England Out again!! And again!!

English Premier League, the most popular football league in the world, takes pride in flaunting the most expensive players from different corners of the world. But has it done any good to English Football? Apoorv Upadhye digs deeper for some answers.

Disappointed English fans
Disappointed English fans
What is the most ironic thing in life? Being one of the earliest inventors of a game, setting up its modern rules and then failing in the same game again and again!

That, in a nutshell, is England for you. It has almost been 50 years since they reached the zenith of football. Way back in 1966 they won their first World Cup – their only triumph till date – under the leadership of Sir Bobby Charlton. Today, the English Premier League, also known as Barclays Premier League, is considered the most popular football league in the world. It is growing in terms of money, but not in human capital and that makes its future look rather bleak.  
This point becomes clearer when you look at its other European counterparts — Spain, Germany and, most recently, Belgium are producing young talented footballers. We all know that Germany won the FIFA World Cup while Spain, the defending champions couldn’t make it even to the Round of 16. However, neither the win nor the loss has put them on their backfeet in terms of nurturing talent. Isco, Koke, Jesé Rodríguez, Álvaro Morata are some of the Spanish youngsters who show promise to bring back the Cup to spain some
Four years ago, Belgium were ranked 57, and now, they are one of the significant contenders for Euro 2016. Given the competition all around, England needs to pull its socks up and find a quick and sure mode of survival. Will the German and Spanish model work? Or will England have a tough task to follow?

World Cup Woes

From the recently concluded World Cup 2014, we saw that England was bundled out by Italy and Uruguay. Unfortunately they got the group of death. Everyone accepted the fact that England were unlucky to get such a tough group and it would be very difficult for them to cross the group stage. But this talented team had the guts to bench high profile players and give chance to the newbies with huge potential like Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana, Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson, Luke Shaw and many others.
The first match England played was against the Italians who were known as a good defensive unit relying heavily on counter attacking punches. Though a score line of 2-1 defeat shows a close match, a brilliant performance by Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio had totally bamboozled the England team. None of the English players rose up to the occasion. After the loss they had to face Uruguay (shaken already and charged up by the 1-3 defeat to Costa Rica) with a half-fit Luis Suarez, who rose to fame in EPL scoring the highest number of goals in Europe in 2013-14 and winning the European Golden Shoe. In the match Wayne Rooney missed a couple of sitters but Suarez got two opportunities and banged both the shots at the back of the net to send England out of the World Cup.

Suarez firing a bullet to crush English dreams
Suarez firing a bullet to crush English dreams

The basic necessity for England was to at least qualify for the top 16. They could have done so by even drawing against both the tougher opponents – Italy and Uruguay – provided they were able to clinch a victory against a relatively easier Costa Rica. But that was not to be. Also as nobody believed that they were going to Brazil with one of England’s most impressive teams, it was baffling to listen to the “realists” predicting exit in the quarter-finals. How were they supposed to get even that far?

What’s ailing the English team?

The question as a fallout of the shameful results was : “Is EPL the biggest problem for England football team?” There are strong arguments that EPL prevents nurturing of the local talent and leaves the selectors to choose from only a handful of players.
If we look at building the Golden Generation we observe that the strength of the system lies in its base. Take Germany as an example. The core of Germany’s World Cup 2014 winning squad came through the different age groups playing as a unit. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer; defenders Benedikt Howedes,Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels; mid-fielders Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil all started in the 2009 Under-21 European Championship final, in which they annihilated England. All but the injured Khedira were in the starting XI against Argentina.
Compare that with England – only survivor from that 2009 final to make it to the 23-man England squad in World Cup 2014 was James Milner. It is not only about playing as a group together, it is also about opportunities at the age group levels. The likes of Shaw, Lallana, Sterling and Barkley had not played in a major tournament at under-21 level. In contrast, the six players to feature for Germany in that 2009 final all made at least 15 appearances before progressing to the senior side.
Ex-England manager and currently in charge of relegation-threatened Queens Parks Rangers, Harry Redknapp once lamented on the problems at the youth level saying the best youth teams in England are flooded with foreign kids. This is a serious derailment from the ’70s or ’80s where the youth team was full of more local kids and not just English kids. So, definitely, English youth is deprived of opportunity and there is no point cursing the lack of young talented English players.
Even the England analysts appear more patriotic than logical. They tend to judge their player performances based on flashes of excitement. If Sterling or Barkley creates an eye-catching run into space which does not include a lot of skill, that is instantly hailed as a brilliant performance and the player’s value rockets up. That is not how performances should be evaluated. One needs to look at what the player actually does with that space, his decision making in interacting with other players, or how effective the move eventually is to envision a real opportunity.

The next generation
The next generation

If you recall Michael Owen’s brilliant goal in the famous match against Argentina in World Cup 1998 held in France, you will remember how England were praised for their passion and empirical approach to that game. Yet, they lost. In nearly all their World Cup games, England have come out as the second best.
English supporters are by now used to the refrain “Lost the match but won our hearts”. This year the manager blamed ‘luck’ to get drawn in the group of death but did they really analyse the strengths of the underdog team Costa Rica which qualified from the same group? In 2010, they blamed the wrong decision given against them – yes, they were correct – but never accepted that they were awful against Germany.
England does have talent, though not in the same league as Spain and germany, but the problem lies elsewhere.

Is the League System blemished?

If we take the top three leagues in Europe – La Liga, Bundesliga and EPL – we will see a huge amount of alteration. English Premier League is meant to be the building block for young English players so that they can showcase their talent. How many times have we seen articles quoting XYZ is the next Xavi, or the next Messi? Neither media nor the EPL system help the U21 grow to their potential. If we look beyond, we find that during the dominant Spanish era, most of their players came from the ranks of La Masia or La Fábrica and most of them played for Barcelona and Real Madrid. It is usually the same story in Germany, where their players play for Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund.

League Players playing in the league
English Premier League 32%
Serie A 47%
Bundesliga 1 and 2 55%
La liga 77%

These statistics clearly demonstrate that less than one-third local players are getting to play in the top tier, way below the expected level. And, the Football Association, couldn’t really care less about these numbers.
Based on the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League records, let us have a look at the number of players in the starting Xl from their country of birth.

Clubs Involved No of Players from the home Country
Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City 8
Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid,Real Socieded 22
Juventus, Milan, Napoli 10
Marseille, Paris Saint Germain 7

Manchester City’s EPL winning 2013-2014 season had only two regular English internationals to feature consistently in the club’s starting XI – goalkeeper Joe Hart and midfielder James Milner. To draw a parallel, in the only successful World Cup campaign of England (1966), the core of the team was formed around players from a single club – West Ham.
The Premier League finds itself in a plight whereby the top teams have very few English players actually competing with the rest of Europe’s elite. Clubs such as Southampton and Everton are perfect for a greenhorn to excel, but sadly these clubs are not in the top bracket in England, forget about Europe. Naturally, these clubs are just too below par in terms of the opportunities and facilities offered. When pitted against the mighty Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, the young English counterparts fade in comparison.

Forward Ho!

EPL is nothing but a money churning machine and the clubs are continually ignoring the challenge to develop English players. They are taking the easy route of foreign exports and it is seriously harming any chance of England becoming a dominant footballing nation. Change is needed and needed fast. It is all but over for the current crop of players but it is not too late for the younger lot.
The gap in class cannot be more apparent from the fact that Tom Cleverly makes it to the World Cup 2014 squad, but a much superior Isco cannot get a sniff in at the Spanish team. Sometimes harsh decisions might be the call of the hour – yes, it might be pretty tough but it has to start from somewhere.
England have the talent and can produce superstars but the transition between being a talented player and becoming a superstar seems a gap too far to bridge. So, whom should England follow? Neither Spain, nor Germany, at this stage. But England can surely take a few leaves out of Belgium’s book in the way they have come out from nowhere to become a contender among the superpowers in the world of football. The next four years will hopefully etch England’s footballing future!


FIFA World Cup With Bollywood Curry

With World Cup just around the corner we re-imagined few of the cult Bollywood movie posters and gave them a football twist in a a humorous, cryptic and minimalist way to wish luck few of the popular nations. This is nothing official but to spice up the month long journey coming ahead. Enjoy – Football in Filmy Attire (in short we call it FIFA).

Argentina – Will He or won’t He be a witness this time?


Brazil – The zeal for beauty


England – For the Lion hearted


France- Head vs heart. Can they overcome the battle within?


Germany – Can they steel a win?


Italy – What’s cooking, Pastafarians?


Netherlands – Thirsting for a win


Spain – Will the bull run continue for the reigning champions?


