WorldCupComedyPundit

Comedy blogging about the World Cup!! An unashamedly English pundit, mixing comedy with editorial rants to celebrate the madness of the ultimate football tournament. Say hello to WorldCupComedyPundit.

Saturday

World Cup 2006: WorldCupComedyPundit's Verdict

Richard Frost

As the World Cup wheels its merry way to the shores of Italy, now’s the time to reflect on Germany 2006. So let us ask ourselves – World Cup 2006, what the **** was all that about??!

It is fitting that this will surely go down as The Zidane World Cup. It was Zizou’s genius that unexpectedly propelled France to the final. & it was Zizou’s madness that ended their hopes & dominated the thoughts of everybody after that headbutt.

But more importantly, the World Cup itself mirrored the fate of its star. Like Zidane, the tournament combined farcical entertainment with more than its fair share of grizzly aftertaste.

1st lets look at the good points of Germany 2006. &, truly, we were treated to many delicious comedy moments.

i. Let us celebrate the seemingly impotent les pensioners returning from the care home to humiliate cocksure Brazil
ii. Also, we can rest assured that the art of ball-juggling isn’t dead, thanks to the genital antics of Mr Dwight Yorke
iii. Finally, we can be confident that Ronaldinho has now officially replaced all major religious icons as the world’s most worshipped face. & like all good gods, this one gains adulation despite never doing anything to confirm his divine credentials.

But, aside from religious fervour, there was a darker side to Germany 2006.

i. I lost £20 on a penalty shootout as France, my sweepstake team, capitulated mere seconds before payday.
ii. Meanwhile, the world was subjected to some of the drabbest matches outside the LDV Vans Trophy, as the 2nd half of the tournament failed to live up to the 1st.
iii. But, most horrifically of all, worldcupcomedypundit is forced to admit to you that - like Ronaldinho himself - I am a false idol. I am not an omniscient punditry oracle. I know, I know, it comes as quite a shock to me too, but one must face facts – I failed to predict a single one of the World Cup semi-finalists. Oh, the shame!!

It was all looking so good for the worldcupcomedypundit predictions, made at the start of June 2006. In the 2nd round, I was a veritable Nostradamus – calling the exact positions of 10 of the 16 competitors. Germany V Sweden, Argentina V Mexico, England V Ecuador, Portugal, Ukraine, Brazil & Spain were all spot-on.

Even my quarter-final predictions were pretty damned unerring. 5 of 8, with Germany V Argentina, Ukraine, England & Brazil all in their allotted places. But then, only ignominy…

No semi-finalists, no third-place play-offs & no World Cup finalists. Brazil in the final? Ukraine in the semis after whipping France?? What the hell was I thinking??!

Clearly, I need a new fool-proof formula. Forget my calculations, cast away my shot-in-the-dark scattergun guesses. If we want to make a killing on the pools next time, the answer is right in front of us.

The World Cup? Bah, it’s just the Premiership all over again.

No, seriously, the top 10 teams in World Cup 2006 were just a shameless rip-off of the top-10 teams in Premiership 2005/06. Don’t believe me? Fine – check it out for yourselves…

Premiership 10th) Wigan = Ukraine (World Cup quarter-finals)
Mantra: Crap team defies all logic

9th) West Ham = Holland (2nd round)
All very pretty but never a contender

8th) Bolton = Germany (semi-finals)
Effective route-1 to Kevin Davies/Miroslav Klose – ugly football for ugly footballers

7th) Newcastle = Brazil (2nd round)
Huge reputations, cocksure & woefully embarrassing on the pitch

6th) Blackburn = Portugal (semi-finals)
Effective, but dirtier than Christina Aguilera

5th) Tottenham = Argentina (quarter-finals)
Beautiful football, but a Tim Henman complex – falling to pieces under pressure

4th) Arsenal = Spain (2nd round)
Pass-&-move kings, but not half as good as they think

3rd) Liverpool = England (quarter-finals)
Sod all wingplay or fit strikers – reliable underachievers

2nd) ManU = France (final)
Runners-up cos totally reliant on Wayne Rooney/Zinedine Zidane – resident playmaker & nutter

1st) Chelsea = Italy (champions)
The blues are born winners, tenacious & jaw-droppingly dull

See what I mean??!

I guess then, that the World Cup isn’t really finished for 4 whole years – the Premiership starts anew in just a few short weeks. Just as well, cos there’s lot of footy addicts like me who have been cold turkey since July 9th & we desperately need something to cling onto.

But, of course, nobody’s saying that it’s a totally seamless transition. Henri Camara isn’t a nailed-on ringer for Andriy Shevchenko. The execrable grind of Watford 0 Fulham 0 doesn’t quite compare to the charm of Trinidad & Tobago defying Sweden like a modern-day Rorke’s Drift. & Sven’s five-and-a-half year England tenure can’t merely be dismissed as a poor man’s Liverpool.

Can it?

Surely, 2 years of unspeakably abysmal England qualifiers & 4 weeks of intensive crisp-guzzling matchplay has given us some greater legacy from our national side? Surely Sven has left something as a lasting epitaph for Germany 2006?

Oh, but he has!! For Sven managed to pull 1 stunt of such daring audacity that it shall never be repeated in the wide world of football. Something uniquely Swede. & what’s more, Sven even game this gimmick a name.

Theo…bloody…Walcott!!!

Friday

The Interpretation of Dreams

The following is a true story

About 6 months ago, Zinedine Zidane was lying in bed with his wife. However, he was awoken by a relative at 3am. Which was strange. This relative turned out to be Zizou’s brother, who the Algerian knew was about 3,000 miles away at the time. Which was very strange.

Standing at the end of his bed, Zidane’s brother then proceeded to urge les pensioner to return from international retirement. If you return, the apparition foretold, you will power France to the World Cup final and then lift the trophy once again. Which was downright supernatural, since France were currently being humiliated by the erratic mismanagement of Z-list coach and uber-nerd Raymond Domenech.

Nevertheless, on the eve of the World Cup final in 2006, Zidane finds himself poised to fulfil the prophecy and lead his nation to glory. All that remains is 1 more match.






One headbutt later & the legacy of France’s captain is shattered. All that we’ll remember is:
i. France lost
ii. Zidane retired in shame
iii. Zizou is remarkably good at landing a well-aimed, pneumatic headbutt.


But, if I was Zidane’s brother, only 1 of these 3 facts would be on my mind. Who was it who told him to come out of retirement, again? For the sake of his legacy? Forget the psychology, it’s the psychotic I’d be worried about!

Heads up, monsieur!!

