involved in the Dutch set-up and doing all they can for their national team. It also brought to mind the roles Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars and Frank de Boer are playing at Ajax and Phillip Cocu at PSV. That's pretty much the core of the late 90s Holland side (excluding Edgar David's whose still squaring up to Jonathan Wilkes at Soccer Aid - an equally worthy cause).
For a while now it's amazed me how little ex england pros seem to get involved with coaching and the England set-up. Tournament after tournament the likes of Lineker and Waddle talk through England's flaws, the former often eloquently the latter less so but both with reasonable, football-intelligent points and ideas for making things better. They also seem to care an awful lot. So why on earth aren't they trying to do something about it? Where are the Platts, the Shearers, the Scholes (he's had plenty to say over the last four weeks), the Sheringhams and the Seamans in our set-up? The FA would take these guys at the drop of a hat (as they did Gary Neville and Gareth Southgate - admittedly not the pick of the bunch!).
There has to be some value in having players that have been there and done it and know the standard required at that level - younger guys close to modern football who the players can relate to. Lineker seems like a good bloke. He's good at what he does and he clearly cares for the plight of England but he seems happy to watch from afar. He's in touch with modern football and he could add some serious value. The same can be said of Shearer, Scholes and co. So what on earth is stopping them and their peers from getting over to Wembley and doing something about it?
Dan Cunnington, Greenwich
Just some thoughts in the aftermath of that f***ing horrible game:
* I've never ever, as a neutral, met the arrival of penalties with such little excitement. The 120 minutes that preceded it were an atrocity; they destroyed my spirit and rendered me incapable of joy or hope. Things weren't helped by bloody Ron bloody Vlaar taking the first penalty and essentially making a foregone conclusion of what was to come. Still, I did cheer when the Dutch missed.
* Javier Mascherano was Ron Vlaar's rival for the MOTM gong, but what the hell was he doing on the pitch? Concussions aren't as immediately-debilitating as broken bones and ligaments but they can be just as serious if not more so. Just as well we have a sensible and benevolent governing body in FIFA to sort the matter out quickly.
* They haven't been away long enough for much of the hate to dissipate, but prepare to feel intensely odious thoughts towards Man Utd next season. If that's the way van Gaal sets up against skillful sides with superior players then United are going to ruin at least eight Sky Super-Staggeringly Sexy Sundays.
* On that note, surely now is the time for Nick Miller to cease in his one-man campaign for United to sign Dirk Kuyt. If anyone summed up Holland's defence-first-and-last approach it's Dirk and, contrary to what Nick thinks, it would not be funny to see him at United. As he guilelessly gallops around the pitch, shanking crosses into the stands and displaying no outstanding characteristics bar deep reserves of energy and an uncanny resemblance to an inbred early-Victorian farmhand, United fans, haters and neutrals alike would curse van Gaal for bringing him back to the Premier League.
* The only reason I could tell van Persie was on the pitch was the number of times he was caught offside. Surely he's broken a record in this tournament. After yet another disappointing display he's missed his chance to place himself among the greats of Dutch football. I feel for him. I really do.
* Messi was pretty terrible too, but it seemed the Dutch plan was to rob him of space and service, and push him deeper and deeper towards the halfway line. They succeeded in that, but sacrificed their own attacking ambitions in the process. Seems an awful waste of your best two or three players.
* Finally, I've seen it said that Argentina vs Germany is the Englishman's nightmare final. Does anybody outside of the right-leaning press actually have a problem with either of those countries still?
Louis van Gaal says he taught Romero how to stop penalties. I can't help but think he should have done the same with Cillessen.
Scolari: it was my fault - I picked the team, chose the tactics...
Van Gaal: Two players refused to take penalties and I taught their goalkeeper all he knows.
(translation, it was those two's fault we lost but my brilliance meant that the other team won!).
Just what Britain needs, another egotistical spin master!
...Looking forward to all the mails praising Van Gaal's genius in getting through to the - oh wait, no, he lost.
His risk-taking approach was on show for the whole world to see as he put on an exciting display of total footb...only he didn't, he just had ten men behind the ball playing not to lose when his attack had a few of the brightest talents in world football.
It was a bit like watching Wigan play Man City. United fans must really be looking forward to Jose 2.0.
...Watching Jasper Cillessen look so small in the penalty shoot out and failing to save to penalties which were just about save-able, I was struck by the thought that this was his manager's fault.
Reportedly angry at being substituted by Tim Krul without being told, I think Van Gaal dropped the ball by exhibiting what amounts to a lack of confidence in his keeper - which clearly showed. In addition, he created a self-created 'third-substitute' conundrum where even the uncertain Cillessen might have been relieved to see Huntelaar come on as the last sub.