D Stands for Death

Debopam Roy previews the teams from the group of death.

Seven World Cups and 19 continental trophies distinguish the four teams in the group which has rightly been called the group of death. Of the 4 teams, one is a reigning continental champion, the other runner up at the continental championships. One is a perennial underachiever while the other is the rank outsider who has always punched above their cumulative weight.


Awesome Twosome
Awesome Twosome

Many consider this to be the year of the Los Charruas and not without reason. Their team was a young team on the rise when they lost the semifinals of 2010 World Cup to a Dutch team that was at the peak of its powers. They then lost the third   place playoff to another powerhouse – Germany. Since then, Uruguay has only gone up achieving their highest FIFA ranking (#2) in 2012. They have won the Copa America and also boast the record of being the World Cup winner the last time it was held in Brazil.

However, their prospects would have to be tempered if their qualification campaign is to be considered. Till the  sixth round, La Celeste was unbeaten and on top of group but then a 4-0 loss to Colombia derailed them. Bolivia beat them 4-1 and Argentina beat them 3-1 and Chile got better of them 2-0 and even Ecuador beat them 1-0 and last gasp wins over Argentina and Colombia allowed Uruguay to finish on  fifth spot. That meant a playoff match against a team from Asian qualification campaign, and it was Jordan. Uruguay thumped them by 5 goals away and then played a goalless home leg to qualify through.

The team is built back to front so that  it has a solid defence and midfield and an explosive forward line. The likes of Jorge Fucile, Diego Godin, Diego Lugano, Martin Caceres batten down the hatch of Fernando Muslera’s goal. However, Godin and Lugano are now getting on. Their lack of pack has often been exploited – 25 goals conceded in the qualifiers, of which 16 were on the road, shows that. Uruguay desperately need Sebastian Coates to return from his anterior cruciate injury and recapture the tremendous form of title clinching 2011 Copa America. The midfield has the steel of Walter Gargano, Diego Perez as well as the guile of Nicolas Lodeiro and speed of Gaston Ramirez. But the lynchpin of the squad is easily the formidable twosome of Luis Suarez, Uruguay’s all time leading scorer with 38 goals in 77 matches and Edinson Cavani. Both had extraordinary seasons with Suarez netting 31 goals in Premier League and Cavani 25 in his first stint in  Ligue 1. It’s undoubtedly the deadliest strike duo in world football. Add in the wily Diego Forlan into the mix and the young turk Abel Hernandez and this is a forward line which has everything. Manager Oscar Tabarez has been at the helm since 2006 and has taken Uruguay to their best ever spell in world and continental football since the heydays. After Uruguay had missed out on three of the four preceding World Cups, , Tabarez almost by a wand, transformed their fortunes and Uruguay came  fourth in the continental championships in 2007. Three years later, they repeated that  fourth place in the biggest stage in South Africa and then won the Copa America in 2011. The progression thus says they would repeat that win now in the biggest stage in Brazil and Tabarez’s canonization would be complete. His tactical versatility even during away qualifiers and the Confederations Cup, where he shifted from his usual 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 to counteract the opponent  has been one of the chief weapons.  In 2010, Luis Suarez used his hands (with some thanks to Asamoah Gyan) to send Uruguay to their first ever semi finals since 1950. Can his goals give them their first World Cup since 1950?


One Last Hurrah
One Last Hurrah

They say that if the World Cup was held every 12 years then Italy would contest every final (1970, 1982, 1994, 2006). Going by that logic, 2014 is  four years too soon. 12 years is also the time that would take for a new generation to come in and settle down. So Italy has roughly managed to get to every World Cup final when it has had an overhaul of a generation. Cesare Prandelli was the man who was tasked with this. After the debacle of 2010 World Cup when Marcello Lippi overstayed his welcome and his band of merry men, Italy went for a generational change except for  two very distinctive figures – Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon. Both are certainly going to their final World Cup,  and, along with Andrea Barzagli and Alberto Gilardino (if they are called up) they bear the only link to the team of 2006.

Indeed Prandelli has had quite the turnaround in fortune. After leading Azzurri, quite unexpectedly, to the finals of the Euros, it was a bit disappointing that Italy only finished third in the Confederations Cup. However, in the later tournament, Prandelli showed that the lessons from the 4-0 Euro final defeat at the hands of the Spaniards were well and truly taken. Italy only lost to eventual champions Brazil and held Spain goalless, losing in the tiebreaker  in  the semifinal. The experience of playing in the heat of Brazil would definitely help Lo Azzurri cope better than the other teams in the main tournament.

Looking at the World Cup qualifying stage, one would have to say Prandelli has broken new ground. Italy has been perennial slow starters as well as tense finishers. The 2014 campaign has been as smooth as one of Pirlo’s long range passes. Going unbeaten and  qualifying with two games to spare, was quite an achievement. Second-placed Denmark was  so poor that they were adjudged the worst runner up in European qualifying campaign and so failed to advance to the second round. But it has a different edge too. Once qualification was sealed, Prandelli experimented with the last two matches and rotated his squad. Italy failed to win either of them, lost vital ranking points, dropped out of the seeded places and now find themselves in the group of Death.

The new Azzurri have new heroes waiting to be unleashed. Ciro Immobile may have quite some puns on his surname but being the leading scorer in the Serie A at 24 is no mean feat. Just to put that into perspective, the last Italian striker to be capocannoniere in Serie A before his 24th year was one Filippo Inzaghi and the one before that was Beppe Signori. Both of them were part of the Italian  squad that reached the World Cup final and had the tiebreaker settling the fate – once with heartbreak and other with joy. Immobile, though, would have to thank Torino teammate Alessio Cerci, who is having the season of his lifetime. At 26, he is a rare Italian forward who can burn the wings while still being creative ( nine assists this season) and prolific in front of the goal (13 goals).  Then plying his trade for Napoli, Insigne is probably the closest Italy has to a true fantasista. Stephan El Shaarawy of Milan is returning after almost a season long injury layoff, and the Pharaoh would do well to get into the team. His teammate, Mario Balotelli though is sure to lead the charge of this young brigade. With Juventus winning a treble of scudetti, Italy is assured of a solid defence  and midfield which have played together for long.

Overall, Italy will provide a vibrant new team that still has the engine room run by Pirlo and a solid defensive backbone. But are they equipped enough to break the 12-year cycle? Probably not. The key personnel in this team are either going for their first World Cup or their last. Most world cups are won when the majority of the team  is in their peak between 25-32 years. So this maybe one World Cup too soon. But still this team has performed admirably and would definitely be there towards  the business end of the tournament.


Captain Fantastic
Captain Fantastic

England’s participation in a global event has two characteristics  – media hype and penalty anguish (England has only won one knockout match in a top tournament when it has gone to penalties) . Their press makes sure that the optimism is high for each “golden generation” and then when the team doesn’t come good, the recrimination is equally scathing. This time though there has not been too much hype. Part of it is to do with the understanding that success of English clubs in Europe doesn’t equate to success of the English national team in the World Cup. A chastening Euro where England  neither disgraced themselves (unlike the 4-0 thrashing in 2010 World Cup) nor lit up the ambitions showed that the team is still quite far off the continental front runners – Spain, Germany, Portugal and Italy. In the 48 years since their lone triumph, England has  managed to reach the semi finals only once.

The qualification campaign was more proof that England still aren’t what their scribes would like them to be. Despite going unbeaten, England failed to beat closest competitor, Ukraine across both the legs. And they were chased right till the last minute of their last match. Only a 2-0 win against Poland at home ensured England finished one point above Ukraine. The other jarring thing was that England couldn’t beat any of the other top  three nations on the road. Roy Hodgson’s team at times played listless football and managed to get the result by luck or great goalkeeping exploits. Indeed one of the bright features was the defensive display and England conceded   four goals – only Spain conceded lesser. They also scored 31 goals which would rank them third most prolific behind the Germans and the Dutch. But this fact should be tempered with the knowledge that 22 of those goals came in four matches against San Marino and Moldova. Indeed, if we take out the results of those two teams from group H, it is Ukraine who finishes above England both in points (11 to 10) and goal difference (+6 to +5).

In a twisted way though, this patchy qualification has for once ensured that the expectations are more tempered thus ensuring the squad goes to the finals in a better frame of mind. No more is it deemed that all English superstar players have to do is turn up at the biggest stage and the prize is theirs. They have to toil and graft, which they have shown they can do in this campaign and it will hold them in good stead in this group of death. Exiting at the group stage would probably be disastrous for the millions of fans and they would bank on the fact that the Italians are notorious slow starters and try to bag one of the top two spots.