Saturday

World Cup Sweepstake Update #7 France 1 Italy 1 (3-5 on pens)

Match summary: MERDE! MON DIEU!! ZUT ALORS!!! So ran the thoughts of both me & Zinedine Zidane as the ref produced his red card. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a lot of time for Zizou.

A jaw-droppingly audacious penalty (chipped onto the crossbar & in) almost spelled disaster for les pensioner, who now retires from football. This was audacious, but that headbutt was plain idiotic. And far more importantly, the 109th minute lunacy has cost me £20! Without their talisman, France lost the ascendancy in extra time & set themselves up for Buffon’s heroics. MERDE!

Odds to win: 0

Equivalent: Stephane Guivarch. No goals from open play? France relying on penalties to score? Thierry Henry isolated up front? Well, here’s your answer – Stephane Guivarch. Back in the heady days of 1998, this man started out as #1 striker.

Except for 1 thing – he was ****. MERDE, if you will. Even France manager Aime Jacquet eventually clocked on. Every team has one - Eric Meijer (Holland), Fernando Morientes (Spain), Emile Heskey (England). A misfiring striker, preferably on the payroll of Liverpool FC, with all the finess and subtlety of Fat Les.

World Cup Sweepstake Update #6 France 1 Portugal 0

Match summary: Ahh, the time-honoured tactic of leaving one isolated striker miles up the pitch (see Sven Goran Eriksson’s ‘How to coach Rooney’ manual for more…) causes another dour match. Not since the guillotines dropped in the French Revolution has a Frenchman felt more isolated amongst his own. Still, at least Louis XVI could actually see the Frenchies who were trying to separate him from his head.

Nevertheless, Henry’s fall & Zidane’s penalty see les pensioners past The Most-Hated Team in the World TM.

Incidentally, bonus marks for Cristiano Ronaldo, who cemented his burgeoning reputation as a premier-league cheat! Booed with every touch, the unperturbed Ronaldo still completed a splendid self-propelled loop on the stroke of half-time. See the man fly, contorting both body and face towards the ref as he pikes effortlessly through the air. Breathtaking!!

Odds to win: 3-1

Equivalent: Thierry Henry. France’s target man doesn’t even show up on radar for most of les pensioners, so great is the distance between them. But Roman Abramovich could be tempted to get up close and personal with Mr va-va-voom. Even though he’d probably play second fiddle to Andriy Shevchenko and Didier Drogba, just think how much it’d wind up Arsenal??!

Damien Duff (stolen from Liverpool), Arjen Robben and John Obi Mikel (both ManU), Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole (both Arsenal) – all would pale into significance as strategies to **** off other teams if Abramovich could somehow snatch Henry…

World Cup Lookalike #6 Theo Walcott


The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

World Cup Sweepstake Update #5 France 1 Brazil 0

Match summary: Bloody hell!! England may be out, but at least there’s some comfort. After this showing, I might soon have £20 to drown my sorrows. Why?

Because France are amazing!!! Alright, Brazil were excrement but the Gallics are phenomenal! There may be only 1 goal separating them, but there’s no doubt that France dominated this match. Make no mistake, France crushed Brazil.

The Brazilian ‘magic square’ looked oh so square, while somehow there was success for the dubious French strategy of relying totally on Zinedine ‘old man’ Zidane and Thierry ‘where the hell is everybody?!’ Henry. Fitting then, that Henry scored from a Zidane free-kick.

Odds to win: 4-1

Equivalent: Lillian Thuram. With the Italian game in crisis and Juventus expected to be relegated, it’s not too big a jump to suspect Roman Abramovich may swoop for everybody’s favourite Guadeloupian.

Ok, so he’s getting on a bit now & won’t be able to play that many games for Jose Mourinho. But, far more importantly, the bicep-heavy hardman should prove a more than capable head honcho for Mr Abramovich. Should Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin start floating the idea of imprisonment for another oil oligarch, a la Mikhail Khodorkovsky, it must be reassuring to have a living T-90 tank as your bodyguard!

England 0 Portugal 0 (1-3 on pens)

England team: Robinson, Neville, Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Hargreaves, Beckham (Lennon 51), Gerrard, Lampard, Joe Cole (Crouch 65), Rooney, Lennon (Carragher 118)

Fifa man of the match: Owen Hargreaves

Match summary: Well, that’s it then. Another 4 ******* years up in smoke! As Wayne Rooney’s foot came down (unintentionally) on Ricardo Carvalho’s knackers, so too did England’s chances of winning the World Cup.

But in truth, we didn’t deserve it anyway. Even the most hardcore of fans would feel a wee tinge of embarrassment had England played their drab, static, defensive football all the way to the trophy.

England were poor, once again living on their backs-to-the-wall, stiff-upper-lip, three-lions defending to sidle out on penalties. Penalties. There was no other way to decide this. 2 lifeless, defensive teams, without any goalthreat or shame at playing so dourly in a World Cup quarter final.

And when the penalties were confirmed, there was no doubt that England were out. The 5th penalty defeat in our 6 shoot-outs to date. Same old, same old.

My odds for England to win World Cup: 0

3 lessons that Sven should learn:
1) My old guard failed me
Sven always asked to be judged on the events of World Cup 2006. This would be when his youngsters reached their prime, he told us. And looking at the lineup for his final match, it’s clear that Sven stuck to his guns. Unquestionably, he kept faith with those maturing starlets. Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Michael Owen (if fit) & of course David Beckham have been ever-presents during his 5-and-a-half year tenure.

But look again at that list. Every single one of those players has underperformed in Germany. In fact, I’ll go further. These 7 were England’s 7 worst players in Germany. The only players to emerge with credit have been more recent additions. Players like Joe Cole, Aaron Lennon, Owen Hargreaves & even Peter Crouch.

It’s simple. The old guard have been playing in the comfort zone, safe in their god-given status as ever-presents. Sven’s loyalty has been his downfall.

2) My tactics failed me
This is not to absolve Sven of blame for England’s woes. Far from it – Sven’s tactics have clearly contributed to his demise. These star names built their reputations at club level, & their failure is a symptom of Sven’s tactical confusion at international level.

So what key tactical areas brought down the Swede??

i. Sven did not break up the Gerrard-Lampard mismatch in time, failing to see the necessity of dropping Lampard for a defensive midfielder
ii. Sven did not drop Beckham
iii. Sven did not encourage the full-backs to join the attack, using wingplay to stretch opposition defences
iv. Sven did not organize a high defensive line, inviting unnecessary pressure from the opposition
v. Sven did not oversee attacks built on short passes, isolating our strikers with long balls without time for the midfielders to overlap

3) My manment was a failure
Sven was a failure. There really is no other conclusion. It is hard to point to a single constructive decision that has genuinely improved England during five-and-a-half years of management.