If the Krul ploy can be considered (hailed in many quarters) a psychological master-stroke against Costa Rica, then surely this should be considered the blow back of having a keeper who did not feel he had the confidence of his coach in a penalty shoot-out.
Ahad (RvP= big game bottler?)
...When Krul pulled off his second save in the quarter-final I, like most footballing fans around the world, was quick to praise Van Gaal's masterstroke. A truly ballsy move that paid off spectacularly.
However, in the aftermath of this defeat I have to wonder if it actually proved to be a mistake in the long run.
Usually in a shoot-out all the pressure is on the player taking the penalty. They should always score. If the keeper makes a save, he is a hero. There is usually no pressure/expectation on the keeper.
However, given Krul's heroics in the previous round, this was suddenly not the case. For perhaps the first time ever Cillessen looked utterly nervous, like the pressure was all on him. There was no smack talking, no attempt to get in the taker's head. Instead he had the look of a man who had seen his back-up perform heroics in the final game and he now felt the expectation to live up to this standard. And in the end, that proved to be the difference. Both Aguero's and Rodriguez's penalties should have been kept out (and even Messi's would have been very saveable if he had gone the right way).
In short, once Van Gaal committed to Krul for penalties for the quarter-final he simply had to repeat it with penalties looming in the semi-final. When you consider the utter non-impact that the third substitution had on the game, and the fact that it was clearly heading to penalties, the decision to not save it and bring on Krul looks even worse.
Instead of the Argentinians facing a keeper brimming with confidence, who they would have seen go the right way on all four penalties in the previous game, they were faced with a keeper who appeared to be weighed down with expectations. It seems ridiculously harsh but I genuinely think Van Gaal's decision over how to use that third substitution is the reason that Holland will be playing Brazil and not Germany this weekend.
Neville (LFC), Auckland
...The Netherlands' loss to Argentina provides us with that rarest of events in football - the ability to test our hypotheses. After they beat Costa Rica (a 0-0 draw), Van Gaal was lauded as a tactical genius for bringing on Tim Krul and subsequently winning on penalties. However, against Argentina (also a 0-0 draw), Van Gaal chose not to bring on Krul, going for a win in extra time by bringing on Huntelaar. They then lost in the penalty shoot-out.
So what is it then? Is Van Gaal a tactical genius, as the media have made out? Is he a buffoon, for not bringing on Krul again? Or is it that third of conclusions, the most boring of all: that sometimes football is a game of luck, and that a manager can do little more than maximize his chances of success? That against Costa Rica his decision paid off, but against Argentina it didn't?
Van Gaal is likely neither genius or buffoon. Like any manager he makes decisions to maximize his chances of victory. But football is a game hugely dependent on luck. The media would do well to remember that.
...The Netherlands have just lost THE most boring World Cup semi final ever on penalties and all the media/social networks are cursing Cillessen.
Why?? For never saving a penalty!! The guy was subbed in the 119th minute in the last match as he wasn't deemed good enough. This was seen as genius by LVG!
The lad must've come off thinking I must be crap at saving penalties to be the first GK subbed for a penalty shoot-out at a World Cup.
So with confidence kicked out of him he then goes back in as no.1 for the semi-final of the world biggest tournament. It's boring and a stalemate and again goes extra time.
Come the 96th minute in ET, LVG makes his last sub. I bet from this point Cillessen's pants were a constant stream of rusty water, knowing it was heading to penalties and the manager thought he was crap.
No pressure mate. The coaching staff think you're crap at penalties, make sure you now save a couple to get us to the biggest stage in world football.
To which he was crap, but if it was such an issue, why didn't LVG sub the GK not RVP? Netherlands were hardly all out attacking. Both teams mainly sat around waiting for penalties.
No, instead the genius, put doubt in his own GK's head which then gave Argentina the psychological advantage.
Well played Genius!!
...Louis Van Gaal, 240 minutes of play without a goal with some of the world's best forwards. Moyes would be proud.
Bring On Van Gaal...
How brilliant is next season going to be with Van Gaal? His tactical innovations and ballsy decisions have been widely, and rightly, applauded. And then, as soon as they lose a match, he throws the players under the bus by claiming two of them didn't want to take a pen. Cue tabloid outrage and finger pointing in the Netherlands about who the players were etc... meanwhile he has swanned off on Man Utd's pre-season tour. It's the football equivalent of that bit in 'The Dark Knight' where the joker blows up the hospital and just hops on a school bus to escape.