One thing is for certain, if the team is to do well, Wayne Rooney would have to have an outstanding World Cup. The qualification campaign saw the Manchester United forward bag  seven goals which were still  four less than his Mancunian teammate Robin van Persie, the leading scorer in European qualifying campaign. Indeed if the support cast of Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge can support Rooney for the goals, then England probably has the defence in Leighton Baines , Gary Cahill, Joleon Lescott and Glen Johnson to hold on to those leads. Steven Gerrard is probably finally having the season he has always dreamt of. A Liverpool legend who just missed out in completing his trophy cabinet at club level as Man City won the league, he would elevate himself to an English legend if he can lead this English team to the Holy Grail.


Captain Bryan Ruiz
Captain Bryan Ruiz

When the other  three teams in your group are former World Cup winners, all you can hope for is, you exit with some dignity. Costa Rica would expect nothing different and they might decide which of the  three heavy weights go out at group stage by managing to sneak a draw or even a win against any of the three. But their qualifying campaign has been a fairy-tale and the confidence that they would gain from that may propel them to upset one of the group’s big shots.

Costa Rica has qualified for the World Cup  three times before this and twice they had topped from the CONCACAF region. This included their maiden venture at Italia 90 when they beat Scotland and Sweden in the tournament proper to actually advance to the second round. Their performance in their next World Cup appearance was equally commendable. The Ticos lost 5-2 to eventual champion Brazil, drew 1-1 with eventual    third place finishers Turkey and beat China 2-0. Still they finished third in the group and were eliminated only on goal difference as that 5-2 loss meant they would finish with an inferior goal difference to Turkey.  Four years later they qualified as  third team from CONCACAF and   suffered a rambunctious 4-2 loss in the opening match to Germany but proved insipid in the other two matches against Poland and Ecuador. In 2010, Costa Rica finished 4th in CONCACAF and went into a  two-legged play-off against Uruguay. The Ticos lost at home by a solitary goal and despite threatening a second goal which would have taken them through to the world cup, could only settle for 1-1 in the away match.

The 2014 qualifying campaign had the Ticos almost eliminated after  two losses to Mexico in the 3rd round of CONCACAF qualifying campaign. A 1-0 win over El Salvador and 7-0 thrashing of Guyana pushed them to the fourth round. There they were a different force altogether and qualified with a couple of matches to spare. But goal scoring remains a problem – captain Bryan Ruiz scored only three goals during the whole qualifying campaign (10 matches) but that was enough to make him the top goal scorer for the team.

The team has its blend of experience and youth. Many of the first team play in top leagues of Europe and have honed their skill well in the best leagues. In defence, there is goalkeeper Keylor Navas from Levante who kept  seven clean sheets from 14 qualifying matches, defenders Junior Diaz of Mainz 05, Christian Gamboa of Rosenborg and Oscar Duarte of Club Brugge. The best of the midfield play their trade in Scandinavia – Celso Borges at AIK and Cristian Bolanos at Copenhagen. But it is the forward line which has grabbed all the attention. 21-year-old Joel Campbell was signed by Arsenal and sent to Olympiacos. He showed his talent  by scoring against Manchester United in the Champions League second round . Captain Bryan Ruiz has been a star for PSV after joining them on loan from Fulham. Alvaro Saborio Chacon is the most experienced and has scored 32 goals for his national team placing him   third behind Rolando Fonseca and Paulo Wanchope in the all-time lists.

Costa Rica is managed by Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto who has experience of managing all over Latin and Central America, which included  three titles in Costa Rica. He has been managing Costa Rica since 2011. He has made them defensively compact and pressing the opponents when not in possession of the ball. Since qualification, Costa Rica has been less than auspicious. Losses to Australia and South Korea sandwiched between a 4-0 thrashing from Chile. But they managed a 2-1 win over Paraguay in their last friendly. It would be a miracle if Costa Rica can manage to open their account in the group. Their best chance would be to catch either of the two European teams unaware, who are not used to the heat of Brazil. Even then, it would be a brave man who would bet Costa Rica getting to the next round.

Britannian Fields – A Look into the Future and a Shame of the Present

Krishnendu Sanyal writes about St George’s Park national football centre, opened by the English Football Association in the hope of restructuring English football and the John Terry-Ashley Cole soap opera that has brought shame to English football

A step towards the future

The English national team, if you believe a few, are perennial underachievers and some will say they never even had the setup to be a top international team. The 1966 World Cup at home, was their last success on the international stage and they played some good football in Euro 1996, again held at home. Other than that, they have been a team who play mediocre football and get knocked out on quarter-final and semi-final stages of the big tournaments on penalties (mostly against Germany). The opening of St George’s Park (SGP) national football centre at Burton, on October 9, is a step in the right direction taken by the Football Association to wake English football up from its morbid state.
The national football centre was first discussed by the FA in 1975 and the land purchased in 2001 to build this state-of-the-art facility that the FA hopes, will bring out a new generation of English footballers who can bring success to a long suffering national team.

Roy Hodgson, the current England manager, believes that the FA had its priorities wrong way round in concentration of the £757m revamp of the Wembley stadium before the national football centre. England needed a structure for its game before the New Wembley. Certainly, history will remark that the revamp of the national stadium sucked time, resources and energy of the FA, which could have been better utilised for the national football centre.



The facilities at SGP are top-notch, including the best sports medicine and science centre in England, 12 full-sized pitches including one indoor, two Hilton hotels with 228 rooms between them, offices of the LMA (League Managers’ Association), the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) among others. Although, the FA admits that the hard work begins now and they need to make sure that it doesn’t become drainage of funds as the Wembley had. For that, they need to make sure that they maintain a steady flow of its own elite coaches but also other sports, who wish to use these facilities.

The FA has finally set up a facility that is consistent with their Future Game rhetoric.



To make this new and exciting adventure work, FA needs full co-operation from some hostile factions. The FA’s new mantra of coaching the coaches will need to be tailored with the professional game’s elite player performance plan, under which the biggest clubs have invested millions into their own facilities to attract the best young players from around the British Isles.


Although the FA is gleaming with joy in finally getting the facility out, they know that the facility’s effects on the broader English game will be felt in around a decade. While blowing the trumpet, the FA is playing for time. A cradle for English Football is ready, let us see what the future holds.

Terry and Cole have shamed England and Chelsea

Most public or private corporations would sack a leading figure who was found guilty of racism by an independent commission board as it brings unwanted filth on the corporation itself.


John Terry was acquitted in a criminal trial at the Westminster magistrate’s court but the judge remarked that Terry’s defence was unlikely but he doesn’t have enough evidence for criminal conviction. The independent commission set up by the FA found him guilty of using racial language against a fellow professional. They concluded that Terry’s defence (that he was repeating Anton Ferdinand’s words) was “improbable, implausible and contrived“. They said there was “no credible evidence” for Terry’s defence.


Suppose, a CEO of a big corporation was found guilty of saying, “You f***ing black c**t … f***ing knobhead!” to a competitor in public, by an independent commission, what will the corporation do?


They will sack him.


Chelsea has other questions to answer too. The independent commission detailed how Ashley Cole’s evidence evolved over time to further support Terry’s defence. The FA is accusing Cole (Terry’s principle witness) of lying in front of a commission. In his first statement to the FA, Cole had made no mention of the fact that he had heard Ferdinand using the word “black”. In a revised statement, he had the word inserted to corroborate with Terry’s defence.


The club secretary, David Barnard, facilitated Ashley Cole’s change of evidence. The commission remarked that they had “very real concerns” on Barnard’s evidence and said that it was “materially defective”. This is a damning indictment of the club secretary. What would Chelsea do? What would any big corporation do?

Three Lions – Much Ado About Nothing

Another big tournament, another failure. England’s non-performance at the big stage continues. Krishnendu Sanyal takes you through the agony of watching England’s abject surrender and another penalty shoot-out failure

Familiarity, so they say, breeds contempt. England can relate.

England has been there before, to the extent that it seemed quite inevitable. England is out of another tournament on penalty shoot-outs and again failed to beat a ‘major’ football nation.

The kick that finished it all

This quarter-final was different to the other quarter-final exits that preceded it. At least against Portugal (2006 World Cup) and Brazil (2002 World Cup), England gave their opponents a decent run for their money. Against the Italians, England were by far the second best team. The Azzurri created more chances, had better possession and Roy Hodgson’s two banks of four was clearly intending to park the bus and winning the lottery via a set-piece.