Sven took over during the dire aftermath of Kevin Keegan’s reign & it is true that England at least avoided the ignominy of group stage elimination a la Euro 2000. But Keegan’s was a team full of weak players & unproven youngsters.

By contrast, Sven has had indisputably the most talented generation of English players since 1970. While other European leagues implode, the Premiership is still in the ascendancy & English stars like John Terry, Frank Lampard & Joe Cole are powering Chelsea to the title. In Europe, meanwhile, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard & Jamie Carragher have all played central roles in driving Arsenal and Liverpool to Champions League finals over the past 2 seasons.

This was a hugely talented England squad, but they have never once played convincingly in World Cup 2006. If we’re being honest, they have not played convincingly since the World Cup in 2002!!

Friendlies, qualifiers, European Championships and now World Cups have all come & gone with no resounding impact from an England performance. The club pedigree of these players is not in question.

Ultimately, the blame must rest with the mismanagement of Sven Goran Eriksson.

World Cup Lookalike #5 Owen Hargreaves

Otto

World Cup Sweepstake Update #4 France 3 Spain 1

Match summary: WOW!! Maybe I haven’t got a complete turkey after all. After falling behind, France incomprehensibly play really well to brush aside the Spanish super-team. Every goal shatters another of my preconceptions. Goal #1 Frank Ribery shows he’s more than just the skilful kid who gets beaten up by the big boys. Goal #2 Patrick Vieira underlines he’s not just 1 of those big boys who beats up skilful kids cos he can’t keep up with them anymore. Goal #3 Zinedine Zidane powers on past the 30 minute mark to score a dazzling goal right at the death. Vives les pensioners!!

Odds to win: 7/1

Equivalent: Frank Ribery. Far from the joke of previous matches, wee scarface is coming out of Al Pacino’s shadow onto the world stage. Even a transfer to Chelsea isn’t unthinkable. Don’t get me wrong, he’d still do a Jiri Jarosik – languish in the reserves before looking half decent on loan at Birmingham. But at least he’d get a big fat paycheck out of it!!

England 1 Ecuador 0

Goalscorer: Beckham 60

England team: Robinson, Hargreaves, Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Beckham (Lennon 87), Carrick, Gerrard (Downing 90), Lampard, Joe Cole (Carragher 77), Rooney

Fifa man of the match: John Terry

Match summary:
There's a defining point in Joseph Conrad's novel the Heart of Darkness, later reworked in Frances Ford Coppola's film Apocalypse Now.

Kurtz is a renegade African colonialist who builds himself up as a god to appeal to local savages. Believing his own hype, Kurtz begins to feel all-powerful and commits diabolic acts such as overseeing the decapitation of rival tribe members. He is arrested. On his return back to England, he enigmatically whispers "The horror! The horror!"

What does it mean? Maybe Kurtz realises he's taken advantage of his divine pretensions and only now realises the true scale of his atrocities.

During the Ecuador match, there was a point at which I too whispered "The horror! The horror!". England had presented themselves as immortals, all-powerful gods. "Of course, we can win the world cup," the Swede had told us, but at this moment I realised it was all a sham.

Perhaps our captain knew it as well. Knew his posturing was all empty bravado and rhetoric. It was over. But this man did not mumble "The horror! The horror!" in his inimitable pipsqueak voice. Never the most eloquent of men, this fallen god chose to sum up his revelation in the only way he knew how. And so David Beckham, England captain, sprayed the field of play with vomit!!

1) Drop Beckham
Now it may seem odd to call for the axing of our captain when he has just become the 1st England player to score at three separate world cups. Aside from the goal, however, David Beckham was crap! This is never reflected in newspaper player ratings, in which a goal for your team guarantees you at least a big fat 7 out of 10.

How can this be?

A goalscoring free-kick takes under 5 seconds to execute. Yet for the remaining 89 minutes & 55 seconds he was scheisse, sickening in fact. Misplacing passes, overhitting predictable long balls from deep & conspicuously failing to support the lone striker Wayne Rooney in any way, shape or form. And his pitiful workrate was summed up by vomiting on the pitch.

If he can’t control the contents of his own stomach, he should not be leading England out in a world cup match. Bring on Aaron Lennon. Simple!

2) The full-backs must overlap
I feel like a broken record player. No worse, a broken record player playing endless repetitions of a three-chord Status Quo single. Perhaps 'Down, Down, Deeper and Down' (which would be all too apt, bearing in mind England's form). But it really is too obvious not to mention again…

ENGLAND NEED WIDTH!!!

Sven won't drop David Beckham - it's the equivalent of Oasis firing the Gallagher brothers. Love 'em or loathe 'em, the 2 are indelibly wedded together. But if Sven persists with playing 5 central midfielders (Beckham, Michael Carrick, Stevie Gerrard, Frank Lampard & Joe Cole), he needs full-backs to provide some width. Especially against such dreadful opposition - even Trinidad & Tobago were more threatening than Ecuador!

Gary Neville and especially Ashley Cole can put in great crosses, but they never get into dangerous positions. The coach needs to give them a good kick up the backside. Or is it the coach and his negative tactics to blame? Whichever is true, with 2 advanced full-backs, we'd make far more chances than we concede.

So far, both full-backs have been dire, failing to get forward & still culpable for defensive frailties. We have options - Wayne Bridge & Jamie Carragher would show more passion and enthusiasm. Frankly, so would anybody.

3) Bring on Hargreaves for Lampard
Forget 4-5-1. Wayne Rooney is a 2nd striker & he needs support from Crouchigo (or Jermaine Defoe, or Darren Bent, or Andrew Johnson - where are they again?!). It's too late to start shilly-shallying about with different formations. England need to play 4-4-2. And, believe it or not, we do have the players to pull it off if Sven can just be made to see 1 crucial switch - Owen Hargreaves for Frank Lampard.

Frank Lampard has had a dire tournament.

No goals from approximately 20 shots tells only part of the story. He is, frankly, baffled by the partnership with Stevie Gerrard. Unsure about breaking forward when Gerrard looks to do the same, he sits deep & sprays passes to wingers who aren't even there. & he still can't tackle. Demoralised & heavy-shouldered, England just isn't set up for Frank Lampard this summer.

Owen Hargreaves, on the other hand, has really come of age.

Hargreaves has been widely pilloried by the media. Ok, I admit this is journalistic shorthand for "I have taken the piss out of him mercilessly." But now I'm holding up my hand. Well done Sven for sticking to your guns & showing English fans that Hargreaves is brilliant. Snappy, aggressive, full of beans & blissfully not another attacking midfielder. Sometimes, a team needs graft as well as class. Germany 2006 is calling for Owen Hargreaves.