Such arrogance, such brilliance. Sit back and enjoy the ride, folks!
Matt, EFC, London
Nostradamus Times Two
I was a bit hungover this morning so decided to re-watch the first video blog posting from Richard 'the Key' Keys and Andy Gray. Whilst appearing to be two massive, vacuous simpletons (Keys is consistently worse) they have correctly predicted the World Cup final. Germany (Keys) and Argentina (Gray).
I don't know what to think anymore.
Chris, United (M)
Vlaar, Vlaar Away
* I hope Ron Vlaar is gracious enough to let Leo Messi and Gonzalo Higuain out of his voluminous pockets for their important engagement on Sunday.
* If David Luiz is worth £50 million, is Ron Vlaar now worth £100 million?
* Ron Vlaar must single-handedly reimburse each and every Aston Villa 2013-14 season ticket holder.
* Is this all Van Gaal? Can we expect to see Jonny Evans shave his head and become a beast of a centre-back, and an atrocious penalty-taker?
* I wonder if the Netherlands fans are singing 'A team of eleven Ron Vlaars'. Although that team would also play a dull 0-0, before missing all their penalties.
* Ron Vlaar has a kid named Xavi. Not that it is relevant, but it is kinda cool.
AB MUFC (The third place match is a bit of a joke, innit?) Atlanta, Stateside
Looks like Argentina are a one-man team like everyone says. And that man is Javier Mascherano.
Totally wasted at Barca. Come to Arsenal Masch, we will love you!
Adonis (those brass halls aren't so big any more) Stevenson, AFC
To Be Frank
I could have sworn I read Enrico Palazzo last night when Argentina made the substitution last night.
Was most disappointed to find out his name was Rodrigo.
Would loved to have seen the late Leslie Nielsen take to the field before being chased off by the referees.
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London
Goal Difference Before Penalties?
I'm sure we all agree that yesterday's game was an insipid affair. Its not the scoreline that was disappointing, there have been plenty of nil-all results that have been great to watch, it was the fact that neither side was prepared to take a risk.
Initially I was disappointed with the tactics of both managers because ultimately football is just entertainment and Robin van Persie's job description is no different to that of Bruce Springsteen or Stephen Colbert. But after some reflection, I realised that football doesn't provide a strong enough stimulus for managers to take such risks, especially for Holland (greatest non WC winners) and Argentina (last trophy 1993.)
A way to rectify this would be that if there is still a deadlock after 120 mins the team with the superior goal difference across all previous rounds goes through. If we are still deadlocked then we can proceed to penalties. This approach will ensure that attacking strategies are employed in each round and turgid football, especially in the knock-out stages, will be eliminated. We also reduce (but not eliminate) hertbreaking Ron Vlaar/Baggio situations. Obviously this idea needs tweaking (differing quality of opposition faced by each side etc) but football needs to evolve to at least retain its global popularity vs other sports.
What's The Point Of Saturday?
Well, looks like me and Mr Van Gaal share a couple of things in common. Not just the genius tag, or the big balls, but it appears we both can't understand the point of the 3rd-4th place play-off. "This is a game that should never be played, and I've been saying it for ten years," he is quoted as saying. I said exactly the same thing somewhere in the comments yesterday. Seriously though, what is the point of them? The whole point is to try and go as far as you can in the competition in an attempt to win it. If you get knocked out in the semis, you're a losing semi-finalist, win the 3rd-4th place pla-yoff, guess what, you're a losing semi-finalist.
Both teams go in to it on the back of defeat on the eve of the biggest game in the footballing world, and they are expected to raise their game for a novelty consolation match? It's an absolute nonsense. It contributes to FIFA rankings I understand, but that is the only thing slightly going for it, and having reached the semi-finals you're going to have racked up a few of those already. So what is the point? There isn't a point, it's a game that is played because it has always been played and if the Russians or Qataris want to garner some support for their upcoming tournaments they should come out and say they want to do away with it. I'll wager some of my Germany win pennies nobody will pay it a blind bit of notice the day before Germany v Argentina gamem, apart from a few (forgive me) World Cup hipsters. Let's do away with eh?
One final note, if it's true that two Holland players refuse to take penalties I am somewhat disappointed in Van Gaal. That to me sounds like the idea opportunity to whip'em down and show them your balls, and to do it on the biggest stage. A trouserless Van Gaal screaming at two Holland players before penalties would have endeared me to him no end. I would have done it. Perhaps me and LVG have more in common than I thought.
Chris ITFC, Liverpool