This doesn’t mean England had a bad tournament. There were a few positives to take away from Poland-Ukraine and was definitely an improvement on the disaster that was Germany 2006.

Roy Hodgson: Deserves more time

Deserves time

Roy Hodgson’s tactics were considered negative by many and the possession statistics clearly second that thought process. On the other hand, we can say Hodgson was building a base from which he can start his work and was using the resources that were available to him.

We mustn’t forget that for varying reasons England were unable to call on John Ruddy, Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, Kyle Walker, Micah Richards, Gareth Barry, Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverly, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Darren Bent. At some point all of them would have been considered for selection for the tournament.

Who knows what would have happened if Hodgson had a Jack Wilshere and a Michael Carrick at his disposal. We should also remember he had only a month to prepare the team for the tournament and come 2014 World Cup qualifiers, when he will have had more time, his tactics might not be as rigid and defensive as it was during the tournament. The Fulham and West Brom teams of Roy Hodgson were an organized bunch but were not as defensive as the England team, so he deserves more time to work with the team and with better players at his disposal, he might make a difference to the England set-up.

As I earlier said, Hodgson built a good base. While defending, the back four together with Scoot Parker and Steven Gerrard conceded only 3 goals in four games plus an extra half hour and 2 of them came against Ukraine. The defence was rigid and organized and rarely lost its shape and together with the midfield, were a difficult structure to break down. That is an extremely good record and something that the team can definitely build on, especially with the manager having more time and players becoming available after recovering from injury.

Truth Be Told

There were negatives though. A number of players had a poor tournament. Ashley Young flattered to deceive and was nowhere close to replicating his club form with Manchester United. To be fare to him, he spent most of the time in his own half and was running into blind alleys when with the ball, due to the rigid tactics of play that England adopted. Wayne Rooney was banned for the first two games, came back and scored a goal against Ukraine but was largely anonymous against Italy. He looked off the space and England should really contemplate on whether they should take a player to a tournament if he is unavailable for the whole duration or look for his alternatives who could be a part of playing eleven from the start of the competition.

Unimpressive duo

But England’s greatest problem is their woeful passing. The ball seemed to bounce off every England player straight to the opponent and many passes were strayed and pointless. The most ridiculous statistic that showed England’s problem was that the best pass conversion for England players in the quarter-final was between Joe Hart and Andy Carroll. The problem is both technical and tactical. If you put on a passing drill, I don’t think any England player of the squad will hit 10/20/30/40 passes and that is due to the British way of playing football. The tactical side is that England players are very rigid when it comes to positioning, they rarely create enough room or space to create an opportunity for pass to be made, and opponents find it easy to read the game and get the ball back under their possession.

Moving Forward

England will have to progress. Functional football such as this is good as short-term fix, but wholly unacceptable in the grand scheme of things. For some such as John Terry and Frank Lampard (who was injured here), they will need to be phased out. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can expect a bigger role in the future; Jack Wilshere’s return from injury will be met with great anticipation.

Wilshere – Hope for the future

So there we have it, positives and negatives. A disappointing exit to a tournament where England did better than expected, there is hope for the future and certainly some good elements to build on but, and it may be a cliché, the hard work really does start now for Roy Hodgson and his men.


Title courtesy: Souvik Basu

England try to do an Italian job with ‘Catenaccio’

Match Facts

Quarter Final: Italy vs Ireland

Friday, 24 June 2012

2045 (local time); 1445(EST); 0015(IST)

Stadion NSK Olimpiyskiy, Kiev

The final quarter final of the Euro is on us and it is probably the only quarterfinal with no clear favourite. In a way both the teams are on their own way trying to come out of a rut.  On one side, Italy, under Cesare Prandelli, is trying to rebuild from the shambles of 2010 world cup and Prandelli is building in essence for the 2014 world cup and 2012 Euros is probably a milestone in how much progress he has made with this team.  Holding Spain to a 1-1 draw was probably as good as any team has played against Spain in any of the matches Spain has played in major tournaments since 2008. England on the other hand have been forced to rebuild with a new manager and new personnel due to events that were least expected 6 months back.

Pirlo and Cassano – holds Italy’s hope

Roy Hodgson has taken a team that is unspectacular and workmanlike. Roy has shaped his team’s mentality, from the maxim that he must have learnt while managing in Italy – You don’t lose if you don’t concede. England has all been about not conceding, sitting deep and defending with 8 men at times. Their defensive cohesiveness was praiseworthy but they conceded twice from set pieces to Sweden and that remains a big weakness. For their goals too England has depended on set pieces so this will be one of the key match-up points for the tie.  The Italians though have, arguably, more quality in the midfield and has also been more hardworking – England covered 152km in their group matches (3rd best in the group), Italy did 208 km in their group matches (2nd best in the group).

The English are hoping on Rooney & Gerrard to deliver

But Italy has shown their Achilles heel in each of the 3 matches – getting tired and worn out after 60 minutes and while this may or may not be linked to the fitness of Andrea Pirlo, Italy’s metronome, it is something that the English would like to utilise. But England themselves have been poor in large tracts of their matches and possibly wouldn’t even have qualified if not for a glaring refereeing error. In the end, England would probably be playing the more waiting game, trying to wear Italy out while Italy will try to finish the matches in scheduled time. But given how no match has finished goalless in this glorious tournament and no tiebreaker has happened; expect a tiebreaker after a goalless 120 minutes.

Form Guide

Roy’s strategy could well be keep it tight at the back, playing on the counter and then unleash Theo Walcott’s pace at the tiring Italian backline. Italy would instead hope to score at least twice in those first 60 minutes. They have managed to score once in each of their matches in those 60 minutes. The trick will be holding on. Italy didn’t hold on to their leads beyond 60th minute in 2 of their matches.

Teams & Formations

Pirlo and Gerrard are probably playing their last major tournament and both have been magnificent for their teams, scoring goals and assisting them. Both these iconic players have one mercurial forward – Rooney and Cassano, who can score goals out of nowhere. The big talking point though is how Mario Balotelli will do. We all know the talent he possesses. We are also know how big a problem he can be. The Mario that turns up tomorrow will determine which team progresses on to face Germany.

The other point is if Italy will go with a 3 man defence or with a conventional 4 men one. This is key as Chiellini is going to miss this match with injury. Similarly England face the dilemma of if to play Welbeck with Rooney or pump for Carroll in attack. Carroll gives a different dimension to the English, especially in the light of Chiellini’s absence. But Welbeck has been probably the best England attacker in the tournament and would sneak ahead of Carroll.

Italy (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Barzagli; Christian Maggio, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Federico Balzaretti; Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano

Manager: Cesare Prandelli

England (4-4-2): Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole; James Milner, Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker, Ashley Young; Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck

Manager: Roy Hodgson


“It will certainly be close because the sides have very similar qualities, and also because Italy have a habit, which is both a pro and a con, that whoever we play – whether our opponents are strong or weak – it’s always an even contest. If we play against the best, we match them, but if we play against weak sides we never manage to win with ease. We always have to struggle a bit, so I think the difference between the two sides will be very, very, very, subtle indeed.”

Gianluigi Buffon,  Italy Goalkeeper and Captain.

“The closer you get, obviously you start realising that maybe there’s a chance we can go and do something really special. In saying that, football has a tendency to sting you when you start getting carried away, so we need to realise our main focus and that’s Sunday.”