World Cup Lookalike #4 Gary Neville

Mickey, League of Gentleman

World Cup Sweepstake Update #3 France 2 Togo 0

Match summary: Barely half an hour from elimination – against the mighty Togo. Quite how they’ve come so close against teams of outstanding mediocrity is anybody’s guess. But the shadows of Arsenal’s one-time star (Patrick Vieira) & its current star (Thierry Henry) sneak them through.

Odds to win: 13/1

Equivalent: Fabien Barthez. In an everchanging world - which has seen China’s economy grow 10% for the past 3 years, the collapse of the USSR & Bush & Dick at war with an abstract concept – it’s reassuring to see some things never change. Here, the bald parrot does his best to remind ManU fans everywhere of his flagrant Napoleon complex. As the flapping Frenchman, Barthez tries to draw attention away from his diminutive stature by making the most catastrophic error since Napoleon marched into Imperial Russia. Luckily, he gets away with it (Barthez, not Napoleon).

England 2 Sweden 2

Goalscorers: Joe Cole 34, Gerrard 85

England team: Robinson, Carragher, Ferdinand (Campbell 56), Terry, Ashley Cole, Beckham, Lampard, Hargreaves, Joe Cole, Rooney (Gerrard 69), Owen (Crouch 4)

Fifa man of the match: Joe Cole

Match summary:
At last!! England are involved in a (fairly) entertaining game. Not since the dying days of Gerard Houllier's reign at Liverpool has a team employed such soul-destroyingly negative tactics.

Block, tackle, hack, hoof, destroy!!

Alright, so the high scoreline is directly related to the defensive catastrophes of Paul Robinson, John Terry and Sol Campbell - but at least we get some action. A Joe Cole wonderstrike and a Stevie Gerrard goal see us through. But at least our woeful defending set us up for a bit of excitement.

1) Owen for Crouch in 'not bad' shocker
Whisper it, but maybe Michael Owen's knockout injury doesn't quite sound the death-knell for England's chances. "What? Owen's god. Burn the heretic!" I'm sure many people will say. But the truly gobsmacking fact is…*brace yourself*…Crouch will actually be better for England.

I realise this sounds odd. Frankly, I'm scared too.

But we have to accept that Owen both failed to score and never looked likely to make an impact. You can't completely reverse 5 years of negative tactics over a 4-week tournament - England are firmly stuck in the rut of hitting early long balls to the strikers.

This is utterly hopeless for Owen, a small and physically-unimposing goal poacher. Owen increasingly scores from studied build-up play and a high attacking line to compensate for his startling lack of pace.

Meanwhile, Crouch is far better at holding up the ball after yet another stratospheric pass from Terry and Campbell. The fleet-footed beanpole can then lay it off to midfielders, encouraging a more measured England attack before getting into the box to nod in the subsequent crosses.

That's why Peter Crouch is scoring goals at the moment, while Michael Owen isn't. It's not a matter of class (in which Owen wins, hands down). It's just that England's route-1 football is more suited to a balletic 6'7 oddball than a clinical 5'8 goalpoacher.

2) Pass the ball
Of course, there is an alternative to England's route-1 football. No coach can transform a team from Oldham Athletic into Arsenal in the 5 days till we meet Ecuador. But you can at least transform them into, um, Crewe Alexandria.

All I'm saying is passing the ball around might occasionally stop the traditional 2nd half collapse. Every time England play a 2nd half, they try & copy the 5-year-olds taking penalties on the pitch at half-time. "Don't worry about aiming the ball, just show daddy how hard you can hit it!"

Unquestionably, our defenders are our biggest liability - Campbell and Terry making 60-yard passes at least 5 times per game. But also guilty are our midfielders. Frank Lampard, Stevie Gerrard & David Beckham are all woefully prone to playing quarterback football - receiving a pass, looking up & then launching bullet crosses to (non-existent) wide receivers.

But - as David Beckham showed playing quarterback in our 1-0 qualifying capitulation to Northern Ireland - quarterback football just doesn't work. If England do get into the lead, pressure should fall onto the opposition. Instead, our stupid tactics keeps on inviting pressure. Result? 2 **** goals from Sweden!!!

3) Drop David Beckham
I know this could sound like a 'jumping on the bandwagon' rant. But I honestly believe the England captain has to be dropped. He's a great player, but I don't think he's had a great game since shirking that 50-50 tackle against Brazil in 2002. That kop-out, leading straight to Rivaldo's equalising goal in the 47th minute, introduced 4 years of ever-decreasing returns from Mr Victoria Beckham.

The Beckham we have now is a slow, ponderous shadow of the man who was once voted 2nd in the Fifa World Player of the Year stakes (who was 1st? Yup, Rivaldo).

The overriding problem is…Beckham is slow. A team without any lightening pace down the middle at least needs speed on the wings. The lacklustre Ashley Cole, the mediocre Gary Neville and the playmaker Joe Cole are not offering any pace so we need at least one outlet on the wing.

David Beckham is a weak link. He is wholly incapable of beating anyone and, regardless, his passing is erratic.

If we're being honest, his only contribution now is set-pieces. It's true we score a lot of goals from his free-kicks, but we would get far more joy playing Aaron Lennon as part of an expansive team that actually puts in crosses from the by-line. Think how many goals Peter Crouch could score from these - after all, aggressive wingplay was how the beanpole scored so many for Southampton.

At the end of the day, a man who only contributes set-pieces can be replaced. Gerrard, Lampard & Hargreaves all take the free-kicks at their respective title-challenging clubs. Sorry Becks, it's been fun, but now's the time to move aside. You see, Aaron Lennon has pace.

World Cup Lookalike #3 Rio Ferdinand

Ren

World Cup Sweepstake Update #2 France 1 South Korea 1

Match summary: Thierry Henry finally scores for France – their 1st world cup goal since the 98 final. But les pensioners were later caught napping, failing to convert absolute dominance into goals. Wee South Korea hit them with a huge sucker punch.

Odds to win: 15/1

Equivalent: Sylvain Wiltord. Roman Abramovich isn’t averse to offering obscene sums of money for big-name players on the way downhill. See Juan Sebastian Veron, Gianfranco Zola, Raul & now Roberto Carlos. But even David Blunkett can see that Liudovic Giuly is France’s only good winger.

England 2 Trinidad&Tobago 0

Goalscorers: Crouch 83, Gerrard 90

England team: Robinson, Carragher (Lennon 58, Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Beckham, Lampard, Gerrard, Joe Cole (Downing 74), Owen (Rooney 58), Crouch

Fifa man of the match: David Beckham

Match summary:
England were surprisingly short of ideas breaking down an average team. Make no mistake, Trinidad&Tobago were average. Except for Dwight ‘I slept with Jordan’ Yorke, who stole the headlines by making a bold/idiotic reshuffle in his shorts. And, like the bold/idiotic cabinet reshuffle by Tony Blair, Mr Yorke unconvincingly tries to draw attention away from his folly with that dazzling, cheeky grin. Ball-juggling aside, England scrape through courtesy of 2 goals in the last 10 minutes.

