Saturday, June 28, 2014

World Cup predictions

Everyone knows that predictions are a fools game, but we also know that there is nothing else to do when there isn’t football on that awful day after the group stages. So, just for fun, here is the way I see it going.

Second round

Brazil v Chile
Arguably the tie of the round and as the hosts enter the ‘must win’ territory of the knock0out phase the pressure will grow by the minute. Chile’s best chance is to hold off the early surge from Neymar and others, and try and keep the ball like they did so well in the group stage. If they can get to 60 minutes at 0-0 then the pressure might force Brazil into something silly. I don’t think they will be able to, but I don’t expect Brazil to win by any more than 1 goal.

Columbia v Uruguay
Without the only player who looked like a threat in front of goal (albeit against a schoolboy English defence) the Uruguayans will almost certainly not be strong enough for the all-conquering Columbians. The speed with which they move both the ball and themselves has already left their group opponents mesmerised, and I expect the same here. Comfortable win for the Columbians.

Netherlands v Mexico
Netherlands haven’t really had a tough match yet, other than for about 30 minutes combined they cruised through the group stage. Mexico have already parked the bus effectively against Brazil, and their best chance in this match will be doing the same again. Whether they can resist the temptation to go forward if the Dutch sit deep, inviting the counter, will be interesting to see. Expect the Netherlands to win, but it might not be done in 90 minutes.

Costa Rica v Greece
This could be an interesting game of style over substance, with the Greeks packing the midfield and their well-drilled defence, while the Costa Ricans looked good going forward against poor group opposition without being tested really at the back. This could end up being played mostly in the middle third of the pitch, and watch how soon the Greeks start playing for penalties. It’ll probably come down to a moment of brilliance or an error, and both circumstances favour the Costa Ricans.

France v Nigeria
France made enough changes in their last group game to come back fresh for this, and will the Nigerians have already put in their best performance in the loss to Argentina. I expect them to cause the French some problems, and if they score the first goal they might just cause a big upset. Having said that if France play like they did in the first two games, especially attack like they did against Switzerland it could be a rugby score. France to win, but not without difficulties.

Germany v Algeria
While Algeria might just be happy to be here I fancy them to cause the Germans some real problems, especially on the counter attack. Having said that Germany should have enough to see them off, don’t be surprised though if it’s very tight for the first 70 minutes.

Argentina v Switzerland
Argentina will win this without too many problems. Switzerland will be organised at the back but that won’t stop Messi if he brings anything like his top game. I don’t think the Swiss showed enough against the best team in their group to give an indication that they might even run Argentina close, so I expect this to be fairly comfortable.

Belgium v USA
I’ll start with an old cliché; either of these teams could win this game. The USA managed to get through despite losing to Germany and the Belgians never really got out of third gear in their group, despite winning all three games. If they can move into top gear then they’ll have enough to beat the USA, but they haven’t shown any sign of doing that yet, and a well-drilled USA side should have enough to reach the last 8.

I’ll update the predictions after the next round, but here is the way I see it going, at this stage.

Quarter finals

Brazil v Columbia
France v Germany
Netherlands v Costa Rica
Argentina v USA

Semi finals

Columbia v Germany
Netherlands v Argentina


Columbia v Argentina


Friday, June 27, 2014

World Cup power rankings 16 - 1

After the first half of the power rankings yesterday, it's time for the second half, including the best team from the group stages....

16. Croatia
One of the best teams not to make it through. Should have got at least a point against Brazil in the opening game, and then easily overcame Cameroon. Couldn’t quite hold back a Mexico team that went forward well in the last game, but the defence did basically look solid throughout.

15. Uruguay
A tough choice, given they have essentially been a one-man team, and especially considering who that man is. Offered nothing in the first game, before overcoming an England team that didn’t look like they knew where they were. The win against Italy was overshadowed by the bite from Suarez, and it’s hard to see them going any further without him.

14. Bosnia & Herzegovina
Best team not to qualify, very unlucky in their first trip to the finals. Should have had a draw against Argentina in the opening game but for an own goal in the first five minutes and a moment of Messi brilliance. Lost to Nigeria in a dull game but easily beat Iran. Well organised at the back and Dzeko could have done with a bit more support.

13. Costa Rica
Most people thought the first game against Uruguay was a freak result, but Arsenal player Joel Campbell looked just as dangerous in the shock win over an ordinary Italy side. They were happy to play out a dull 0-0 in the last game against England, but still have more to offer.

12. Algeria
Would have been ranked in the top 15 regardless of qualifying. Unlucky to lose to Belgium owing to a dubious penalty decision before one of the best 20 minutes of attacking football you’ll see to wipe away South Korea. Held on for a gutsy draw against a stoic Russian team to qualify for the first time.