Scott Parker, England midfielder and 2011 Player of the Year

Seven Points on the Match

England 1   Ukraine 0

                                                                                                    Rooney 48’

Rub of the green going their way
Rub of the green going their way
  • Ukraine must have felt being let down by the match officials when they were denied a legitimate goal last night but to be honest they have only the players to blame for the early elimination from the tournament. In spite of being the better team for major part of the match, they simply didn’t take their chances that came their way. It is true that absence of Andriy Shevchenko upfront was a major loss for them but then again, you cannot count on a single player to carry you every other day.
  • Roy Hodgson must be a overjoyed man after his team topped Group D. At the same time, he must be knowing how much England has to improve if they want to progress beyond the next match. Hodgson’s strategy from the start of the tournament clearly has been based on a solid defensive organization. But the way his defence was shaky at times against last night specially against crosses from the wide areas must been noticed by Cesare Prandelli, he will definitely be looking to capitalize over them. Although these are early days under his coaching, but Hodgson has to take some measure to close the loop-holes in his defensive line otherwise his honeymoon period won’t last long.
  • Tactically speaking, Ukraine was clearly the better team though the result suggests other. At times, the barrage of Ukraine attacks clearly unsettled the English. In the midfield, it was mainly the job of Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker to supply ammunitions for the forwards. Although personally Gerrard is having a good tournament with assists in all the three games, his combination with Scott Parker was not been able to dictate the game. The English midfield was too predictable and lack of improvisation from the wide players didn’t allow them to build up a sustained pressure on the Ukraine defence, mostly aerial route became their favoured way of attack. On the otherhand, Ukraine were able to spread their game to the wings and switch the flanks regularly. Their wingers Konoplayanka and Yarmolenko proved to be handful for the English defence and were a treat to watch. Had the two strikers be more clinical, the result would have changed.
  • A lot was written about Wayne Rooney’s return before the match. Although his goal separated the two sides, clearly Rooney didn’t play  the way he does week in week out for Manchester United. In the first half, he was a pale shadow of himself and without much support from midfield, it was difficult for him to get going. In the second half, he improved but still English fans will like to see for more of the club form that makes him such a dangerous player. He has to link up with the midfield and make others play around him, his understanding with Danny Welbeck was almost non-existant.
  • Ukraine people will be disappointed for their early exit from the tournament. They must have expected more specially as they are one of the host this time but they must be realistic of  what to expect from their team. Given the potential available to Oleh Blokhin, it was difficult to for him to guide the team past the group stage. However, the fans must stand beside their team as the way Ukraine played a spirited football has surprised many. Except the France match, players gave their heart out and with a little bit of luck, they could have reached quarter-final stage. This team can thrive in the future, with proper injection of young talents and sticking to their football philosophy they will alight the international stage. This tournament will be remembered for Ukraine’s favourite son ‘Sheva’ as this was his swansong tournament. The way he turned back the times against Sweden will be always cherished by his fans.
  • Probably no English fans expected the Three- Lions to top the group at the start with some even fearing a group stage exit. So they must be elated with this showing so far and hordes of fans will be on their way to give support in the quarterfinal. Italy awaits the English there and are a different proposition to what they have faced till now. Cesare Prandelli’s side will be very difficult to beat and has wide range of options to test English resilience. Wayne Rooney has to get back to self and the rest team has to improve if they want to go past the Azzuri.
  • Last but not the least, goal line controversy again makes a comeback in a major international tournament that too in a England game (‘Why always them ?’), although this time English fans will be happy as they enjoyed the fruits of the wrong decision.  Marko Devic’s goal clearly crossed the line entirely but goal was never given. So again the hue and cry for goal line technology arises and it is to be seen when FIFA finally gives the green light with Sepp Blatter already declaring goal-line technology now a “necessity”.
The Last Bow – Sheva played his last international match
The Last Bow – Sheva played his last international match


“I don’t think it’s a case of us over-performing — we’re just performing to the level we’re capable of.To do well against the teams you come up against here — 16 fantastic teams — you need to play well.”

                                                                                      Steven Gerrard

“ England only had a few set pieces. We had lots of shots on target, but we weren’t lucky.”

Oleh Blokhin

Winner Takes it All

Match Facts

Group D: England vs Ukraine

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

20:45 (local time); 14:45(EST); 00:15(Wednesday, 20 June)(IST)

Donbass Arena, Donetsk

Interestingly, Last Day Syndrome has been a characteristic of the group stages in the current edition of the European Championship. Each of the four groups would know its top two team at the end of the corresponding final ‘match day’.  In group D, fierce battle waits the four teams to decide who will go through to the quarter-final stage. In Donetsk, the Three Lions will face the host Ukraine knowing that a draw will be enough for them. On the other hand, Ukraine will require an outright win to proceed to the last eight stage. However, English coach Roy Hodgson is pragmatic enough to know that aiming for a draw against the Ukrainians will be a dangerous gamble to play with. Although they drew a blank against the French, Ukraine was quite enthralling against Sweden with their ‘Sheva’ in scintillating form. England too was listless against France with only showing some sort of form against the Swedes. As pre-match reports are emerging, the two teams are facing contrasting fortunes. In this match, Hodgson will be very happy to welcome back his number One hitman Wayne Rooney who returns after serving his suspension. But Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin may have to send out his team in this vital game without the talismanic Andriy Shevchenko who is down with a knee problem. With so much up for grabs, this tie can’t be devoid of drama. It will take a lot from set of players to decide their fate. Blokhin has called upon his boys to give their everything on the pitch till the last minute in quest for the desired result. Belief seems to go up in the English camp after the Sweden win, now it is to be seen how the express themselves during the match.  Bursting at the crucial moment has always been a thorn for England.



Looking for Inspiration
Looking for Inspiration

Although Rooney will be back in the reckoning for the match, it will be quite interesting to see how Hodgson will incorporate him in the team. It is always a bit risky to alter a winning combination especially in a tournament but at the same time, leaving Rooney on bench will be unfathomable given the lack of cutting edge in attack of the team so far. So Hodgson will have to leave out either of Andy Carroll or Danny Welbeck on the bench and in all probability he will go for Rooney-Welbeck combination as the pair already has a thriving understanding at Manchester United. Another vital decision will be whether to start with Walcott who was excellent last match or stick with James Milner as the right-sided midfielder. Although Milner was quite ordinary in the first two matches, it seems Hodgson will persist with him as Walcott’s lack of defensive awareness won’t be suitable for team’s tactics. Instead Hodgson will look continue to look at Walcott as an impact substitute and will bring him in later stages of the match according to situation. The central defence too need to be tighter as they were responsible for the two goals conceded last match and the midfield duo of Steven Gerrard and Scot Parker has to continue their hard work.

PROBABLE  XI : Joe Hart ; Glen Johnson , John Terry , Joleon Lescott , Ashley Cole ; Steven Gerrard , Scot Parker , James Milner , Ashley Young ; Wayne Rooney , Danny Welbeck

Oleg Blokhin said that he will wait till the last moment for Shevchenko who will be a vital cog in his plan to stifle the English force. If ultimately Sheva is not available, Blokhin will turn to either of Artem Milevskiy or Marko Devic .Rest of the Ukraine team will remain the same like the last two matches. Both Ukraine and England aren’t too expert in keeping possession and a more direct game will be on display. In konoplayanka and Yarmolenko, Ukraine have two speedy wingers who will bomb forward at every opportunity. Another vital role will be given to Andrey Voronin who was excellent in the first match against Sweden. He will work his socks off trying to link between the midfield and the striker. The Captain Anotoliy Tymoshchuk will be trying to curb Rooney’s playmaking effort in his role of defensive midfielder. If Ukraine can find their rhythm similar to their first match, they will prove to be quite an handful for the English team who are the favourite going into the match.

Will he turn up?
Will he turn up?

PROBABLE XI : Andriy Pyatov ; Yevhev Selin,Yevhen Khacheridi,Taras Mykhalyk, Oleh Husyev; Anatoliy Tymoshchuk , Serhiy Nazarenko,Yevhen Konoplyanka,Andriy Yarmolenko; Andrey Voronin , Andrey Shevchenko ( Marko Devic/Artem Mievskiy)



England are among the favourites, so the pressure’s on them”

 Oleg Blokhin on his opponents

He’s a world-class player and I can see it in his eyes that he’s itching to get out there and perform. He could, hopefully, make the difference.”

Roy Hodgson on Rooney’s return


Traditional Rivals renew Euro Rivalry

Match Facts

Group D: France vs England

Monday, 11 June 2012

1800 (local time); 1200(EST); 21.30(IST)

Donbass Arena, Donetsk

What can Le Proffeseur Bring to France

Zinedine Zidane will always come to one’s mind whenever you think of an France vs England encounter and that too in an Euro clash. Eight years back, England were so close to a win in that pulsating encounter in Estadio da Luz but only to be denied by an injury time Zizou magic. However, lot have happened after that encounter in between 8 years. Le Blues have experienced the crest of success in in becoming Runners –up in WC 2006 as well as ignominious episode of the WC 2010. England on the other hand has continued to be perennial under achievers in International scenes. Coming to the Euro 2012, both sides have contrasting preparations.  France FA made whole sale changes to their National team after their debacle in the WC 2010. Laurent Blanc was installed as the Manager. Slowly but steadily, Blanc have been able to mould the team in his philosophy which that insists on playing attacking football with a balance at the back. He has brought a discipline in the team that was severely missing under previous manager.  Compared to that, the preparations of England team have been nothing sort of messy. After successful ly securing qualification for the Euro, Fabio Capello was preparing to erase the memories of an disappointing campaign WC 2010 with a strong performance in the Euro 2012. Then the John Terry saga happened when the National Captain was charged for racially abusing his fellow opponent. Although Capello stood by his Captain, the FA had to act to against Terry and stripped him of captaincy. This led to a collision between capello and the FA and eventually Capello resigned. After months of speculation, FA made the bizarre selection of Roy Hodgson as the manager barely 2 months before the Euro. Whether this is a correct or wrong selection, time will only tell but for any manager, it is next to impossible to get the best performance out of his team in such a short time. Things have become complex for Roy as he has lost 3 key players due to injury that includes Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and the ever reliable Gary Cahill, add to that  the suspension of Wayne Rooney who must have been a vital part of Roy’s plan. However all these things have given rise to a never –seen –before situation, the English press haven’t  been that vocal about the chances of the team in the tournament .A low expectation can be conducive to English team’s performance in the tournament.