My odds for England to win world cup: 9/1

3 lessons that Sven should learn
1) Ground control to Michael Owen
Now there isn’t much point in having a goalscoring striker in your team if no-one’s going to pass to him. No wait, maybe that’s not strictly true. We launched balls towards the opposition area, to the corner flags, even accidentally to areas less than 30 yards in front of him. But we’ve never passed to him.

Perhaps it’s a psychological problem. Ingrained in the minds of every English fan & player is an idolised image of Owen, circa 1998. The so-called Golden Boy era.

Then, Owen had blistering pace & a fearless attacking instinct, gloriously embodied by that goal against Argentina. But the Golden Boy grew up – the modern man has changed, arguably for the worse in England’s case. Owen is now a deceptively slow player, unable to reach those balls into space that England traditionally play. Those annual hamstring injuries have wreaked their damage.
Balls over the top are fruitless now because Owen has changed. He links play better, passes better, drops deeper and demands the ball into feet. But he doesn’t run.

England must stop playing to the Golden Boy – he doesn’t exist.

2) Joe Cole’s our only threat
In a team of so many glittering reputations, only one is shining in Germany. Joe Cole. Why? Because Cole takes responsibility, keeps the ball grounded & *shock! Horror! Isn’t afraid to run with the ball. He recognises that you can’t always bore a team into submission with yet another sideways pass. England’s players could learn a thing or 2 from Cole. Or, at the very least, Eriksson could at least tell everybody to pass him the ball a bit more often.

3) Aaron Lennon rocks
Maybe Joe Cole’s pre-eminence is related to England’s lack of width. There really is nobody in the starting XI stretching the play. Ashley Cole, Gary Neville & David Beckham have all been playing in the comfort zone. Then along comes Aaron Lennon in the 58th minute to remind managers what a wide player’s supposed to do. Take risks, commit players, charge relentlessly towards the by-line. And for Christ’s sake, if you’re going to be a winger, stay on the bloody wing!! If you can see the other touchline with binoculars, you’re too close to the centre. Cue the chalk-covered boots of Aaron Lennon…

Thursday

World Cup Mini-Quiz

Questions:
1) Only 2 players have played in - & managed - a national team to World Cup wins. Name the 2 men.

2)France won the World Cup in 1998 with the so-called 'Rainbow Team'. 5 of the 14 French players in the World Cup Final were either born outside France or had parents who were. Name them.

3) Brazil's Ronaldo currently has 12 World Cup career goals to his name. If he scores 2 more, he will equal the all-time record of 14 goals. Who set this record?

4) Sir Geoff Hurst, the only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup Final, was not a first-choice striker at the start of the 1966 World Cup tournament. Name the England striker that he replaced.

5) What is the smallest nation ever to win the World Cup?





Answers:
1) Mario Zagallo (Brazil player 1958, 1962 & manager 1970) & Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany player 1974 & manager 1990)

2) Striker Youri Djorkaeff (born in Lyon, but parents from Armenia and Kalmyk)
Right-back Lilian Thuram (born in Guadeloupe)
Left-back Bixente Lizarazu (born in French-Basque country)
Central midfielder Patrick Vieira (born in Senegal)
Attacking midfielder Zinedine Zidane (born in Marseille, but Algerian parents).

3) Gerd Mueller (West Germany 1970 & 1974)

4) Jimmy Greaves

5) Uruguay (2005 population 3,416,000, Area 68,536 square miles)

World Cup Sweepstake Update #1 France 0 Switzerland 0

What's Going On?
I win a cool £20 if France win the World Cup. After every match for Les Bleus, I'll post an update on the probability of winning my £20. And I'll translate that probability into the probability of Chelsea's Roman Abramovich sheeling out on a World Cup player currently in the news.

Match summary: Oh dear. The Swiss enjoyed the best chances and even hit the post. Les Pensioners are in line for an ignominous 1st flight home - though they'd probably miss that too...

Probability of me winning £20: 30/1
30/1 is the same odds as Roman Abramovich buying Ukraine's Vladislav Vaschuk. What, the same defender who oversaw a 4-0 defensive capitulation against Spain AND got sent off??

Well, Abramovich might win some political leeway back home - Ukraine was once nicknamed 'The Breadbasket of the USSR'...

Sunday

England 1 Paraguay 0

Goalscorers: Gamarra 3 og.

England team: Robinson, Neville, Ferdinand, Terry, Ashley Cole, Beckham,
Lampard, Gerrard, Joe Cole, (Hargreaves), Owen (Downing), Crouch

Fifa man of the match: Frank Lampard

Match summary: England played excellently in the 1st half, making the most of a lucky own goal to dominate Paraguay's midfield. But they wilted like Jean-Alain Boumsong under the 2nd half pressure, & were pressed back into their habitual all-out defence formation. A slightly lucky win.

My odds for England to win world cup: 12/1

3 lessons that Sven should learn:
1) Young legs good, old legs bad
Just compare the fortunes of France (Average Starting Age: 29 1/2) with Spain (Average Age: 24 1/2) to see that stamina-sapping heat is favouring fit, younger players. Substitute Owen Hargreaves (25) and Stewart Downing (21) were excellent. In particular, Stewart Downing contributed brilliantly pacy dribbles and left-wing crosses - something England have lacked since John Barnes swapped bad rapping for bad TV presenting.
Clearly, young wingers like Stewart Downing (21) & Aaron Lennon (19) can be as refreshing for England as a week without scandalous affairs at the FA...

2) Gerrard-Lampard still doesn't work
The most unconvincing partnership since Terry 'Dodgy Dealings' Venables linked up with Alan Sugar at Tottenham Hotspur. Sven 'Softly-Softly' Goran Eriksson should take heed of the Apprentice show on TV & tell them...YOU'RE FIRED!!

Or, more sensibly, push Gerrard alongside Michael Owen and bring Michael Carrick in to cover for Lampard. Easy!

3) Defend higher
The 2nd half was classic England. Backs against the wall, never-say-die, stiff upper lip, 3 Lions bravery, stupidity - call it what you will. The fact is that England always panic & screw it up when in the lead (see Argentina '98, Portugal '00, Brazil '02, Portugal '04).

If we're going to defend that deep, we may as well forget this whole 'Punt-the-Ball-to-Crouch' philosophy and put all 10 players behind Paul Robinson. Or, to quote Jose Mourinho 'congragulating' Tottenham Hotspur in 2004, "It was like they parked the team bus in front of the goal".

Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole are quicker than Speedy Gonzales - so defend nearer the half-way line and the whole team gets more compact. Then maybe we won't just rely on David Beckham's 60-yard punts to link midfield and attack. We might even see some of this 'possession' that wacky, cheese-eating continentals talk about!

Wednesday

Wanted: 2nd Striker, Must be English, Not 6'7

With doubts persisting about Wayne Rooney's fitness, it seems that Sven's decisions in the striking department will define England's campaign. Put the other way, the strikers that Sven selects will define his 5 1/2 year tenure as England manager. Will he be remembered as a success or as a failure?

Now everybody knows that Michael Owen must start. With 36 England goals, Owen is still on course to overtake Bobby Charlton's record haul of 49 goals - & become England's all-time top goalscorer. & he scores at all the most crucial times - Argentina in World Cup '98, Portugal in Euro 2004 and, of course, that hat-trick against Germany in World Cup Qualifying '01.

Christ, Owen scores more frequently than Sven himself.

He he may not be 100% fit, it's true, but England cannot win the World Cup without a fit Michael Owen. And the only way to get him fit is to keep playing him. & pray to God that he rebuilds his confidence by 'doing a Drogba' (aka. bundling a goal in with his knee).

***

Yet Owen is a small player who struggles to hold up the ball. And, crucially, he's at his most potent when running onto the flick-ons and through-balls that only a second striker can provide.

Because of Sven's failure to bring more strikers (see Theo "Who the hell are you?" Walcott post), there are only 4 players who could possibly play as a 2nd striker:

Peter Crouch
Steven Gerrard
Joe Cole
Theo Walcott

Theo Walcott is clearly way too inexperienced to start - at best, he's a late substitute to inject a bit of pace upfront.
Joe Cole has had a brilliant season playing on Chelsea's left wing so it seems ludicrous to move him, and re-ignite the perennial "Who should play on England's left?" debate.

So that leaves 2 realistic contenders:

Peter Crouch

Steven Gerrard

But if England want to win the World Cup, I believe that there is only 1 realistic contender:

Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard should beat Peter Crouch to the 2nd striker role for 3 clear reasons:

1) Steven Gerrard is more of a goalthreat than Peter Crouch
Even now, people still mistakenly believe that Steven Gerrard is a defensive midfielder. But at Liverpool, Alonso, Sissoko or Hamann sit back and Steven Gerrard basically plays as an attacking midfielder. This season, he has racked up an astonishing 23 goals in all competitions. There is no way that a supposedly defensive midfielder could achieve this.

Tellingly, he is also surprisingly used to playing as a 2nd striker in the big matches. Don't forget that it was Gerrard's move upfront that sparked Liverpool's revival against AC Milan in the Champions League Final '05 (1 goal), & more recently the revival against West Ham in the FA Cup Final '06 (2 goals). Steven Gerrard is a goalscorer.

2)Steven Gerrard is better at linking midfield and attack
Watching England play is like watching a game of Frogger. Frogger was a prehistoric BBC video game, where the player controlled a frog standing by a roadside. There were 3 roads of streaming traffic and you had to navigate poor Frogger to the next safe line and eventually reach the top of the road without getting squished.

For England, the football is their Frogger. Players try to pass it from the static line of defenders to the midfielders, or from the static line of midfielders to the strikers without getting squished, erm, I mean tackled.

What am I talking about??!

I'm saying England's positions are more static than my TV. Defenders defend. Strikers shoot. And midfielders stay in, well, midfield.

Wayne Rooney changed that. He's so revelatory for England because he can drop deep and switch places with a winger, centre forward or playmaker. No-one expects that from Peter 'targetman' Crouch. But Steven Gerrard can mix positions - he's played right back, right wing, defensive midfield, attacking midfield and 2nd striker for Liverpool.

If England play like Frogger, Gerrard has the versatility to be our Pacman - gobbling up possession before relentlessly dragging midfielders up to support attack. Steven Gerrard is England's Pacman.

3) Playing Gerrard upfront will balance England's midfield
Fact: The Lampard-Gerrard partnership does not work. It's the Homer Simpson of international football. Think about it: on paper, we have the Premiership's 2 star midfielders and the best central midfield partnership in the world. On paper.

Yet England never dominate central midfield like either Liverpool or Chelsea. This is because Gerrard & Lampard play identical roles at their clubs - the goalscoring, creative midfielder. When playing together, Gerrard & Lampard either make the same runs, don't cover each other and the defence or both stay back uncertainly. It's the same reason why Alex Ferguson never played Paul Scholes & Juan Sebastian Veron together - you need a Roy Keane to sit back and cover.

Like choosing between identical twins, they're just too damn similar. But they're both too good to boot out of bed entirely, so you've got to get them doing different things!!

Gerrard can play upfront, so let Lampard stay in midfield. That means you can balance the midfield properly with a defensive midfielder like, ooh, I don't know, Michael 'Remember me?' Carrick. A suspect food poisoning away from driving his team into the Champions League, it's not like he's untested!!

So the England teamsheet should read:

-----------Gerrard-----Owen---------------

J.Cole-----Carrick----Lampard---Beckham

A.Cole-----Terry----Ferdinand--G. Neville

--------------Robinson--------------------

Tuesday

World Cup Predictions #2 The Knockout Stages

2nd ROUND
1 Germany V Sweden
Hospitable Host Refereeing 1 - Sweden 0
2 Argentina V Mexico
Arriiiiba Argentina!
3 England V Ecuador
Revved-up Rooney Runs Ecuador Ragged
4 Portugal V Serbia & Montenegro
Past-It Portugal Ground Down
5 USA V Japan
USA AOK
6 France V Ukraine
Sheva-va-voom beats Z-Z-Zizou
7 Brazil V Italy
Brazil’s Attack is Best Form of Defence
8 Spain V South Korea
Silky Spain Slide Past Korea

QUARTER-FINALS
A Germany V Argentina
Lionel is the Dog’s Ballacks!
Messi, Tevez, Crespo, Saviola, Aimar, Riquelme… V ,um, Ballack. Just look at the names. Lionel Messi beats Michael Ballack every time.

B USA V Ukraine
Sheva Reyna’s in USA in Battle of the Dark Horses
Ukraine’s flair shines through as the US Soccerball players return home to a bewildered nation

C England V Serbia & Montenegro
Clinical Rooney Outshines Mis-a-lota-vic
English tabloids spontaneously combust when faced with the possibility of an English World Cup Semi-Final. Lampard & Rooney should get The Sun’s Rupert Murdoch dancing with delight.