11. Switzerland
Not inspiring but did more than enough to qualify from their group. Won the only game they needed to despite going behind against Ecuador before running into the irresistible French team who could have scored 10 in their second game. A comfortable win against Honduras including a hat-trick for Shaqiri saw them though.

10. Belgium
Haven’t lived up to expectations or hype just yet, but have efficiently cleaned up in the dullest group by far. Premier League players haven’t quite gelled together but they were caused few problems in their three matches.

9. Mexico
Should have scored more goals than they did, owing to mistakes from the officials in the first game against a lacklustre Cameroon. Executed their game plan against Brazil to perfection before coasting past Croatia. Defence looks just as solid as the forwards.

8. USA
Controversial selection after sneaking past Ghana and losing to Germany, but some of the football they have played merits their place in the top 8. The game against Portugal was played a blistering pace, and even though they lost Altidore in the first half of the opening game.

7. Chile
Probably the most stylish South American team in the competition. Player three very entertaining games in overcoming Australia and Spain before falling to Netherlands. Good players throughout the team, but will need Vidal back if they are to progress.

6. Brazil
Although they have coped well with the pressure and the emotion in the national anthems. Neymar has played well without hitting the heights, and they do look shaky at the back. In the first game against Croatia they should have got a point at best and then failed to break down Mexico, but they still have the ability to turn on the style at any minute.

5. France
The old cliché is you never know which France will turn up. In the first two games it was a flowing, ball moving joy with Benzema on good form. The third game saw changes made and a pretty dull 0-0 with Ecuador but the damage had already been done. They could go far.

4. Germany
Thomas Muller is the leading striker at the tournament but the Germans still haven’t really clicked on all levels. The thrashed a poor Portugal team in the first game and then scrambled a draw against Ghana in an entertaining clash. The last game against the USA was a bit of a washout, but having already secured their place it didn’t really matter.

3. Netherlands
No one expected much from this team, let alone blowing away the world champions effortlessly in the first game. Van Persie and Robben have been a revelation, playing with a pace and vigour that hasn’t been seen from them for a while. Also showed good grit to overcome Australia and then a professional performance against a decent Chile team.

2. Argentina
A tricky pick, because although they haven’t swept teams aside like Columbia or the Netherlands, but they have the outstanding player of the tournament. Messi has almost single-handedly won the game against Bosnia after a shaky start, Iran after a solid defensive showing and then Nigeria in one of the games of the competition. With Messi on the pitch anything is possible.

1. Columbia

Easily the best team in the competition so far, and not just for the dancing after their goals. Free-flowing football from front to back as they won the three group games, putting three past a stingy Greek defence before blowing away Japan in the last game. James Rodriguez looks especially good, scoring three goals already   

Obviously it should be said that three games is a tiny sample size and the quality of opposition faced has ranged wildly from team to team. Also, just because Columbia are top ranked doesn't mean I think they're going to go on and win, but you won't have long to wait as the knock-out phase predictions will be up tomorrow.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

World Cup power rankings 32-17

So the last of the group games has just finished, and there is a much needed day off tomorrow before we get to the business end of the World Cup, starting with Netherlands v Mexico on Saturday afternoon.

I won’t pretend that I’ve seen every kick, but of the 48 group games I’ve managed to see 28 live, another 11 in full recorded, listened to 3 others on the radio and seen highlights of the other 6. So, after the first round of matches, here is my ranking of every team. Obviously the best team might not win and the top 16 won’t be those who went through. This isn’t based on anything beyond the three group games that each team has played in the 2014 World Cup.

The first 16 are below, I’ll post the top 16 tomorrow, along with a prediction of how the knock-out phase will work out.

32. Honduras
When they played the pre-tournament friendly against England everyone thought they were a dirty side, but it turns out they really were going soft on us. Offered nothing in their three games, except cynical fouling and

31. Iran
Played arguably the dullest game of the tournament against Nigeria, unlucky not to get something from Argentina but missed a couple of clear cut chances. Other than that happy to sit back, defend and offer very little going forward. They did manage to provide the Iranian President with a nice photo op though.

30. Cameroon
Had an unlucky draw, but an even worse defence. Conceded 8 goals but should have been into double figures apart from poor decisions. Alex Song summed things up with the most stupid sending off in World Cup history against Croatia.

29. South Korea
Played out two fairly dull draws and got taken apart by Algeria in the space of 15 minutes. Have fallen a long way since 2002, no real strength in any position. Lack of physical presence in the final third of the pitch.

28. Japan
Really struggled to hit their stride, losing against Ivory Coast after taking the lead and being unable to break down an organised Greek team before being ripped apart by Columbia. Lacked an ability to control the ball and make the final cutting pass.

27. Australia
No quality but plenty of fight and guts in a group that virtually every team would have struggled against. Ran Chile and Netherlands close before folding against Spain, but did score the goal of the tournament through Tim Cahill.