Form Guide

France qualified for the Euro 2012 as group champions seeing off a stiff competition from Bosnia. In the build up to the Euro, they have played quite balanced football albeit against lesser opponents like Estonia. The players are also coming off good individual domestic seasons which will give them an added advantage.

England also emerged as Group champions in their qualification campaign which was quite an easier group. However their performances in the friendlies, leading to Euro, have been quite below par. Under new captian Steven Gerrard, the team seems to be finding their way forward.

Teams & Formations

Blanc after a lot of experimentations in the last two years seems to have found the right balance. Upfront, Benzema is raring to prove his worth for the National team. He will be backed by the attacking trio of Nasri , Ribery and Malouda with the excellent Cabaye and Diarra marshalling the midfield. However loss Eric Abidal can be important as the defence will be a concern for the Le Blues.

France : LLoris; Adil Rami, Patrice Evra, Mathieu Debuchy, Phillip Mexes; Cabaye,Alou Diarra; Nasri, Malouda, Ribery ; Benzema

Roy Hodgson will set out his team based on solid defensive organization that will try to hit opponents on counter. A lot will depend on how John Terry will lead the defensive line and Steven Gerrard will operate the midfield. Given their respective club forms, Danny Welbeck will start as the only striker over Andy Carrol and Jermaine Defoe. It is to be seen whether Alex Oxlade Chamberlain can prove to be a sensation for the Three Lions.


The Joker Inside


England : Hart; Glen Johnson, Jolean Lescott, John Terry, Ashley Cole; Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard; Alex Oxlade Chanberlain, Ashley Young, James Milner; Danny Welbeck


Don’t worry! The English will show up ready for us. They always want to win and even more so against the French.

France coach Laurent Blanc


We’ve all got to turn up and we’ve all got to perform well at the right time. There’s no point one or two turning up or you’ll go home early.

England Captain Steven Gerrard

The Triumph of ‘The Wingless Wonders’

The World Cup was coming to the land of the founders of the game. Kinshuk Biswas recounts how the revolutionary tactics of England coach Sir Alf Ramsey and a controversial decision by the officials shaped the tournament

Host Selection and Contenders

It had been decided as early as August 1960 that the eighth World Cup tournament would be held in England. West Germany and Spain were also interested to host the tournament. However, with the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) being headed by the Englishman Arthur Drewry, it was not a surprise that England was chosen as the host ahead of the others. The hosts had a new manager in Alf Ramsey who persuaded the Football Association to get rid of the selection committee system for team selection, which had hindered his predecessor Walter Winterbottom. Ramsey had boldly predicted to the press that his team would most certainly win the World Cup – a statement which had provided sustenance to the critics in the English media of the 60s.  Brazil was back but their side was ageing with a lot of reliance on Pele. West Germany had good players in Franz Beckenbauer, Uwe Seeler, Wolfgang Overath and Karl-Heinz Schnellinger. European champions Spain had Luis Suarez the playmaker of Inter Milan, Francisco Gento, Manuel Sanchiz Sr. and Pirri, all of whom were very good players. The Soviets were strong with the great Lev Yashin in goal, the diminutive Igor Chislenko, Albert Shestrenyev and Murtaz Khurtsilova. England was a work in progress under the new tactics adopted by Ramsey. In the build-up to the tournament they had been unimpressive losing to Austria 3-2, drawing 0-0 with Wales and narrowly defeating Northern Ireland 2-1. The defence was settled with Bobby Moore – now the captain, Ray Wilson, George Cohen and Jack Charlton. Jack’s brother, Bobby Charlton was used as a midfield playmaker, a role he was still getting used to. Jimmy Greaves was the first choice forward who had just recovered from a severe bout of Hepatitis. On 8th December 1965, at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, Ramsey put out a team without any wingers against the European champions. The observers were astonished by this team and even more surprised when England dominated the match winning 2-0. Ramsey had dropped wingers who then had very little defensive skills and substituted them by attacking midfielders. The opposition full-backs expecting wingers were caught out by the English attacks through the centre. It seemed that Ramsey’s tactics were working.

Qualifications and Finals Draw

The qualifications attracted 70 nations. Finally FIFA decided on ten European teams, four South American teams including Brazil, the defending champions, one North and Central American team and one from Asia, Oceania and Africa combined, to be decided by a two-legged play-off.  The African nations boycotted as they wanted a permanent spot in the finals instead of a play-off match against Asia or Oceania. Amongst the European teams, France had qualified ahead of the strong Yugoslavian team and Portugal was making their tournament debut by finishing ahead of Czechoslovakia, the runner up of the last edition. There were no surprises in South America or North and Central American qualifiers. North Korea made it by defeating Australia in both matches home and away, becoming only the third team from Asia to reach the World Cup finals. In the build-up to the tournament, the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen from an exhibition at the Westminster Central Hall. The unlikely hero who retrieved the trophy after seven days was ‘Pickles’, a dog at a south London park, below a garden hedge and wrapped in a newspaper. Pickles became an instant celebrity and even went on to star in a 1966 film.

Pickles in the media spotlight

The draw for the final tournament was held at Royal Garden Hotel in London, on 6th January 1966. The draw was televised for the first time reflecting the popularity and importance of the tournament.  England, West Germany, Brazil and Italy were seeded. The final groups after the draw were:

Group 1                       Group 2                         Group 3              Group 4

England                       West Germany              Brazil                   Italy

Uruguay                      Spain                             Hungary              Soviet Union

France                         Argentina                      Portugal              Chile

Mexico                        Switzerland                    Bulgaria              North Korea

Group 1

The opening match featured the hosts against Uruguay. It was a dour encounter with very little opportunities created and a lot of rough play from both sides. Ondino Viera, the Uruguayan manager, had deployed his most creative players Pedro Rocha and Julio Cesar Cortes in withdrawn positions, blunting the English attacking players. Ramsey had drafted Nobby Stiles as the midfield enforcer of his team who was no less physical than his opponents. The best chance was a John Connelly header which bounced off the top of the Uruguayan bar. The emphatic build up of the English had hit the road-block of reality with this 0-0 draw. The Uruguayan manager had selected his own son Milton Viera – a feat later repeated by three other managers: Cesare Maldini for Italy in 1998, Zlatko Kranjcar for Croatia in 2006 and Bob Bradley for USA in 2010. The Wembley Stadium was officially named the Empire stadium as a reminder of the good old days of British Imperialism.  The other match was a 1-1 draw between France and Mexico. Enrique Borja scored for the Mexicans in the 48th minute and Gerard Hausser equalised in the 61st minute.  In the second round of matches, Uruguay defeated France 2-1 with goals from Rocha and Cortes. England beat Mexico 2-0 with the first goal, one of the famous long range shots of Bobby Charlton in the 36th minute. Roger Hunt scored the second in the 76th minute, when the goalkeeper could only parry a Jimmy Greaves shot straight to him. The English were still looking unimpressive against the packed defences. In the last round of matches, Uruguay and Mexico played out a 0-0 draw. The only highlight was Antonio Carbajal, the Mexican goalkeeper who was playing in his fifth edition of the tournament – a record later equalled by Lothar Mattheus in 1998. In the last match, England beat France 2-0. The goals were scored in the 36th and 76th minutes and were identical to those scored by Hunt against Mexico.  The first was scored after the goalkeeper spilled a cross and the second after a Jack Charlton header rebounded off the post to his feet.  England thus topped the group followed by Uruguay.