D Brazil V Spain
Brazil’s Magic Square: Spain Unspun
Brazils step up into gears that no other World Cup country has dreamt about. Who’s the best? Brazil ’70? Brazil ’82? Or Brazil ’06? Definitely not Spain though, who revert to type – flattering to deceive.

SEMI-FINALS
I Argentina V Ukraine
Argentina Warm up For South American Showdown
Argentina steamroller past the tournament’s surprise package. But Ukraine’s run to the semi-finals has won them European respect both on and off the field. & a few more Abramovich-funded transfers to Chelsea!!

II England V Brazil
Brave England Fox-Trot Home to Samba Sound
Brazil’s trademark flair panics England into their trademark negativity. The 3 Lions try to hold out but 4 Brazilian legends in-waiting (Ronaldinho, Kaka, Adriano, Ronaldo) overwhelm them.

3rd PLACE PLAY-OFF
Ukraine V England
England Win World Cup Trophy! (sort of…)
England squeeze past a plucky Ukrainian side to claim 3rd place, a confused ‘victory’ parade and global hysteria (well, within the M25 anyway)

FINAL
Argentina V Brazil
Brazil Thrill Watching World
Brazil edge the final of fantasy flicks (Brazil) & sly kicks (Argentina). A bad-blooded match/South American Civil War eventually runs to the beat of Ronaldo’s feet (again!). Brazil are worthy World Cup Winners...

World Cup Predictions #1 The Group Stages

GROUP STAGES
GROUP A: Luck of the Germans
Germany
Ecuador

Poland
Costa Rica

Germany may have a bunch of Championship journeymen, but then Ecuador and Poland have First Division. And that’s being kind. Slightly carelessly, Poland forgot to bring their top goalscorer in qualifying, Tomasz Frankowski. Ecuador remembered theirs, Ivan Kaviedes, and so should nick second.

GROUP B: Sweden 1-2
England
Sweden

Paraguay
Trinidad & Tobago

England may have no strikers but their midfielders should nick enough goals to let Sven edge above his fellow Swedes. Will be tight though, probably needing a Beckham V Ljungberg hairstyle shootout to separate them.

GROUP C: Serbian Surprise
Argentina
Serbia & Montenegro

Holland
Ivory Coast

The goal-happy Argies will run away with it. But the real story will be Holland, where the Brilliant Orange are dazzlingly short of their usual world-beating stars. A defence composed entirely of flesh-eating Balkan giants should sneak Serbia & Montenegro through.

GROUP D: Portugal Coast Group of Life
Portugal
Mexico
Angola
Iran

The Group of Life should allow Portugal’s antique Golden Generation to ease through, and Mexicans will be throwing their sombreros in the air too.



GROUP E: What the Hell is Soccerball?
USA
Italy

Czech Republic
Ghana

Italy are riven by the political fallout of nefarious Juventus General Manager Luciano Moggi – allegedly ‘helping’ Italy’s team selection. Also short on strikers, Italy may be red-faced at the sight of the US ‘Soccer’ team beating them to the top spot.

GROUP F: Team Japan
Brazil
Japan

Australia
Croatia

Braaaaaaaaazil!!!! Have the strongest team and one of the weakest groups. But Australia, built around the temperamental Mark Viduka, the injured Harry Kewell (again!) and various Balkan misfits will be surprised by the team ethic of the Japanese.

GROUP G: Liberty, Fraternity, Elderly
France
South Korea

Switzerland
Togo

Les Bleus pensioners will amble through like a mid-morning stroll. But South Korea, led by another Dutchman (no, not Guus Hiddink this time but Dick Advocaat) will slip through as Les Bleus enjoy their afternoon nap.

GROUP H: Saudi Shoot-Out
Spain
Ukraine

Tunisia
Saudi Arabia

Spain & Ukraine will be neck-and-neck throughout, with the winner being decided by a Sitting Duck Shooting Gallery. Otherwise known as a Saudi Arabia World Cup match.

Monday

World Cup Lookalike #2 Frank Lampard

It's all in the beak...

An Owl...........................Frank Lampard

Thursday

World Cup Sweepstake!!!


The obligatory World Cup Charity Sweepstake is upon us. With all the teams now drawn, my Official Sweepstake Team for Germany 2006 is...

Woohoo! I've avoided such footballing superpowers as Trinidad & Tobago, Iran and of course the mighty Togo.

I'll be posting regular updates on how close I am to the positively cataclysmic jackpot...

World Cup Lookalike #1 Peter Crouch

In honour of Peter 'Robot Waltz' Crouch TM...

Crouch!........................Timmy!

Wednesday

Champions League - A Tribute to Brazil

Curse ye footballing gods!! Far from the 90 minute Showboat we were promised, the Champions League Final 2006 saw an unspectacular Barcelona grind down dogged 10-man Arsenal 2-1.

Goddammit!! This was supposed to be another Real Madrid 7 Eintracht Frankfurt 3. Another Liverpool 3 AC Milan 3. And what did we get? Clubbe Bruge V Valerenga in the Champions League Qualifiers.

Still, at least the best team won - Barcelona. & the best footballing country - No, not Spain but Brazil (birthplace of Ronaldinho, Edmilson, Belletti and Deco). So now I'm honouring the Top 5 Brazilians to light up football with their eccentricities:


#5 RONALDINHO– The beaver-toothed FIFA World Player of the Year (for the last 2 years running). He’s the 1st undisputed winner since Zinedine Zidane’s hairline began to resemble Victoria Beckham’s waistline – wispy & thinning quickly.

As a youngster, his 5-a-side manager Cleon Espinoza created a new formation just for him – 'The L'. The ‘L’ saw 3 team-mates stand on one wing and Ronaldinho stand on the other to make a human ‘L’ shape. With just 1 man-to-man marker on him, Ronaldinho’s Nike-friendly tricks would inevitably wriggle him through to score. Not universally blessed though – even his 5-a-side manager remembers “We always used to say to him "Fix those teeth!"

#4 PELE – Routinely hailed as the greatest player ever, admittedly by an establishment none-too-keen on the cocaine-riddled lunacy of Diego Maradona. But he definitely had some Samba magic – who else would’ve spent a career trying to create a “goal that could never be repeated”? Or becoming embroiled in a bribery scandal as a disastrous Brazilian Minister for Sport. Or being listed as an official Brazilian national treasure - to prevent foreign clubs from buying him!

#3 RONALDO – Forget the club player. The Galactico who carries enough puppy fat to qualify for Crufts. Or the backstabbing Inter Milan player who spent 2 years nursed through knee injuries before jetting off to Madrid. No, I mean the World Cup goalscoring machine – set to smash Gerd Mueller’s 14-goal tournament record (he’s currently on 12 after playing in just 2 tournaments). The wonderkid @ PSV and then Barcelona who was tipped to be the greatest player ever. THAT Ronaldo could only be Brazilian!