26. England
Low expectations which were far from reached. Sloppy defending in the first two games and a blunt attack apart from two counters which produced the goals. So-called star players came up woefully short and tactically inept decisions from the manager.

25. Spain
Worst ever defending Champions at a World Cup, never recovered from the demolition Netherlands inflicted on them. The two centre backs looked like they had walked into the ground off the street and the attack gave little to lift the spirits.

24. Russia
Typical Fabio Capello team, well organised but lacking inspiration and at times pretty tough to watch. Only goal of the tournament came from some very poor Algerian defending , and spent most of their first two games happy to see time out in midfield, even when losing to Belgium.

23. Ivory Coast
Looked unsettled by the Drogba problem, even when beating Japan in the opening game. Ran Columbia close and unlucky to go out after a last minute Greece penalty. Needed a couple of the Premier League stars to step up and make a contribution.

22. Portugal
Didn’t help themselves by getting torn apart by Germany and having Pepe sent off for a head-butt. Lucky to get a point against the USA before beating a demoralised Ghana team. Always likely to be a one-man team but even Ronaldo couldn’t help them, and his tantrums told the story.

21. Greece
Played exactly how many thought they would, well organised at the back apart from the mauling by Columbia and offering very little going forward. Very fortunate to go through but cool head from Samaras to score the last minute penalty.

20. Ecuador
Nearly caught Switzerland cold in the first game, but lack of ambition against France illustrated by a reluctance to bring a striker off the bench even when needing a win. Struggled without their home altitude to protect them, only just got past a very poor Honduras team.

19. Italy
Clinical finishing to capitalise on two mistakes against England but offered little in the other two games, causing Costa Rica and Uruguay few problems. Pirlo didn’t look as good as we had hoped, and the forward line never really came to the party.

18. Ghana
Unlucky not to have taken more from their first two games. Not especially tight at the back but always looked strong going froward. Unfortunate that the curse of the World Cup team split hit them this year, and couldn’t pull off the miracle they needed against Portugal.

17. Nigeria
Looked well organised and some promising players in midfield. A little blunt going forward but did come alive through Musa against Argentina in the last game. Well organised at the back in front of a solid keepr, only breached by Messi, which is nothing to cry about.

The next batch will be up tomorrow….

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tax justice tour with ActionAid

Do this tour for yourself!!!!

Just before the World Cup fever completely takes over every aspect of life, my wife and I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours walking around Mayfair with some very cool people who are all supporting ActionAid in their campaign for Tax Justice.

Tax evasion and avoidance are issues which affect virtually every country in the world. Even in the UK celebrities like Jimmy Car and Gary Barlow have taken advantage of the myriad of complex schemes available to legally avoid paying the pull tax due. At the same time there are massive cuts to public services going on, people are relying on foodbanks, the NHS is being cut. Can you see the link?

But it’s an even bigger issue elsewhere in the world, where some big companies are taking advantage of tax havens, shell companies and all sorts of other shady dealings to deny some of the poorest countries in the world money which they are owed. It’s money which could transform these societies.

There were around 10 stops on the tour, taking in some of the wealthiest, most lavish (and frankly most repulsive) parts of London. I counted three yacht shops, which shockingly are exactly what you would think, but lost count of the number of Ferraris and Porches in the street (and homeless people for that matter!).

It is possible that people who avoid tax spend money which should be used for societal good at places like this. I wouldn't be seen dead here.
We started at Barclays (BOOO!) who are encouraging companies to take advantage of Mauritius as a tax haven. Interestingly the branch was next door to a Boots, who have had their own issues with tax return forms recently. Interestingly throughout the whole evening we never heard stories of people on the Minimum Wage avoiding tax, but then we are all in this together aren't we.

I won’t give too much away on the rest of the tour, because you should on it yourself! But I will say that I was shocked how much tax is being avoided, how many of the FTSE 100 companies are at it and what lengths they will go to in order to dodge the tax that rightfully belongs to citizens around the world. We heard about Ghana and Zambia where ActionAid and their friends are doing great work, but many other countries are entangled.

While there wasn’t any suggestion that anyone is doing anything illegal, that doesn’t mean that tax avoidance isn’t pretty ugly and those who are doing it are morally bankrupt (if financially boosted!). As for those mercenaries who work for companies helping all of this happen, I wonder how they sleep at night.

It wasn’t all downbeat, by the end we were hearing of real progress being made by ActionAid. It just goes to show that when god people come together they can triumph over the collective evil which the world throws at them. If you haven’t ever been to Mayfair before, or even if you have but didn’t know that some of the people who operate there have pretty loose morals, then this is a tour you can’t afford to miss.

This issue really is a no-brainer. You don't have to be a socialist to think it's wrong, you just have to have a heart and think that every country should get the tax it is due from companies and individuals.