Group 2

In the first round of matches, West Germany showed their class with a 5-0 demolition of Switzerland. Two goals each were scored by Beckenbauer and Helmut Haller and the other by Siegfried Held. It was an awesome display of precision passing and finishing. Argentina defeated Spain 2-1 with a brace from Luis Artime. The Spanish goal was scored by Pirri. The Argentines ruthlessly tackled Luis Suarez, the main playmaker of Spain early in the match to take control. The second round of the matches started with a 2-1 Spanish win over the Swiss. Pierre Quentin had put the Swiss ahead in the 31st minute but the Spanish equalised in the 57th minute through a great individual goal by Sanchiz who beat three defenders before shooting into the roof of the net. The winner was a diving header scored by Amancio off a Gento cross from the left. The other match was between West Germany and Argentina. It was as if an immovable object was meeting an irresistible force, although it was difficult to decide which team was what. The match finished 0-0 but it was littered fouls from both sides. Many of the tackles would be sure shot red cards nowadays. Eventually Rafael Albrecht of Argentina was sent off for kicking Wolfgang Weber in his groin (a polite way of writing family jewels by the press). The Argentines were warned by FIFA for their rough play although the West Germans hadn’t quite been the angels. Going into the last round of matches, all the teams except Switzerland could qualify. The Argentina-Switzerland match was won 2-0 by the South Americans with goals in the second half from Artime and Ermindo Onega. The Spanish knew that they had to defeat the West Germans to qualify. They started well with Jose Maria Fuste giving them the lead in the 23rd minute. The West Germans had brought Lothar Emmerich, the naturally left footed Borussia Dortmund winger in their side. He scored a wonder goal from the left side of the penalty box with a shot from an impossible angle to the roof of the net in the 39th minute. The West Germans then took control of the game and eventually took the lead when Seeler scored off a cross from the left. The West Germans topped the group on goal average with the Argentines coming second with the same number of points.


Group 3

The first match featured the defending champions Brazil against Bulgaria. Pele had previously said that the preparation of his team for this tournament was shambolic. He was marked by Dobromir Zhechev who continuously kicked and tripped him. Still Pele managed to score from a free-kick in the 13th minute. This kick was hit with rage and had none of the famed Brazilian swerve and curl – just plain power. Garrincha was also fouled incessantly and he too smashed a free-kick into the top corner in the 63rd minute. The Brazilians had won 2-0 but could not score from open play. This was the last instance of Pele and Garrincha playing together- Brazil never lost a match when they did! The other match between the debutants Portugal and Hungary was full of great play from both sides punctuated with very poor goalkeeping. The Portuguese took the lead when Jose Augusto headed in a corner in the second minute. The Hungarian defence were busy marking Jose Torres and Eusebio which gave him a free header. The Hungarians then dominated the match creating chance after chance which was spurned by their forwards. Eventually they equalised through a goalkeeping error which enabled Ferenc Bene to score in the 60th minute. The Hungarian goalkeeper Antal Szentmihailyi then let go an easy cross from Torres which bounced off his chest and allowed Augusto to head in his second goal in the 65th minute.  Szentmihailyi again tried to gather a Eusebio corner to miss it completely and allow Torres to head in. The final score of 3-1 in favour of Portugal was a bit flattering. In the second round of matches Brazil played Hungary. The Brazilians had rested Pele, letting him recover from the knocks of the first match. The Hungarians played a brilliant match completely outplaying the champions. Florian Albert was brilliant in his withdrawn forward role where he orchestrated the attack. Bene scored the first goal in the third minute beating the Brazilian defender Altair from the outside, then he beat Hilderaldo Bellini by cutting inside and took a low left footer to beat the goalkeeper.  The Brazilians equalised in the 15th minute when a free kick deflected to a 19-year-old named Tostao who beat the goalkeeper with a left-footed shot. The Hungarians were dominant and scored through Janos Farkas in the 64th minute – a goal created by Albert and Bene. In the 72nd minute Bene was brought down in the penalty area and Kalman Meszoly converted the spot kick to give the Hungarians a 3-1 victory. This was the 50th and last match in the career of the great Garrincha – the only match he ever lost for Brazil. Brazil lost their first World Cup finals’ match since 1954, incidentally to the same team. In the other match, Portugal defeated Bulgaria 3-0 with a goal each from Eusebio and Torres and an own goal from the opponents. In the last round of matches, Pele was brought back but he was still injured. Joao Morais of Portugal made sure that he would play no further part by double tackles on the edge of penalty area leaving him limping for the rest of the match. Eusebio was magnificent scoring off a header in the 24th minute and from a terrific volley on the right in the 85th minute. Antonio Simoes had opened the scoring when he had headed after the goalkeeper had parried a shot-cross by Eusebio. The Brazilians pulled a goal back but were beaten 3-1 and required a huge upset win by Bulgaria over Hungary to qualify. The upset was on the cards when Georgi Aspharoukov gave the Bulgarians the lead. The equaliser, however, came through a Bulgarian own goal. The Hungarians were too strong and scored through Meszoly and Bene winning 3-1. Portugal and Hungary had thus qualified eliminating Brazil.

Eusebio - the new king of 1966
Pele - the fallen King


Group 4

The first-round matches featured the Soviets against North Koreans. The North Koreans, the representatives of Asia, Africa and Oceania, were much fitter than other Asian teams who played in the previous editions of the tournament. The problem was they were dwarfed by the Soviets who were much taller even compared to other European sides. The Soviets ran out comfortable 3-0 winners with two goals from Eduard Malafeyev and one by Anatoly Banishevsky. It was not surprising that two goals came from headers with the Koreans unable to cope with the height of their opponents. The other match was a repeat of the 1962 fighting contest between Italy and Chile. Italy was the much better side and dominated. There were great Italian players on view like Giancinto Facchetti, Tarsicio Burgnich, Gianni Rivera, Giacomo Bulgarelli and Sandro Mazzola. Mazzola scored the opening goal in the ninth minute. The Chileans defended stoutly for the rest of the match but eventually Paolo Barison scored to make the final score 2-0. In the second-round matches, Chile and North Korea played out an exciting 1-1 draw. The Koreans were nimble, extremely fit and had a lot of pace which caused the opposition problems. The Chileans tried to impose their physical strength and got the lead through disputed penalty converted by Reuben Marcos in the 27th minute. The Koreans kept on attacking and finally Park Seung-Jin scored off a fierce low volley from the edge of the box in the 88th minute. The other clash was touted to be between two of the favourites, Italy and Soviet Union. Both teams looked certain to qualify and there was a chance of a boring 0-0. It was a game where Facchetti, an attacking full-back for Inter Milan stayed back to mark the dangerous Chislenko. On the opposing side, Shesternyov had an outstanding match keeping out Mazzola and company. The match was decided when Chislenko for once managed to cut past Facchetti to score off a tremendous left footer in the 57th minute. Italy had chances but Lev Yashin was at his best. Final score was 1-0 but the Italians would surely qualify against the lowly North Koreans, wouldn’t they? The last round of matches featured possibly the greatest upset in World Cup history when North Korea played Italy. The Italian assistant coach and future manager, the great Ferrucio Valcareggi had been sent to watch the North Koreans play against the Soviets. He returned and reported that the Korean game was like watching ‘una comica di Ridolini’ (a comic Ridolini). Larry Semon aka Ridolini was an Italian equivalent of Charlie Chaplin in the 1920s. Marino Perani could have scored two goals in the first half but missed. Then in the 42nd minute the unthinkable happened – an Italian clearance was headed back towards their goal; Pak Doo-Ik let the ball run into his stride and hit a low grounder across Enrico Albertossi who could have done better. A lot of people forget that Italy played with 10 men for almost one hour as Bulgarelli had gone off with a knee injury and the Italians did not have a player for his position. Strangely, they did not use any substitute to equate the numbers. The North Koreans created two more chances and held on for a famous 1-0 victory. The match was held at Ayresome Park, the former home of Middlesbrough which was demolished to make way for a mass bungalow housing development. In the front garden of such a house lies a bronze sculpture of an imprint of a football boot which marks the spot from which Pak Doo-Ik scored his goal.

Pak Doo-Ik scores against Italy

The Soviets topped the group by defeating the Chileans 2-1 in their last match, avenging their loss to the same team in the 1962 World Cup quarter-finals and the North Koreans qualified second – the only team outside Europe or the Americas to do so till 1986 when Morocco equalled their feat.

Quarter Finals

The quarter-finals featured England against Argentina, West Germany playing Uruguay, Portugal facing North Korea and an all East European clash between the Soviet Union and Hungary. England recalled Alan Ball to add steel to the midfield. Geoff Hurst came in for the injured Jimmy Greaves.  The match was a story of dirty play from both sides. Although English media always paint the Argentines as the villains, England actually committed 33 fouls compared to 19 by Argentina. There were rumours that Stanley Rous, the FIFA president had instructed the referees to back the European teams which were propagated by the South American media. England won the match 1-0 with a goal from Hurst. The match is remembered for the sending off of Argentina captain Antonio Rattin. Alf Ramsey stopped his players from exchanging jerseys with their opponents, terming them as animals. However, the players of his team were no better.