#2 GARRINCHA – Nearly every Brazilian thinks Botafago’s crock-legged right winger is the greatest ever. Easily recognized by his misshapen knee-joint (his left leg bent inwards and his right leg was 6 centimetres shorter and bent outwards), his compulsive womanizing (even he lost count of the number of children he fathered) and his tendency to shoot song-birds. All this, & he only had 1 trick on the football field – feign inside, then accelerate outside with blinding speed. That was all he needed though, cos his Quasimodo physique made him impossible to tackle.

#1 SOCRATESCome on!!! The guy smoked 20 fags a day, drank heavily and was most famous for back-heeling the ball. And yet he was still trusted to captain Brazil at the World Cup...twice! Only in Brazil…

Friday

FA Cup - England Player Exclusives

Ok, so the dust has settled on a cracking FA Cup ‘06. But what is it about Liverpool? Now as a seasoned supporter, I’m used to enduring drab matches from the reds decided by one, scrappy goal. Yet put Liverpool in cup finals and you suddenly get the greatest football matches witnessed by mankind:

UEFA Cup 5-4 and the greatest UEFA Cup Final ever seen.
Champions League 3-3 and the greatest Champions League comeback ever seen.
FA Cup 3-3 and the most exciting FA Cup Final in half a century

But this is a World Cup blog and not a Match Report. & what we’re really interested in is how the potential England players performed. Now, as Theo Walcott has proven, Sven isn’t scared of picking a player entirely on the back of 1 performance. Which isn’t stupid at all. So here we present the definitive analysis of every English player (& Alan Pardew, for his comedy value).

Presenting Sven’s 1 line summary, Tord’s scouting report & 1 comedy moment from each player in their own words. This is the WorldCupComedyPundit FA Cup Final Review:

DEFENDERS
Jamie Carragher
Sven's summary: MISSING THE CUT – "Here’s Peter Kenyon’s number, he’ll know my agent"
Tord's scouting report: Poor old Carra. Scored an own goal, and then presided over Liverpool’s defensive catastrophe.
My comedy moment: 21 mins. "My beautiful goal. Few defenders score in the Cup Final, and surely mine was the best in years. Sweeping in at the near-post, feigning a back-heel with my right foot, shimmying over the ball and then driving in with my left. Sweet. What do you mean it’s at the wrong end???"

Anton Ferdinand
Sven's summary: MISSING THE CUT – "Here’s Peter Kenyon’s number, he’ll know my agent"
Tord's scouting report: Did OK in his admittedly easy job - shepherding Peter Crouch far, far away from goal. Fluffed penalty.
My comedy moment: 90 mins. "I’m not just Rio’s shadow, you know. & to underline how different I am, I thought I’d shout ‘F*ck’s sake’ to the TV cameras as Gerrard scored. Ha! Rio could never court controversy like this."

Paul Konchesky
Sven's summary: LOST IN SPACE – "Here’s The Fake Sheikh’s number, give him nuisance calls for a change"
Tord's scouting report: The 1 Cap Wonder truly underlined his England potential: zero. Fluffed penalty.
My comedy moment: 64 mins. "Of course I meant it. Are you telling me that an England player would fluke a sliced cross into the net? That’s just what I wanted people to think. You, Reina, Hansen. I’m that good. Honest."

MIDFIELDERS
Steven Gerrard
Sven's summary: STARTING XI – "Here’s Ulrikka’s number, she’s in a house in Madrid"
Tord's scouting report: Roy of the Rovers is seemingly subdued by cramps. But he still pops up with that equalising missile in the last minute. Oh, & then lifts the FA Cup for his boyhood club.
My comedy moment: 90 mins. "Now I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet, but I am the dog’s *******. Think about it. Who else in the world could’ve scored a drive from 40 yards? Even Alan Shearer called it ‘impossible’. Alan Pardew says West Ham would have been favourites if I played for them. It’s official then – I am the alpha, & the omega."

Nigel Reo-Coker
Sven's summary: SQUAD PLAYER – "Here’s Tord’s number, we should catch up sometime"
Tord's scouting report: The West Ham captain did brilliantly to man-mark the Liverpool captain for most of the match. But then Gerrard began moonlighting as Superman and all was lost.
My comedy moment: 119 mins. "My shot should be getting the glory, you know. Floating so gracefully like a dove above a sea of red excrement. And then that ******* tipped it onto the post."

Matthew Etherington
Sven's summary: SQUAD PLAYER – "Here’s Tord’s number, we should catch up sometime"
Tord's scouting report: Despite disappearing in the league matches against Liverpool, the promising Hammers winger tore Finnan apart with his pace and left-foot crossing
My comedy moment: 28 mins. "Nah, don’t give the credit to Deano. Ashton didn’t score it, I did. So what if his boot technically kicked it into the net? It was my worm-burning pass-back that Reina spilled so it’s my goal. Sorted."

STRIKERS
Peter Crouch
Sven's summary: MISSING THE CUT – "Here’s Peter Kenyon’s number, he’ll know my agent"
Tord's scouting report: England’s default #1 striker successfully completed another striking performance with nary the vaguest hint of a goal threat.
My comedy moment: 5 mins. "Only the world’s greatest players have the self-belief to try a bicycle kick. And even they wouldn’t try one from 20 yards out. Ok, ok, so it drifted a mere fraction of a kilometer wide but they don’t come much closer than that. Well, I don’t, anyway…"

Marlon Harewood

Sven's summary: MISSING THE CUT – " Here’s Peter Kenyon’s number, he’ll know my agent"
Tord's scouting report: Fast as lightening but none too frightening.
My comedy moment: 119mins. "I may have sliced hideously wide from 5 yards but don’t blame it on me. All I need to do is point down at my lame left foot and shrug my shoulders. Bingo! All blame is absolved."

Dean Ashton
Sven's summary: SQUAD PLAYER – "Here’s Tord’s number, we should catch up sometime"
Tord's scouting report: The West Ham battering ram overpowered Liverpool, particularly in the 1st half.
My comedy moment: 28 mins. "I always smile when I score. But seeing Reina pat the ball over for me to score made me so, so happy. No wonder his hair’s falling out. Thankyou, mini-Benitez!"

MANAGERS
Alan Pardew
Sven's summary: LOST IN SPACE – "Here’s The Fake Sheikh’s number, give him nuisance calls for a change"
Tord's scouting report: The wizened grey owl was repeatedly let down by his first touch
My comedy moment: 75 mins. "A hoof out of play, the ball is heading my way, this is my chance to showboat! Foot out, bring it down gently and *BOING* – well, of course I was passing to Reo-Coker, wasn’t I?"