Sir Alf Ramsey prevents the exchange of jerseys after the England-Argentina quarter-final

The second match between the West Germans and Uruguayans was another robust encounter with crunching tackles from both sides. However, the Europeans were more skillful and won 4-0 with Haller, Beckenbauer and Seeler on the score-sheet. Uruguayans were too defensive and also had two players sent off which didn’t help them. The Portugal-North Korea match was a classic. The North Koreans attacked the Portuguese defence and were leading 3-0 by the 24th minute. After that it was the Eusebio show. He scored four goals, two of which were penalties to lead his team to an incredible comeback. Although the Koreans continued attacking even after they had a three-goal lead without any thought of preserving their lead. Then Jose Augusto scored a fifth to give Portugal a 5-3 victory. The last match featured the impressive Hungarians against the strong Soviet side. In a repeat of their previous matches, the Soviets battered their opposition through their physical play. They won comfortably with goals from Chislenko and Valery Porkujan. Hungary reduced the margin through a Bene goal but found the Soviet defence and Yashin a bridge too far. The semi-finals were set with West Germany playing the Soviet Union and England playing Portugal.

Semi Finals

The first semi-final between West Germany and Soviet Union was predictably a rough encounter between two teams of extreme fitness and great physical attributes. Schnellinger crunched into Chislenko leaving him limping for the rest of the match. To add insult to injury, Chislenko was sent off for an innocuous challenge on Haller. Haller put the West Germans ahead, running on to a cross from Schnellinger from the left in the 43rd minute. Beckenbauer doubled the lead with a left footer from the edge of the box with Yashin unsighted in the 68th minute. Porkujan reduced the margin with a late goal but the West Germans played keep-ball and made it to the final. In the other semi-final, England attacked the Portugal defence which was made up of players from four different clubs. The forward line, all from Benfica, was the strength of the Iberians but the defence was clearly the Achilles heel. Two goals from Bobby Charlton sealed victory for the hosts – the first in the 30th minute with a side foot shot and the second in the 79th minute with a right-footed shot from the right edge of the penalty box. Eusebio reduced the margin by converting a penalty when Jack Charlton handled the ball after Banks missed a cross from the right. England was one match away from fulfilling Ramsey’s prediction of winning the tournament and West Germany considered the old enemy to be in their way. The third place match was won by Portugal who defeated the Soviet Union 2-1 with a penalty conversion from Eusebio, making him the top scorer in the tournament with nine goals.


There was a lot of media speculation about Greaves coming back but Ramsey stuck with Hurst and Hunt. Beckenbauer was made to mark Bobby Charlton. The West German coach, Helmut Schon may have made a tactical error by making his best ball player into a marker. He could have brought in Klaus-Dieter Sieloff from the bench who was a natural marker in place of Emmerich who had done nothing of note after his wonder goal against Spain in the group stages. To be fair, Emmerich was a known match-winner for his club Borussia Dortmund with great performances en route to the European Cup Winners title earlier that year. On 30th July, a Saturday, 93,802 people gathered at the Wembley Stadium to watch the final. This was the largest crowd for a World Cup match excluding the Maracana stadium in Rio and the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. The Queen of Britain was amongst the spectators and she keenly wanted to award the trophy to her team.

Tofik Bakhramov-Linesman(L), Uwe Seeler, Gottfried Dienst-Referee(C), Bobby Moore and Dr Karol Galba-Linesman(R)

England played with a 4-4-2 diamond formation with Bobby Charlton as the central attacking midfielder and Nobby Stiles as the central defensive midfielder. West Germany used 4-2-4 system with Beckenbauer and Overath in the midfield. Seeler and Held were the two strikers and Haller and Emmerich the wingers.

The pitch was greasy from overnight rain and the West Germans started brighter with their passing and the English looked a bit overawed by the occasion. In the 13th minute, Held received the ball on the left and hit a long cross towards the English far post. Banks was shouting at Ray Wilson to let it go. But Wilson thought it was a warning and jumped early for the header only to knock it too near the goal. Haller, the West German left winger had come inside and moved back to collect it and hit a tame grounder between Jack Charlton and Banks, both of whom looking at each other as it crossed the line (0-1). The crowd were silenced. Bobby Moore had later written in his autobiography that a player of Haller’s quality should not have scored against England and was not good enough to win the World Cup. A stereotypical English opinion of German footballers! Haller was everything the English hated about the Germans – blond, strutting, prone to theatrics when fouled and with a first name of Helmut. He was also a world class player in spite of Moore’s assertions, who helped Bologna and Juventus win Serie A titles. England took heart from the fact that in all World Cup finals since the war, the team scoring first had ended up on the losing side. Six minutes later, Moore moved a long way up on the left side and was brought down by Overath. He took a quick free-kick before the referee whistled and clipped a pass to the running Hurst whose downward header found the back of the net (1-1). The next hour was like a heavyweight boxing contest with both defences ruling the roost- a lot of punches thrown but none connecting.

In the 78th minute, an England corner was taken by Alan Ball from the right. Hurst received the ball in the edge of the box and took a very poor shot. The West German left-back, Horst-Dieter Höttges lunged to clear the ball only to balloon it up towards the right hand back post. Martin Peters, the English right midfielder reached the ball before Jack Charlton and drove it from seven yards out past a hapless goalkeeper, Hans Tilkowski and Schnellinger on the goal line into the back of the net (2-1). The match seemed over as the crowd grew vociferous in its support of the home team. They had forgotten that their opponents were the ‘comeback kings’ – West Germany. In the 89th minute, West Germany got a free kick on the left when Jack Charlton leaned into Held. Emmerich, who had been very quiet during the match, took a low powerful shot into the English penalty box. The shot hit George Cohen, the English right-back and bounced to Held who shot towards the goal. Held’s shot hit his own player, Schnellinger on the back and took a ricochet towards the right where Seeler couldn’t reach it but Wolfgang Weber, the defender lifted it over the feet of the lunging Wilson and the hands of the diving Banks into the net (2-2). It was the first time since 1934 that the World Cup final was running into extra-time.

The moment of truth. Goal ...?

Then came the pivotal moment of the match in the 101st minute – Alan Ball ran into the right hand side line and hit a first time cross for Hurst who had lost his marker, Wili Schulz. Hurst took a shot from the right side of the penalty box which crashed against the bar and bounced on the line and was headed over the bar by Weber. Hunt had already started celebrating a goal claiming that the ball had crossed the line. The Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst went to confer with the Soviet linesman from Azerbaijan, Tofik Bakhramov. The officials spoke different languages and understood little of what the other was saying. However, Bakhramov confidently nodded his head indicating that the ball had crossed the line (3-2). The West Germans surrounded the referee and linesman protesting against the decision. It is believed that the linesman shouted back at the West Germans: “This is for Stalingrad”.  Probably a figment of imagination as none of the Germans could understand Russian or Azerbaijani, the languages spoken by Bakhramov. Bakhramov was later honoured when the national stadium of Azerbaijan at Baku was named after him. The West Germans were shocked and went for an all-out attack to get the equaliser. In the 119th minute, Moore chested down a cross in the English penalty box and hit a long pass just into the opposition half to Hurst on the left. Hurst took the ball in his stride and ran through unchallenged as the entire opposition was in attack. Only Overath was chasing him in vain as he smashed a left-footer past the goalkeeper to become the only player to have scored a hat-trick in the World Cup final till date. The final whistle was blown and England had fulfilled their destiny. They had brought home the Cup! Bobby Moore received the Cup from the beaming Queen Elizabeth II and Alf Ramsey was lauded for his tactics.

Bobby Moore after receiving the Jules Rimet Cup from Queen Elizabeth II

The tournament was a huge success with great crowds and support, but it was tainted by the fact that the referees had not protected the ball-players who were literally kicked out. It was the first time that the officials had garnered more attention than the players. FIFA changed rules making it mandatory for all the officials in a match to speak the same language. 44 years later the English claimed that justice had been done when Frank Lampard was denied a goal against Germany in the quarter-finals of another World Cup. However, the Germans did not go on to win the tournament as the English had. Hurst, in an interview many years later felt that it was not a goal. Some studies with advanced computer technology also validate Hurst’s opinion. So the question still remains – was it really a goal?  The debate still rages on….